Enda McGinley: Super-8 not the answer but the answer will come
LAST weekend gave us a set of results that were both exciting and somewhat depressing.
Undoubtedly, your viewpoint will depend on which side of the great divide you find yourself on.
At present in football there are very obviously the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. As we bid farewell to the quarter-finals in their present guise, the whole legacy of the revamped Championship is up for debate.
The quarter-finals were inaugurated along with the change to the back-door Qualifier system back in 2001. Last Sunday may have served as a fitting epitaph.
The back door was welcomed in with the belief it would give all counties more games and potentially allow weaker counties to develop further.
To an extent it has been successful. We have witnessed great runs from Fermanagh, Tipperary and even Armagh in the last few years alone.
Much more obvious, however, is how it has enabled the strong to get stronger.
The provincial shock was once the creator of dreams by showing anything is possible; it would launch a county towards the latter stages of the Championship while serving as a leveller for the complacent big guns.
Now, it merely serves as a regrouping exercise for the stronger teams headed down that route.
Tyrone, Mayo, Kerry and Dublin have made hay during this period with only a handful of missed quarter-final appearances between them over the 16 years. Even the shocks that the system produced in the early days, like the day Mayo and Fermanagh ousted favourites Armagh and Tyrone respectively in 2004, have seemed to disappear.
Of course, one can argue that the current year’s situation is just the end result of having four particularly strong teams and that, all things been cyclical, it will gradually change.
That would be to ignore the trend to a dangerous degree. Taken as they are, the results cast doubt on the ‘Super-8’ proposals – are they really going to improve things?
The ‘Super-8’ changes were sold as a partial fix, put together to make sure something would get through Congress.
Something tells me that the case is that strong now for recalibration of the Championship, Paraic Duffy would get a much more favourable ear for more radical proposals.
Last week’s games were over in the space of time it took some to get through the M1 toll bridge. Dublin and Tyrone both won at their leisure despite both not playing overly well.
Armagh and Monaghan, both knowing it would take a performance at their very best to challenge the respective favourites, each managed to be under par on the day.
Relatively easy chances in the crucial early stages of the game were missed when they needed to get a foothold in the game and keep in touch with their opponents.
Monaghan were not helped by at least three to four very questionable decisions from referee Conor Lane during this period. The last thing Dublin need surely is a helping hand via an official’s dubious decisions.
It is easy at this stage to look at the Championship and say the quality is terrible or that the competition is dead.
This would be ignoring the facts that there has been many fantastic games. In Ulster, we were treated to great games between Armagh and Down, Down and Monaghan and Monaghan and Cavan.
In other provinces, we also have had good games and upsets and the back door has given us some very good fare for the first time in a few years.
Mayo, the great entertainers, have provided their fair share of good matches this year and are a case in point that while the top four in top form are impossible for most to live with, it is daft to think that they are all too far ahead.
What the Championship has really shown is that when teams of a similar level play, the games can often be great encounters, hence the entertainment offered in the Allianz League.
The overall level of conditioning and skill sets is higher almost in every county than in previous generations.
Looking at the quality of finishing alone, the score-taking now is often of the highest order and overall score totals are well up from other years.
A revamp of the Championship is undoubtedly needed. The Qualifiers only ever looked like an untidy temporary fix and the ‘Super-8s’ will be little different. The biggest decisions still revolve around the provincial Championships and tiered competitions and, at some stage, the nettle must be grasped.
We shouldn’t panic too much, though. There has been good quality this year and coming down the track is probably the best top four teams to contest the final stages of an All-Ireland in a long time – possibly ever.
We have seen Kerry and Mayo multiple times and it is almost guaranteed to be an enthralling contest, but Tyrone and Dublin have not played in Championship since the evolution of both sides kicked into gear over the past five years.
It’s the match that grabs the attention straight away. Tyrone are still seen as something of the upstarts – portrayed as the classic Ulster team by southern media, with all the connotations that evokes. As a consequence, Tyrone seem to carry a dark aura around them which spooks even the biggest teams.
Dublin are obvious favourites, but Tyrone being Tyrone, they definitely have a chance. The build-up will be massive, they could sell out Croke Park twice over if possible and, if the game lives up to the hype, it will be an all-time classic.
The quarters are dead. Long live the Championship.