Exactly 36 hours after Kildare became the final team through to final round of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers, they and the seven others learned what lies between them and reaching the Super 8 yesterday morning.
For Roscommon, it ended a two-week limbo. On Saturday, their management — as well as those of Cork, Fermanagh and Laois — would have been scattered between Armagh, Carrick-on-Shannon, Enniskillen, and Newbridge to scout their would-be opponents.
Given Fermanagh couldn’t face Armagh or Monaghan again, Rory Gallagher was spared the trip to two of them but there was no such luck for the other three provincial runners-up.
Such inconveniences come with the job — Mickey Harte, Kieran McGeeney, Cian O’Neill, and Malachy O’Rourke would also only have been able to begin due diligence of their opposition following yesterday’s draw.
But why the hold-up? Why were they and the provincial final losers kept in the dark until yesterday morning when the outstanding side of the draw was completed on Saturday evening?
RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland may be the most listened to radio programme in the country but it is not worth the wait when players, managers, and supporters would be much better served being informed at the earliest possible juncture.
It may be believed the staging of the draw adds gravitas to it and anticipation but it is regarded now as nothing more than an unnecessary inconvenience.
If Croke Park was to really assess the matter, they might realise earlier confirmation of pairings would suit them too.
For instance, if the third round All-Ireland SFC qualifier draw was made after Clare defeated Offaly last Sunday week (thus completing the third round complement of eight teams) on The Sunday Game Live, it would have bought the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) almost 24 hours to speak to Kildare about Newbridge, therefore possibly avoiding last week’s debacle.
Phone-calls could have made Sunday evening into Monday and the CCCC would have had time to fully digest Kildare weren’t for moving so by the time the body convened in Croke Park at Monday lunch-time they would have been in a better position to make a decision.
If, as the GAA claims, there wasn’t enough time on Monday for the CCCC to be given reassurances by the Gardaí about Kildare GAA’s event plan for staging the Mayo game, there would be no excuse for it had the conversations began on Sunday. Instead, brinksmanship reigned on both sides, resulting in one of the worst public relations weeks for the GAA.
Despite its untimely release on Thursday night (not the GPA’s wisest move), the joint statement by the Antrim and Kildare hurling squads only underlined the GAA’s difficulty with time — what was wrong with delaying the relegation play-off game for a week so that Kildare could come down from their Christy Ring Cup success?
Whatever about the game being played in Armagh, the scheduling of it denied them the opportunity to celebrate their triumph and put them at a disadvantage against Antrim, who admirably recognised that.
Likewise, anybody expecting Carlow and Westmeath to stun Limerick and Wexford respectively a week after their Joe McDonagh Cup final exploits must be doting.
The staging of the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals this weekend shows contempt for their development but then the governing bodies in Leinster and Munster each asking two of their counties to play four weekends in a row wasn’t fair either.
Beginning with Kevin McStay’s determination for Roscommon to be given what they were due in a Connacht final and then O’Neill and Kildare’s similar defiance, the Antrim and Kildare hurlers’ united front should be treated seriously as a counter to an array of decisions Croke Park are making, which are out of step with the sensibilities of units.
GAA president John Horan hasn’t spoken much publicly since taking office in February but for the second time this year he stressed yesterday that those on national committees and many who work in Croke Park are deeply involved in the GAA.
However, it’s no longer a case of imploring what he says is fact, but showing it.
The greater association deserves more respect and Horan’s statement that he seeks to end the practice of hosting July and August concerts in Croke Park is a step in the right direction.
But there is still so much left to answer and the questions pertain to the here and now.
Like, why have Cork hurling supporters not yet been informed what day their All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park is going to be on, Saturday July 27 or Sunday July 28?
What about the weekend after next — will there be fixtures clashes with the World Cup final on the Sunday or will the GAA move most of the Super 8 opening round programme and the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals to Saturday?
Will Dublin’s footballers have one or two home matches in the Super 8? The likelihood is two, however unfair that may be, but nail the issue now.
Part of the attraction of scheduling changes to the All-Ireland championships was more predictability in terms of when clubs knew they would and would not be playing but that improvement was also supposed to extend to counties’ inter-county rosters too.
The GAA summer is never anything to set your clock by but it shouldn’t have to be guesswork.
Time is not on the GAA’s side but only because they haven’t allowed it.
Mayo remain box office
There was much consternation among Dublin supporters Saturday night when it was claimed on social media that Mayo were a more compelling story than their team. The commentators’ statements to that effect weren’t eulogies but rather fair reflections on what has been a tumultuous ride for Mayo this decade, which saw them suffer their earliest Championship exit since 2010.
Neither, we can safely assume, were the remarks intended to upset the capital’s following, whose side is quite the phenomenon and proven to be possibly the greatest final team of all time. Never mind team of the decade, they are undoubtedly team of this burgeoning century but some of the Dublin following can’t appreciate that success is one thing and a story is another.
Their tale doesn’t have the same captivating qualities of Mayo who trudged their way to the last two All-Ireland final ties featuring the concession of two own goals having removed a manager the year previously and the despair of a thrown GPS unit last year. Obviously, the county’s bridesmaid tag preceded this current team but the resolve of Mayo has never been more underlined than during the management spells of James Horan and Stephen Rochford.
Is it sympathy? Perhaps. The Mayo love story appeals to the heart more than the regular Dublin summer blockbuster. There may be an element of that in inter-county footballers voting for Lee Keegan and Andy Moran as their last two players of the year.
If Kerry are to finish second to Dublin this year, it’s less likely one of theirs would be favoured as much as a Mayo man.
Maybe the Irish psyche isn’t yet ready to embrace the brilliance of Dublin and the greatest respect won’t be paid to them until they’re gone. But at a time when Brian Kerr’s colloquialisms are being appreciated, a noun of his best sums up Mayo’s appeal: bouncebackability.
Leinster losers in trouble
One replay defeat in 20 years of inter-county hurling is the record Brian Cody puts on the line when they make the short trip to Thurles to take on Galway again this Sunday.
That Leinster semi-final loss to Dublin is the single blot in the copybook for Cody’s Kilkenny and for all the talk from Galway captain David Burke about the Cats fearing his team it could be the other way around now.
The belief that Galway have more to improve on from the draw is an intoxicating one but then Cody’s knack of getting it right the second time around is sure to weigh on some minds in the west, particularly when they had experience of it in the 2012 All-Ireland final and 2014 Leinster semi-final.
It’s appropriate that the game is in Semple Stadium when the ramifications of the replay extend beyond Leinster and lifting the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
In what will be their third game in 13 days, the losers likely face a rested Limerick in an All-Ireland quarter-final the following Saturday or Sunday and that schedule has already caught out nine of the 10 teams this summer.
Galway were the exception but then the last of the three games on the bounce was a dead rubber against Dublin.
The capacity of the All-Ireland champions may be larger than Kilkenny’s but Cody, even though he mistakenly believed there was extra-time on Sunday, won’t mind another day out in the slightest.
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