Danny Hughes: GAA should be looking to a 'Super 16'
It really depends on how success is measured. This is the point. Have Fermanagh had a successful season thus far?
Promotion to Division Two of the Allianz Football League and an unlikely Ulster final appearance is possibly at the upper realm of expectations the team and the management could have envisaged when they sat down together last October. With the exception of Sunday’s Ulster SFC final, Fermanagh have been very competitive to date.
As the men from Tir Chonaill proved, a defensive system like Fermanagh’s will only take you so far.
Donegal, the inventors of such a system, toyed with the Ernemen throughout the game.
They were patient, aggressive and dominated the breaking ball.
Fermanagh assumed they could do exactly what they did against Armagh and Monaghan beforehand and come out on the right side of the result.
That was their first mistake. Their second mistake was not starting with Seamus Quigley on the field.
Fermanagh are reliant on two things.
1: Frees from inside scoring distance.
2: Sean and Seamus Quigley.
Donegal’s discipline in the tackle was very good and their players did not give away cheap frees –unlike Armagh and Monaghan.
So this was going to make Fermanagh’s task even more difficult, with free-kicks at a premium, especially in the first half.
Sure, Fermanagh rallied, as you would expect from any Ulster final opposition who have fallen behind by six or seven points by half-time. However, it was a case of if Plan A doesn’t work, well, let’s stick to Plan A.
I like the way Declan Bonner has set up this Donegal team. It is a youthful squad and these younger players he has introduced into the team are excellent ball players.
There is no substitute for pace in the modern game and when a team has defenders like Eoghan Gallagher scoring 1-1 from play, who needs forwards?
Donegal are worthy Ulster champions. However, a bit like Dublin and Kerry, they have yet to be really tested.
Beating a Division Four team and two Division Three teams (albeit Fermanagh have now been promoted) is hardly adequate preparation for a date with the likes of Dublin.
The Super 8s present a different challenge for all teams who have qualified and also for those who will qualify over the next few weeks.
I think every fan will hope that the quality improves and there is no doubt that the competitiveness of games will be better from this point onward.
The provincial system has become a bit of a joke. The Ulster Championship was the last great bastion of competitiveness on the provincial landscape, but this can no longer be an over-riding argument for retention of the status quo.
We can no longer make a viable argument for its current structure, as outside of Monaghan, Donegal and Tyrone, the remaining Ulster counties have fallen away.
Munster is Kerry’s to own and will be for the foreseeable future.
Leinster... need I say more?
Connacht has become more competitive with Galway’s re-emergence and Roscommon’s progress. And of course, you still have Mayo.
Currently the National League is a superior competition to the provincial Championships because the games are competitive.
The games are played at the worst time of the year, yet their quality can be much superior to the Championship.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
The arguments for a complete restructure of the Championship grow louder and louder with every match, until the Super 8s start.
The problem the GAA runs into centrally is the power of provincial councils.
All provinces want to retain their Championship because it keeps them relevant within the GAA’s structure.
They can retain influence and a certain level of power when organising their respective competitions.
If a complete restructure was proposed, it would only be viable, I presume, with the support of the provincial councils.
Moving the Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht Championships to February or March would facilitate and keep the provincial system in place of the National League.
The winners of each province could get a ‘free pass’ to a new ‘Super 16’.
Every county will then have the opportunity to compete in the race for Sam.
Straight knock-out Championship football would return in an ‘open draw’ format.
Whether this would be seeded or not is open for debate, as the problem lies with, say, a Dublin v Mayo draw in a first round game.
However, for Dublin anyway, it is unlikely that they would be outside any ‘Super 16’ structure as they will qualify automatically for the primary competition as provincial winners.
Mayo’s route may not be as certain with a more competitive environment existing in Connacht.
If you were to win your first round game, the prize would be qualification into the ‘Super 16’.
You lose and a secondary competition would await for the remainder of the season.
The secondary competition games would be played before the ‘Super 16’ games, thus retaining some status as a viable competition.
The winners of the secondary competition would also qualify ‘automatically’ for the ‘Super 16’ the following year.
This is not dissimilar to what has been proposed within other structures.
I retain a socialist viewpoint within a GAA perspective, meaning that any structure of a future competition ensures every county has a chance to compete for Sam Maguire every year.
The introduction of this ‘do or die’ bite into an early season Championship match could well give a shot in the arm to early round games.
Hurling has certainly benefited from a restructure and it seems it has only served to create more interest from fans and spectators of the game.
The time of saying has already passed and we cannot be afraid of change. Something has to be done structurally and, only by having better teams playing better quality opposition, will we raise the standards of our games.
At the minute, the structure is failing the system. This has resulted in dour encounters and provincial finals over by half-time. It’s time for action and qualification to a ‘Super 16’ set-up could be a much bigger prize.