Home GAA The August Bank Holiday Weekend Ain’t What It Used To Be For GAA Fans Anymore

The August Bank Holiday Weekend Ain’t What It Used To Be For GAA Fans Anymore

Image By Florian Christoph via Flickr

Later today, the All-Ireland quarter-finals get underway under a blanket of unfamiliar indifference. For thirteen years, the August Bank Holiday weekend sat proudly as the best weekend on the GAA calendar. Four quarter-finals would take place over two days, virtually all of them at Croke Park, and for many it marked the real start of knockout championship action between the country’s best teams. To qualify for the quarter-finals marked you out as a team of note, and it was an honour and aim in itself.

As of last year, the GAA shot itself in the foot at least once, if not twice just to be certain, by scrapping the allotment of all quarter-finals for what is arguably the most popular weekend of the year, even excluding the bonus of top class footballing action. Nowadays, two quarter-finals take place alongside two fourth round qualifiers. The much anticipated theatre of the quarter-final draw has also been scrapped. The change was implemented as part of a new scheduling system, which has provided some benefits, though hardly anything of monumental improvement. By far its biggest downside is the reduction in spectacle of the August weekend’s football. That’s probably been further compounded this year with a line-up of Kerry v Kildare, followed by Dublin v Fermanagh. While both games deserve a chance to quicken the pulse, as far as build up is concerned they’re hardly a recipe for giddiness.

The best weekend of the GAA calendar now takes place one week later, when two football quarter-finals precede an All-Ireland hurling semi-final. It’s a cracking prospect, and might even be superior to the traditional August Bank Holiday line-up. However, the blockbuster weekend of the year was surely better off being slated for a Bank Holiday weekend, and the August version of the Monday break is probably the most eagerly anticipated of the summer’s breaks.

The introduction of the qualifier system itself, and of a quarter-final round, has been a massive success. No longer are the majority of teams left to decay over the best months for football on account of losing a single game. While it’s generally now agreed that the GAA needs to build on this system and strengthen its format once more, we can at least be thankful that the current system, though not faultless, was a big step in the right direction.

Many felt it would improve the chances of weaker teams, and it has. 21 counties have been able to secure at least one fixture on a marquee weekend in Croke Park, and reaching the quarter-finals became an excellent, realistic and rewarding target for many. Fermanagh and Wexford’s runs to the semi-finals in 2004 and 2008 respectively, despite not winning their provincial championships, stand out as exceptional moments for the ‘new’ system.

There’s been no revolution, however. Kerry and Dublin were the most successful teams prior to the change of format, and many felt they would be punished more often upon its introduction. But Kerry have never failed to reach the quarter-finals while bagging five batches of Celtic crosses. Dublin have won Sam twice, and only once failed to reach the quarter-finals in 2003. Though we have had two first time winners in the form of Armagh and Tyrone, those occurrences could hardly be attributed to the more equitable system. Both counties produced their finest ever teams, and would have run off with Sam at some point regardless of structure.

One of the most compelling stats produced during this era concerns Mayo. Only Kerry (9) have reach more All-Ireland finals than what the Westerners have accrued (4). Remarkably, in spite of that, they have not managed to put an end to a famine that stretches back to 1951. Also noteworthy is the fortune, or lack thereof, that has befallen the new system’s first ever winners. Galway hammered Meath in the 2001 final, but the Tribesmen have failed to win a single game in Croke Park since.

The current system has tendered many portions of elation and emotion, and for a long time provided us with the most eagerly anticipated weekend of the footballing year. The quarter-finals aren’t what they used to be, and it seems likely that its days of the championship’s current guise might well be limited. However, the GAA deserve plenty credit for what was a well thought out and exciting improvement on what went before.

All-Ireland Quarter-finalists 2001-15:

Kerry (15): 2001-2015

Dublin (14): 2001, 2002, 2004-2015

Cork (11): 2002, 2005-2014

Tyrone (11): 2001, 2003-2005, 2007-2011, 2013, 2015

Mayo (10): 2002, 2004- 2006, 2009, 2011-2015

Donegal (9): 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011-2015

Armagh (7): 2002-2006, 2008, 2014

Galway (6): 2001-2003, 2005, 2008, 2014

Kildare (6): 2008- 2012, 2015

Meath (4): 2001, 2007, 2009, 2010

Laois (4): 2003, 2005, 2006, 2012

Monaghan (4): 2007, 2013-2015

Westmeath (3): 2001, 2004, 2006

Derry (3): 2001, 2004, 2007

Roscommon (3): 2001, 2003, 2010

Fermanagh (3): 2003, 2004, 2015

Sligo (2): 2002, 2007

Down (2): 2010, 2012

Wexford (1): 2008

Limerick (1): 2011

Cavan (1): 2013

All-Ireland Semi-finalists 2001-14:

Kerry (12): 2001-2009, 2011, 2013, 2014

Cork (8): 2002, 2005-2010, 2012

Dublin (8): 2002, 2006, 2007, 2010-2014

Mayo (6): 2004, 2006, 2011-2014

Tyrone (5): 2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2013

Donegal (4): 2003, 2011, 2012, 2014

Armagh (3): 2002, 2003, 2005

Meath (3): 2001, 2007, 2009

Derry (2): 2001, 2004

Galway (1): 2001

Fermanagh (1): 2004

Wexford (1): 2008

Down (1): 2010

Kildare (1): 2010

All-Ireland Finalists 2001-14:

Kerry (9): 2002, 2004-2009, 2011, 2014

Mayo (4): 2004, 2006, 2012, 2013

Tyrone (3): 2003, 2005, 2008

Cork (3): 2007, 2009, 2010

Armagh (2): 2002, 2003

Dublin (2): 2011, 2013

Donegal (2): 2012, 2014

Galway (1): 2001

Meath (1): 2001

Down (1): 2010

All-Ireland Champions 2001-14:

Kerry (5): 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2014

Tyrone (3): 2003, 2005, 2008

Dublin (2): 2011, 2013

Galway (1): 2001

Armagh (1): 2002

Cork (1): 2010

Donegal (1): 2012

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