Change the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship structure was the demand placed on the GAA.
Give players more games. But it wasn’t as simple as that. You also had to condense the season to ensure that there was enough time for club players.
So you have to play more games in a shorter space of time – oh, and reduce player burnout as well.
You have to do all this, while bearing in mind that there are hurling championships too – both at inter-county and at club level.
It is literally impossible to do all of these things together, so strong are the contradictions in what different parties were looking for.
So the GAA put out a proposal that they thought was the best go-between, the greatest way to settle as much of these as possible. The ‘Super 8’ system, along with making sure the All-Ireland finals were played in August, was what they came up with. It gives more games (for some) and shortens the season, which in turn gives more time for club players.
And almost everyone is, as a result, unhappy.
The ‘Super 8’ solution isn’t perfect. That said, you have to look at the reason it was brought in.
Last year, Kerry drew Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final. This was seen as a ‘soft’ tie for the Kingdom, who had already beaten the Banner in Munster before beating Tipperary in the provincial final. There were cries that such a situation should never happen again, that you should have to play stronger opposition to reach the All-Ireland semi-final.
The ‘Super 8’, for all its flaws, does ensure that if a side reaches the semi-final of the Championship, they must out-preform at least two of the top eight teams in the country. It ends ‘soft’ passages to the latter end of the championship (in theory, anyway), which was such a contentious issue in 2016.
It doesn’t do much for the weaker counties but no proposal I’ve heard yet does. A round robin from the start would only mean the weaker teams suffer three heavy defeats, instead of two, and eliminates the chance of playing someone at their level – a chance currently offered in the early rounds of the qualifiers.
Now, as we saw with the GPA’s statement earlier in the week, a big problem of theirs was that they were not consulted in the process. This is a fair grievance to have but it implies that they would have rejected any proposal, making their arguments against this specific structure less robust.
The other points they made about how weaker counties won’t benefit are important – but they have yet to come up with a solution. In fact, they were strongly against a ‘B’ Championship – so they want the weaker teams to improve but don’t want them playing at their standard? That’s but another contradiction in this which made Paraic Duffy’s job so much harder when he drew up the proposal which passed reasonably comfortably.
The GAA were put in a tough position. Quite often they get criticised for not making any changes, for keeping the status quo. Here, they made the change – the most drastic since the introduction of the qualifiers – and they’re still in the wrong.
Despite being the body who make the rules, it feels the game is rigged against them – they can’t win. Everything they do is perceived as having an agenda.
So no, this change won’t improve the standard of football across the board – but it does mean that everyone will have a similar path to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Isn’t that what we wanted all along?
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena