Super 8s benefitted Cork but a new football format is badly needed

Now in mid-March, it's hard to fathom we haven't even played any league games or even staged draws for the 2021 championship
Super 8s benefitted Cork but a new football format is badly needed

Ruairí Deane of Cork in action against Niall Kilroy of Roscommon in the Super 8 clash at Páirc Uí Rinn. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

ONE thing is guaranteed in a year of huge uncertainty: The Super 8s in football won’t happen when the season kicks off.

Introduced in 2018 as a three-year experiment, the new-look All-Ireland quarter-final format, comprised of two groups of four, still has a year of its trial.

It should have been completed last season, but wasn’t, because Covid-19 prompted a major redrawing of the championships, which were then squeezed into the closing months of the year.

Super 8s won’t be around this year, either, even though we still don’t know the shape of the championship season, though it’s unlikely to differ from 2020, except with the provision of qualifiers.

As we slumber into mid-March, it’s still hard to grasp that there’ve been no championship draws, never mind league games or actual dates for the summer festival.

The only thing we know is that Cork and Tipperary are in the hat at the semi-final stage of the Munster championship and will be on opposite sides, with Kerry having to play either Clare, Limerick, or Waterford in a first-round game.

After that, it’s the rub of the green in terms of who is paired with, or avoids, the Kingdom in the last four.

We also know that Cork are pencilled in for three league games — against Kildare, Laois, and Clare — in a new-look Division 2 south, but there are no dates or venues yet.

Cork football captain Ian Maguire. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Cork football captain Ian Maguire. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The future of the Super 8s doesn’t look encouraging. Cork qualified in 2019, the team getting rare experience of playing at Croker on big-match days against the all-conquering Dubs and Tyrone, as well as hosting Roscommon in a dead-rubber at Páirc Uí Rinn.

Cork lost all three but were far from disgraced and it was thought of as an important stepping stone in the team’s development.

But, it’s unlikely the format will be retained, after a special congress at the end of the year discusses proposals to alter the entire championship.

There are three motions on the table: Retaining the current system and presumably the Super 8s; four provincial championships of eight teams with counties switching regions; or making the league a qualifying competition for a new, two-tier All-Ireland.

Croke Park officials are hoping it will be an in-person event, unlike the recent Congress, which was held remotely and had technical problems.

In the week leading up to it, Cork organised a special board meeting to decide their thinking on the 37 motions and it was an impressive exercise under the stewardship of IT officer, Terry Brady.

When it came to voting, it must have felt like more an exam, because the rules of engagement meant all motions had to earn a tick in the box for ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘abstain’.

There was no cherry-picking and it was all conducted expeditiously with a result almost immediately.

The beauty of technology was that at the press of a button or two, perhaps, the outcome of all 37 votes became known in no time at all. While inter-county players are keeping their fingers crossed for a return to collective training next month, the fate of the club player remains very much in the dark.

CLUB DRAWS

Vice-chairman, Pat Horgan, updated the current position, particularly in relation to championship draws across the spectrum. 

“We’d all love to go ahead and make them, but if we were to do that, I think it would be sending out the wrong signals at this present time.

“We are anxiously waiting for an opportunity to go and make the championship draws. As soon as it is possible, we will do them,” Horgan said.

Pat Horgan. Picture: George Hatchell
Pat Horgan. Picture: George Hatchell

“We know where our position in the calendar is likely to be. Depending on when we can start, we now have a definite roadmap to work with.

“I’m sure the split-season will at least give club players ideas when they are likely to be playing in championship,” Horgan added.

Meanwhile, Brian Barrett, the new board president, is stepping down as chairperson of the county hearings committee.

Willie Ring, the former Imokilly secretary and board member, takes over, moving up from his current vice-chair role.

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