Every year, without fail, I’m always surprised about how early in the year that (a) the long evenings return, (b) those infernal dandelions start growing again, (c) the leaves return to the trees and (d) the Championship action gets going once more. Tomorrow evening, all four boxes will have been ticked, with just another one – (e) how fast the longest day of the year comes around – still to go.
We don’t take the field in anger ourselves until just after the longest day but the Connacht championship does begin tomorrow with Leitrim travelling to take on those well-known westerners, New York. I could quite easily launch myself into a tirade about how stupid it is for the Yanks to be playing in Connacht but I see that I already did so last year and, in any event, it’s our turn to head to the Big Apple next year and I’m hatching a plan vaguely related to, well, like, maybe going to it so I don’t want to find myself strolling down Fifth Avenue this time next year with yells of “hypocritical bastard!” (and the rest) ringing in my ears.
But that’s next year, we still have this year’s Championship to negotiate first. As ever, our baseline ambition has to be to win Connacht, as it’s only by doing so that we can hope to be any kind of force in the All-Ireland series. The two times we’ve won Connacht under the new structures, we’ve made it all the way to the final, though, in both cases, that was probably as much to do with good luck as anything else. Every time we’ve failed in Connacht, we’ve foundered even more dismally in the qualifiers, with last year’s qualifier campaign ending more depressingly than most.
So if we’re strictly front door lads, we need to negotiate our way past the current Connacht champions, Sligo (assuming they’ll beat London first, which they will) and then, if we do that, sort out our great rivals Galway. Sligo’s Eamonn O’Hara let off a stirring war cry yesterday which should serve as a timely warning to us that Sligo aren’t just going to turn up for the ice cream at McHale Park on June 22nd. We’ll need to perform a damn sight better than we did in last year’s Championship opener if we’re to avoid the fate of another short and far from sweet Connacht campaign.
We’re not going to win the All-Ireland this year – nobody is, apart from Kerry – but, in this second year of The Second Coming, we can reasonably expect a better summer’s football than last year. Our aim has to be to win Connacht and then to look forward to a big day out in Croker in early August. Depending on the draw, a semi-final place could then beckon and then … oh shit, it’s those greedy Kerrymen again on their way to yet another must-win All-Ireland. Never mind: after last year’s Celtic Park collapse in mid-July, I’d gladly accept a run as far as the semis this year.