John Costello: ‘It is neither the root of all fixture-making evil or a panacea for football’s ills’

EARLY SUPER 8S games at the home of provincial venues, taking ‘the next logical step’ by adopting a two-tier championship and a belief that trialling 13-a-side football would have been more beneficial than new rule changes.

Dublin GAA secretary John Costello’s annual report is generally one that explores a wide array of topics.

While his 2018 version continued Dublin specific issues like defending the All-Ireland winners from critics and the need for space to develop sport pitches in the capital, Costello also delved into a few current hot topics in the GAA.

The Super 8s

Having written last year about the need for patience with the new All-Ireland quarter-final structure, Costello noted the polarising reactions this summer between the underwhelming opening weekend and the riveting second ties.

He does feel the venue scheduling needs to be altered but defended the usage of Croke Park.

“It is neither the root of all fixture-making evil or a panacea for football’s ills. It is rather, I suspect, the first of several significant moves towards a different football championship.

“But can it be improved? Yes. Should it be tweaked? Undoubtedly. You might accuse me of bias when I resist the argument that Croke Park cannot be considered an appropriate venue for hosting any neutral quarter-final fixture involving Dublin. I still believe the Super 8s deserve an audition on the biggest stage and that all four neutral games should be played at HQ – but not on the first weekend, rather the last.

“One obvious weakness in this year’s structure was the fact that Donegal opened their campaign with two games on the road, against Dublin and Roscommon, hence their understandable anger. They were, after all, Ulster champions – is that due reward?

“The danger, here, is that Donegal could have been eliminated even before hosting a game. As it transpired, when it came to the crunch, they lost to Tyrone in Ballybofey…but that doesn’t mask the unfairness of a scenario that was designed to foster a competitive round-robin series but has had the effect of punishing provincial champions.

“My solution…… let all four provincial winners open the Super 8s with home advantage on the first weekend.”

Action from the meeting between Tyrone and Donegal in August.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A New Football Landscape – Fears For Tiers?

Referring to the series of crushing defeats suffered by counties in the lower divisions to top tier teams, Costello is an advocate for a two-tier championship.

“Not for one second am I advocating abolishment of the provincial championships. Even those counties with little chance of silverware, still want to play in them. But what then? Have the qualifiers run their course? It seems to me, at this stage, that a second-tier championship is the next logical step.

“The recent survey conducted by the Gaelic Players Association, revealing that 60 per cent of its football membership now favours a tiered SFC structure, was quite telling. On a cautionary note, I’d be interested to know the results of a poll confined to players from Divisions 3 and 4 i.e. the ones directly affected.

“Still, the GPA survey suggests that, even within a couple of years, the mood has altered and there’s an appetite for change. However, this will only work if there’s buy-in from the counties affected. We can try and sell the benefits of a second-tier but we cannot impose one.

“Ultimately, the competition must feel like something worth winning. Stage the final on the same Croke Park bill as the All-Ireland itself – that’s a no-brainer. Why not also have the carrot of a team holiday for the winners, along with promotion to the Sam Maguire competition? And a separate All Stars scheme?

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“A lot can be achieved through imaginative thinking and marketing and the first rule for the PR gurus, don’t call it a B championship!”

Laois players Ross Munnelly and John O’Loughlin celebrate their win over Carlow in this year’s Division 4 league final.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Experimental Rules

Costello describes awaiting the trial period of the new rules with a mixture ‘of interest and apprehension’ and argues ‘it would be more interesting if a 13-a-side game was trialled without any alterations to the playing rules to see if it would alleviate some of the gridlock that sometimes permeates Gaelic football’.

The Dublin secretary also noted the stark contrast in analysis between hurling and Gaelic football.

“Unfortunately when it comes to football, more of a ‘Statler and Waldorf’ tone is set from the get-go by some of Gaelic football’s leading analysts, if the game does not enrich our summer afternoons. This tone spreads like St Brigid’s cloak and by midweek the end of the world is nigh!

“Football and hurling are two separate sports, under the one sporting umbrella, and that should be reflected more in analysis. Constantly comparing the two will inevitably result in misleading conclusions.”

Costello also expressed reservations about the rules about the handpass, kickout and sideline kick.

You can read the full copy of Costello’s report here.


Murray Kinsella, Gavan Casey and Andy Dunne preview a big weekend of Heineken Cup action and dissect the week’s main talking points.


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