I didn’t bother going to Croke Park yesterday – we had two smallies returning home from a Cubs camping weekend (lashing rain the first night, freezing cold the second – the joys of camping in this country in April) in the afternoon, both of whom required plenty of TLC – and I only caught the day’s action from HQ in fits and starts.
From what I saw of them, neither of yesterday’s finals were what you might call gripping encounters, with both Roscommon and Dublin winning their respective NFL deciders with plenty to spare. Just a few very brief thoughts, then, on yesterday’s action, featuring as it did two counties we might well come into close contact with over the summer months.
Back in their permanent summer residence once more, Dublin certainly looked impressive yesterday. Their emphatic win over a Cork side that curiously never raised any kind of gallop at all was every bit as good as their demolition of Derry twelve months ago and so Jim Gavin’s team are pretty much back up on the same pedestal they were seated in before last summer’s championship began. They’re the favourites (currently on offer at 6/4) for Sam and, priced at 1/6 to win Leinster for the umpteenth time, they’re unlikely to face serious opposition until at least the All-Ireland quarter-finals, though to be honest they’ll almost certainly have an untroubled passage right through to the semi-finals.
As an aside, the state of football in Leinster – Dublin excepted – is little short of shocking right now. The only county arguably on the rise are Offaly – who won the Division Four title in fine style on Saturday evening – but the Faithful County remain 250/1 outsiders to lift the Leinster title and the days when they could put it up to the Dubs (or any other big team) are, sadly, long gone. It says something about the paucity of real competition in Leinster that Kildare – who were relegated to Division Three a few weeks back – remain third-favourites to win provincial honours this year.
And what of Cork? Yet again, it seems, they’ve bloomed too soon. Just like last year, they’ve had a great League campaign followed by a play-off implosion at Croke Park. Like Dublin, they seem to be back in the exact same position they found themselves twelve months ago, only now the Kerry team they’ll have to face in a few months time are the defending Munster and All-Ireland champions. The despicable seeding arrangement in Munster does, though, mean that Cork should face little trouble in making it back to Croke Park in August but whether or not they’ll do anything once they get there is another matter entirely.
In yesterday’s opening match, the Rossies’ rise continued unchecked as they pretty much blew Down’s fourteen men out of the water in the second half of their Division Two final. The win will certainly give the Sheepstealers plenty of confidence facing into the Connacht championship, in a year where they’ve a very handy passage with only Sligo to get by to make the provincial decider.
It’d be tempting, as some have done, to be talking about pride before a fall and to conclude that the often over-effusive John Evans is guilty of talking his charges up too much. After all, they’re still (that soft draw in Connacht notwithstanding) only third favourites (priced at 3/1) to lift the Nestor Cup this year and they’re also on offer at 33/1 for the All-Ireland.
Personally, I think the neighbours’ achievements in recent times need to be respected. They’ve claimed silverware in both of their senior campaigns this year and whichever of us emerges from Salthill in June will face serious opposition in the Connacht final. They certainly have all the hallmarks of a county that’s on the up right now.
From our perspective, though, neither Roscommon nor Dublin are of any concern to us at the minute. While we may find ourselves aiming to get past both of them this year, if we’re to see Croke Park in September it’s very likely that we’d have to beat the pair of them, those potential hurdles lie further down the track. For now, our Connacht semi-final – most likely against Galway in Salthill (I know – they have two jumps to negotiate first themselves but neither should prove any trouble to them) – has to be our sole focus. Let the dashing Dubs and the rising Rossies mind their own respective houses for now.