Harte steps up call for provincial kings to get second shot
Mickey Harte has stepped up his campaign for greater reward for provincial champions by reiterating his backing for a Dublin motion that failed at Congress last April.
His own county, Tyrone, also proposed a similar motion whereby the four provincial champions would play off against each other, with the two winners advancing to semi-finals and the losers meeting the best two qualifiers.
As all four provincial champions followed the provincial final losers out of the race for the All-Ireland title, Harte questioned the validity of winning a provincial title under the current format, if it wasn't going to provide an advantage in pursuit of the summer's bigger prize.
The anomaly of all provincial champions missing from the semi-finals is sure to put the spotlight back on the championship format in the off-season. For Harte, change simply has to come soon.
"I think it's unfair that the provincial champions don't get a second chance," he said.
"(The Dublin proposal) validates becoming provincial champions. It gives some substance to that. It gives the provincial champions a second chance short of the semi-finals, where no one gets a second chance anyway.
"It places provincial title status on a higher plain than where it is at the moment.
"In our premier competition this year none of the four champions have made the semi-finals and that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."
Harte has been a consistent critic of the current format and insists his argument has nothing to do with Tyrone's quarter-final defeat to Dublin, who have progressed through the qualifiers.
"This not about Tyrone. I said the same thing when Dublin won five Leinster titles in a row and got no second chance at all. It's about the system, it's about the principle of the thing.
"Everyone knows that when you get beaten in the competition, it's great to be able to regroup in a short space of time again and have another go at it.
"If you get beaten as a provincial champion you have to wait a year to recover from that. That has to be rectified.
"At the moment you have many people saying, 'Is it a good idea to win your provincial title? Are you better off getting beaten?'
"We've been on that road ourselves and have benefited by all means. I still think we could satisfy all criteria by allowing the other system to prevail as well.
"You win your provincial title, you scarcely have time to enjoy it and next thing you are gone from the big prize. That's not fair," argued Harte.
The system proposed by Dublin which failed at Congress last April focused on splitting the All-Ireland quarter-finals into two phases.
Phase 1 would have involved the four provincial champions playing off against each other in pairings decided by a provincial rota system. The winners would progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
The two losers would enter Phase 2 of the All-Ireland quarter-finals as defined in the Dublin motion, brought to Congress by the St Joseph's/ O'Connell Boys and St Olaf's clubs.
There they would meet two teams who have come through the qualifiers as we know them.
The only difference is that the winners of Round 4 in the current format -- the beaten provincial finalists and the Round 3 winners -- would play off against each other in a new Round 5 to determine who went into the All-Ireland Phase 2 quarter-finals.
At the very least this would require one extra weekend which, given that the All-Ireland semi-finals are three and four weeks away, is not impossible.
It would still mean that two of the provincial champions would still have no opportunity for re-entry if they were beaten in the semi-finals.