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All-Ireland Championship: Harte still not happy with imbalance of qualifiers

By John Campbell

Tyrone are very definitely the odd men out among the five sides that remain standing in pursuit of the Sam Maguire Cup.

While Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and Donegal all won their provincial titles, the Red Hands were consigned to the qualifier route after losing to Donegal in the Ulster Championship semi-final.

The pressures that the back door bring can be gauged from the fact Tyrone have played three games in the last four weeks and were only granted an unexpected breathing space when Armagh drew with Wicklow thus necessitating a replay.

Tyrone have beaten Longford, Armagh and Roscommon since July 9 whereas Dublin, who beat Wexford in the Leinster final on July 10, will have had a four-week break before they take on Harte’s men on Saturday in Croke Park.

But while teams who progress through the qualifiers often lament their rapid-fire programme of matches, provincial champions frequently allude to ring-rustiness should they fall at the quarter-final stage.

The imbalance in the fixtures programming is again a hot topic and not just because some teams are forced to take what is an inordinately demanding route through the qualifiers.

The refusal of the GAA authorities to allow provincial champions who are beaten in the All-Ireland quarter-finals to benefit from the safety net of the qualifiers is a particularly sore point with many team bosses, including Mickey Harte (pictured).

The triple All-Ireland winning manager has been a long-time adversary of the current system that provides back door teams with a decided advantage over the provincial winners at the quarter-final stage and he has reiterated his stance even though his team, who lost in the Ulster semi-final to Donegal, could be the beneficiaries of this against Dublin.

“It’s not so much an advantage to us, but unfair to the provincial champions,” said Harte.

“I don’t care which side of the fence I’m on, it’s still wrong.”

He is particularly disappointed that those in high places appear to be impervious to the firmly held views on this subject.

“There don’t seem to be many people listening who can effect change, but I think it is grossly unfair. It devalues a provincial title,” he said.

Harte recently suggested what could be termed a compromise solution whereby two of the provincial champions who might be beaten in All-Ireland quarter-finals would get a second chance.

“I know with the system I have suggested that two of the four wouldn’t get a second chance anyway, but at least they would be in an All-Ireland semi-final as they were in the old days. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s preferable to the existing one,” said Harte.


Moves to change the controversial 'square ball' rule could commence by the end of this month.

A motion passed at Congress last April has led to the establishment of a committee that will monitor the playing rules on an annual basis and that committee is due to be finalised in just over two weeks time.

Kildare exited the championship under a cloud for the second successive year after a controversial ‘square ball call.

What looked like a perfectly legitimate Tomas O'Connor goal was disallowed early in the second-half of last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final and handed Donegal the initiative.

The GAA had been tied by a rule which only made it possible to change rules every five years.

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