A new chapter in the lifetime of the GAA will commence on Saturday evening. The Super 8s is being described by many as the saviour of the football championship. Mind you, the same was said about the Qualifiers or what many call it the back-door system.
The argument of whether it was the right approach or not will take time. The GAA reluctance to stay clear of the tinkering with the provincial championships have not helped in developing a modern championship competition that suits both the county and clubs and it has only been to the detriment of football.
If you look at the way the hurling counties insisted on change and it has been a huge success this summer. While they kept faith with the provincial championships, even though there is only two, they introduced round robin games early in the championship but with every team knowing they couldn’t afford to lose too many games as there was only a back door chance available for a couple of teams. Thus every team went at it full tilt from the very start.
It must be said about hurling that unlike football a defensive strategy does not work in terms of game management; a poor team who set up with a negative defensive game plan can pull a better side down to their level in football, whereas in hurling that does not seem to be the case.
But whether you agree with it or not, it all starts this weekend and for us in Donegal, we get the handy one out of the way first, Dublin in Croke Park.
Before we get into that, I am unsure why there was such a problem with the fixture being in Croke Park. I listen to people go on about Dublin not having to travel here and there; I hear people discuss the unfairness of the way the fixtures are presented. On fairness, at no point in time was sport ever fair. I am not sure it was ever designed to be fair, and the cynic in me would suggest that in order for the GAA to capitalise on the Dubs in terms of finance their games will always be in Croker. People it’s all about the money when it comes to the suits within sport.
Dublin will not relish Donegal being the first game in the Super 8s. Donegal are the last team to beat them in the championship and unlike what they are presented with in Leinster, Donegal present a different and more dangerous opponent. Donegal have developed different styles over the years since Jim McGuinness took over; defensive with a hint of attacking teams on the break, defensive with breaking with numbers but with keeping possession and now under Declan Bonner, all-out attack but with a hint of keeping the door closed at the back.
If Donegal have a problem, they, like Dublin, have had very little in terms of stiff opposition in this year’s championship so far. Being realistic in winning the Ulster championship, we never had to get out of third gear. So there will be a question over where we are in terms of playing any of the top teams so far this year.
There is also the question of how you approach the Super 8s as a competition within itself. The goal is to get to the All-Ireland semi-final. In order to do that you have to win at least two games, so considering that there are games this weekend and next, do you go full steam at it from the start or do you look at picking your fights? Do you look at the away game to Roscommon as a must win and the home game against Tyrone as the winner takes all or do you have a real go at the Dubs but in doing so, sacrificing players for the week after?
While every team will fancy their chances against one another, the team with the strongest squad for me will be the team that comes out on top.
As Declan Bonner or none of the other managers have any experience of this type of competition before, every team will be in the same boat. I have no doubt that the Donegal players will want to set down a few markers come Saturday evening; just in case we meet them again in September, and will go for the jugular from the very start.
Dublin will not have been presented with the problem of runners coming at them from all angles especially ones that are more than capable of taking their scores - Ryan McHugh, Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Frank McGlynn to name a few. The loss of Paddy McBrearty is undoubtedly a huge blow. His presence would take at least two defenders from the opposition out of the picture, freeing up another Donegal player, but others will have to step up. They will have to fill the gaps and the scores will have to come from others. No side can be dependant on one or two players if they want to reach the pinnacle.
Our strength lies in our physicality, Murphy, McFadden, MacNiallais, Thompson, Langan and McLoone around the middle of the field. If we can slow down the Dublin attacks in this area of the field it gives the defence time to get into position. If we can avoid conceding more than one goal I believe we have a great chance knowing our scoring potential at the other end.
It’s time now for the football championship to begin.