Kerry manager Peter Keane prefers the old-style All-Ireland quarter-final structure, believing the Super 8s to be fostering an environment whereby the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.
Last weekend’s final round of Super 8 fixtures showed up the anomalies in a format which still has a year to run in the three-year trial period it was afforded when introduced at Congress 2017.
Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte both fielded second-string sides for the phoney war in Omagh, while Cork and Roscommon had nothing to play for in front of a 2,356 crowd at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Tyrone boss Harte may not be a fan of the old-style quarter-final where provincial champions could fall on their sword in one day, but the man he’ll share the sideline with at Croke Park this weekend certainly is.
“I’d probably be a traditionalist. I loved the cut and thrust of Championship years ago where if a team were beaten, they were beaten and they were done, whereas you are now in a situation where you are creating an environment where the rich will get richer and the poorer will get poorer, and you are giving more chances to the bigger counties, the better counties, to stay involved for longer than the weaker counties,” said Kerry boss Keane.
Where he finds favour in the current model is the playing of last-eight games outside of Croke Park. More than 31,000 people attended the Kerry-Mayo Super 8s fixture at Fitzgerald Stadium, while last Saturday’s game in Castlebar between Mayo and Donegal was watched by 27,023.
As well as playing more games outside of GAA HQ, should the provincial winners, asked Keane, be afforded two home fixtures in the All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin.
“Could the argument be made that the provincial champions should get the added benefit of having two games at home?
There are other fellas talking about the games being taken out of Croke Park because you don’t have the crowds for it. Looking at the television over the weekend, there was definitely more of an atmosphere at Castlebar. Killarney was electric for our Mayo game.
The introduction of the Super 8s last year coincided with a new and condensed GAA calendar which included bringing forward by a fortnight the playing of the All-Ireland senior finals.
To facilitate such, the four football semi-finalists must make do with a one-week turnaround, six days in the case of Dublin this year.
Keane has questioned the logic behind the decision to bring forward the All-Ireland finals, adding that two weeks is far more preferable in terms of preparing for an All-Ireland semi-final.
One week is tight. There is no question about it. Probably the hardest part is that you were away in Navan and you had a long journey down. You had all day Friday and Saturday getting to and gearing up for the match, then Sunday is pretty much a write off because fellas would be wrecked from the road and the match. It is not ideal.
“They brought forward the All-Ireland finals to give more time to club fixtures. I’m not necessarily sure that works because, at the end of the day, there are only two counties involved in an All-Ireland final. They are the only two counties who are going to have an issue with fixtures. It is not as if it is affecting the 32 counties. It is only affecting two of them. If you had another week to prepare it would be better.”
Keane added: “There are bigger issues. They are looking at a Tier 2 competition. That is obviously going to have a knock-on impact on the Tier 1 competition. If they bring in a Tier 2, they probably won’t have a Super 8 format [at Tier 1] then.”
Turning his attention to the challenge Tyrone will present this Sunday, and, in particular, their heavily congested defensive set-up, Keane has been busy explaining to his charges the importance of remaining patient when meeting that wall of white shirts upon reaching the opposition 45m line.
“Patience is huge. Saying it to them is one thing, but you must prepare for it. You do it in training. You are replicating as best you can what you’ll meet on Sunday.
I suppose they must show trust too, they must back themselves. Back yourself that you have the skill-set to go and do the job.
As mentioned elsewhere on these pages, 13 players Keane used during the All-Ireland quarter-final series have never played in an All-Ireland semi-final. Is there a danger with players so young that one eye might wander down the road and be contemplating a run out at GAA HQ on Sunday, September 1?
“I get where you are coming from with young lads and how they might think like that, but if we go back — and I know some of ye have been frustrated with me during conversations over the year in that I’ve been preaching it is one game at a time. But that is no different to what is being said inside in the dressing room [by the players]. It is one game at a time. There is not much point in worrying about an All-Ireland final if you cannot get into it.”
13 Kerry players set to make semi debuts
Thirteen Kerry players are in line to make their All-Ireland semi-final debut this Sunday.
With Kerry failing to make the last four in 2018, a season in which then manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice handed Championship bows to a number of players, added to the players introduced by Peter Keane this year, it is likely that half the Kerry panel on Sunday will be made up of players who’ve never been involved at the penultimate stage of the senior Championship.
Of the 27 players used during Kerry’s Super 8s campaign, 13 have never played in an All-Ireland semi-final: Shane Ryan, Jason Foley, Gavin Crowley, Adrian Spillane, Gavin White, Seán O’Shea, David Clifford, Micheál Burns, Killian Spillane, Dara Moynihan, Diarmuid O’Connor, Graham O’Sullivan, and Tomás Ó Sé.
Keane isn’t concerned by the inexperienced nature of his younger players when it comes to the semi-final though.
“This is a very young team and there has been a huge change [in personnel]. That then results in a lack of experience and how do you get experience? Only by being there and playing. That is how you move on,” said Keane.
“There has been a lot of change which was forced upon us. Guys, who were of an age to go, left and that was just the way things were. I think we have given nine debuts this year and when you factor in Jonathan Lyne, Jack Sherwood, and Tommy Walsh coming back in, there has been a huge change.”