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As long as provinces are GAA's sacred cow, Super 8 is the best we can hope for

By Peter Canavan

So the four quarter-finals were a wash-out and the argument is that, on the basis of what the football championship produced over the past two weekends, the Super Eights will be a disaster when it's introduced next year.

Since the Bank Holiday, I have heard the question asked about what the Super Eights will do for the weaker teams. Well, I'd ask in return what have the All-Ireland quarter-finals ever done for the weaker teams?

They are generally out of the running by the time August comes around so it's a moot point. Put bluntly, football at this time of year has never really included anyone except the top side teams, so why would it start now?

We spend a lot of time in the GAA trying to be fair and come up with a system that brings as many teams along as possible.

And there's no doubt the incoming system is flawed in certain ways, but the current system with the back door is flawed too. And the structure before that, that saw you gone for the summer if you lost once, had obvious issues as well.

For where we are right now and working within the constraints of what is realistic, I think the Super Eights is as good as it gets.

Congress seemed to think so too. There's been plenty of opposition this week to the Super Eights but the motion got 76pc of the vote in Congress last year, meaning the stronger counties weren't alone in voting for it.

Now, I can understand the argument that the three games across three weekends at the quarter-final stage next year will only work for the teams with a big panel like Dublin, Tyrone, Mayo and Kerry. But let's take a closer look at how it might look.

Had the Super Eights been in place for this year you would have had Kerry, Roscommon, Armagh and Monaghan in the one group, meaning that you'd likely have one of the last three into an All-Ireland semi-final along with the Kingdom which would represent brilliant progress.

The other side would have seen Dublin, Tyrone, Mayo and Galway fight it out. Don't tell me that wouldn't have produced some great games if the Dubs had to go to Omagh and Mayo were sent to Salthill.

Of course there's an element of luck of the draw involved too, but the point is it will be possible for some less fancied teams to make the last four.

I also think it will be a huge incentive for the teams in the chasing pack behind the top four to make the last eight where they'll get to test themselves against the best.

People might say those teams have been shown to be well off the pace this year, but three games in the middle of August is the place to be for any team with ambition. It'll also give you a big championship game at home and one in Croke Park.

Look, it's not a panacea by any stretch. I don't think for a minute that the Super Eights will come in and cure all ills and put an end to one-sided matches, but I think its worth running with because it seems the provincial championships are the GAA's sacred cow. And as long as they remain in place, we're not going to have a truly fair system.

It's a pity too because when you look at the league, which grades teams by their ability rather than geographic location, it produces consistently great competition. That's because counties are playing teams that are rated in and around the same as themselves.

Look at some of the stories of this summer. Armagh made the last eight by beating Fermanagh, Westmeath, Tipperary and Kildare, all sides that wouldn't be ranked too far away from them. Carlow were the same. There seems to be a feel good factor around their football team but they beat Wexford, London and Leitrim who were Division Four sides like themselves earlier this year. There was no giant killing there.

But still counties consistently oppose the idea of a tiered competition. I agree the GAA have to do more to sell the idea of a second tier to the teams that it would affect but it shouldn't be that hard because it's an idea we are already very familiar with in the GAA.

There are already four tiers in hurling with talk of a fifth. At club level we have several grades. I know playing in the senior grade is a great incentive for intermediate clubs in Tyrone. But at county level that doesn't seem to hold any appeal.

Instead we're stuck on the idea that all 33 counties who start the championship should all fight it out for the same prize no matter how unrealistic that might be.

And so if counties resist change that is designed to help them be more competitive then they will have to change themselves.

If counties with small playing populations like Monaghan and Roscommon can win provincial silverware and make the last eight, can every other county say they are working as hard? I'm familiar with what's going on in Monaghan because I'm beside them. They are being really smart about how they coach their players in clubs and schools. And they have to be because they are pulling from relatively small numbers.

The point is county boards have a lot of power and control over how they run their affairs and conduct their business. For example, Tyrone would be ranked as one of the stronger counties but Mickey Harte's players are regularly available to their clubs. Division One clubs have played 13 league games and county players have been available for nine of them.

That brings up the standard of the league for everyone and in turn Tyrone football gets stronger. Monaghan have done likewise.

Are all counties doing what they can to make the most of what they have? I'm not sure.

So while the results didn't look good in this year's quarter-finals, the Super Eights are just one part of a much bigger picture. Of course, there's more that can be done, but don't push the panic button just yet.

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