Ciaran Whelan summed it up in six words.
’24 games to eliminate four teams.’
What sort of a round-about, cotton-wool-wrapped, second-chance-saloon of a competition is that? Obviously, the qualifiers are fairly predictable, and the quarter finals will be incredible – but the next month will be so lifeless.
Because nobody’s life is on the line.
The ‘Champions League format’ is what this was called from a long way out but the crucial difference is that, in the Champions League, only two teams go through.
Here, three teams go through and this will reduce much of the games to rubble. The groups are below and if 20 people were asked to predict the 12 teams that progress – chances are that their answers would be very similar.
It just seems like there are too many games with very little riding on them. The cut and thrust of the championship won’t really kick off, it would seem, until the preliminary quarter-finals on June 24.
Ciaran Whelan addressed the issue on The Sunday Game, in the aftermath of the Ulster final, and you’d have to say that he hit the nail on the head.
“We’re only going to get rid of four teams,” said the Raheny man.
“You have to excuse my cynicism here,” he added, “and look I know we’ve obviously been looking forward to this format but I still can’t help but think that with three qualifying, and I know you get a break and for second, you get home advantage as well, but 24 games to eliminate four teams – there’s very little danger in there and I think we’ll see that,” said the former Dublin player.
“There’s no danger in those big games. If you lose them, one draw with score difference, and you’re through.”
Take Group Three for example. Division Four champs Sligo will need a minor miracle if they’re to finish ahead of Dublin, Roscommon or Kildare. In Group Two, Westmeath will be expected to struggle against Armagh, Tyrone and Galway.
“If you’re going into those groups and two are qualifying,” added Whelan, “the games take on a different dynamic and I know, I get it, it’s to avoid dead rubbers and all that stuff. But I still think we’ll learn a lot in the next few weeks.”
Peter Canavan, meanwhile, agrees that it’s all very predictable.
“The nature of the groups, the teams that you expect to come through will definitely come through. If not first, then second or third,” he said.
The bonus of winning the group is that you qualify straight to the quarters while second and third face a preliminary quarter final game. The second team will have home advantage for those clashes.
“It will be interesting to see will there be a hangover from teams, like Armagh and Derry, who had to invest a lot today, and to see on the other hand how the teams who had the five weeks off go,” added Whelan.
“But look, I don’t see any massive upsets. They’ll run straight forward,” he concluded.