Kerry great Tomás Ó Sé, part of the last team to win a knockout All-Ireland in 2000 before the qualifier series, has urged the GAA to go a step further this year and introduce a full open draw.
The GAA spent the weekend considering its options for this year’s championships and could make an announcement as early as today, with Ó Sé anticipating a return to the old knockout provincial format in football.
That was last in place in 2000 when wing-back Ó Sé helped Kerry to success with his uncle Páidí as boss, though he’d prefer to see the provincial element scrapped altogether this year.
Speaking at the launch of his new podcast and live stream Comhrá le Tomás, Ó Sé described it as the perfect opportunity for the GAA to be brave and to reprise the full open draw format that was last used for the 1984 Centenary Cup competitions.
Ó Sé, ironically, revealed that one of those trophies actually resided in his uncle Páidí’s pub in Ventry for many years afterwards.
“Páidí had that cup behind the counter. It’s still there as far as I know, a big wooden base on it and look, I’d love to have seen the championship go the same way this year, a full-on national knockout,” said Ó Sé.
“I would imagine it’s going to be announced that it’ll be a knockout provincial championship, with the provincial winners going into the semi-final and a final then. And to be fair, with that championship you’re going to have some cracking matches. You’ll have Tyrone and Donegal facing off early on; you’ll probably have Roscommon and Mayo; you’ll have Kerry and Cork.
“But I just think in the circumstances, in the context of going from thinking we’d have no championship to having it all now, wouldn’t it have been great if the GAA just said, ‘Do you know what lads? We’re just firing it open — all the counties, open draw.’
“You’d start off with 31 or 32, straight down to 16, down to eight, down to four and then your finalists.
“It would all be down to luck of the draw and it would have been a brilliant opportunity to show what an open championship would look like.
“I think they’ll hold back because, I don’t know, there’s probably more than one reason but one of the big ones would be that they don’t want to scrap the provincials, and I think that’s the elephant in the room.
I honestly feel that, I feel strongly about it. What in the name of God are we doing still having all these one-sided games? It’s doing the county that wins no favours, it’s doing the county that loses no favours. The more it goes on it just frustrates me, I don’t know, I just think there’s a great opportunity right now to change it up.
What’s certain is that clubs, including the Glanmire minors that Ó Sé is involved with this year, will be returning to duty sooner than expected.
Saturday’s statement that pitches will be reopened for adult training this Wednesday and that full contact training and challenge games can take place from next Monday is a major boost to the club scene.
Ó Sé’s minors, and the underage grades below this, will be permitted to return from next Saturday.
Five-time All-Star Ó Sé, who kept in touch with GAA issues throughout the lockdown by conducting a series of podcast and live-stream interviews with various sporting legends, welcomed the latest news.
“I’m actually buzzing for it and looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m training the Glanmire minor team and really looking forward to getting back out with them. It has to be better than what we were doing, looking at old matches on TV. I was getting sick of that.”
Ó Sé acknowledged that the knockout system that is likely to be confirmed for the inter-county championship will hit the teams that lose early hard.
Aside from the Munster semi-final fixture between Cork and Kerry, Donegal will face Tyrone in Ulster and a Connacht semi-final between Mayo and Roscommon looks likely to materialise.
“I remember in ’99 getting beaten by Cork and our summer was over very early on a wet day down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh,” said Ó Sé.
“Teams like Donegal and Tyrone this year, they’ve both been there or thereabouts in terms of the championship in the last few years but one of them is going to be gone. It’s going to be hard on them but the difference this time is it’s only a few months before they’ll be back into it again for 2021.”
He predicted that Kerry will be “there or thereabouts, there’s no doubt about that” but said five-in-a-row All-Ireland winners Dublin remain the team to beat. That’s despite claims from some pundits that they could be vulnerable in a knockout system.
“Is it an opportunity for everyone else? Of course it is because it’s going to be a knockout, and if you’re told it’s a one-off game and there’s no coming back for them if you beat them, it gives you that extra bit of motivation but that’s how it’s been for Dublin anyhow, with semi-finals and finals and quarter-finals before the Super 8s came in. And Dublin have always had the answers.”
Ó Sé, meanwhile, has lined up a star-studded list of guests for his new podcast following a previous series of interviews throughout the lockdown.
Asked if he enjoys the switch from pundit to interviewer, The Sunday Game regular said: “You’re on Instagram and you can see the questions coming in and there’s the odd, ‘Hey! Will you ask proper questions!’ It all depends, it depends on the man sitting in front of you and if they’re in good form, if they’re in bad form or whatever, if they’re willing to talk or not.
But I try to pick characters, if I can get the mixture of good characters and honesty, that’s what you want.
Former Kerry GAA star and RTÉ Sunday Game analyst Tomás Ó Sé was speaking at the official launch of his new podcast and live stream Comhrá Le Tomás. He will be launching his new series across his social channels this week.
This new podcast and live stream is powered by Benetti Menswear. For further information about Comhrá Le Tomás, follow Tomás on Twitter at @Tomas5KY