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Just over 36,000 fans watched on as Dublin beat Roscommon on Saturday night.
Just over 36,000 fans watched on as Dublin beat Roscommon on Saturday night.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

'The neutral games in Croke Park aren't working' - Room for improvement in football Super 8s

Former Dublin footballer Ciarán Whelan believes the fixtures should be moved to provincial grounds.
Jul 22nd 2019, 12:37 PM 9,165 12

WITH THE CROKE Park round of Super 8s fixtures done and dusted after double-headers on Saturday and Sunday, there were plenty of talking points afterwards.

Just 36,530 watched on on Saturday evening as four in-a-row All-Ireland champions Dublin outclassed Roscommon, and Tyrone were three-point winners over Cork.

Yesterday, an attendance of 48,723 was announced for Kerry and Donegal’s epic 1-20 a-piece draw and Mayo’s victory over Meath. So over the weekend, just over 85,000 attended Croke Park to watch eight teams in action.

The Sunday Game panel took a closer look at the ‘neutral’ round of the newly-structured All-Ireland quarter-final competition last night, with some suggestions put forward to improve the situation.

Former Dublin footballer Ciarán Whelan believes those games should be taken out of Croke Park and played in provincial venues in the interest of both fairness and atmosphere.

“Over the last two years, we’ve learned that the neutral games maybe in Croke Park aren’t working,” he told the RTÉ programme. 

“I would expect some managers probably want to get up there and get a game in Croke Park, to get into that environment if they’re getting to a semi-final.

But in terms of an atmosphere, I think it may be better to have them out and have the neutral game in provincial grounds.

“We saw it in Killarney last week. We’ve seen great examples of teams going on the road. I would think there’s a lesson in that.”

Moving the ‘neutral’ games out of GAA headquarters would also end the controversy surrounding the fact that Dublin also use the stadium as their home venue, so play two group games at the Drumcondra grounds.

“It would also get away from this thing that Dublin have two games in Croke Park, they would just have one and it would be a simple solution.”

Whelan also put forward a case for a Super 10s; with three sides progressing from each group, as what happens in the Leinster and Munster hurling championships.

“I like the concept [of the Super 8s] but I wonder should we even expand it to two groups of five, with three qualifying — two getting to a semi-final and the others playing in a quarter-final,” he added.

“It’s more days, yeah, and I know there’s the calendar challenge. There’s loads of things in the melting pot but it would give an incentive for teams to finish on top of the group and it would keep teams in it right until the very end.

The hurling has worked well. We are in a situation in the other group [Group 2: Dublin, Tyrone, Cork, Roscommon] where there’s a dead rubber situation coming into the last game. I think there’s tweaks that could be made.

Ex-Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice also chipped in with his opinion on the Super 8s, saying that he agrees with the concept but he feels there are “severe” demands placed on amateur players with the week on week nature of the competition.

“It’s a great concept and I think it’s brilliant to have the top eight teams in the country playing off against each other at this stage of the season,” he said.

“It’s not straight knockout, teams get a chance to regroup if they do lose a game as happened to Mayo last weekend. 

But playing two weekends in-a-row for amateur players… all of those lads will be working in the morning, trying to recover, trying to get turned around for next week. I think it’s severe.

“We were talking about it earlier. Ciarán made a point that the Super 8s games is one thing but going from the last Super 8s game into an All-Ireland semi-final and having a six-day turnaround for one of the teams… it’s a very short turnaround to get ready for an All-Ireland semi-final which is obviously a massive game for any team at that stage of the season.”

- Updated 13.32

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