Why new All-Ireland format only suits 'big' counties, explains Benny Coulter
When the GAA took the bold decision to introduce a new format for the All-Ireland senior football championship quarter-finals, embracing the next three years on an experimental basis, it triggered a largely positive reaction.
But the passage of time would appear to have evoked a much more cautious approach to the ground-breaking move.
Already this week Tyrone county board secretary Dominic McCaughey has warned that the two-section four-team concept, which will see each side play three games before the All-Ireland semi-finalists are decided, could contain a major weakness.
McCaughey, one of the most respected administrators in the country, contends that if there were to be nothing at stake in the final group games, this might persuade some teams to play for a desired outcome, which would potentially lead to a preferred semi-final fixture.
Now former Down star Benny Coulter and Armagh 2002 All-Ireland winner Oisin McConville have expressed their own reservations about what is euphemistically known as the 'Super 8s'.
Coulter, indeed, goes so far as to admit that he is "still amazed" that the new format has been given the green light and believes that only those sides which have been consistently successful over recent years stand to benefit from this.
"As I see it, the new quarter-finals system will ensure that county players play a lot less football for their clubs over the next three years, and that's certainly not what GAA chiefs would want," states Mayobridge clubman Coulter.
And he pours cold water on the decision to leave the month of April free for club activities so that all county footballers can go back to their clubs for that month.
With Mayo having already indicated that they will be organising a week-long training camp in April, this is expected to open the door for other counties to follow in their footsteps.
"It simply won't happen that the clubs will have it all to themselves come April," insists Coulter. "Why would county managers be happy with their players going back to their clubs for the month of April on the cusp of the championship season?
"It is very important for county players to get that period with their squads as it is normally the best time to get a bit of fitness work done and also clear up any wee injuries incurred in the league.
"I would hope in Down anyway that the clubs are big enough to continue playing on without their county players.
"This year when games were cancelled it resulted in farce towards the end of the season, with club teams not fielding and players having to play games last month when there was nothing to play for."
And McConville, while accepting that the closing stages of the All-Ireland championship required tweaking, makes no bones about how failure to qualify for the Super 8s will impact on teams.
"It will be horrible for them," he insists. "There is no other word for it. Let's be honest and cut to the quick here - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Galway and Monaghan look good bets to be in at the death and you could throw in whatever other two teams you wish.
"Just as in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, the really big teams will get to carve up the gate money and get massive exposure on television while the rest will be nowhere.
"And, what's more, I think that the teams who get through to the Super 8s next year will be there again in 2019 perhaps with one or maybe two exceptions.
"The big will get bigger, so we may as well come to terms with this as it will be part and parcel of the GAA for the next three years."