| 7.4°C Dublin

year of shocks Unless Cavan cause a massive upset, we should park the idea of a return to a knock-out All-Ireland


Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster final

Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster final


Raymond Galligan and Gearoid McKiernan of Cavan celebrate after winning the Ulster final

MINUTES after referee Maurice Deegan blew the final whistle in the Munster football final, I got a text from a friend which read: ‘Adolf Hitler was just settling into his office at the Reich Chancellery when Tipperary last won a Munster title’.

It summed up perfectly the historical significance of the win, which ranks alongside Clare’s 1992 Munster final victory over Kerry to secure a first title in 75 years; Leitrim’s first Connacht success in 67 years in 1994 and Westmeath’s first Leinster title in 2004 as seminal moments in provincial football history.

A couple of hours after Tipperary’s victory there was another shock, 240 miles away, when Cavan beat red-hot favourites Donegal to secure their 40th Ulster title.

Historically, it wasn’t as significant as Tipperary’s breakthrough, though the world was also a different place in 1997 when Cavan had last won the Anglo Celt Cup.

The unexpected victories achieved by Tipperary and Cavan have rekindled the debate about the format of the All-Ireland championship.

This was the first straight knock-out series since 1999. In terms of drama, excitement, and shock results there is nothing to compare with the cut-throat nature of the traditional format.


Cavan players celebrate their Ulster success

Cavan players celebrate their Ulster success


Cavan players celebrate their Ulster success

But we ought to be careful what we wish for. At the very least, we need to await the results of this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-finals before clamouring for a return to the old format.

Form wise, Dublin, Mayo, Tipperary, and Cavan are the top four football teams in the country right now. It is doubtful whether they are the best four teams.

Dublin are, of course, at number one, and judging by their provincial form are galloping away from a diminishing pack.

Judged on their championship record in the last decade rather than their 2020 league form which saw them relegated from Division 1, Mayo could legitimately claim to be the country’s number-two rated team.

On Sunday, Mayo appear in their ninth semi-final in ten seasons, which puts the men from the west ahead of every county bar Dublin to have played in every penultimate tie since 2010.

Tipperary are appearing in their second semi-final since 2016. Incidentally, only Dublin, Mayo, Kerry, Donegal, Cork, Tyrone and now Tipp have played in more than one All-Ireland semi-final since 2010.

This is Cavan’s first championship match in Croke Park since losing to Kerry in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final and their first semi-final appearance since 1987, when they also lost to the Kingdom.

The GAA is unique in designating a knock-out championship as their premier competition. Every other field sport in the world organises it’s blue-riband event on a league format.

In this century, the GAA has reformed the championship. firstly with the back-door system and then with the controversial Super 8s.

It is debatable whether Tipperary or Cavan would have reached the last four had the Super 8’s been in operation this year. Remember, Kerry, Cork, Tyrone, Donegal, and Galway would have been back in the race.

The beauty of the first-past-the-post format is that the big guns only get one chance. There is no redemption, even for the aristocrats.

On the other hand, the Super 8 format ensures that the four best teams reach the semi-final stage of the All-Ireland series.

Those who are clamouring for a return to the straight knock-out format have short memories.

When Kerry were at their prime in the latter half of the seventies, they handed out a series of thrashings to the Ulster and Connacht champions in All-Ireland semi-finals.

Between 1975 and 1979, Kerry beat Sligo, Derry, Roscommon, and Monaghan by 17, 16, 12 and 22 points respectively in semi-finals.

So, it will be very interesting to see how Cavan fare on Saturday evening against a Dublin team considered to be even better than the famed Kerry side of the seventies.

Given that Dublin demolished Meath – who had played in Division 1 this season – by 21 points in the Leinster final, the omens are not promising.

There is a school of thought, however, that Leinster teams have become so demoralised at the prospect of facing Dublin, that psychologically they are beaten before they take to the field.

Like all great teams, once Dublin sense this vulnerably they go for the kill. Cavan might have a bit more mental fortitude than the Leinster counties - heaven knows they will need it.

But unless they somehow manage to pull off the biggest shock in the history of the All-Ireland series, we should park the idea of a return to a straight knock-out All-Ireland series.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Online Editors