It’s been a helter-skelter weekend of provincial final action – and May’s not over yet! – with four impressive champions emerging from each of their respective deciders. Impressive in different ways but all of them will head into the All-Ireland Series feeling pretty okay about themselves.
Kerry had their expected stroll in the Munster decider yesterday against Limerick. While Dublin didn’t disappoint either in demolishing Kildare in the Leinster final, their rebirth as a rampant attacking force was nonetheless a bit eye-catching.
I’ve been saying for some weeks that Dublin will beat Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final this year. While both of them still have a hurdle to get over to reach that stage, you’d have to expect them to do so. And if they do meet, I still expect the Dubs to do the business, all the more so, in fact, after yesterday’s performance.
Today’s two provincial finals were more competitive but, in truth, it was only the über-defensive Ulster one that was properly so.
A bit like our game against them, Galway allowed a decisive enough victory over Roscommon to mutate into something that looked closer based on the final score. In truth, Galway were on top for much of the day at Pearse Stadium, however, and they were never in any great danger of losing what would have been a fourth Nestor Cup decider in a row. No wonder they looked so happy at the finish.
The Ulster final was compelling even if the anti-football on display made it a far from attractive contest. It’s hard to blame Derry for this, though, and they showed enough enterprise in extra-time to get over the line. Having beaten Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal to claim a first Anglo-Celt Cup success since 1998, nobody can deny that the Oakleafers are worthy champions of Ulster this year.
So, with the provincial Championships boxed off, the real business of the still early summer is set to begin. We’re now down to the final sixteen and, from here on, everything is on the line in every game. It’s all knockout football from here.
From our perspective, it’s tempting to start eyeing the four winners from this weekend and begin wondering about which of them we’d fancy a crack off in the quarters. Tempting but pointless.
Our only target now is Monaghan next Saturday at MacHale Park, an all-or-nothing tie that will see one of us emerge from it to go into the hat on Monday morning for Round 2. Whichever of us it is will then be back in action – against one of Donegal, Limerick, Kildare or Roscommon – the following weekend.
It’s only if we survive that short, sharp run through the qualifiers that we get to think about an All-Ireland quarter-final. That test now facing us, combined with our failure to defend our provincial title successfully this year, is why our focus right now cannot afford to be on the kind of lofty thoughts that the four provincial champions, Galway included, are now able to luxuriate in as this weekend winds down.