Martin Breheny: 'Qualification system not delivering real 'Super 8''
The line-up has yet to be completed, but already there's one certainty about this year's 'Super 8s' - it won't feature the eight best teams.
Either Cork, ranked 15th in the Allianz League and heading for Division 3 next year, or Laois, ranked 18th and on their way up to Division 2, will definitely be there.
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So too will Meath (ninth) or Clare (14th). Monaghan (sixth) are gone and will be joined by either Mayo, Division 1 winners, or Galway, who finished fifth. Either Tyrone (third) or Cavan (eighth) will also be eliminated.
Fermanagh, Kildare and Armagh, all of whom were higher up the league than Clare, Cork and Laois, are out after defeats in the provinces and the qualifiers by Division 1 opposition.
Meanwhile, Cork can reach the last eight by beating Limerick (31st in the league) and Laois (18th). If Laois beat Cork, their Super 8s slot will have been booked by beating opposition with league rankings of 17th, 25th, 22nd and 15th. If Meath beat Clare, wins over opposition ranked 22nd, 23rd, 18th and 14th will have got them into the quarter-finals.
Contrast that with Fermanagh, who were ranked 11th in the league. First up for them were defending Ulster champions, Donegal, who went on to retain the title.
And, when Fermanagh lost, the qualifier draw handed them Division 1 Monaghan, who also did well in the championship over several seasons.
Rory Gallagher and his squad must be seriously envious when they look south to Cork, who reached the last 12 by beating Limerick.
Cork's lucky breaks continued in the qualifiers when they drew Laois, rather than Mayo, Tyrone or Clare. It's by no means certain, of course, that Cork will beat Laois, but they certainly have a better chance than they would against the other trio.
Before Laois, Cork or Clare supporters become apoplectic with rage at any suggestion that their teams aren't Super 8s standard, this has nothing to do specifically with them, but rather with a system that starts from an unfair base in the provincials before handing over to the vagaries of a qualifier draw.
Men like Laois midfielder John O'Loughlin and Clare's Gary Brennan and David Tubridy are examples of players who, throughout their long careers, would have been first choices on all the Division 1 teams, but there's a wider context here. If the function of the Super 8s format is to have the top teams playing each other in a round robin, then the way they get there has to be designed to help the process.
It's quite bizarre that Cork, the largest county in the country, reached the last 12 by beating a team from the bottom end of Division 4, while Fermanagh would have had to beat both the reigning Ulster champions (Donegal) and last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists (Tyrone) to even reach the provincial final.
Leitrim would have had to beat three Division 1 teams to win the Connacht title, while Dublin won Leinster by devouring three opponents with an average league ranking of 16 this year.
Much of the focus is on Dublin's financial and numerical advantages, but there are so many other structural issues in the championship that are far easier to address. That apart, this is a very important year for the Super 8s.
Last year they featured seven of the eight teams, who had been in Division 1 (only Mayo lost out), plus Roscommon, the Division 2 winners.
This year, they will have at least one county ranked 15th or 18th, while there's a possibility that the 14th-placed team will also be there. How competitive will they be? And if Meath qualify, how prepared will they be for the step-up after the demolition by Dublin?
The novelty value ensured big interest in last year's Super 8s, but it wasn't drama and excitement all the way. Dublin and Galway had qualified for the semi-finals after two rounds, while Kildare and Roscommon were eliminated at the same stage. Indeed, Kerry came within seconds of being knocked out after two games.
If Monaghan had beaten them, it would have rendered three of four games in the final round meaningless. As it was, Roscommon and Kildare were the only two out of contention. It showed too as they lost to Dublin and Kerry respectively by a combined total of 26 points.
In a championship with too many one-sided contests already, that wasn't the finale the Super 8s needed.
After one season, the jury were reluctant to reach a decision on them. A repetition this year and heads will be a lot clearer.
Western rivals should get coin out and forget about Limerick
Since managers control just about everything to do with teams, it’s safe to assume that the decision not to toss for venue between Castlebar and Pearse Stadium for the Mayo v Galway qualifier was made by Kevin Walsh (right) or James Horan – or more likely by both.
Instead, the game will be played in Limerick at 7pm on Saturday, a most inconvenient venue and time for supporters from both counties. So if Mayo and Galway had tossed for venue, would the team drawn at home have a big advantage? Not on the basis of the last 20 championship games between them. In fact, it couldn’t be more even with each winning ten games. Of those ten wins, each had five at home and five away. In Mayo’s case, two of them were in Tuam Stadium and three in Pearse Stadium.
All of which suggests that grounds don’t count for very much in the Galway-Mayo rivalry.
So why not toss for venue, tie the outcome into the sequence that applies between them in the Connacht Championship and give all the supporters a break?
Time for noisy campaign in Leinster
Colm Bonnar called for it following Carlow’s relegation from the Leinster hurling championship after one season and now both Eddie Brennan and Joe Quaid are backing a six-county campaign.
Brennan steered Laois to Joe McDonagh Cup success last Sunday, which will see them replace last year’s
winners Carlow in the Leinster Championship next year.
All three are making the valid point that the Joe McDonagh Cup winners find the step-up difficult in year one, but as things stand, that’s as much as they can expect against top opposition.
They would benefit from remaining there and would have a much better chance of doing that if six counties were involved.
If it applied next year, Carlow and Laois would join Wexford, Kilkenny, Galway and Dublin.
This sounds like a time for county boards in that bracket to launch a campaign for change.
Make it noisy to get real attention.