Wednesday 20 September 2017

Comment - Super 8s don't look so great after damp squib Saturday

GAA must mind the gap as weekend washouts show round-robin will struggle to make impact

Monaghan’s Fintan Kelly (right) and Neil McAdam can’t hide the pain of their defeat to Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Sportsfile
Monaghan’s Fintan Kelly (right) and Neil McAdam can’t hide the pain of their defeat to Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Early in the second-half of the Dublin-Monaghan game on Saturday, shots of Jim Gavin and Malachy O'Rourke flashed up in quick succession on the big screen in Croke Park.

It was impossible to detect anything from either expression, but it wouldn't have taken any great insight to figure out what they were thinking - and the contrast would have been striking.

Bernard Brogan of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan of Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Improbable

With Dublin leading by eight points and - barring the most improbable of turnarounds - on their way to an eighth successive semi-final, Gavin could muse on when to give six subs a run-out.

The first question facing him was when to start unloading a group that would be first choices in most counties. After that came the challenge of deciding on the men themselves.

He began by sending in Bernard Brogan (right), before Paul Flynn, Darren Daly, Michael Darragh Macauley, Eoghan O'Gara and David Byrne followed.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin.
Dublin manager Jim Gavin.

Gavin would, no doubt, have liked to give Kevin McManamon, Shane Carthy, Niall Scully and Brian Howard some action as well, but, hey, he could only use six.

Meanwhile, the suspended Diarmuid Connolly and the injured Cormac Costello were unavailable.

Such is the powerful hand Gavin can deal from when everyone is in camp.

O'Rourke, who has done an excellent job with limited playing resources in Monaghan, also used six subs, including Conor McCarthy, who did very well, but it made no appreciable difference in a game that everyone knew in advance that Dublin would win - and probably quite comfortably.

Monaghan had stretched Dublin to the limits in the league, leading by six points in the third quarter before being overtaken.

That was an encouraging effort by Monaghan, for whom Jack McCarron scored 1-9 (1-5 from open play).

It was all so different on Saturday.

Monaghan were outgunned from the very start, while McCarron discovered that there's a massive difference between playing a league game in Clones in April and an All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park in August.

The stadium began emptying early in the second-half, with Tyrone and Armagh supporters having no desire to witness another mauling.

Armagh had already endured one, ruthlessly flattened by a Tyrone side that finally ended their quarter-final goal drought.

Without any in the previous six, they hit Armagh for three goals and if their finishing had been a touch more precise it could have been six or seven.

With Dublin and Tyrone winning by a combined total of 28 points, six days after Kerry beat Galway more convincingly than the eight-point margin suggested, it has turned into a very disappointing final year for the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Mayo v Roscommon provided some respite from the washouts, but one out of four isn't exactly satisfactory.

In fact, it's very worrying when viewed in the context of the revamped championship, where the quarter-finals will be replaced by a round-robin format next year.

Would Galway or Armagh have done any better than Monaghan against Dublin? Almost certainly not.

The same goes for Monaghan against Kerry.

And on the evidence of Tyrone's powerful performance, they would deal fairly readily with more than just Armagh.

The GAA has committed to the round-robin - or so-called Super 8s - for the next three years, with the strongest advocates calling on critics to reserve final judgement until it's seen in practice.

Fair enough, but the signs are not encouraging. The gap between the top few counties and the rest appears to be widening, so how many mismatches can we expect next year?

And if the Dublin-Monaghan encounter is taken as an indicator, there's a sizeable divide even within the first division.

If that game was disappointing, the Armagh-Tyrone encounter was even worse.

Hopes of a revival rose dramatically in Armagh after the win over Kildare and while it was asking a lot to beat Tyrone, it was thought that the traditional rivalry between the counties would help balance the scales to some degree.

It didn't happen.

Armagh were simply out-classed from start to finish on a dismal afternoon.

Irish Independent

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