Comment: If the Rossies don’t belong in the Super 8s... who does?
THE message of last week’s column could be distilled down to the following: Everything is falling into place for Dublin.
On The Sunday Game three nights ago, Joe Brolly went further: “It looks very much as though everyone else is playing for second place.”
This may seem slightly strange in the context of back-to-back Dublin performances that didn’t quite match the perfectionist standards of Jim Gavin.
Dublin have reached the last-four with a Super 8 game to spare but they haven’t laid waste to Donegal, winning by five points, or Tyrone, winning by three.
They have left the door slightly ajar.
Still it’s hard to dispute Brolly’s conclusion that while you may slow down the Dubs for a while, you won’t sustain it.
With Mayo gone, Kerry hanging on grimly while revealing multiple flaws in their talented but structurally creaking ranks, you are left with Galway, Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal ... all hoping that Dublin fall prey to a one-off systems malfunction in a knockout semi or final. Playing for second place? Brolly might be right.
We take issue, however, with his suggestion that Roscommon would be far better served playing in a second tier championship instead of suffering the “public humiliation” of exposure to the Super 8s.
Now, in one respect, our eminent barrister is on the money: the Rossies have been “out of their place” these past two weekends.
But if you are to bring this argument to its logical conclusion, then we wouldn’t have a ‘Super 8’ elite to begin with.
Maybe a Supreme 6. Or a Wonderful 1 (the Dubs) who’ll play their ‘B’ team every year for Sam Maguire bragging rights, while the next five play for second place and the rest do battle for the Páidí Ó Sé Cup.
This is Brolly’s moniker-of-choice for a second tier championship. It has a beguiling ring, and we support the notion of a properly structured and promoted tier two, with the final played off amid much fanfare as the All-Ireland SFC final curtain-raiser.
But where is the cut-off point? How many play for Sam, how many for Páidí, and who decides?
Roscommon, you see, have more than earned the right to a seat at the top table. Over the past decade, the most reliable yardstick in separating the best from the rest has been the Allianz League.
The four-tier structure has fostered healthy competition in each division. Teams with no real chance of silver have been able to chase tangible targets.
The only problem is that creating an eight-team top flight has magnified the gulf between our leading football counties and the next best. Perhaps this gap would have grown in any event; but the league has certainly played its part. We are struggling to recall a weaker Division 2 than this year’s version.
Over recent years, Roscommon have pushed consistently hard to become a top-eight side. They spent 2016 and ’17 in Division 1, were relegated but then bounced straight back last spring.
The current SFC structure may be crazily lopsided (Ros only had to beat Leitrim to reach a Connacht final) but their three-year league and championship form graph more than warrants a place in the first tier.
They beat Cavan in the Division 2 decider, overcame Division 3 champions Armagh in a recent qualifier humdinger, and are certainly more deserving of a top-tier place than Clare, Tipperary, Meath and Cork, who all finished below them in this year’s league.
Even in a tiered championship, mismatches are inevitable - that’s not enough reason to make the elite even more elitist.