Saturday 24 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Dead rubber stink may yet overpower Super 8s idea'


Bernard Brogan came on for the final minutes after returning from injury. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Bernard Brogan came on for the final minutes after returning from injury. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Jim Gavin used last year’s dead rubber against Roscommon as a chance to give his fringe stars some game time with Paul Flynn making a rare start. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Supporters of the Super 8s, be warned! There's a high probability that next Saturday's action will leave you trying to make a case that doesn't stand up, unless meaningless games are regarded as an appropriate lead-in to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Surely you can't believe that, but it's exactly what will happen if Dublin and Tyrone beat Roscommon and Cork respectively. The odds on a double involving the latter two are 95/1, underlining the scale of the task awaiting the outsiders in Croke Park.

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By 8.35pm on Saturday evening, Dublin and Tyrone will almost certainly have qualified for the semi-finals from Group 2, with Cork and Roscommon eliminated.

Round 3 would still go ahead on the first weekend of August, with Tyrone hosting Dublin in Omagh and Cork playing Roscommon in Páirc Uí Rinn.

The Tyrone-Dublin winners would top the group and play second place in Group 1 in the semi-final, but there's no real advantage in that so why even bother playing the game? As for Cork v Roscommon, it would be no more than an end-of-season kick-about, which is everything a championship game shouldn't be.

In Group 1, the losers of Mayo v Meath next Sunday will be out of contention for a semi-final place, leaving them with no direct interest in their final game. Their opponents may need to take something out of Round 3, so at least the group would be alive, unlike Group 2, which relies on an upset on Saturday to have a meaningful conclusion.


If Dublin and Tyrone have already qualified for the semi-final by the time they line up for Round 3, we can expect Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte to get into mind games with their selections.

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Why should they field full teams and engage in all-out war when they have already qualified for the semi-finals, which come up a week later?

Having reached the semi-finals after two rounds last year, Gavin made 11 changes to his starting line-up for the final game against Roscommon, who were already eliminated.

Dublin still won by 16 points, which was hardly surprising since their players were working hard towards winning starting places, whereas Roscommon were switched off.

In the other group, Kerry, who needed to win their final game to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals, beat Kildare, who were eliminated, by 12 points.

As it happened, it was no use to Kerry as Monaghan beat Galway, who were already booked in for the semi-finals.

Dead rubbers in Round 3 were always a risk in the Super 8s format and while we saw last season what happens when one team in a pairing has nothing to play for, it will be even more marked this year if Dublin and Tyrone win next Saturday.

Changing the running order this year, so that the provincial winners met in the second, rather than the first round, increased the chances of dead rubbers in Round 3.

It was decided to proceed anyway after complaints that it was unfair on provincial champions (apart from Dublin) to leave them until Round 3 for their home game.

If Dublin v Tyrone and Cork v Roscommon turn out to be dead rubbers, it will raise serious questions about whether the Super 8s continue past their third experimental season next year.

That's as it should be as other issues arise too. With the GAA now locked into playing the football final on the first Sunday in September, the programme becomes very crowded in July/early August.

Tyrone (next Saturday) and Mayo (Sunday) will be in action for a fifth successive weekend, a very demanding schedule that doesn't give them the best chance of doing themselves justice.

Of course, the argument will be put that they would have avoided such a heavy workload by winning their provincial titles, but then they faced far more competitive local challenges than Dublin and Kerry, neither of whom had to beat any opponent with a league ranking higher than nine.

I always had reservations about the Super 8s concept on the basis that a round-robin should not apply so late in the championship.

In other sports, it's used in the earlier stages, clearing the way for a straight knockout later on.

The GAA took a different approach, turning the old-style quarter-finals into a 12-game round robin. Fine in theory, but not always in practice, as events are about to prove.

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