On the 25th of February the GAA passed the motion to introduce a trialled Super 8 into next year’s championship. The proposal, which will eliminate the All-Ireland quarterfinals, will replace the current system with two groups of four, with the top four counties progressing to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It is a decision which has come as a relief to the struggling GAA. The once-great theatrics of the Irish summer has faded and withered into lacklustre verse of a deadened winter. People are losing interest in the GAA, simple as. Attendances for the Allianz National League, right through to the provincial championships, to the latter stages of championship, have all been dwindling, and are continuing to decline.
The proposed system hopes to reignite passion in the GAA, and give football a broader appeal, an idea which in itself is in endangering to engulf the game as a whole. Under the experimented formula, there will be two groups: One will contain the winners of the Munster Championship and the Connacht Championship, as well as the Leinster and Ulster runners up. The second group will feature the Leinster winners paired with the Ulster winners and the runners up of Connaught & Munster. Each team will play three matches, one at home, one away and one in Croke Park, and could introduce twenty four matches across the group stages.
A number of problems are immediately evident with this system: First, there is an overt danger of drowning the hurling championship. Traditionally kept as provincial championships, qualifiers, quarters and semi-finals, the weight of the Super 8 threatens to dwarf the hurling championship, and take away from the game itself. From a television perspective, if Cork are playing Dublin in the football, straight away interest would be surely be diverted away from any game in the hurling championship that does not feature the Big 4. Games such as Cork vs. Dublin, Dublin vs. Donegal, Monaghan vs. Dublin, and Mayo vs. Kerry will all cause GAA fans’ mouths to water with jubilation, with the prospects of renewed rivalries and giant killing. All-Ireland match ups between Clare and Dublin or Waterford and Galway will garner interest in their home counties, but outside the county bounds very little of the spectacle really matches up.
Financially the whole system is a headache for fans. With a two to three hour journey separating the pinpoints to the provinces each (Cork, Galway, Dublin, Derry), the costs to cover an away game with a trip to Croke Park would equate to €100 for adult tickets, never mind the costs for petrol or for families, and things like match programmes, food and drinks.
Clare dual star Podge Collins nailed it on the head in recent weeks, commenting:
“Players club & county don’t agree but who gives a fuck about them. It generates more money & who cares about developing weaker counties”
Across the board there has been an increased opposition to the move, with the GPA outlying their five main concerns. Complaints on the list include diminishing the value of provincial titles, with there being little incentive for local crowns with both the winner and runner up poured into the same category in the All-Ireland, as well as the lack of proper consultation with the players themselves, and the demotivational impact the championship will have on lesser counties.
Already six counties stand out as the cream of the crop: Jim Gavin and his all-conquering Dublin side stand out alongside the old guard in Kerry, the perennial bridesmaids Mayo and tired and tested Donegal. Teams on the up would include Monaghan and Tyrone, two sides remaining from the last of the fully competitive championships, and Kildare, Cork and Tipperary from Munster.