It sure wasn’t the most fruitful weekend for anyone looking for chinks in Dublin’s drive for five. Meath’s paltry points total in Croke Park followed on from a Munster final that again exposed Kerry’s deficiencies at the back, while Mayo’s joy in Newry was tempered by the understanding that they too continue to have issues at the heart of their defence.
Donegal’s efforts have been far more encouraging. They appear to have taken a few steps forward this term, after a Super 8 exit last time out, and that clearly has something to do with the addition to their coaching ticket of Stephen Rochford. The speed and the clinical nature of their counter-attacking yesterday was sublime at times and, while they conceded 2-11 in the second-half to Cavan, they were almost unbreachable during the first-half when things actually mattered.
The manner in which they allowed Cavan and Tyrone to profit in the latter stages does give cause for caution but Donegal to date look like the most complete challenger to Dublin. Their first Super 8 tie will be at home and it will be a surprise if that doesn’t prove to be the perfect launchpad for them to shoot though to the last four. At least. Expect Donegal to be key players come August.
WHAT NOW FOR MEATH?
That was the $64,000 question asked of Andy McEntee following yesterday’s 16-point Leinster final loss. “I don't know is the answer. We haven't been in this position before. It'll be interesting to see how fellas react. We were one game away from the Super 8s last week, we're one game away from it this week. Ultimately not a whole pile has changed.
It will be a fair test of resolve and a fair test of character to come back from a defeat like that.” History is against Meath. Not since 2009 have Leinster runners-up made the last-eight when Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare recovered from losing to Dublin to beat Wicklow and reach the quarter-finals. The damage Dublin have done since 2011 is there for all to see and even the end of the six or seven-day turnaround to the qualifiers has hardly helped the runners-up in the eastern province.
RUAIRI Deane’s progress with Cork has been undoubtedly impressive but Ronan McCarthy raised eyebrows after Saturday’s Munster final when he counted the Bantry man among the top ten players in the country. “Ruairí, and I’m not exaggerating, is heading in the direction where he’s in the top ten players in the country,” he said. “He’s heading in that direction and certainly could become top three. He has gone to another level.” Granting a manager the licence to talk up his own, Deane most certainly has gone to another level, but it will take a summer of consistency beyond the boundaries of his province to add legitimacy to such claims.
THE CASE FOR...
Watching Westmeath play Limerick in the All-Ireland qualifiers on Saturday felt like a glimpse into the future. Two relatively evenly matched teams went head to head in the sort of game we're likely to see in a future B championship. The match wasn't covered live on TV and the attendance in Mullingar, which wasn't officially announced, can't have been any higher than 2,000. Whether a game like this would generate more interest in an alternative championship remains to be seen but probably not.
The plan appears to be that teams competing in League Divisions 3 and 4 would compete in their provincial championships as normal and then, unless they reach a provincial final, be redirected into an alternative championship. It's hard to argue with the logic because all Division 4 teams have now exited the Championship. And just three teams from Division 3 of the 2019 league are still alive - Laois, Westmeath and Offaly. In 2018, Armagh and Fermanagh (both Div 3) and Laois (Div 4) reached Round 4 of the qualifiers before bowing out, leaving the Super 8s to be contested by seven Division 1 sides and Division 2 champions Roscommon.
THE CASE AGAINST
At the risk of contributing to the coma-inducing debate about tiered Championships, Saturday in Newry was one of those games when you tend to lean towards feeling that the system is not entirely wrong.
A full house in Newry. Mayo fans taking over the Canal Court Hotel from carvary time. An atmosphere that was steadily building in the stands from an hour before the game, this felt like a living, breathing Championship game with the safety net removed.
Sure, you can argue that schools are still not out and all the Division Four teams are out of the Championship. Perhaps that fits your narrative. But that ignores the condensed nature of the Championship for the last two years.
And here's the other thing. Inter-county football is an elite game. While examples of Division Four teams beating those in the top flight are rare, there are plenty to pick from with Division Three sides beating those from Division One. This could have been one here.
Finally, tiered Championships do not spare us the sight of hammerings. Look down through the results from Nicky Rackard, Lory Meagher and Christy Ring Cups over the last decade and you can see that for yourself.