The usual thing to say when the end of July comes around is that the real championship is about to begin. But you could as easily argue nowadays that it’s only when the field is whittled down to the last four contenders that the proper action starts.
The final four in this year’s championship are a familiar bunch. Dublin, Kerry and – yes – ourselves are well accustomed to getting this far on an annual basis. So too are Tyrone, who this year are featuring in the shake-up for the third time in five seasons.
It was the same four counties who occupied the final four slots in the championship in both 2013 and 2015. We were paired with Tyrone in the former year, with Dublin in the latter and the way the draw has worked out this year – the triennial format means it’s the same as it was back in 2014 – pits us against Kerry while Dublin face Tyrone.
We all need no prompting about what befell us when last we locked horns with the Kerry lads at this time of year. Dublin, too, have no fond memories of 2014, as it was then that Jim Gavin’s sole championship defeat occurred on a day when Donegal spectacularly mugged the defending champions.
For Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone, getting to the semi-final stage this year hasn’t been all that taxing. Again, we require no reminding that our route to the penultimate round was somewhat different.
Dublin had their annual canter through the moribund wasteland that one time used to host a thing called the Leinster championship. With Cork – despite the handful they proved to be against us in the qualifiers – seemingly morphing into a Munster version of Meath, Kerry never had to get out of second gear in claiming provincial honours down south. Ulster – which still dines out on the ferocity of its now-dimmed local exchanges – proved a complete cakewalk for Tyrone.
All three continued in the same vein when they hit Croke Park, all of them winning their respective All-Ireland quarter-final matches with the absolute minimum of fuss. All of them have reached this late stage of the championship without having had to contest a really competitive game.
There’s no need to catalogue our somewhat picaresque progress thus far this summer but clearly the path we’ve had to take is one lights years removed from that of the other trio. It’s our own fault, of course, that we ended up on that road – for the life of me, I still fail to understand how we contrived to lose once again to what is obviously a limited Galway team – and the way we stumbled along through the qualifiers was often less than edifying, even if we did provide the one compelling story this championship has so far offered up.
But we’ve made it – again – and the focus now for us as well as for Dublin, Kerry and Tyrone will be which of us can make the next step, which two will get to play ball in late September. In 2013, we beat Tyrone while Dublin overcame Kerry in a thriller. In 2015 we lost to Dublin, after a replay, while Kerry narrowly got by Tyrone.
The odds, once more, heavily favour yet another Dublin/Kerry showdown this September. The poll below allows you to make two choices so who do you reckon will make the final this year?