It’s not long now until our All-Ireland quarter-final opponents are revealed – twenty hours to be exact – and after this evening’s qualifier matches, we’re down to a list of six. That should (barring a very unlikely draw between Kerry and Antrim) be down to five by the time the drums start to roll at around 6.15 pm tomorrow and, in all likelihood, that list will comprise Kildare, Donegal, Kerry and Meath/Limerick. Antrim will no doubt give it everything at Tullamore tomorrow but I don’t buy all this “Kerry in crisis” bullshit and, their indifferent championship form thus far notwithstanding, I can’t see the Saffrons staying the distance with them.
With Galway now down and out (they were very disappointing today against Donegal and played in the same disjointed way as they did for long periods last Sunday, only this time with an indifference they never displayed against us), we could face any of the counties coming through the qualifier route. Which, on the eve of the draw, leads to the obvious question: who do we want to pull from the hat?
I see my blogging colleague TIALTNGO is aiming high and wants us to draw the Kerrymen. While I can understand his logic (and was expressing similar thoughts myself last year prior to the qualifier draw when I was praying for Tyrone), I don’t think I’ll be doing cartwheels in the kitchen tomorrow evening if we do get paired against the cute hoors from down south. As I’ve already said, I don’t think this Kerry calamity is anything of the sort and, with Kieran Donaghy expected to be fit in time for the quarters, Jack O’Connor will have a full deck to work with at that stage. Even if Kerry are playing rubbish, they’re still Kerry and, once they pitch up at Croke Park and realise that it’s early August and so time for the real stuff, you can expect them to respond accordingly.
Sure, getting them in the quarters would be the best time to face them and it’d be great to be the ones to sink the blade in right to the shaft (I still have sweet, sweet memories of that marvellous 1996 semi-final win) but, aside from the danger that they might do one on us yet again, I don’t think this is necessarily the ideal challenge for us at this juncture. If we do happen to draw them then that’s the way it goes but I’d far sooner see us continue our under-the-radar run for a little while longer, allowing us to break cover definitively at the penultimate stage against the Dubs. Kerry would undoubtedly be a great test for us but I thought the same too about Tyrone last year. That old cliché does, I think, hold true: we need to be careful what we wish for, it just might come true.
I reckon that Kildare would be the ideal opponents for us next, especially if it’s the Dubs that are on the agenda in the round after but either Donegal or Meath/Limerick (maybe we should call them Meaterick or Limeath for now) would do okay too. While we wouldn’t fear any of this quartet, none of them would be pushovers either and we could expect a tough game off all of them.
Avoiding Kerry in the quarters would also, I think, increase the probability of our staying in the race for longer and this is important because, as An Spailpín has correctly pointed out, this is what the knockout phase of the championship is all about. If we get over the next hurdle, then we’re just two matches from glory, with the knowledge that we’ll only make it to the final if we’re good enough to beat a better Dublin team than the one we toppled in 2006 or a team that’s better than Pat Gilroy’s side. That’s enough for us to be getting on with at this stage.
And the Kerrymen? I’d love to see them pull Tyrone, as this would, at a stroke, cut in half the chances of this particular North-South duopoly continuing their All-Ireland dominance this September. If Kerry were to come through such a challenge then we could all, I suppose, pack up our tents and go home but somehow I can’t see this happening. Instead, I envisage Tyrone’s aura of invincibility increasing following another win over Kerry (can you imagine the kind of drooling shite the likes of Jimmy Magee would be coming out with after such a result?) and, with it, the possibility that hubris could well be followed by nemesis for the somewhat overrated Red Hands. And all the while, like the Bee Gees, we’d be stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, uh oh stayin’ alive …
The fun is only starting, lads, and, with a bit of luck, this is a race we’ll still be in for a while yet.