talking point | 

Why this will be a GAA season like no other in All-Ireland championship

New format could blow us away – but will it be good or bad!

25 February 2023; Mayo manager Kevin McStay before the Allianz Football League Division 1 match between Mayo and Tyrone at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

THIS will be a season like no other in the history of the All-Ireland football championship.

None of us know the full implications of the new-look Sam Maguire championship format which involves a new phase of consisting of 24 games played in a round-robin format.

These matches are squeezed between the end of the provincial series and the knock-out phase of the All-Ireland series. The same format applies in the Tailteann Cup.

Managers have tunnel vision and tend to focus on only the next game.

Kevin McStay, for example, was quick to close down any debate on the possibility of a Mayo v Roscommon League final after watching his side hammer Tyrone last weekend. “You just wasted a question, there’s not a chance (of talking about that),” he said.

In the event Roscommon’s loss to Monaghan dampened down talk about the possibility of the Mayo/Roscommon league final a week before they meet in the Connacht quarter-final.

They definitely meet next Sunday in Dr Hyde Park with the winner being in pole position to feature in the league final.

Between them the two counties have won 13 Division 1 league titles (Mayo 12, Roscommon 1 and only two of Mayo’s wins have been achieved in the last 40 years). So, neither can afford to turn up their noses at the prospect of securing national silverware.

Ex-Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice made an interesting observation last week about the dilemma facing Mayo and Roscommon if they were to advance to the league final.

He took issue with the prevailing view that both camps would effectively disregard the league final and focus instead on their championship.

He pointed out that under the new championship format the team that loses the Connacht quarter-final between Mayo and Roscommon would not be seriously disadvantaged.

Under the old system, defeated teams in the provincial series had to stay unbeaten through the back-door system in order to keep alive their All-Ireland dream.

This is no longer the case for the counties ranked in the top eight at the end of the league.

So, the losers of the Mayo v Roscommon championship tie are guaranteed a place in the round-robin Sam Maguire series.

Granted at best they will be the number three seeds behind the provincial winners and runners-up, who will be seeded number one and two respectively in the group phase.

On the other hand, they will have six weeks’ of uninterrupted training before the start of the round robin phase of the All-Ireland series on May 20/21st.

Obviously no team will contemplate throwing a championship match. But after a hectic league campaign, the prospects of a down period which could extend to six weeks is very appealing.

By the time we reach the business end of the All-Ireland series nobody will care about how a team arrived there – and winning a provincial title won’t mean a whole pile.

As for the players, it’s doubtful if many of them actually realise there is a new format this year.

It never ceases to surprise observers how little most of them know (or care) about the intricacies of the competition they devote their lives to. It seems they let the team management worry about these issues.

One wonders for example has it dawned on the Kildare players yet about how close they are to sailing to disaster. Ultimately they will probably avoid relegation from Division 2 but if they make the drop they are out of the Sam Maguire championship unless they can reach the Leinster final.

Stand by for a lot of angst when the full implications of the new-look championship format bites in mid-May when we will learn the final breakdown of the counties playing in the Sam Maguire and those who have to make do with the Tailteann Cup.

And that’s even before fans realise there are 24 games to be played in the round-robin format just to eliminate four counties.

In the end it probably won’t impact on the outcome of the championship.

Since Cork and Down contested the 2010 All-Ireland final only six counties, Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Mayo, Tyrone and Galway have featured in an All-Ireland final.

Based on current form, the only other county that might break the glass ceiling in 2023 is Derry.

But by the time the All-Ireland final comes around at the end of July only the anoraks will remember what happened in the league in the spring.

The Ides of March are as applicable to the GAA as they were to Julius Caesar in Roman times.

Today's Headlines

More GAA

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

WatchMore Videos