The “real” championship only gets going nowadays when the All-Ireland Series swings into action. It’s a situation that’ll become more entrenched next year when the so-called Super Eight is played off for the first time but the final twelve has also developed some minor cachet of its own in recent years.
This is probably to do with timing as much as anything else. We know the identity of the final twelve now but won’t know the last eight until Saturday week, when the Round 4B ties are played off, with the first two quarter-finals of the All-Ireland Series then fixed for the following day.
The result is that the last eight is a case of now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t (though, as already noted, all will change on that front next year). Hence the increased focus – for the next six days at any rate – on the final twelve left in the race for Sam.
They comprise, in alphabetical order, Armagh, Cork, Donegal, Down, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Mayo, Monaghan, Roscommon and Tyrone. That makes it five counties from Ulster, three from Connacht and two apiece from Leinster and Munster.
Provincial representation in this year’s All-Ireland Series will, of course, depend enormously on how the Round 4 qualifiers go. Connacht could, for example, have just Roscommon as its sole county still in contention by then.
If, however, both ourselves and Galway win next weekend, the province will have one of its best showings ever at this stage of the championship. You have to go back as far as 2002 for the last time that Connacht accounted for three of the final eight.
If that happens again this year, it’ll also mean a first ever championship meeting between two Connacht teams in the All-Ireland Series at Croke Park. Galway and Roscommon met at the quarter-final stage in 2001 but that match was played in Castlebar.
Ulster, as usual, leads the way in terms of county representation at this stage in the race. With one all-Ulster Round 4 qualifier a certainty, Ulster is the only province guaranteed to have at least two counties in action when the real stuff starts at the end of this month.
Both Galway and Kildare will have to face Ulster opponents in Round 4 following deflating provincial final losses so the Northern province could yet end up accounting for half of the teams competing in this year’s All-Ireland Series. This has happened before – in 2003 (when the final was an all-Ulster one), as well as 2004, 2013 and 2015 (when no Ulster team made it to the September decider).
Even if four of the final eight are from Ulster this year, it’s easy to see that number getting whittled down in short order. The limitations of Donegal’s enforced youth policy are fully apparent at this stage and even if they get past Galway – which they should because, let’s face it, Galway’s limitations are greater and their sense of deflation must now be rather acute – it’s hard to imagine them getting any further. Dublin will crush whichever team they meet in the quarters and Tyrone will most likely do the same to the other.
A quick glance at the betting illustrates where the money is being laid on who’s likely to be in the shake-up. Four teams stand out in the betting – Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and ourselves – and it’s 33/1 bar this quartet. Odds from Paddy Power are here.
Dublin – priced at 11/10 for the All-Ireland – are, self-evidently, the raging hot favourites at this stage. Having emerged for the seventh year in a row from the moribund shambles that used to be the Leinster championship, the Dubs won’t be tested until, most likely, they meet Tyrone (priced at 5/1) in the semis. They’ll get a game then but it’s hard to see them failing to make it to the final.
The same goes, to be honest, for Kerry (5/2) even if the five-in-a-row Munster champions face a tricker path to the decider. If we win and Donegal do too, then Kerry could end up facing us in the quarters. If we avoid each other then, we’re destined to meet – assuming both of us are still standing – in the semis.
Regardless of when (or, to be more precise, if – we still have Cork to get past first and perhaps the Rossies as well) we come up against the Kingdom, current form and the historical record point strongly towards the wrong result from our point of view. The bookies have us at 8/1 to win the All-Ireland, a decent each-way bet, I suppose, but no more than that.
I could, I know, be accused of talking myself into concluding that it’ll be a Dublin/Kerry final. It’s too early, of course, to be making any such assumptions, even if the draw from here on makes this rather obvious pairing appear more than a little likely.
Seeing as the poll on the Cork game has, after 700 votes, yielded an emphatically clear result – with 84% of you thinking we’ll do the business next Saturday – let’s knock that one on the head and stick up one about the wider championship.
In this poll, you’ve got two votes and you can use them to predict which two counties will contest this year’s final. Off with you now.
Who'll contest this year's All-Ireland final?
- Dublin (35%, 627 Votes)
- Mayo (32%, 577 Votes)
- Kerry (18%, 322 Votes)
- Tyrone (12%, 216 Votes)
- Roscommon (1%, 19 Votes)
- Galway (0%, 7 Votes)
- Monaghan (0%, 5 Votes)
- Down (0%, 4 Votes)
- Donegal (0%, 4 Votes)
- Kildare (0%, 4 Votes)
- Cork (0%, 4 Votes)
- Armagh (0%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 959