Tuesday 22 January 2019

Rebel hell goes to prove Super 8 football elites don't last forever

Aidan Walsh of Cork
Aidan Walsh of Cork

With all this talk of the 'Super 8' and how it will only foster elitism in the Gaelic football championship, we've started to wonder what exactly constitutes 'the elite' right now.

Another, more immediate, occurrence got us thinking on the exact same lines: what happened to Cork in Ennis on Sunday.

Clare 2-11, Cork 0-9 - history for the Banner, a first win over their Munster oppressor for 20 years, qualified as an eight-point humiliation for the losers.

Which brings us back to Gaelic football's elite. For the late noughties and early years of this decade, Cork were perennial members.

Not any more.

This column doesn't claim to be a thesis on the recent demise of our Rebel big ball stronghold - you might need a few more rainforests of newsprint for that. But it's clear, for whatever multiple reasons, they are stuck in a serious rut.


Here is a county that lifted Sam Maguire in 2010; that contested All-Ireland finals in 2007 and '09; that won a hat-trick of Allianz League Division 1 titles from 2010 to '12 …

And now they're sixth in Division 2, with three points garnered from four games. Their only victory has come at home to bottom-placed Fermanagh. You could argue they were unlucky to be relegated last year - one of four teams who finished on six points, they capsized whereas Donegal made the semi-finals.

Now, however, they are closer to another relegation than a return to the top-flight … and what with last summer's provincial car crash against Tipperary and their weekend debacle in Clare, a pedant might even argue that they're currently fourth best in Munster.

It was all so different back in 2010 when Cork stormed - apologies for that alternative Trumpian fact, they actually stuttered - to the All-Ireland summit. But they were champions nonetheless.

But the thing about GAA elites is that they aren't set in concrete; they are fluid, up to a point.

Consider the 'Super 8' quarter-finalists in 2010: Down, Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone, Cork, Roscommon, Kildare, Meath.

Three Leinster teams? That seems faintly preposterous right now. And maybe 2010 was an 'outlier' in other respects: it was by far the most open of recent SFC campaigns, with four 'back door' teams reaching the semi-finals.

Still, the fact is that four of those top-eight are now operating in Division 2; another, Roscommon, are making a rapid beeline back there; while Cork's fellow All-Ireland finalists, Down, have just emerged from a losing streak that lasted close to two years.

Of those 2010 quarter-finalists, only Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone are bona fide members of the current elite. It's hard to see any of that trio disappearing for several years to come.


Yet both Donegal and Mayo were in crisis that year, only to become top-eight heavyweights over the next half-decade.

On closer inspection, there is no such thing as a Super 8. Right now, you are probably talking about a 'Fab Four' - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone.

Back in the mid-noughties, all the talk was of a Big Three (Kerry, Tyrone and Armagh) with Dublin and Mayo flailing at the edges.

And that's how it has been long before the Super 8 idea was first conjured up by Páraic Duffy.

And Cork? Part of the Supine 24.

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