New format but same old story in All Ireland
Published 18/08/2007 | 10:41
Some people would have you believe it's been a good football championship. Those people would be wrong. Not just because no Ulster teams have made it into the last four but because like so many other sporting events it's the same old story most of the time.
Let's look at the facts. After all the talk, three of last year's semi-finalists are back at the same stage as last year.
Welcome back to the business end of the season to Kerry, Dublin and Cork and say hello to the new boys this season - Meath!
So much for a championship format that's breathing new life into the game.
It's clearly not. Let's face facts. Apart from Monaghan and to a lesser extent Derry and Sligo it's been the same old faces fighting for the coveted last four.
Monaghan were the team of the championship not just because they made the last eight but because of their style of play.
It was swashbuckling and exciting all the way. After their semi-final defeat few gave Derry much of a chance but they battled to the last eight and for a time had Dublin sweating a little.
The back door system hasn't really produced too many talking points.
There are the usual upsets with the likes of Sligo in Connacht and Longford taking the early scalp of Westmeath in Leinster but that's been about it.
The back door was introduced in a bid to try and improve standards but you have to wonder if that's the case.
The strong do appear to be getting stronger, but the provincial champions lose out.
You have to wonder what are the advantages of being the top dog in your own part of the country.
Tyrone and Sligo made their exit two weeks ago and Kerry almost followed after a six week break from playing games.
I'm not so sure the present system is the way to go but if it is going to be retained it needs changing.
Here's one way. Let's give some advantage and a second chance to the provincial champions.
Here's how. When you win your provincial title you should be allowed to go ahead and play your next game against the champions of whatever province has been drawn that year.
This year, for example, Kerry would have played Dublin and Tyrone would have played Sligo.
The winners of those games would go into their respective semi-finals on their own side of the draw.
The beaten provincial champions would then wait until the qualifiers were down to the last two and not the last four.
They would then play those two teams for a spot in the semi final.
If that change isn't made it then the standing of the provincial championships will continue to fall. In fact if the system stays the same I think we can expect teams to opt for the back door rather than moving on as champions. As champions you have several weeks lay off and you have less games. On the face of it that's of no real benefit to any teams.
The chances of change are poor just like the idea of an open draw. Could you imagine the uproar from the likes of Kerry. Instead of building for a game against Waterford they could be drawn away to Derry in the first round. Heaven forbid!
Cork will struggle without masters
Meath against Cork is hardly a game to whet the appetite.
Cork played one game of note this season when they took on Kerry in the Munster decider many months ago now while Meath at least have come through the hard way taking out the likes of Down, Fermanagh, Galway and of course Tyrone in the quarter finals.
The Cork game that day in Croke Park against Sligo was the worst game of the season if not the decade.
Neither team looked good and in truth it resembled a challenge game as opposed to a real championship encounter.
Cork were never in any danger and won pulling up. In fact if they had still been playing now Sligo would never have beaten them.
In fact I would suggest that Monaghan and Derry would have destroyed the over rated Westerners.
This game in many ways has already been decided for me. During that Sligo match Cork star player James Masters suffered a broken jaw.
That day Sligo resorted to hard hitting and that's what happened to Masters.
When it emerged he would miss the semi final and be out for the rest of the championship I feel their chance was gone.
With a fit Masters, Cork would have had a realistic chance but I fear not now.
Meath have been building all season. On reflection their titanic struggles with Dublin have stood them in good stead and they received a huge confidence when they deservedly beat an off colour Tyrone at the last stage. There is a great belief in this Meath side and I think they have the mixture right for this game. Meath then I think will win it but it doesn't make much difference.
For me the All-Ireland champions will be coming from the other semi-final anyway.
And before I go good luck to the Derry Minor team. In the Ulster final they lost the title in cruel and controversial circumstances to Tyrone by a point that never was. I hope they beat Galway and make the All Ireland final and that may go some way in making up that disappointment in Clones.
Hero of the week was an easy choice this time round.
What a player the wee man is. For years those of us reporting and following Northern Ireland have been telling anyone who wanted to listen that this was a player with an eye for goal and eye for goal in any company. England, Spain, Sweden, you name it.
Lawrie Sanchez showed faith in him and already he's repaid that.
Two games gone for Fulham and two goals. He's actually the joint leading scorer in the Premiership.
Now that may not last to the end of the season but it's a great start nonetheless.
Even better his confidence levels must be sky high ahead of next week's clash with Leichtenstein.
Northern Ireland to win that one and Healy to score. It just rolls off the tongue.