We’re heading off on holidays tomorrow (and so normal service here will be interrupted over the coming fortnight, though, like last year, I’ll post a bit while I’m away if the broadband connection holds up) but, before we jet off to the sun, it’s worth briefly reviewing where it’s all at in the championship. Our timing in heading off isn’t too bad (our return 36 hours or so prior to throw-in time at Pearse Stadium is no coincidence either) in that the first provincial final is on this Sunday with the qualifiers swinging into action the day before.
Two of the provincial finals will have been played by the time we get back, with Connacht and Ulster down for decision on the 19th, and two rounds of the qualifiers will also have taken place by then, with the third round pencilled in for the 18th. All of which means that by the time we arrive home all rested and sun-tanned and ready to hear all those stories about how the weather was only gorgeous while we were away, we’ll be getting close enough to having the championship field whittled down to the serious contenders.
The provincial finals are, arguably, of two types – duck shoots in Munster and Ulster with more competitive deciders in Leinster and Connacht. I wasn’t around the weekend that Cork beat Kerry but I saw the highlights and, in front of their home support in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, it’s hard to see Limerick troubling the Donkey Ayters. I know they damn near beat them last year, but Conor Counihan appears to have got Cork playing for the full 70 minutes dish ear and if they do this the next day, they should have a fair bit to spare on the Shannonsiders.
The same goes for Ulster, you’d have to think. I’ve been well impressed with Antrim because after using up ten years of luck in their win over Donegal, I thought they really socked it to Cavan in the semi-final. Tyrone, though, are in an entirely different class and class will surely out in the Northern decider.
The Dubs looked classy enough too the last day against a truly awful Westmeath but, from what I saw on the highlights, Kildare don’t look half bad either. It will be interesting to see how the Dubs cope with the hard hits and fanatical work-rate of the New Model Lillywhites and I’d say that the first twenty minutes in that one could well be a sight to behold.
Dublin are definitely a better side now than they were under Pillar’s aimless regime but don’t forget that, after the acute embarrassment of losing to Wicklow last year, Kildare went on to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals and they’ve progressed a fair bit since then. The Jacks will obviously be favourites (they are – Paddy Power has them at 1/2) but this counts for little – sure weren’t they 1/4 to beat Tyrone last year? In deference to my little Dubeens, I’ll have to say that the Liffeysiders will shade it but it could well go the other way too.
And so to Connacht where, it being Galway v Mayo, the formbook goes out the window and it’s all down to what the fates decide on the day. Sure, it’s in poxy old Pearse Stadium, we haven’t had any serious prep going into it, old dopey eyes will be back for them and Barry Moran might be out for us. But didn’t we beat them in Tuam in the league and hasn’t our form been on an upward curve since while they’ve been in a tailspin? Take your pick: this is Galway v Mayo and anything can happen.
The qualifiers will only start to get interesting, I think, once the Kerrymen join the fray in round two. I hope the hoors get a pig of a draw and, if that doesn’t stop them, I hope they pull another porker for the following weekend. And if that doesn’t do it, then the losers from Leinster. Followed by Tyrone in the quarters. Then they’ll be so knackered that Cork will have at least a fighting (and with Noel O’Leary and Paul Galvin back, fighting it could be) chance of seeing them off in the semis.
But that’s next month’s fun. In the meantime, there’s all the stuff that comes before it. And the hols – oh yes, the hols. On that note, there’s a suitcase that needs attending to.