Championship time again

Well, well, well, well, well, well, well (as the Wizard in the Mr Men cartoons is wont to say from time to time), here we are once more at the eve of another championship season. Keith Duggan in today’s Irish Times has a nice, moody article (premium content, sub required) about how the perennial hopes that so many counties harbour about All-Ireland success ends in perennial despair. Does this sound vaguely familiar?It brings to mind a banner I recall seeing photographed at a Connacht final back in the mid-eighties, when Liam O’Neill (our Kev’s old man) was our Bainisteor. It read “Liam’s Lions are Hungry” and underneath was the punchline “Haven’t Eaten since 1951”. Fairly mangy lions they’d have been even then, let alone what they’d be like now. But, once again, we set out in anticipation of a new championship campaign, thinking that this might be the year that we’ll do it. Or maybe not.

It’s a fairly low-key start tomorrow. Sligo open the Connacht championship by playing New York in an utterly pointless match on the other side of the Atlantic. And on a plastic pitch too. Sligo will win easily enough and then it’ll be someone else’s turn next year. Why on earth is this charade (and the similar one involving London) allowed to be part of the Connacht championship? It would be like having a bunch of ex-pat Yanks based over here taking part in the American football season, except with the addition of those sissy pads that they wear. I just don’t get it. Away win.

Down and Cavan face off in Ulster. Two counties with a proud All-Ireland history but who are a bit down in the Ulster pecking order these days, this is a contest between two non-contenders for the Ulster title this year. Down have, however, a strong record at minor level in recent years (All-Irelands in 1999 and 2005) and this talent, which is well represented in their lineup tomorrow could sway tomorrow’s clash in their favour.

In Leinster, neighbours Longford and Westmeath (two counties that would be moving West under the “Breheny Plan” – see Thursday’s post) clash at Pearse Park. Both counties briefly lit up the qualifiers last Summer, with Longford toppling Derry before the reborn Kerry lads did for them, while Westmeath sank Galway before getting hammered by the Dubs. This could be a close one but, at Pearse Park, I’d fancy Longford – remember that the Dubs only emerged from there early last Summer with a few points to spare.

That’s it as regards the matches. Elsewhere, the Indo has an interesting table showing who has done well under the qualifiers and who hasn’t. The table placings are based on how many matches counties have won via the qualifiers but this is, of course, a function of how many games each county has played via the backdoor. It comes as no surprise that the top of the table is dominated by Ulster counties (including top team, Derry, with 14 backdoor wins), who occupy four of the top six berths. We’re well down the table, with four wins and four losses but the most chilling stat for me is that relating to Kerry, with nine wins out of ten (their only loss being in the 2002 All-Ireland final). More ammunition about the shortcomings of the current structure, methinks.

And there’s more. Remember I mentioned the other day that, if we win against Galway on the 20th, we get to warm our posteriors for five whole weeks? Well, amigos, that’s only the half of it. If we lose, we get to remain on our derrieres for a further two weeks, as it is only then that the first qualifier round takes place. It gets even better: rounds two and three of the qualifiers then take place over the following two weekends. That’s right: after sitting on our holes for seven weeks after next weekend’s opener, we’d have to play on three successive Sundays (again, that’s assuming we remain standing) in July. The little baby elephant that was born in Dublin zoo the other day (now you know why that picture is there) could have come up with better scheduling than this.

Still, mustn’t grumble – the action is almost back on again. And I’ll be back on Monday with a review of tomorrow’s opening shots of dish ear’s campaign. Till then.

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