'Super 8 is the ceiling for most of us': Gallagher
THE days of shock semi-finalists in the All-Ireland SFC could be over thanks to the introduction of the Super 8s, feels Fermanagh boss Rory Gallagher.
He had just stepped away from inter-county football when his native county reached the last four back in 2004, while Tipperary were the most notable side to emerge from the shadows when they reached a semi-final two years ago.
The introduction of a round-robin quarter-final system from this season onwards will see the top two teams from each of the two groups of four progress to the semi-final.
Conventional wisdom suggests that those with the strongest squads will take advantage of the safety net and will find their way through in late July.
Reaching the Super 8 will be one of the primary ambitions for as many as two-thirds of the teams involved in the All-Ireland series, while some will also hope for a tilt at a provincial crown.
Gallagher admits that the last eight will become the ceiling now for those outside the top bracket but says the existence of the provincial championships is crucial in retaining the players' interests.
“100 per cent, that is the ceiling. But for those same counties, maybe with the exception of Leinster given Dublin are in it, there's still a provincial title.
“Clare and Tipperary, I can only imagine that's their sole focus; Roscommon have done it, Sligo have been in Connacht finals and won one in 2007.
“I can only imagine for Fermanagh, who have never won one, for Down at this stage, Armagh haven't won one in ten years, they still believe they can win the Ulster championship this year.
”They don't see the ceiling in Ulster. I think people are very quick to criticise but having been in it and spoken to the players, they're very content with the setup.
“They look forward to the Ulster championship, and the thought of getting to the Super 8s is exciting.”
The former Donegal boss, who takes his Fermanagh side into Ulster action against Armagh on Saturday evening, feels that the idea of reaching the Super 8s carries a real attraction, even if there is no silverware at the end of it.
The Belleek native feels that the potential of a home game against one of the big guns appeals to players where a tiered championship doesn't, and said the media must take its share of the blame for that.
“It is the way it is in practically every sport, with the exception maybe of in the States, where they draft players to the weaker teams.
“It's always a small number of teams that have a chance of success, but at the same time, since the All-Ireland qualifiers came in, 23 teams have made it to the last eight. That's very good, over 60 per cent of the teams.
“Now if you're lucky enough to get into the Super 8, you get three games. I think the thoughts of Carlow, Longford, Fermanagh, Armagh, whoever, having a quarter-final at home against Dublin or Kerry, it doesn't get much better than that.
“I went into the press room after [the Division Three final] and the lack of interest from the media in it – there isn't the interest out there, in my opinion, in a second tier championship for football.
“I don't believe it would excite players. I can definitely say having been involved in Donegal and Fermanagh that the excitement of the Ulster Championship, the draw being made back in October right to the whole preparation and lead-up to it, is very special.
“I don't see a second tier competition gripping players. Everyone wants their couple of big days.
“The media talk about it a lot, how it would be great, but I don't think they then reflect it in the reporting of teams in Division Three and Four.
“The people they want to write about, and that people want to read about, are the best teams and people playing in the premier competition.”