The kids finished up at school yesterday, a truly shitty June weatherwise is at last over and the long evenings are a small bit shorter than they were last week so we’re obviously pushing well into the summer at this stage. And, in contrast to twelve months ago, we’re still in the championship.
Not only that but we’re now into the last twelve, which means that a place in the quarters – back at Croker, dining once more at the same table as the big lads – is, for the first time since 2009, tantalisingly close. We’re still not guaranteed to see the lads playing August football just yet but the odds of our doing so are now a hell of a lot better than they were before the Galway game. What’s really important to note at this juncture is that, by virtue of last Sunday’s win, we’ve now given ourselves two shots at reaching the quarters. As a result, we have to make sure that, if it comes to it, we’re ready to use both barrels to get us where we want to go.
I have to say that I winced when I saw that Alan Dillon quote about the qualifiers last week as it showed yet again that our thinking about the championship still hasn’t done anything to catch up with the realities of the current structure of the competition. A structure which, last year, yielded up four All-Ireland semi-finalists who had all come through the back door.
In fairness to Alan, he was speaking prior to the Galway game and I’d agree that it was vital for us to win the match in Castlebar last Sunday. We’re clearly in a far better place heading into a Connacht final against Roscommon than Galway are as they look forward to Round 2 of the qualifiers away to Banty’s lads up in Navan. But now that we’ve negotiated that tricky hurdle, we have to see the qualifier route not as some kind of Via Dolorosa but rather as a safety net that guarantees us a second crack at making it to Croke Park in August.
Sure, we’d much prefer to swan in via the front door but, for my money, the tradesman’s entrance would be just fine as well. What we absolutely can’t do, if we lose to the Rossies on the 17th, is to collapse in a heap on the Hyde Park surface and act like our world has come to an end. You can be damned sure that the losers of Cork and Kerry this weekend won’t view their plight in such terms.
But, I hear you say, what about the six-day turnaround? That’s a pain in the hole, for sure, and whoever within the Connacht Council is letting this happen year after year (from what I can see, this is the third year on the trot where this has been the case) needs to have a ‘Kick Me Hard’ sign affixed to the arse of his trousers and be let loose in Roscommon town a few hours before throw-in the next day but there’s bugger all we can do about that now. We are where we … you get the message.
So, the situation is this. Plan A obviously involves doing a number on the Rossies and while our chances of succeeding in doing so have to be rated as fairly good, we know from 2001 that shit happens. As a result, we have to be actively thinking about and planning for a possible Round 4 qualifier tie the following Saturday evening.
That road could see us up against the likes of Armagh, Meath or Kildare but it could also quite conceivably reunite us with London for the second time this summer. At this stage, though, there’s no point thinking about possible opponents – not least because there’s another round of qualifiers to be played before the draw with the beaten provincial finalists is made – and we should obviously be focusing most of our efforts for now on wresting the Nestor from the Sheepstealers.
But if this new mental toughness we’re hearing about under James Horan is for real, we also have to be planning about doing more than feeling sorry for ourselves if July 17th doesn’t go according to plan. We’ve now got two chances to reach Croke Park in August and, whatever about winning Connacht, what we absolutely have to ensure is that over the coming month we don’t spurn both opportunities to reach this year’s All-Ireland series.