It was a bumper weekend in the championship (well, if you keep counties that get knocked out waiting aeons for their next match and then let them all loose on the same weekend, you’re pretty much guaranteed a bumper weekend), what with yesterday’s two provincial finals and all the qualifier action on Saturday.
The Dubs will, predictably, grab all the headlines today following their demolition of the Yella Bellies in yesterday’s Leinster final. The 3-23 to 0-9 scoreline looks more like what you’d get in a Leinster hurling final than in a football decider and poor old Wexford can’t have imagined that they’d get the same kind of walloping in the big ball final as they’d endured from Kilkenny in the hurling one a few weeks back. I can’t ever remember a provincial football final being so lopsided (a few All-Ireland finals spring to mind, alright, but no provincial ones) which, I suppose, goes to show how poor the standard of football is in Leinster at the moment.
It won’t have helped Dublin either to have had such an easy run-out yesterday: apart from that scare they got against Westmeath in the semi, they haven’t had to get out of second gear to win their fourth Leinster in a row. Although it’s little surprise to see the Dubs’ odds tighten for the All-Ireland (Paddy Power are now quoting them at 11/4, compared to 7/4 for Kerry; we’re at 22/1 by the way), they remain vulnerable to a quarter-final ambush from, say, the likes of Tyrone. That said, if they can keep the juggernaut rolling, they have every chance of claiming Sam for the first time since 1995.
The draw up in Ulster was exciting but, in the cold light of day, all that it showed was that Armagh cannot be viewed as serious All-Ireland contenders this year. They had Fermanagh by the throat early in the second half and, from that position, they ought to have won by at least ten points. Instead, they simply stopped playing – too many ould fellas who had run out of puff? – and allowed the gutsy Ernesiders back into it. Fermanagh are never going to run up a big score – twelve or thirteen points is always going to be their outer limit – but if you let them run at you again and again, as Armagh did in the final twenty minutes, they will eventually get the scores. Even with Tom Brewster – who can’t hit a barn door with the proverbial shovel – on the pitch. Fermanagh obviously deserved the draw yesterday but it’s a pity they didn’t nick the win as Armagh are unlikely to prove as accommodating in the replay.
Whoever loses next weekend in Ulster faces the prospect of playing a championship match three weekends on the trot. It gets better: if they win their qualifier match on the 3rd, they’ll then have to play in the quarter-finals the following weekend as well. Who said sensible match scheduling was difficult?
The qualifiers on Saturday also provided a few talking points. Derry lost their way against Monaghan in a match that played out quite similarly to the Connacht final, as the Farneymen built up a seven-point lead only to fall behind before steadying themselves again to win by the minimum margin. So, once again, winning the league turns out to be a burden too great for an Ulster county to carry into the summer (strange how it never seems to weigh down the Kerrymen). And Monaghan get rewarded for their performance by drawing Donegal in round 2. And in Ballybofey too. They’ll be well ready for any of the beaten provincial finalists if they make it through.
The other result of note from Saturday night was Limerick’s utter annihilation of Meath, where the Royals had to score four goals in the last 15 minutes to get the losing margin down to respectable levels. At one stage, they were trailing by 4-11 to 0-3 and the manner of the defeat has, not surprisingly, seen Colm Coyle fall on his sword, with All-Ireland medalists Graham Geraghty and Darren Fay also announcing their retirement from inter-county action. It’s difficult to know how good Limerick really are: better than Meath, one can, I suppose, reasonably conclude.
There’s still one round to go before we get to see who we’ll play on Sunday week but the odds are heavily in favour of Ulster opposition, with Tyrone (who play Westmeath), Down (who visit Laois) and either Donegal or Monaghan in the hat. There’s also Kildare or Limerick but Kerry are already earmarked to draw the winners of that one (watch this space). Ulster opposition would be good, I reckon, as it’d give us an honest assessment of where we stand and, if we’re good enough, we get to play in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Finally, there’s a report on gaaboard.com saying that that Ronan tore a hamstring playing for Ballina yesterday, where the Stephenites coincidentally crashed out of the county championship. If this is accurate – and I’ve no reason to believe it’s not – then Ronan will be out not just for the qualifier round but also, if we win that game, for the quarter-final the following weekend as well. While we do have plenty of options in his absence – Seamus O’Shea could replace him directly at midfield or else Pat Harte could shift back, allowing someone like BJ or Killer into the starting side – losing the team’s captain at this point in the campaign isn’t exactly a positive development. If ever Johnno needed a cast-iron excuse for recalling Super Mac to his rightful place on the forty, this has got to be it.