The Senior Football Championship structure has been changed drastically over the weekend as the GAA Congress voted in a round-robin or ‘Super 8’ format to replace the current quarter finals while also voting in favour of pushing All Ireland finals back two weeks.
The changes have created widespread panic among the GAA community with hurling heads feeling neglected while the clubmen aren’t feeling any better.
The major change was passed by a comfortable majority with the only spoken opposition being Diarmuid O’Donovan of the Cork county board and the Gaelic Players Association’s (GPA) chief executive Dermot Early.
A comfortable majority, though one which excludes the views of over 20,000 club players registered with the Club Players Association (CPA), who have not been officially recognised by the GAA, and “democratically” pushes aside the views of over 2,100 intercounty players within the GPA who will bear the most stress of the congested championship.
Yes, it seems as though the GAA has gone mad, but, if you take a step back and look at it from a slightly skewed angle you can see a glimmer of what might result from the new structure and, in this light, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea the GAA has ever put forward.
The new structure will not only allow a ‘weaker’ county on a good run to have a go at one of the big boys, but also gives them two more hugely competitive championship games against high quality opposition, which can only result in major advances for that county.
The likes of Tipperary reaching the semi-final stages again may not occur again for a long time but the new set up allows them the ability to stand back up from a loss and push on for another two or three weeks while they have their players at that high level of fitness and intensity.
The congestion of this year’s championship is a great thing to see. Although it may result in difficulties for club and hurlers this year, it is a start and it gives the GAA something it can look at again in a year or two’s time and build upon.
The new Super 8 round will see the best play the best before the Semi-final stage which is something we haven’t seen an awful lot of within the current structure. Kerry played three championship games to reach the All Ireland semi-final. It just so happened that the only competitive championship game they played was that semi-final. The same can be said for Dublin who, up until that point, never met a single team that looked like beating them.
Now, in theory, Dublin, along with Mayo, Kerry, Tyrone and Donegal will be forced into playing three competitive games before reaching the semi-final stage of the All Ireland. This should be embraced by fans and players who can only improve from the additional games.
Not everything is as magical and fantastic as that for the GAA, however, as these changes will do very little for counties who fail to make it past the qualifier stages year in and year out such as Carlow, Wicklow, Waterford or Leitrim who need a lot more support from the GAA to help bring them to a competitive standard at championship level.
The GAA has now set the wheels rolling. The next step is figuring out how to bring the weaker counties and the club players along for the ride.