Last weekend’s GAA congress saw the introduction of what is being dubbed as the ‘Super 8’ restructure of the All Ireland football championships in 2018. The new format retains the old provincial model including the backdoor. The four provincial runners up still play the backdoor qualifiers for a spot in the last eight and join the four provincial winners to form the ‘Super 8’.
Eight teams will be split in two groups of four where each team face each other once, with the top two in each table advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals – bullshit!
Clearly, experimenting with a format change was needed but after such long debate across the country is this the best they could come up with? Whose interests are being served? Why was there no structure change passed for hurling?
Numerous restructure proposals have been suggested and explored over the past year, most of which were much more radical than the ‘Super 8’. Personally, I don’t think a two-tier system is the way forward, the idea of a B division could further deflate hunger amongst the weaker counties. Part of the glamour attached to championship football is the level playing field and equal opportunity regardless of form, reputation or standard, as each county begins their romantic journey to glory.
Another structure proposed was the world cup format which involves scrapping the provincial format and instead dividing 32 counties in eight groups of four, with the top two from each group advancing to a last 16 knockout phase.
My favourite model proposed however is the successfully tried and tested system used by the NFL. Scrap the league, every county will be guaranteed 16 games each season, like the world cup format, teams are divided in eight groups of four except they play each other twice, along with ten additional games against opponents outside their group. Counties can be seeded by their performance in the previous season. Meaningless league games will be eliminated as every game contributes towards their ranking for the following season’s championship draw.
The ‘Super 8’ structure of 2018 does nothing to help the weaker counties as they never reach the quarter final stage, it could potentially even further the gap by improving the dominant counties as it affords them two additional competitive games, and it certainly increases the GAA’s bankroll with eight extra games to fill stadiums. Perhaps with the knock-out element eliminated under the ‘Super 8’ structure might lead to a drop of fan’s interest and attendance, but this won’t bother the GAA hierarchy with the extra TV revenue they will generate.
Hurling, the GAA’s better half, was left alone to further suffer from the exhausted ancient structure, with true contenders whittling away each year. It seems a more comprehensive reform is required to encourage the nationwide standard to save our beautiful game that epitomises the identity of Irish sport. As much as I’m against the ‘Super 8’, why not introduce it to both codes? Especially when hurling is crying out for more games, at least it might ensure the current competitiveness is maintained.
It’s hard to make sense of the championship amendments thus far and unfortunately, we’re signed up to the ‘Super 8’ plan for the duration of three years; at the very least, hopefully this will allow for enough time to debate and develop a plan to implement an All-Ireland championship structure prosperous for all in 2021.
By Ciarán Cunningham 21:48 – 28th Feb 2017