EARLIER this year, an unfamiliar wave crashed over Leinster football when Wexford, Carlow, Longford and Westmeath pushed their way to the front of the provincial queue and paired off in the U21 football semi-finals.
Aside from Westmeath’s two titles at the turn of the millennium, the rest of the competition’s history had been written without little input from that quartet and yet there they were brazenly occupying spots which Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Laois and Offaly had come to regard as birthrights.
A few weeks later, another weaker county sounded warning of own its intention to usurp the old order when Tipperary chairman Barry O’Brien declared the county’s ambition to compete in an All-Ireland football final by the year 2020.
Who says they won’t?
Tipp ended 2010 as Munster champions at U15, 16, 17 and 21 levels and they have contested three of the last four minor finals. Add in High School, Clonmel’s All-Ireland ‘B’ title last season and O’Brien’s bullishness is understandable.
Cork and Kerry won’t go away – neither will the market leaders in the other provinces — but the green shoots of progress witnessed lately in counties like Tipperary can at least give new hope.
Other shoots? In Wexford, football development officer Paul Carty is working the oracle while regional squads in Louth spent the winter tearing strips off each other in the county’s new state-of-the-art complex in Darver.
Further encouraging news is emanating from Roscommon where they have built on their breakthrough All-Ireland minor success in 2006 with regular appearances in provincial deciders at the two underage groups while Roscommon CBS annexed an All-Ireland ‘B’ title.
Only in Ulster is the status quo showing few signs of change. Tyrone, Down and Derry are all churning out an abundance of talent although the word isn’t so positive in Armagh.
For those hoping to divine the route to success, however, Kilkenny remain the template. At a recent Feile, the Cats entered three sides at one age grade and when another county’s representatives dropped out, Kilkenny duly filled the gap with a fourth. Some things may never change.
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