We’ve been waiting all year to see what all the hype was about, and now that we are on the eve of the inaugural Super 8s stage of the All-Ireland series, it’s hard not to get bloody excited about the prospect of seeing the best teams in the country go head to head. Slugging it out.
Seven Division One teams, along with Roscommon — who will be in the top flight next season. A fairly predictable line-up I suppose. Only elite teams need apply. Unashamed GAA exceptionalism and we should make no apologies for craving it at this stage of the competition.
We can talk all day about raising the standard of the game across the country (and we have done). It’s a conversation that desperately needs to continue.
We know inequalities exist. We’re aware somebody needs to deliver a properly thought out strategy for providing more evenly distributed funding and expertise to help every county raise the standard at which they are operating.
Increased finance alone will do little to help some of these counties, they need the administrative and structural support to ensure any extra funds are used in the most advantageous way to help create sustainable coaching and games development within each county.
Ultimately while it’s not sexy to talk about, creating a more level playing field in Gaelic football, as much as it’s possible given the population disparity, is about developing long-term pathways for coaches and players that will survive long after one good manager, coach, or administrator has left their position. It requires as much know-how as it does finance.
I’m on record as one of those who subscribes to the view we need a tiered Championship structure to provide more meaningful competition for counties to compete against teams of similar ability.
There could easily be a mechanism to allow teams progress up or down the levels as their performances merit.
That’s not defeatist, it’s the reality of the situation that we as an association now find ourselves.
Surely if counties were agreeable, it would make complete sense if the Super 8s could be replicated to include another eight teams in a second tier competition to provide an additional layer of competitive games for teams a level below the elite tier? It would give counties like Fermanagh, Laois, Cork, Armagh, and others from this year, more games where they could actually achieve success.
More opportunities to play, to develop, and improve themselves.
The problem is, many of those counties which fall into that second tier category feel strongly that they would only become even more marginalised and forgotten about outside of the flagship competition.
They’ll point to the miniscule coverage their games receive on tv and in the papers right now when they’re in the Championship proper.
Hard to argue with when you look at the Joe McDonagh and Christy Ring hurling competitions… you’d hardly have known they took place, let alone who did well in them.
A midweek highlight show dedicated to the lower levels would help ease those fears of obscurity.
The reality of the current situation is that the best football teams in the land have reached the quarter-final group stage and this upcoming series of games will improve each of them and push them further away from the chasing pack.
This phase of the competition was designed specifically to provide more games between the top teams in the country in a novel format and that’s exactly what we’ve got.
With the earlier sideshows dispensed with, the football has eventually taken over.
Saturday’s Round 4 Qualifier between Roscommon and Armagh was one of the best games of football this year.
End-to-end stuff between two team that shared 44 scores in close to 30 degree heat.
Kildare continued their rejuvenation and all of a sudden look like a completely different side to the one that slipped so meekly through the trap door of Division One this season. With confidence now coursing through their veins, they’re a team transformed and played some fantastic football to cruise beyond the challenge of Rory Gallagher’s Fermanagh.
Another team unrecognisable from their former selves is the Cork footballers who suffered their second successive crushing defeat. This time it was Tyrone who inflicted maximum damage on their way to racking up a blistering 3-20 to clear their last hurdle before booking their place in the Super 8s.
For all the giving out and sniping that goes on about the quality of football from one game to the next, these upcoming Super 8s will give us games, and more importantly occasions to truly savour.
The prospect of Kerry travelling to face Monaghan in Clones, and Dublin taking the spin up the road to see what Tyrone have to offer, really whets the appetite. It also highlights how crucial it is for teams to get a positive result in their opening games next weekend.
No-one can afford to give an inch, if you do, you could find yourself out of the running almost as quickly as your race began. That’s proper Championship fare. Maybe not knockout, but every contest matters, and will involve opponents who are generally at the same level as each other.
That’s the essence of how competition is supposed to be.
These Super 8s will give us a glimpse at what a top tier Championship could potentially look like.
It will be embraced and should display everything that is great about our game.
A proper festival of football.
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