The referendum on the Super 8s continues apace this week. This week's Three Man Weave podcast features a serious debate on the merits of the All-Ireland quarterfinal series. Wherever you stand, there seems to be universal agreement on one thing: while we all welcome the GAA's efforts to give us more games featuring the top teams, the Super 8s have ultimately been let down by the maddening elements of their design.
Writing in today's Irish Times, Darragh Ó Sé highlights a frustrating aspect of the Super 8s that hasn't been talked up by many: the psychological and physical effect of a one-week turnaround on the players.
He writes: 'It’s seriously wrong to give players only six or seven days to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final. I don’t know who is responsible for that but I can tell you for damn sure they never played in one.'
It's a salient point. To pick one year at random, Ó Sé's Kerry team had three weeks to prepare for their 2005 semifinal against Cork. The effect of that break is the players were better-prepared and the semi-finals took on a greater sense of occasion. Instead, a Mayo team will play their ninth game of the Championship with a week to recover. Kerry had played two matches by June 21. They'll play two matches in eights days in August. Even if the Meath match was essentially a dead rubber, the demand on the players is huge, especially this week.
We’re told all the time that being amateur is the most fundamental thing about the GAA and then the fixture-makers force lads who have to go to work every day to play an All-Ireland semi-final with six days notice. How could that be seen as anything other than the GAA telling players that they’re way, way down the food chain?
Reform of the Super 8s - if they're to carry on at all next season - has to start with a hard look at the fixture calendar. The intercounty calendar creaks to life in May and June and then the semifinals take place seven days after the final round of the Super 8s. Something surely is wrong with that.