Two chances to make it to Croke Park

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.

14 thoughts on “Two chances to make it to Croke Park

  1. On Alan Dillons comment re: back door, I think no matter what answer he gave he was going to be taken up on it. He did not want the back door ,only considered going route one and by this comment he was showing his will to win , if he was in support of going the back door route he would be accused of ,’showing the white feather’,
    He was interviewed , I think , before the Galway game.
    I have great time for Alan Dillon as a footballer and think he is one of our better forwards. I watched him in Castlebar and while his frees were off he , in my opinion was on the ball a lot and from centre forward he opens up defences with his movement off the ball.
    His free taking form will return when his confidence returns ,during the summer.
    Seamus O Shea was a delight to watch against Galway, he can play football and has great heart, plays with passion and reminds me of David Brady in his early days,
    Roscommon will be a hard nut to crack in the Hide, they seem to be improving with every game.

  2. The back door is ruining the summer for me. All the excitement is gone in championship matches. You are correct WJ when you say that Cork or Kerry won’t be bothered really by who wins next Sunday. That takes away from the intensity of the match for players and spectators.

    It should not be this way. Why not go to an open draw. Do away with the provincial championships which have been devalued anyway under the current system.

    We have 32 counties plus London and New York. Two preliminary rounds and away with us. Winner take all. This year it would start on the 1st of May for preliminary rounds. 29th of May for first round proper and every four weeks thereafter until the third Sunday in September. All matches up to semi finals to be at the home venue of the first drawn team. Allows plenty of time for replays and hurling championships. Most importantly plenty of time for club championships and players can plan their year around fixed dates.

    Mayo v Galway in the first round would be just as exiting and draw at least as big a crowd as Connacht final. New York at home to Dublin and London at home to Kerry in the preliminary round. Imagine the crowds in Gaelic Park and Ruislip, and its about time they suffered some squeaky bums over there! There would be intense excitement at draw time and marketed properly it could give a major boost to attendances.

    Last Sundays match was the least intense Mayo v Galway championship match I ever attended. It was like a league game in the build up to and during the match itself. I know neither team were going well and the weather had a part to play. But don’t tell me that the back door system did not contribute significantly to the lack of atmosphere.

    So sign up here to restore the championship to the days when it meant something. When your whole summer revolved around the championship and it was shit or burst. Win and it is red and green every where and on to the next day and God knows who we will be playing (Wicklow in Aughrim, ; Cork in Castlebar) Lose and its Enniscrone with the family to think of next year and what might have been. Surely that is better than these interminable qualifiers and temperate championship matches we have had to endure in recent seasons.

  3. I know what you’re saying about the back door WJ, but it’s highly likely that the loser of the Connacht final will be out of the championship 6 days later.
    In the 10 year history of the back door system, I think it’s only the Dubs that have won a qualifer game the week after losing a provincial final. Everyone else has ended up on their arses. It can’t be a coincidence.
    But how our council (and Ulster for that matter) has let this happen is baffling. From what I hear, this is the last year this will be the case, but sure what good is that to us or the Rossies this year? The loser of Donegal/Derry will be in the same situation. Even if this is the only way they can do it (and it’s clearly not, as they’ve managed to sort it out for next year), why not alternate it every year? How come the losing Leinster and Munster finalists never have this problem? It’s always Connacht and Ulster that seem to get the shitty end of the shit-stick.

  4. I agree with you, Dan, that it’s appalling we keep ending up in this position and Connacht Council are obviously asleep at the wheel to let it happen but the point I was making is that we know that this is the position that’ll face ourselves or the Rossies and, for our part, we need to be planning for such an eventuality. I know that the record of beaten provincial finalists having to play again six days later is dire but we’ve never been placed in that position before (hasn’t stopped us losing in the qualifiers, I know) so if we are, it’s up to us to create our own record. I guess what I’m saying is that, if we lose the Connacht final, we have the choice of either giving up or seizing the second chance. I know which one I’d prefer to see us taking.

    There is something seriously wrong with the current structure, for sure, Joe, and it’s no coincidence that the championship now doesn’t start for real until the All-Ireland series. The provincial championships have, in general, gone to the dogs and I’d agree that last Sunday’s Mayo/Galway game was the least intense championship encounter between us in living memory (even if it was still a game that was worth winning from both perspectives). I can’t see anything changing soon – if the GAA top brass can’t see they have a crisis on their hands with incompetent refereeing, I can’t see that they’re going to even start discussing changing the championship structure. For good or ill, then, it’s what we’re stuck with.

  5. Whoever wins the Connaught Final, how does it work then in terms of who they play in the quarters?

    Is Connaught tiered with another province or is that only decided after the qualifiers are finished?

  6. It’s Connacht v Munster in the semis this year, Mayoman, but, of course, whether this means anything in practice depends on how the respective provincials champions fare out in the quarters against qualifier opposition.

    John – make sure that strongly worded letter is in the First Language and is on appropriate headed paper. These things have to be done correctly.

  7. If Alan Dillon even hinted at this stage that the qualifiers were a viable option for Mayo, he would be lacerated. While the six day turnaround is tough, the route through the qualifiers if we lost last Sunday would have been much tougher – While I am not the biggest fan of Galway, having to go to Navan is very difficult, if it was us I would give us little chance.

    Some Rossies I know are already looking forward to Croke park in August, I hope their players are buying into the confidence!

  8. Call me a traditionalist or whatever but i liked the old route, Loser of the Connacht final are out & the winner is in the Semi final only one win away for the final.

    IMO the teams that win their provincial championship should get a home game in the quarters finals. Anyways 6 day turn around will be tough! all you can get in the time is one training session.

  9. Fairplay to Alan D. One game at a time s j. It’s the lads who don’t like playing in Croker I worry about

  10. Mayo should not go into a game think about second chances, especially against Galway. But the reality is that the Championship is now not based on your Connaught performance. We do need to look at it as two different competitions i.e the Connaught Championshipt and the All Ireland Series. This I hope is how James Horan has set up the teams view of the year ahead. Cork and Kerry have managed to get this into their heads, we up to now have struggled with this.

  11. if we cant beat Roscommon then whats the point in playing on? Remeber Ross have only beaten Sligo and Leitrim in the last year! Comparing our situation to that of Cork/Kerry is not a true comparison. we’re trying to gauge where we are at and if we cant beat Roscommon then we have no business going to croker surely? Cork know they can win the all ireland so their second chance is of more value to them. We need to treat the Roscommon as a must win game and i get the feeling thats how dillon views it too.

  12. Roscommon can only beat whats put in front of them, and we did so with relative ease so far in the championship. Our half backline is something of a worry, although I am glad to see Domican moved from fullback to half back as he gives this crucial area physicality, Ian Kilbride is a huge loss as he had been playing great stuff at club and county level. Carthy at fullback is untested, however he looks reasonably good so far in a major problem position for us since John Whyte vaccated the position. Midfield is hit and miss, Finneran can be a great man one day and utterly brutal the next, Mannion is more of a footballer and if he plays bad his team invariably losses. Half forward line can mix the good with the bad, Higgins can score 1-2 a game, however he is not a playmaker in the sense of David O Gara who in my opinion is a huge loss, Senan O Grady came to the seniors without playing underage for county and is untested at this level, he works hard. Cathal Cregg is a huge talent and will run all day. The full forward line will see the talented Conor Dev in the shade of the other big two. Shine is somewhat over-rated from general play, however his free taking is almost flawless. Kilbride is one of the best players in the country and I have not been as excited about a Ross player since the great Tony Mac, he will take some watching, he is seriously strong and runs in straight lines, his ability to create space out of nothing is a joy to watch. Claffey in goals is solid and intelligent and I felt he was unlucky not to get an all-star nomination last year. Two corner backs can be brilliant or brutal, they both lack height which is a bit of a worry. Generally a smaller Ross team (with obvious exceptions) than tradional Ross teams, however they are fast. Heres hoping for a good game in two weeks.

  13. Whoever loses the Connacht final will be severly disadvantaged playing 6 days later. It happened to us in 2009. Rarely does one see Kerry, Cork or Dublin in a similar scenario. In fact there is a trend in this for Connacht teams. Take the 2010 U21 all-ireland hurling final (Tipp/Galway) in the home of Tipperary. Also next Saturday it is an absolute disgrace fixing the Galway/Cork hurling match for 4pm in Limerick given the Meath/Galway football match was already scheduled for Navan at 7pm. Cork always use the dual player as a reason. I have no problem with this but what about the dual fan. Do they not matter. After all it is our money that keep those headless decision makers in HQ in a job. For the record i think Limerick have got a worse deal as they have dual players. At least though the dual fan in this case as in Antrim can technically see both their senior teams in action. It was only this week it occurred to me how much the GAA are orientated towards certain Munster counties and Dublin.

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