While Carlow did put up a reasonable fight to Dublin, Offaly showed us all why this championship structure needs a rethink.
When Carlow and Offaly battled for the right to be Joe McDonagh champions just a few weeks back, both sides knew that regardless of the result, they would be competing in All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals. They would end up meeting third place from Munster and Leinster, and while Carlow did put up a reasonable fight to Dublin, Offaly showed us all why this championship structure needs a rethink.
The Faithful county lost to Tipperary, who very nearly made the Munster final, on a mammoth scoreline of 7-38 to 3-18. Not only was it one of the largest ever losing margins recorded in a championship game, but Offaly’s 3-18 added to the Premier’s total equalled the largest ever scoring contest we have seen. Usually record breaking events should be celebrated but this was not one of those occasions with the the gulf in class painfully evident.
Turning attention to the other preliminary game, between Carlow and Dublin, adds to the case for reform. The Joe McDonagh winners did a good job to keep up with the Dubs to be fair, even leading by a point at half time, but they lost by ten points for a finish, and there is no doubt the GAA could run this championship better.
The Joe McDonagh champions have entered the All-Ireland series on four occasions, causing an upset just once when Laois defeated Dublin in 2019. Eddie Brennan’s men went on to lose to Tipp by ten points in the quarters but have failed to build on that. Every other side that has progressed into the championship has been on the end of a heavy beating.
Carlow were the first to feel the wrath, losing out to Limerick by 5-22 to 1-13 as the Shannonsiders went on to win the All-Ireland five years ago. The same season, Westmeath suffered an eleven point defeat. Laois did pull off the big upset the following year but Westmeath were on the receiving end a drubbing in the other quarter-final with Cork becoming the first side to score forty points in a 23-point win.
Antrim and Kerry were on the receiving end in 2022 while Offaly suffered the largest ever defeat last weekend.
All-Ireland Preliminary Quarter-Final results
2018 (Joe McDonagh side in italics)
Limerick 5-22 : 1-13 Carlow (Champions)
Wexford 2-21 : 0-16 Westmeath (RU)
Dublin 0-23 : 1-22 Laois (Champions)
Cork 1-40 : 0-20 Westmeath (RU)
Cork 3-27 : 2-19 Antrim (Champions)
Wexford 3-30 : 0-18 Kerry (RU)
Dublin 2-25 : 0-21 Carlow (Champions)
Tipperary 7-38 : 3-18 Offaly (RU)
A potential solution lies within the provinces, where an additional qualification spot should be granted for fourth place in both Munster and Leinster. If you look to the Munster championship, going into the final round it was a toss up between Limerick and Cork as to who would survive. The Rebels lost out by a point and now languish for the remainder of the year. No one can sit here and say that Carlow offered Dublin more of a challenge than Cork would have. Going on form, the Rebels would have been favourites.
In Leinster, fourth place belonged to Wexford, and while the Yellow Bellies have had a very disappointing year, they certainly would have put up a better fight to Tipperary than Offaly did. They recorded a shock win over Kilkenny this year, and while they certainly would have been underdogs facing the Premier, it would have provided a better game.
However, that would mean only two of the teams that start the championship would be in danger of elimination and would take from the excitement of the provinces. If it were the case, the epic between Limerick and Cork would have been merely a dead rubber if Tipp had won on the same day. Instead it was one of the great Munster championship contests with all to play for.
It’s all about entertainment and we are simply not getting enough quality in the current setup. Replacing the Joe McDonagh spots with provincial fourth place finishers would make the championship both more entertaining and more competitive in the long run.
But would you be robbing Peter to pay Paul in that respect regarding the provincial championships and their cut throat nature.
Another option would see just the Joe McDonagh champions progress with one of the third placed provincial sides getting a bye into the quarter finals. It would have been easy for champions Carlow to prepare for the game as they will rub shoulders with those teams next season. But expecting Offaly, after the disappointment of missing out on a return to the All-Ireland championship in 2024, train for a clash they had little hope in is a difficult assignment.
In all honesty, no one gave Offaly or Carlow a chance coming into these games, at least with Cork and Wexford, there would have been some scope for an upset.
This is a problem the GAA needs to solve soon, because at the moment, the preliminary quarter finals feel like a waste of time with neither Tipperary or Dublin really benefiting from the games, and more importantly neither did Carlow or Offaly.
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