Enda McGinley: Super 8s unlikely to be as open as Armagh v Roscommon
THE time has come. The Super 8s have arrived. It’s funny how when a journalist first coined the term ‘Super 8’, Paraic Duffy came out saying that wasn’t and wouldn’t be the name.
He was perhaps trying to avoid further charges of elitism – the major criticism aimed at the proposals – by using such a tag.
The moniker has stuck and in fairness, elitist or not, with the final line-up now confirmed and expectation levels soaring, it appears perfectly apt.
In Portlaoise last week, I was lucky enough to see the best game I have seen in years. The Roscommon v Armagh encounter literally had those watching giddy with enjoyment and in wonder at what we were seeing.
The teams’ respective supporters were caught up in a complete rollercoaster as the players on the pitch went essentially man to man, barring one token sweeper who, due to the quality of the passing and movement, was rendered largely ineffective.
It was a stunning game, demonstrating that with the speed, fitness and skill levels of our modern players, our game can go to a completely new level.
It has been a funny Championship to date. There has been the normal procession for Kerry and Dublin, the decent fight between the few teams in Connacht, while Ulster has again been won at a canter by Donegal.
In general, it has failed to grab the attention the way we would have come to expect.
This may have been a consequence of several factors, including the earlier start and faster run-off, the decreased coverage, the amazing hurling Championship or the looming Super 8s.
Like a bright beacon in the distance, the Super 8s have easily distracted from the smaller lights along the way.
There have been some great games, notably between teams of equal level, and, in Laois and Fermanagh, some great stories. And yet it still feels as if the Championship needs a spark to ignite it.
Even though it is the inaugural year, there is already pressure on the Super 8s to deliver. Looking at the fixtures, it almost feels inevitable that it will.
Kerry v Galway has classic written all over it with their contrasting styles and several players on either side among the most exciting in the game. Kildare v Monaghan promises to be another huge game. Kildare, with their flying momentum and physicality, will meet a team that loves standing up to illustrious opponents.
In Saturday’s group, I fear the Patrick McBrearty injury factor may be too much for Donegal to mount the very credible challenge they had looked capable of.
Roscommon, fresh from their epic game with Armagh, will no doubt be high on confidence, but Tyrone will pose a very different test than Armagh.
Armagh went man to man largely and, while it made for amazing football, it also gave the likes of Cathal Cregg, Ciaran Murtagh and Enda Smith space to inflict significant damage. They are undoubtedly talented footballers, but I cannot imagine the same space in the Tyrone rearguard.
The Red Hands showed a firm professional ruthless streak against Cork. They know exactly what they are about and if they perform to their level they should have enough to get the points in this game and set up the much-anticipated clash with Dublin.
The games undoubtedly are finely balanced, but the biggest thing that jumps out when trying to analyse them is how little we really know of where the eight teams are at.
It seems unbelievable that this is the case, but considering their runs, we really have few guarantees of comparable formlines.
Kerry waltzed through Munster with cricket scores against Clare and Cork. The Rebels’ two most recent performances were abject and makes the Tipperary one look like an anomaly.
Kerry undoubtedly have an awesome forward line, but whether it can function against proper defensive teams or whether their defence can hold out against higher quality attacks remains to be seen.
Galway have shown their mettle against Mayo, but otherwise we do not know if this team is going to really stand up and be counted at the business end.
Monaghan, having had the great win against Tyrone, had the shock fall against Fermanagh and reached the last eight with the easiest run possible, beating three teams who plied their trade in Division Four this year. Consequently again, we do not know where they are in terms of the level of teams left.
Lastly in this group, we have Kildare. They are the one team we probably have the best handle on.
The Lilywhites are playing close to the very top of the game having used the ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ saga to not circle the wagons, but rather launch the cavalry.
Their physical condition is the talking point of anyone who has played them and the players seem to have found a level where they are happy to display their considerable talents as footballers as well.
The question is to what heights can this very potent combination take them?
The second group’s teams are no less mysterious, bar, of course, the mighty Dublin.
Barring a major upset, it’s hard to evade the notion that the other three teams are playing for second place.
That said, all will very much fancy their chances of securing the other semi-final slot.
Roscommon are the only team from outside this year’s Division One. They have yet to take down a big gun in the Championship and so the doubts remain. Donegal have an exciting team developing, but the memory of the hammerings by Galway and Tyrone last year, along with the loss of McBrearty, means their relatively easy run to an Ulster title leaves the lingering doubts in place.
For Tyrone, there is almost universal acceptance of their status as a top team but an ongoing reliance on three or four key men and their counter-attacking game means the questions raised by last year’s heavy loss to Dublin remain in place.
Questions abound regarding the teams. Then there is the Super 8 competition itself.
How will teams cope with the run of games? How big of an issue will home/away games or momentum be?
For me, the first round should have seen the provincial winners play at home to give their wins appropriate advantage.
A bad loss in the first game will be a massive hit on any team, so to see Galway v Kerry and Dublin v Donegal in the first game is a big advantage to the teams coming through the back door.
Of course, there is the larger question as to the quality of football produced between the top teams.
If it lives up to expectations, expect the calls for a tiered competition to become ever stronger.
Armagh and Roscommon whetted the appetite last weekend. To head into the unknown is always exciting and it is a very rare thing, indeed from a GAA perspective. This is a little bit of history, possibly a major change in our game as we know it.
Let’s hope it lives up to our expectations. Let the show begin.