Sunday 24 February 2019

Will 'Super 8s' be a quick fix for this provincial crisis?

Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Even before the football championship began, there was an impatient desire for the onset of the glitzy GAA innovation called the 'Super 8s'.

Well, it's not even called that: officialdom prefers the label All-Ireland quarter-final group stage.

But the rest of us - media, pundits, Joe Public - prefer a sexier tag and whoever coined 'Super 8' should have patented the name and made a fortune.

But will it really be so super-duper, or is this merely another example of the Fake News world in which we live?

When some ex-player analysts wax lyrical about how the 'Super 8s' will energise our summer, they are right in one respect: the SFC format is beyond stale and in need of a shake-up, leaving aside the more fundamental requirement for a tiered championship.


There's another reason for the 'bring it on!' clamour; there's a crisis afoot in the provinces. This was apparent long before the weekend just gone, when Dublin, Kerry and Donegal won their respective provincial finals by a cumulative 47 points.

But it's even more obvious now. Can anyone foresee a day, in the next half-decade, when Dublin will be toppled in the east? By then we'll be talking 13 Leinster titles on the trot.

Meanwhile, down south, Eamonn Fitzmaurice has never lost a Munster final as manager, winning the last six by a combined 57 points (albeit after one replay). The rapid assimilation of Kerry's decorated young guns coupled with Cork's ongoing malaise suggests it could get worse before it gets any better.

Given what happened Cork, Laois and Fermanagh over the weekend, it's fair to surmise that all three could be in for a chastening few weeks were they to reach the last-eight.

Hence our caution about adding to the premature fanfare. Much may depend on the next fortnight of qualifier action.

Yesterday morning's round three draw has kept alive the possibility that Mayo, Monaghan and Tyrone will all qualify, there to be joined by Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Galway and A.N. Other.

On paper, that looks close to a top eight. And then, depending on whether we get an early shock (Kerry hit a speed wobble; Dublin are ambushed by Donegal) it could get really, really interesting.

At which point we can already hear you reminding us to check for low-flying pigs over Hill 16.

The reference to Mayo, Monaghan and Tyrone cuts to the chase of football's current dilemma. Neutrals believe they need to reach the 'Super 8s' because, otherwise, it could be a prolonged borefest.

Consider all the recent 'duds' we have witnessed when quarter-finals were played on a knockout basis. An unheralded team would embark on a fairy tale run through the qualifiers, but then reality would bite them where it hurts with a vengeance.


Why? Because there is no genuine top-eight in football.

Rather there is Dublin, sitting pretty in the pantheon, followed by a gap to Kerry and (for how much longer?) Mayo. Then Galway (who will hope to definitively overtake their green-and-red rivals in the coming weeks), along with Donegal, Tyrone and Monaghan, whose place in the Ulster pecking order seems to vary each year.

When a couple of that chasing pack come a cropper, a new kid on the block will emerge to take their place. But, with the exception of Tipp in 2016, they are there to make up the numbers in our not-so-super eight.

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