On the 26th of June, the GAA announced that for the first time since 2000, the All Ireland Football Championship will be played on a straight knockout basis. It will commence alongside the hurling on October 31st with the final being held on Saturday, December 19th. Great news for the football purists who yearn for a blast from the past while for some teams in particular, 2020 has become a lot more complicated. Here, we look at the winners and losers of unique format.
One of the main benefactors of this years format, Padraig Joyce’s men will have to beat Sligo who are struggling in division 4, to reach the Connacht final and one game away from the All Ireland semis. Although, Joyce is in his first year in charge, his team will only have to beat one out of Roscommon and Mayo to secure a Connacht title and a shot against the Munster champions in the All Ireland semi finals. His team are also top of division one with five games played. With the matches being played in more damp and windy conditions, Galway’s physical presence including the likes of Damien Comer and a Corofin contingent who are used to winning at this time of year, the tribesman could be a dark horse for their first Sam Maguire since 2001.
Similar to Galway but perhaps a more divisive pick with the rebels having to play 2019 All-Ireland finalists Kerry in the first round of the Munster championship. Although an enormous task on paper, Cork will be at home and one could make the argument that they are better off playing the Kingdom early on before they can build momentum through the championship. Kerry are also unbeaten against Cork in Croke Park with 6 wins and a draw. Akin to Galway, Cork will only have to beat one team of serious stature in order to reach an All –Ireland semi final which is also arguably the weaker side of the draw. A first win over the kingdom since 2012 could spark the uprising that the rebels so desperately desire and with the Munster champions avoiding Dublin and the Ulster winners, anything could happen for Ronan McCarthy’s men.
Although one could argue that it is difficult for there to be any good draw in the competition’s most competitive province, Monaghan arguably are the most fortunate of the teams. Having their main rivals Donegal and Tyrone facing each other in the first round is a huge boost while squad depth won’t be an issue in such a condensed campaign. They can also enjoy the luxury avoiding a division one team on route to potentially their first Ulster final since 2018 and a first provincial crown since 2015.
Perhaps the biggest casualties of the straight knockout format this year. Both teams hold aspirations of upsetting Dublin. Both teams have dominated the province in recent years with both teams winning the last 4 Ulster crowns between them. From a neutrals point of view, a do or die clash so early on in the Championship could be the perfect way to ignite the season which may worry sceptics over its viability and quality of it being played so late in the year in poor weather conditions. Whatever the case may be, a win for either side here will inspire great confidence for the campaign ahead and could be the catalyst for a long winter which for once, would be a welcome possibility.
Of all counties in the country, the Lake county have certainly drawn the short straw. The small task of facing six in a row chasing Dublin on their first day out is a daunting one with the safety net of the qualifiers, nevermind when it’s win or bust. A huge ask for the midlanders who will look to draw inspiration from 2004 when a certain Mick O’Dwyer managed to upset the Dubs’ in the semi finals on their way to an historic first and only Leinster title. It’ s not all doom and gloom however as Westmeath are only two points off the promotion places for division 1 with three games to play and may look to prioritise the league in order to build for next season. Nevertheless, an intriguing clash is ahead with the team that we now turn our attention to.
One could be forgiven for thinking that there are very few disadvantages for Dublin regardless of the format being deployed. A straight forward draw on paper, Dublin will be expected to win a 10th Leinster title at a canter. However, this procession is along a far more complex route than before. Dublin may not face any test until the All Ireland semi-final stage where they will face the Ulster champions. That prospect is not one in which you want to be going into unproven which is what Dessie Farrell will be going into his maiden campaign at the helm. Combine this with the likely abject weather conditions which could suit a more attrition based, Ulster style of football, the road to glory is filled with more traps than before.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is how to Farrell plans to replace Jack Mccaffrey who has opted out of the inter county set up this year citing his work commitments as a newly qualified doctor which during the current covid-19 crisis, is a very understandable decision to make. Ultimately, Farrell will need to rely on the core group of players who have made the team what it is today, a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, regardless of one’s feelings towards this year’s All – Ireland series, it promises to be a fascinating championship if for the novelty of watching football alone. Despite this being a year like no other, some things stay the same. Dublin will be favourites once more, a force to be reckoned with yes but an unbeatable one? Dark nights will surround the games this year but there is a beacon of light present for the chasing pack.
It’s good to be back.