Sunday 18 August 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Farcical finale sums up why unfair Super 8s format is a total flop'


Dublin fans secure ‘selfies’ with Bernard Brogan after the clash against Tyrone which felt more like a challenge match. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Dublin fans secure ‘selfies’ with Bernard Brogan after the clash against Tyrone which felt more like a challenge match. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Enough is enough. Yesterday's dismal farrago in Omagh should be the final nail in the coffin of the Super 8s.

It was a ludicrous spectacle. A week before the All-Ireland semi-finals two depleted teams unenthusiastically produced something resembling one of those early-season challenge matches which mark the opening of a new clubhouse.

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You couldn't even call it a 'glorified' challenge match. The world glorifying champion couldn't glorify this one. There have been games of pitch and toss which displayed greater competitive intensity and mattered more to the contestants.

Tyrone's starting 15 didn't contain a single first-choice player. Dublin's contained a handful in need of a run-out. Neither manager would have named such a grossly understrength side for a National League game. They take that competition too seriously.

These line-ups were more like the kind which contest O'Byrne and McKenna Cup games. Nearing the climax of the season we were miraculously transported back to the time before it properly begins. It felt entirely nonsensical.

The game's one merit was that it exposed the utter stupidity of the current system. The Super 8s were, from their inception, the answer to a question which nobody had asked. They resulted from a conviction that change to the championship is such an essentially good thing, it scarcely matters what form that change takes.

Before last year's series, the tribe of obsequious fellow travellers who'd praise half-time human sacrifice if Croke Park decreed it gushed about the new thrills guaranteed by this ground-breaking format. The sceptics who wondered if there really were eight teams fit to grace such a series were encouraged to look on the bright side.

Super 8s part one turned out to be a disaster. Don't judge too quickly, said the boosters, give it time because it could catch fire next year. But, now that episode two has proved as tedious as the first, even the most fervent propagandists are running out of excuses.

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Their only argument now is the format has to continue because its three-year trial period must be completed. This is the kind of thinking which insists that even if rules do not work or make any sense they must still be followed because they are the rules. It is the bureaucratic mindset at its worst.

There is no good reason to keep the Super 8s alive. Proved unfit for purpose, they must be discarded before any more time is wasted and any more games like yesterday's sully what should be the most exciting time of the year.

On the evidence of 2019, football does not have a Super Eight. It has a Famous Five. Cork, Roscommon and Meath had no chance of progressing to the semi-finals. The only chance of victory for the first two lay in the game between them. The Royals were doomed to pointlessness before they kicked a ball.

Group Two was an utter waste of time with Dublin and Tyrone guaranteed qualification. Group One was unbalanced. Kerry, who had Mayo at home and Donegal on neutral ground, got a much better deal than Donegal, whose home game was against a Meath side they'd have beaten at any venue. That the former topped the group while the latter missed out on qualification is not unconnected with the vagaries of the draw. There seemed no great difference between the teams when they went head to head.

The unfairness of the system does not stop there. Having produced a huge effort to beat Donegal, a bruised and battered Mayo must play an All-Ireland semi-final next Saturday. It will be their seventh game in eight weeks.

Before the advent of the Super 8s, a team which won its quarter-final first time out had a three-week break before the semis. The gap seemed a reasonable one for a team to recharge and prepare for the second biggest game of the football season. But now the competition is being hurried through like some county championship whose winners must begin the provincial campaign by a prescribed date. The schedule has become ridiculous for players overburdened by a new system which adds nothing to football but extra fixtures.

There have been a few good games in the Super 8s but nothing like enough to justify replacing quarter-finals. Playing 12 matches at this stage of the competition rather than four is overkill. The best games would have happened under the old system anyway and the best of them all, Kerry's draw with Donegal, would have provided a replay to savour.

Instead we have this elongated, misshapen and misbegotten system with its dead rubbers and its devaluation of the semi-finals by the denial of sufficient preparation time to the teams involved. It doesn't make a lick of sense.

The undeniable decrepitude of the Super 8s probably won't bother the GAA. It is an organisation convinced that persisting with an idea that's been proven wrong is a strength rather than a weakness.

Next up is an even more disastrous innovation, a two-tier championship which will disrespect, dishearten and disenfranchise several counties who trail Cork, Meath and Roscommon by no more than those counties do Dublin and Kerry.

"Something just doesn't feel right about this game," said Oisín McConville as an eerie silence enveloped Omagh. Down in Cork, a pitiful 2,356 people attended the game against Roscommon. That's how much meas fans had on the day's second non-contest. People aren't daft. They know exactly how 'Super' the Super 8s really are.

Giving the format a third year will just mean flogging a very unwell horse. It's time to put the wretched thing out of its misery before 'Prime Time' do an exposé about the cruelty being inflicted on football spectators.

The Super 8s are bringing the game into disrepute.

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