Saturday 21 April 2018

Small ball beats big brother for variety

Only seven counties – Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Donegal, Tyrone, Cork and Tipperary – have reached the football semi-final in seven seasons, compared with eight (Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Clare and Limerick) in hurling. Stock image
Only seven counties – Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Donegal, Tyrone, Cork and Tipperary – have reached the football semi-final in seven seasons, compared with eight (Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Clare and Limerick) in hurling. Stock image
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The widening gap between the top football counties and the rest has become so pronounced that hurling is now producing greater variety in the latter stages of the championships.

That's despite its much smaller base, with only 14 counties competing in the Liam MacCarthy Cup tier and further reductions to come if the proposals for a new All-Ireland format are accepted at a Special Congress next month.

Only seven counties - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Donegal, Tyrone, Cork and Tipperary - have reached the football semi-final in seven seasons, compared with eight (Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Clare and Limerick) in hurling.

It leaves Wexford and Offaly as the more notable hurling absentees, a situation that the Model men are hoping to rectify over the coming seasons after making huge progress this year.

Relaunched

Tipperary's first-time qualification for the football semi-final last year was seen as a major boost but it's back to more familiar faces this year, with early favourites Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone taking the four slots.

Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone made it as provincial champions while Mayo successfully relaunched their All-Ireland bid via the qualifiers after losing to Galway in the Connacht semi-final.

Dublin have reached the semi-final every year since 2010 while Mayo made it seven-in-a-row this year. Kerry missed out in 2010 and 2012. The difference between the semi-final line-ups in 2011-17 and the previous seven years is significant.

No fewer than 12 counties (Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Cork, Down, Kildare, Meath, Wexford, Armagh, Fermanagh and Derry) reached the last four in 2004-10).

Even allowing for the massive interest in the semi-finals over the next two weekends, it's worrying for the GAA that a small number of counties are dominating the latter stages of the championship.

And while the format will change next year, with the 'Super 8' series replacing the quarter-finals, there's no obvious sign that the power bases will widen.

In fact, the one-sided nature of the quarter-finals, with the exception of the Mayo-Roscommon draw, suggests that the divide is getting wider.

 

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