Monday 24 September 2018

Paul Curran: Super 8 structure favours Dublin and Kerry, and they could dominate for years

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Paul Curran

THE GAA must be delighted that the provincial championships and indeed the qualifiers are finished for another season. You can almost sense a collective sigh of relief that the predictable stuff is over for another year and the real competition begins with the brand new Super 8 format this weekend.

The provincial championships in their present guise are one-sided and boring and the GAA really need to look at this and make the changes to bring life back into the competition.

The Super 8 format will no doubt bring excitement and more competitive games but it is only a competition for the elite and a few others and ultimately doesn’t go close to solving the issues at provincial level.

It is also unfair in terms of how teams actually qualify with the provincial winners getting straight in while the rest of the country play knockout football to book their ticket.

That means that the likes of Dublin and Kerry can basically plan their year to peak in July and August while the rest must be ready to scrap and scrape in early May. That is a massive advantage for the big two so one could expect them both to dominate for years to come.

Having said that, the general consensus is that something needed to be changed in the football competition and this is hopefully the start of tweaking things that will ultimately lead to a fairer format for all.

It is a big weekend ahead for all eight counties and no team will want to lose their opening fixture. Dublin are in a group with the Ulster champions Donegal, Tyrone and Roscommon and kick things off against Donegal on Saturday evening in Croke Park (7.0).

Donegal, under Declan Bonner, have been terrific this year. The negative, system based play has been replaced with an attacking style that has won back the neutrals’ support and has got the home support very excited again.

Under Jim McGuinness, and then Rory Gallagher, the team played the most excruciating brand of football and had people switching TV channels. It was relatively successful but unsustainable and thankfully, for the game’s sake, was blown apart by the quality attack-minded teams like Mayo and particularly Dublin.

Bonner has had to be brave and it takes a lot of self-confidence to change things from one extreme to the other but he has basically torn up the McGuinness blueprint, binned it and has given his young team the freedom to express themselves.

In a province that has become obsessed with negative football he and his team have been excellent to watch and maybe, just maybe the rest will go back to the format which made the Ulster championship a magnificent competition.

I played all my football in the 1990s and Ulster teams won four All-Irelands with an attacking style of football that had the rest chasing shadows.

Some of the great forwards of our time played in those teams and the emphasis needs to revert to coaching the young players to be more expressive and attack-minded. Until that happens the likes of Tyrone, Down, Armagh and Monaghan will be stuck at a level that won’t be good enough to win All-Ireland titles.

Donegal come to Croke Park with huge confidence but they will need to be brave and stick to their attacking game-plan that has brought them provincial success but they will also need to be extremely good at the back.

Paddy McBrearty’s absence through injury is a huge blow to them as he has looked unmarkable at times all year but Donegal are no one-trick–pony.

Michael Murphy has been freed up to be more of an attacking threat and he is capable of making an entire forward line click.

It will be interesting to see what position he takes up come Saturday but I think he would be very difficult to handle on the edge of the square. He will probably switch between there and midfield but he will need to be watched closely wherever he is on the field.

As will Ryan McHugh, who has become a really great utility player who is comfortable playing anywhere on the field. He brings huge energy to each game and he will relish the wide open spaces of Croke Park.

He is also a scoring threat, goals and points, and has a good track record against the Dubs.

Dublin will need to be on their toes. It is a potential ‘banana skin’ but the team is looking better with each game. The injuries have all cleared up and it looks like Jim Gavin has more or less a full squad to pick from.

It is a game that will be fiercely contested and may well be still in the balance going into the last quarter but Dublin have the quality to come off the bench when required and they also have incredible experience of winning the big games and close out the tight games so on that basis I expect them to find a way to win the game.

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