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So what now for Gaelic football? The Super 8s explained

Best teams will face off more often next summer under the new format

Dublin’s James McCarthy battles with Mayo’s Aidan O’Shea. Next summer brings the promise of more top-drawer clashes between the country’s top eight sides. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Mayo heartbroken. Dublin history-makers. What a final, the standard of Gaelic football is better than ever.

Over the concluding eight weekends of this year’s All-Ireland football championship we had one brilliant quarter-final – out of five. We had two pulsating semi-finals – out of three. And a final that showed just how good modern football is – at the very top table. The climax had us all gripped, but before that?

In this year’s provincial finals there was an average winning margin of 0-9, the four quarter-finals concluded with an average margin of 0-15, and the semi-finals’ concluding average was 0-9.

The All-Ireland championship’s beginning will always bring optimism and interest, its ending has been spectacular in recent seasons, the in-between however has been a forgettable run of mismatches and a numbing series of debates about why that should be.

What’s next? We’ll have more club games to look forward to with eir Sport showing 30 more live games before the New Year, on top of TG4’s coverage. There’s the International Rules series and, before we know it, the intercounty pre-season tournaments will be up and running and we go again. It’ll keep us going, but the provincial and All-Ireland championships are what it’s all about – and four great games over eight weeks is not enough.

So from 2018 the GAA have looked to address that mid-summer lull by introducing the Super 8s. But what will that entail?

What changes will be made to next year’s calendar?

The draft calendar for next year would see the leagues finishing at the same time as they did this year, before the end of April.

The football championship will be run off on a more concentrated basis with more same-day outcomes and the All-Ireland finals concluded by the end of August – unless Croke Park is needed in connection with the potential papal visit next year.

The precise details of the hurling year await the decision of the GAA special congress at the end of September on the proposal to introduce a round-robin format in the provincial championships.

What is the Super 8s?

The GAA Super 8s will replace the current All-Ireland football quarter-finals. So the last eight teams in the championship will be placed into two groups, each comprised of four teams. So each of these eight counties will have three games apiece against the other teams in their group to reach a semi-final. With the top two teams in each group progressing.

Each team will have a home game, an away game and a game at Croke Park. The first group will contain the Munster champions, Connacht champions, Ulster runner-up (or qualifier team that beats them in Round four), Leinster runner-up (or qualifier team that beats them in round four). The second group will be made up of the Ulster champions, Leinster champions, Munster runner-up (or qualifier team that beats them in Round four), Connacht runner-up (or qualifier team that beats them in round four).

So this year the Super 8s would have contained in one group; Kerry, Roscommon, Monaghan and Armagh. The second would’ve included; Tyrone, Dublin, Mayo and Galway.

When does it come into place?

The Super 8s will run from summer 2018, the first of a three-year trial period for the new format. It is planned that the first round of group fixtures be split into two weekends, each with two matches. With the other two rounds taking place on two weekends of four matches, involving both groups. The matches will take place over the month of July and the start of August. The aim is for the All-Ireland semi-finals (played over one weekend) and final to be wrapped up by the end of August. This will also be aided by the scrapping of replays – except for provincial and All-Ireland finals – although of course if a game is level after extra time a replay will again be necessary.

What will it change?

First and foremost it’ll mean that the best teams will face off more often. So that means we’ll have more quality games to watch and for those who are currently trailing behind the Dublin, Kerry and Mayos, the extra games should improve them significantly. So in short, the positives will be more competitive fixtures, in that there’ll be more TV revenue, and the month of September should be cleared for club fixtures. Also, there’ll be more big games out of Croke Park, although Dublin will still have an advantage with two of their three matches to be played at home in GAA HQ.

Why didn’t the players want it then?

On the flip side, for those who have little chance of reaching the last eight, the gap between them and the top teams is almost certainly going to get bigger. How can they close an already yawning gap, by playing even fewer games. Basically the Super 8s means that the best teams will get better. As for the rest?

That’s one of the reasons the GPA opposed the motion at Annual Congress. Another (and the recently formed Club Players Association were also in opposition over this one) is because the three-year trial basis prevents any other structural changes in the calendar during that period – so not only will that intercounty gap grow and grow – but the pressing club fixtures problems will also be exacerbated. With club players signing up for an indefinite, split season, with no defined beginning, middle or end – both associations had hoped for a structural change which would address these concerns.

So....

So next summer the intercounty championships will begin with the usual – albeit diminishing – hopes of counties nationwide. The middle will be run off quicker, with the inevitable mismatches continuing. But this time the conclusion is sure to include a lot more than four top-drawer matches. So hold your breath for July, it’s sure to be interesting.