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What Does Covid-19 Mean For This Year’s Championship?

Sam Curtin

Day by day, major events are falling by the wayside due to covid-19. Euro 2020, the Premier League and of course most devastating of all, the Eurovision have succumbed but there has been little news on this year’s All Ireland championships.

What do we know so far? It seems as if the league has been written off with the latter rounds left to play in both codes. In the Connacht football championship both Galway’s trip to New York and Roscommon’s trip to London scheduled for May 3rd have been postponed with no rescheduled date set at present. According to the latest updates from the government this pandemic could continue well into the summer which poses a major threat to the GAA season.

If a full championship cannot take place in both codes, what are the solutions which have been put forward to salvage this season? The reintroduction of a knockout championship for the first time since 1996 in hurling and 2000 in football has garnered a lot of support from fans and pundits alike including Kerry legend Pat Spillane and Donal Óg Cusack.

Who would be the biggest losers in a knockout format? The Cork footballers would arguably be the biggest with their promotion already looking unlikely as the league is set to be discarded for this season. This means that they must beat Kerry in the first round of the Munster championship or face a short summer, the alternative is to gear up for the new tier two championship- the Tailteann Cup which is also in doubt due to the expected shorter timeframe for the championship to be completed.

Munster would again be the hardest hit if a traditional knockout format was introduced in hurling. All five counties have realistic ambitions of contending for Liam McCarthy. Cork are due to face Limerick in Pairc Uí Chaoimh on the 10th of May in the first round of the round robin series. All Ireland champions Tipperary are due to face Waterford on the same day. The question is do these fixtures become the draw for the 1st round of the Munster championship with Clare receiving a bye into the semis or does another open draw take place for both provinces? The fans would also be robbed of some brilliant games on a weekly basis although the cut-throat nature of knockout hurling would surely ensure full houses in both codes at stadiums across the country.

This would be one advantage along with giving the so called ‘weaker counties’ a chance of pulling off an upset in the early rounds without the danger of the heavyweights being able to regain momentum through the qualifiers and ultimately getting themselves back into the latter stages of the championship. 8-time All-Ireland medal winner Spillane agrees saying that “back doors and round robins and super 8’s favour the strong teams, because you might catch a strong county once, but you rarely catch them a second time.” This surely applies to six in a row chasing Dublin who are under new leadership in Dessie Farrell and appear to be going through a minor period of transition and 2020 could be the year where they finally get reeled in. It would also suit the likes of Mayo who have an ageing team and thrive on do or die knockout games especially in recent years coming through the back door

This is an important point to make as the football championship in particular has become predictable in recent years and with the introduction of the super 8’s this has been highlighted even further. As has already been mentioned Cork vs Kerry is a massive game in its own right but under knockout format it becomes colossal. Donegal vs Tyrone in Ulster would also be a great occasion at a full house in Ballybofey. Imagine having two favourites for Sam Maguire being knocked out before June?

Ultimately what we all want is a championship in some shape or form this year and with nearly every major sporting event being postponed until next year it could benefit the GAA hugely with its games being the only show in town this summer. It should see larger crowds and the wider Irish public showing true appreciation for our sport in what could be a fascinating summer ahead. Sometimes you only have to look on the bright side to the light at the end of the tunnel. Stay safe.