John McEntee: Ranking system would ensure best sides reach Super 8 series

Niall Sludden nets one of four Tyrone goals during their mauling of Roscommon Picture by Hugh Russell

ROUND one is over, there’s only two more games to go, and already two teams are fighting for their Super 8 lives whilst another’s pulse has flat-lined.

It matters not what Kevin McStay says or does, Roscommon’s season is all but over and I’m sure more than one person has told him to be careful what he wishes for in future.

Their absolute obliteration by Tyrone at the weekend was a welcome reminder to the ‘almost made it’ teams such as Armagh, Cork, Fermanagh and Laois that the gap between the top eight and the rest is expanding, so much so that someone ought to convene a global summit to explore ways to reverse the trend.

To make matters worse, the Rossies’ home challenge this week is to overcome Donegal – granted minus their talisman Patrick McBrearty – in a must-win game for the visitors, who will be hoping to stay in contention for a semi-final spot.

In any game where one team is seeking to restore some pride while the other harbours genuine ambitions, the team intent on winning will prevail.

If my intuition is correct, this will raise many dissenting voices during the third round of games, as a dejected Roscommon will face a second-string Dublin team in an empty Croke Park.

Cries of unfairness and an unbalanced system will reverberate across the country.

I know the executives in Croke Park are aware of this possible scenario so it would be prudent at this early stage to switch the match to Parnell Park, where the capacity and atmosphere will be maximised.

It would lance that boil of Dublin playing twice at Croke Park.

A win-win scenario I hear them shout.

So is Roscommon’s participation in the Super 8s an unfortunate event helped by the fact they hail from a small provincial Championship (beaten finalists after playing two games against Leitrim and Galway) before they avoided one of the better teams in the Qualifier route?

No. Actually, there is a strong chance that, in each year, there will be at least one weak team who make it into the Super 8s.

Thus, there will always be one-sided games and in-built flaws in the system.

The GAA may in future wish to consider seeding teams based on their League standings from the previous spring.

The team who wins the Allianz League would be ranked number one, with the team who finishes bottom in Division One being ranked eighth, irrespective of whether they are relegated or not.

The same process would apply for the other four divisions, with New York tagged on at the end.

Seedings could be disregarded in the provincial Championships but in the Qualifiers the teams retain their seeding and play against a lower-ranked team in a structure that would see the highest-ranked team play the lowest and so on.

After round four of the Qualifiers there should be four good teams advancing to the Super 8s to join the provincial winners.

It would be a fair assumption to make that the Super 8 series would probably comprise of the top eight teams in the country and it would put an end to one-sided games and all the other negative connotations which will be witnessed this year.

Roscommon are the ninth-best team in Ireland, based on performances this year.

If there was a parallel competition for teams who did not make it to the Super 8 series, they would be warm favourites to win it, and rather than exiting like a dog with its tail between its legs, they would be finishing the year off in buoyant mood and eager to make that step up to face the big boys the following year.

Cameras could still focus on the Super 8 series and it could remain the shop window for Gaelic games but the remaining counties could get on with playing football and promoting our games within their counties throughout the summer.

This proposed model allows for traditionalists to retain the provincial Championships, and also allows for the contemporary folk and the GPA to enjoy the benefits the Super 8 series offers while offering a tiered Championship format which may garner broader grassroot support.

It is very difficult to turn back once you start down a road.

The Super 8s are here to stay. The task is to now to refine them so they are palatable to all and continue to capture the paying public’s attention.

This is a recommendation to fix one issue.

It is not an endorsement of the current direction of travel as we no longer have a blank page on which we can scribble.

By Sunday evening there will be placards outside Croke Park stating ‘all ideas welcome’.

If you want to propose a better model, let’s hear it, but before you share your views, be careful what you wish for.

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