So our Connacht Championship campaign is over and, on our return to MacHale Park, our execrable home record remains unchanged. What, then, does the rest of the summer hold for us?
The first observation is that we are, of course, now back in knockout territory in this year’s Championship. In light of how we tend to perform – or at least used to one time – that may be no bad thing but now one slip will mean our inter-county year will be at an end.
And it could end for us this year as early as 4th or 5th of June. That’s not the earliest we were ever dumped out in the summer – back in 1998 that happened on the second-last Sunday in May and that’s not our only May departure from the fray either – but it would be the earliest since the qualifiers were brought in 21 years ago.
Round 1 of the qualifiers will be played off this year on that first weekend of June. It’s the first of two qualifier rounds, with the Tailteann Cup sending everyone from Divisions Three and Four (unless one of them reaches a provincial final, which, on the face of it, is unlikely) in that direction. That leaves sixteen counties in the hunt for the Sam Maguire, eight of them provincial finalists and the other eight in the pot for Round 1 of the qualifiers.
It’s an open draw in Round 1, so no bar then on repeat pairings. Should Andy Moran’s Leitrim beat Galway, by the way, that means we could be paired with the Tribesmen in Round 1 and it would also necessitate a qualifier preliminary round, as Leitrim would have done enough to join the Sam Maguire party. That, though, is unlikely to happen.
The team drawn first in each pairing has home advantage in Round 1 and all ties have to be decided on the day. Indeed, every Championship fixture up to – but not including – the All-Ireland final is now played on this basis.
Round 2 sees the four survivors from Round 1 paired with the four beaten provincial finalists. This, again, is an open draw – so, once again, we could pull Galway here and this time it’s a more likely outcome – and the venues for Round 2 ties will be set by the CCCC. I assume, though this isn’t confirmed, that this means neutral venues. The Round 2 ties are down for decision on the weekend of 11th/12th June.
The four teams who make it through Round 2 qualify for the All-Ireland quarter-finals where they’ll be drawn against the four provincial champions. For this draw, repeat pairings will be avoided where possible. Venues for the quarter-finals will also be set by the CCCC.
The All-Ireland quarter-finals are set for the weekend of 25th/26th June, so that means a two-week gap after the first two matches. It’s the same interval then until the semi-final (which takes place on 9th/10th July) and between the semis and the final, which is set for 24th July.
That’s actually not a bad schedule and is nowhere near as onerous as the inhuman four-round qualifier campaigns we’ve been faced with before. The first two rounds – bearing in mind that with one slip we’re gone – will be difficult for all involved but, if we make it past them, the gap between the games is pretty much ideal.
So that’s the potential road facing us. Providing we get half-decent draws along the way, stay on the horse from round to round, get some of our injured lads back and develop some kind of coherent plans for defending more tightly and attacking with purpose. And sorting midfield. It all sounds simple when you say it like that.
All that information on the dates for matches etc. comes from the GAA’s Master Fixtures Schedule 2022 booklet, which is available here.