Christy O’Connor: Have the football qualifiers run their course?

In the three seasons of qualifiers between 2017-’19, there were 25 occasions when the margin of victory exceeded 10 points.
Christy O’Connor: Have the football qualifiers run their course?

Mayo during the team photo ahead of the 2018 qualifier against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds. In the three seasons of qualifiers between 2017-’19, there were 25 occasions when the margin of victory exceeded 10 points. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Throughout the last decade, the qualifiers threw up a host of marquee qualifier matches but, in hindsight, how many really were there?

In terms of pre-match status, where two big guns were going to war with more than just the game itself on the line, the two biggest qualifiers in the last decade was Mayo-Galway in 2019, and the Kerry-Tyrone joust in Killarney in 2012.

The qualifiers always meant something different to different teams. Yet one of the reasons the qualifiers effectively became so redundant, and so devoid of heavyweight clashes, was because — with the exception of Mayo and Tyrone — the big teams didn’t need them anymore.

Dublin have changed the narrative, but their most serious All-Ireland challengers were also less reliant on a rehabilitative process to regroup or recharge like Kerry in 2009, or Cork in 2010.

Mayo diced with death on a handful of occasions en route to All-Ireland finals through the back door. But outside of Ulster, the chances of a handful of big guns falling in the provinces early and running into each other in June or early July became more remote with each passing season.

There was a time when the big guns regularly faced off, when mystical performances were often plucked from nowhere, when down-and-outs were suddenly resurrected after a glorious display of defiance.

Some of those counties may not have been dining at the top table at the time but they often re-joined the aristocracy at the banquet after rediscovering their mojo and purpose along the qualifier route.

In recent years though, that gap has been really evident during the qualifiers, as much in the pairings as in the margin of defeats. In the five seasons of qualifiers between 2015-’19, there were only four qualifier meetings between two Division 1 teams, with that Galway-Mayo clash in 2019 the standout one by a distance. In the same five-year timespan, there were only 19 qualifier clashes between Division 1 and 2 teams.

In the three seasons of qualifiers between 2017-’19, there were 25 occasions when the margin of victory exceeded 10 points.

Circumstances have meant a knockout championship in 2020 and 2021 but the new championship proposals now on the table provide further evidence that it is time for change.

- You can read the Irish Examiner's 20-page special publication looking forward to the Allianz Football League and Championship with your Friday edition of the Irish Examiner in stores or from our epaper site.

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