Habit’s a funny thing. At the end of every FBD League campaign I always find myself doing a stats piece on who we played, what we scored and all that. I do something similar at the end of the League. For the last three years (2016, 2017 and 2018) I’ve also ended up penning a piece on the qualifier road facing us once our Connacht campaign had finished prematurely. Welcome to the 2019 edition of this.
As I said yesterday, I’ve no enthusiasm at all for another bloody backdoor campaign. Three years of this nonsense has done for me and I can’t but see it as a great big hole we’ve – yet again – allowed ourselves to fall into and from which it will be all but impossible to resurrect any serious hopes of challenging at the business end of summer this year.
With that downbeat assessment out of the way, however, it’s worth looking at what potentially faces us over the coming weeks.
To start with we’ve a long break – four whole weeks – before we play again. That’ll be in Round 2 of the qualifiers, on 22nd/23rd June, where our opponents will be one of the Round 1 winners. Details of the Round 1 draw that took place this morning are here, those ties will be played the weekend after next.
The biggest beast we could potentially meet in the Round 2 is Monaghan, assuming they first get past the tricky challenge of Fermanagh. Whoever we face in Round 2, though, will come into our match off the back of a Round 1 win.
We already know – from playing Fermanagh in 2016 and Derry in 2017 – just how dangerous it can be to join the qualifiers in Round 2. After Saturday night’s all-over-the-shop display against Roscommon, the same perils will face us in Round 2 this year, regardless of who it is we’re up against.
The draw for Round 2 will be held on Monday 10th June. As is normal practice now, it’ll be done live on RTÉ Radio 1 after the 8.30am news bulletin.
Assuming we get through Round 2, the next round takes place the weekend after that (29th/30th June). The draw for Round 3 will be held on Monday 24th June and in it will be the eight teams who have survived from Round 2. Teams to avoid then are likely to include Monaghan, one of Donegal or Tyrone and our old pals Kildare.
Round 4 takes place the following weekend (6th/7th July). This pits the four winners from Round 3 against the four defeated provincial finalists, with these ties played at neutral venues. If we’re still in it and Roscommon lose the Connacht final we can’t play them again then, as repeat ties are avoided where possible in this round.
So that’s the route into the Super 8s – three matches on three successive weekends. But that’s only the start of the mountain facing us, should we manage to stay alive that long.
The four counties who make it through the qualifiers will have no downtime at all before facing into the round-robin matches in the Super 8s. It’s straight into Phase 1 a week after Round 4 of the qualifiers, with those Phase 1 games played on 13th/14th July.
The provincial champions, by contrast, have a break of at least two weeks before the Super 8s. In the case of the Connacht champions, it’s a leisurely three-week gap. See? Provincial failure really has serious consequences for us.
The Phase 1 games see the four provincial champions at home to the four qualifiers. Kerry in Killarney, anyone? Or what about Tyrone in Omagh? Not to mention the possible delights of Dublin in Croke Park. We may even get to play Galway in Salthill after all.
Phase 2 is the Croke Park round and, you’ve guessed it, it takes place the weekend after the Phase 1 matches (i.e. 20th/21st July). In this round (with the above assumption about our continuing involvement still holding) we’d be up against the other team who made it through from the qualifiers. I guess both of us would be equally frazzled at that stage.
After Phase 2, there’s finally a bit of downtime, with a two-week gap before the Phase 3 matches are then played on the weekend of 3rd/4th August. Those matches conclude the Super 8s, with the top two from each group going forward to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Those penultimate round ties take place just a week later – on 10th/11th August – but only those at the optimistic end of the spectrum are likely to believe that we’ll still be in the hunt then. I’m usually squarely in this camp myself but, in light of the enormously punishing schedule we’d face if we’re to progress to the Super 8s I can’t, in all honesty, see us making it as far as the last four this year.