Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pat Harte suspended for next match

It's been announced that Pat Harte has been suspended for four weeks for his straight red against Galway, with effect from the date on which it happened (no need for reminders on that one). However, in a change to the suspension rules - which I must confess escaped me when they were promulgated by Congress - the ban also includes a match-specific element (another aspect of that heathen, pagan soccer that has apparently been adopted). It means that in addition to the four week time ban, the suspension also covers the next match the county plays in the championship. So, if I'm reading it correctly, our man gets banned for four weeks from playing any matches including, one assumes, club ones (so his club ends up getting punished for something that happened when he was playing for his county) and he also has to sit out our first round qualifier match on July 7th. This is a bit of a blow, particularly so if we get a dog of a draw in the first round.

Also on the topic of suspensions, it's been reported this morning that the Cork and Clare GAA county boards are apparently going to mount a vigorous defence of a number of players (four from each side) who are about to incur month-long bans for all that beltin' and batin' that took place in Semple Stadium last Sunday prior to the Cork-Clare Munster hurling championship clash. What kind of defence do they plan to mount, I wonder? Guilty but insane, perhaps. No doubt that great GAA rule book expert Frank Murphy will be prominent in the Cork corner on this one. Prepare for exoneration on all counts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Deputy is staying on board

While fellow Mayoman Enda Kenny is still pursuing what many would now view as a forlorn attempt to unseat Bertie as Taoiseach, Johnno is obviously not planning on being saddled with a ministerial job any time soon. (By the way, what Department would he be suited for, I wonder? Health, perhaps, given his track record of turning underperformers into winners. Education, maybe, if the Rainbow were to adopt the same policy as the current crowd and give the teachers one of their own as a Minister just to shut them up. Certainly not Defence, no sireee, not after what happened in Salthill the other week).

The Deputy has, in fact, confirmed that he's staying on board for the agreed three-year term and has expressed some bemusement at the fact that he's been asked about it repeatedly since reaching the quota at the TF in the early hours of last Saturday morning. "The people of Mayo want this" stated the Deputy and so, it would appear, the people of Mayo are going to get it. (We also want Sam back under his watch but that's another matter).

Monday, May 28, 2007

Come on in Joe, the water's only lovely

Well, at least we're not the only so-called big guns cast into the wilderness. Joe Kernan's Armagh joined us in the bear pit yesterday when they surrendered their Ulster title up in Ballybofey. It was, from Armagh's perspective at least, an unfortunate and more than a little controversial defeat, with Donegal's last-gasp winning goal having a strong whiff of a square ball about it. Our Kev and Anto Tohill certainly thought as much on last night's Sunday Game. Armagh had largely controlled what had been up till then a very defence-oriented contest (swarm welcomes being the order of the day) and looked to have got the better of the disappointing league champions until Devenney's late goal secured a one-point win for the home side. Donegal now face Tyrone and they'll need a bit more pep in their step if they're to avoid the bear pit then. Armagh meanwhile are . . . well, in the same boat as ourselves and they're definitely not the guys we want to meet on July 7th.

Over in Ruislip, the Connacht championship rumbled on with us, with Leitrim having a four-point margin to spare over London. Just to make sure that they wouldn't embarrass the visitors by beating them, London managed to get two of their lads sent off but still ran them close enough. Galway won't have to work too hard to get past Leitrim in the semi-final, by the looks of it.

Elsewhere, Micko has already succeeded in fulfilling his promise to Wicklow that he'd deliver them more championship football this Summer than the two outings (1 x Leinster championship, 1 x qualifiers) that they normally get. Yesterday, the Garden county drew for the second successive Sunday with Louth (this time after extra time and all) in the first round of the Leinster championship and, as a result, Micko's lads are now guaranteed to have had at least four championship matches this Summer. The Maestro strikes again! Mind you, if they lose to Louth at the third time of asking, they still get fecked unceremoniously into the Tommy Cooper (sorry, Murphy) cup without having a crack at the qualifiers first, whereas Louth - who are not, unlike Wicklow, members of the Division 4 underclass - get to join us and other more exalted lads in Sam's last-chance saloon.

That was all the big ball action but there was a bit of merriment in the hurling down in Thurles where a full-blown schemozzle broke out just after the teams came haring simultaneously out onto the pitch. One of the most endearing aspects of the GAA is that, well over a hundred years after the Association was founded, they still have the capacity to fuck things up royally on big days such as this. I mean what amadan GAA apparatchik instructed the two teams to come out onto the field at the same time, bearing in mind that (a) hurling teams dash out the tunnel at high speed, (b) they're armed with timber when doing so and (c) the tunnel in question isn't all that wide? Out they came, the inevitable collision happened and then, once out in the open, a total free-for-all erupted, with all manner of beltin' and batin' and general bowsiness. This being hurling, I don't think even a black book was waved in admonishment afterwards.

But the best bit came on the Sunday Game last night, when Pett put on his stern face and started reading out various texts and emails from viewers tut-tutting about what he termed as the "absolute tuggery" that had been witnessed down in Thurles. Corkonian panellist Donal O'Grady disagreed with the notion that the Semple Stadium donnybrook had, in fact, been a bona fide example of thuggery at all. He then went on to define said activity in quite technical terms, i.e. giving someone a sly belt over the head with the hurley from behind or such like. You learn something new every day, I suppose.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Johnno TD

Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fail may be heading for an historic third term in office, but our man Johnno looks poised to capture a third seat for Fine Gael in Mayo. The count has now been adjourned till the morning but Johnno looks likely to win the fourth seat, steering clear of the dogfight for the final one.

It's difficult to know what this result will be in terms of his stewardship of the team but I guess that's one for another day. For now, it's simply worth noting that he's unlikely to forget the last seven days in a hurry!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Johnno's in the hunt for the last seat

Early tallies would suggest that Johnno could grab the final seat in Mayo in the General Election. Enda Kenny appears to have got a huge first preference vote, more even than that legendary vote-hoover Michael Ring. The tallies suggest that Jerry Cowley and, to a lesser extent, Bev, could be feeling the heat. Johnno's main obstacle to getting over the line might, indeed, be FG's other candidate, Michelle Mulhearn, whose first preference vote was marginally ahead of Johnno's in those first tallies.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Welcome to the bear pit

There’s probably only one small consolation at being tipped into the qualifiers at such an early stage of the championship season, compared to being dispatched there as a losing provincial finalist. This small comfort that we can cling to is that we’ll avoid hearing that new line that’s been added, since 2001, to the standard, inarticulate winning captain’s ramblings following the presentation of the trophy. It comes before the “Hip, Hip; Hooray” bit and goes along the lines of “and the beshta luck in the qualifiers”. Thank the sweet Lord for small mercies.

Apart from that, however, it’s pain all the way. A quick perusal of the GAA’s website provides the reason as to why we’ll kicking our collective heels for the coming six and a half weeks. This is because Round 1 of the qualifiers is set to be contested by all of sixteen counties, most of whom haven’t yet been knocked out of their respective provincial championships but who will suffer that fate over the coming few weeks. Once they do, Round 1 of the qualifiers then takes place on July 7th, on the basis of the following equation:

Q1 = a - (p + d4)


Q1 = Qualifiers, Round 1;

a = all 32 counties on this dear, sweet island;

p = provincial finalists (8 in all);

d4 = the eight counties that have ended up in the NFL Division 4 next year (as opposed to the other D4 here in the metropolis, which is a different kettle of fish altogether, roysh), namely Offaly, Clare, Waterford, Carlow, Wicklow, Antrim, Tipperary and London. These poor unfortunates are dispatched directly to the Tommy Murphy Cup.

That little algebraic stunt above is, of course, all bullshit: my only defence is that I wouldn’t have been reduced to this kind of nonsense had we won on Sunday. However, you get the idea: every beaten team up to the provincial finals minus the Division 4 lads (that’s 16 counties in all) enters the hat for Round 1. That means that there will be a few serious punters in there, notably two out of the Donegal/Armagh/Tyrone ménage à trois and either Dublin or Meath. We could, in short, end up with a pig of a draw in Round 1.

Round 2 takes place the following Saturday (July 14th) and this pitches the eight survivors from Round 1 against each other. Assuming we avoid the three heavyweights mentioned above in Round 1 (and that they manage to avoid each other as well), our chances of drawing one of them in Round 2 are obviously much higher.

Round 3 is then staggered over the following two weeks, with two of the four remaining qualifiers pitted against the losing provincial finalists in Munster and Connacht on July 21st, while the other two face the losers in Ulster and Leinster on July 28th.

Then, on the following weekend, the All-Ireland series gets underway, bringing with it the certainty of at least one big day out in Croker. As you can see, however, we have a few significant hurdles to negotiate before we can even start thinking of a return to HQ in early August.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Love thy neighbour

Imagine the scene if you will. It’s full-time and Dublin have just beaten Meath in Leinster in front of a capacity crowd at Croker. A beaming Colm Coyle, in his blue Bainisteoir outfit, is accepting all manner of congratulations from the similarly blue-clad hordes for masterminding the defeat of the Dubs' arch rivals as thousands of his own county men stream out of the stadium dejectedly muttering to themselves. Or how about this? Jack O’Connor accepting similar plaudits having guided Cork to victory in the Munster championship over the county that is so often their nemesis, his native Kerry.

Of course you can’t imagine it, because it wouldn’t ever happen. But it does in Connacht and we’re the ones to feel the brunt of such managerial inter-marriage. There was an interesting article in the Sunday Tribune last weekend about the three main buck cats in football management in Connacht, all of them Mayomen. While they have all (and one of them is doing so again) put their shoulder to the wheel in the cause of advancing Mayo’s championship hopes, all three of them have also devoted considerable time and effort in doing the same job for our near neighbours.

I have to say that I’m with the Spailpín on this one – all those ambitious Mayomen who fancy a crack at management beyond the county boundaries should key into their satnavs a few destinations that are a bit further than down the road that those poor, benighted counties immediately adjacent to us. At least John Maughan had the good grace to try his luck (with spectacular results, as it happened) in Clare and then later in Fermanagh before eventually, after a second stint with us, breaking bread with the Sheepstealers. Peter Ford, or indeed Johnno himself, have no such excuses for engaging in an exercise commonly known as, ahem, shitting on one’s own doorstep.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Video clips now uploaded

The video clips I took at Pearse Stadium on Sunday (nine in all) are now on up on the YouTube channel. Enjoy (if that's possible)!

The aftermath

I haven’t been off to sulk, honest. We had an extra day in the west with the kids yesterday and didn’t return to the capital till last night so I never got the hour or so I would have needed to sit down and post something. And it would have had to be done over GPRS again, which is a pain in the posterior at the best of times. So it was easier to wait until this morning when I was back at base with my 3 MB broadband line humming again.

Well now, where does one start, after our worst hiding in Connacht since 1995 and the first time I can recall that everyone else bar ourselves and New York are still in the race for the Nestor Cup? A good place to begin, if you’re up to it, is the excellent discussion board. I know, I accused it of being overly quiet a few days before the game but it’s been far from silent since Sunday evening, with a stream of intelligent and to-the-point observations about the Salthill debacle and where it leaves us.

The respective Bainisteoir viewpoints have already been widely disseminated. In case you’ve somehow missed them, Peter Ford reckoned all the pressure had been on us prior to the game (an odd observation, given that he was almost certainly for the chop had Galway lost), while Johnno, as you’d expect, took it on the chin and said it was all about sticking together and seeing who was up for turning the situation around.

In that context, I have to admit that I have a bone to pick with the Mayo News, in particular Mike Finnerty’s match report where he claims that it’s the end of the road for some of the team. While it’s not quite at the level of the Connaught Telegraph's reaction to the sixteen-point hiding we got from Galway in 1982 - where a blank space was left instead of a picture of the Mayo team - Finnerty’s conclusion that it’s the end of the road for this team is, I would suggest, mildly over the top.

It doesn’t take any great expertise to conclude that we played crap on Sunday but I don’t think you can write off this group of players based on it. There are a whole load of reasons why it all went pear-shaped on Sunday: Ford’s absolute need to win this match, Johnno’s lack of focus due to the election which led to significant indecision beforehand as regards team selection, all of our injury problems, the moronic ref we had on the day and our inability to face up to Galway’s physical tactics are all, I believe, in some way relevant. As well as this, nothing seemed to go our way over the course of the seventy minutes – had Conor’s effort gone in at the start of the second half or Pat Harte’s soon after, we could have got back into it. Had a different ref been there, Galway would almost certainly have been reduced to fourteen men before the break. Shit happens. We move on.

The first obstacle to be removed is the election. By the weekend, Johnno will know his fate and, regardless of how it goes, from next week he’ll be able to focus all of his attention on the team. The way the polls are going, he’ll be doing well to get a seat but, from a football perspective, it doesn’t really matter what happens. The important thing is that this seemingly endless election campaign, as all its attendant distractions, will be long over by the time we take the field again.

The squad apparently got together last night for an initial post-match assessment, where, undoubtedly, there would have been plenty of honest exchanges about what went wrong on Sunday. I recall Johnno once talking about all the soul-searching that went on in Galway in 2001 when he told the squad then only to turn up if they were really committed to doing what was required to get back into the running. No doubt he was imparting a similar message last night.

While the seven-week wait to the next game now seems like an eternity, it’s probably a good thing in that Sunday’s defeat can be in some way compartmentalised and considered a one-off. For us, the championship season now begins on July 7th.

PS Now that I’m back in the land of 3MB broadband, I’ll be able to upload the video clips I’ve got from Sunday, which I’ll do over the course of today. I’ll post again once they’re all up.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Galway 2-10 Mayo 0-9: smashed in Salthill

Ouch! Another hammering we didn’t see coming and another one that had its genesis in a complete failure to compete around the middle coupled with woeful defending over the course of the opening quarter. Galway hit us with two early goals and that, really, was that. We never looked like we were going to get back into the game and we never did.

Other significant factors contributed to the loss. Galway, as they’d done in 2005, opened up with the rough stuff and, as always seems to be the case when faced with dirt, we simply couldn’t cope. The ref was pathetic, an obscenely incompetent fool whose inability to stamp his authority on the game allowed Galway to keep pulling, dragging, pushing and belting but who then reduced us to fourteen men early in the second half. It would be going too far to say that the incompetent ass cost us the game but we got nothing from him all day and he let Ford’s men away with far, far too much.

But I think we need to look closer to home to see why we were beaten so comprehensively today. Once again, we just didn’t get going from the throw-in and, just like what happened in the league semi-final against Galway last month, we were 1-1 down before we had got past the halfway line. It was even worse today because at Croker their goal was the jolt we needed to arise from our slumbers whereas today we'd conceded two goals before we realised the game was on. By then, it was already too late.

I have to say all the switching around at the start had me worried and it wasn’t just the fact that Heaney (who played well today, one of the few to do so) was starting in on Joyce at full-back. There was a myriad of switching prior to the throw-in, with BJ at left-half, Gardiner back in the corner, Keith (for a while anyway) at centre-half, Nallen at centre-field. (There were also switches in the forwards but the ball didn’t get to them in the first ten minutes so they were only of interest to the anoraks).

It looked as if with all the switches nobody seemed to know where they should be or who they should be marking and this was soon to have disastrous consequences as Galway carved us open for two early goals, both scored by Cormac Bane. Liam O’Malley seemed to have been given the slip for the first one but, for the second, Bane was completely unmarked when put through by Meehan and had all the time and space in the world to pick his spot and lash the ball to the net.

Our defending in the first half was little short of comical. It was the sort of stuff you’d be effing under-14s out of if they did it and the space afforded to Bane for the two goals had to be seen to be believed. Then there was an incident soon after the second goal where Nicky Joyce was making heavy weather cutting in from the left but Devenney and at least two others let him fumble and dither before finally standing off him to let him boot the ball over the bar.

Poor old David Brady! Today was the third time in recent years that he was brought on in a match with us already more than two goals down, having been given the thankless task of rescuing what was already a disastrous situation. He did okay too, even though he wasn’t fully fit but, just like the 2004 and 2006 finals, the damage was done by the time he was introduced.

But let’s not let Mr McQuillan off the hook totally. What a nob. Galway employed exactly the same kind of tactics in 2005 and, as I recall, largely got away with them then too but there were aspects to McQuillan’s performance today that were mindblowingly pathetic. He was presented with the chance early on to stamp his authority on the match when Joe Bergin, Niall Coleman and Ja Fallon all hacked down one of our lads as they broke through. Every time, the ref flashed the black book so, of course, the boys took this as the green light to do it again. Coleman managed to get to half-time without being booked, although he had committed at least two yellow card offences by then, Bergin had got a yellow but should have had two. No matter how you cut it, Galway’s persistent, cynical tactics should have seen them reduced to fourteen men before the break.

Although I didn’t think we were out of it totally at half-time (a hope that was based completely on the strong wind we’d have in the second half), my main concern at half-time – which I voiced to all and sundry round me at the break – was that we would be the ones who’d lose a player first. I’m no clairvoyant but the crass incompetence shown by the ref in the first half, allied to rising frustration in our ranks, made me worried and, sure enough, we didn’t have long to wait. Pat Harte did use the elbow and it could have merited a sending-off but, if so, Galway should have been down to thirteen at that stage. The sending-off came shortly after a melee – which the ref missed completely and allowed play to continue while the battle was in full flight around the middle – that was started with Coleman clattering into Harte and knocking him to the ground. If Harte deserved to walk, then so too did Coleman and although the scut did so later, the match was well over then.

With Pat gone, we were truly buggered and this was confirmed with the rather sad sight of a patently unfit Super Mac being sent into action. My hope in advance was that we wouldn’t see Mac in action at all today as I felt that if we did, we’d really be in trouble. I can’t say that I understand why we brought him on – Killer, Aidan Campbell and Marty Mac were all on the bench, all of whom were potential scorers – and he did little when he did come on. Similarly, I didn’t see the logic in replacing Alan Dillon with Austie. Dillon wasn’t doing much but Austie did even less.

As I said, I did think we had a chance with the strong wind behind us in the second half, despite being two goals down at half-time (the same deficit as in last year’s All-Ireland). However, when Conor’s shot came back off the post early in the second half and then Pat Harte’s effort was saved soon after, you could sense that nothing was going to go our way today. In the end, Galway outscored us in the second half too but long before the final whistle, we’d lost all shape and purpose.

So that’s our 2007 Connacht championship campaign done with. Gone with it, too, are any hopes Johnno might have had for that final seat in Mayo come Thursday. I can’t see too many sympathetic FFrs giving him the kind of 2s, 3s and 4s that he’d have needed to keep him in the hunt for the final seat. Indeed, he could be wanting for no.1s as well.

More to the point, also gone is our nice, handy route to the All-Ireland series. Instead, we’ll have to fight our way through the qualifiers and, as we showed again today, fighting just isn’t our forte. It had better start becoming part of our armoury, otherwise we can kiss goodbye to any chance of having a big day out in Croker later in the Summer.

All is, however, not lost. We have seven weeks to regroup and to prepare for the qualifiers and while it would now be fanciful in the extreme to imagine us as contenders for Sam this year, we can certainly position ourselves as one of the teams that could ask severe questions of those who think they are. We’re a hell of a better side than we showed today but now we’ve got to use the time available to us to show that this is the case.

PS I have some video clips from today's match (unsurprisingly only the pointed frees we scored) but I'm still operating on GPRS and won't be able to upload them till I'm back on the other side of the digital divide. I should get them up on Tuesday but I don't expect there'll be a stampede to view them.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Showtime in Salthill

It's time for some final thoughts before heading up the N18 tomorrow for the showdown in Salthill. Galway again. I can’t believe that it’s almost a year since Conor swung over that delicious winning point to beat them at McHale Park last July and when, in true Conor fashion, he then exulted in having converted what he said was the chance to beat them on his own. Lordy, how I cracked my hole laughing all the next day, as I drove down through Galway with my Mayo jersey still on me, taking the opportunity to stop in Tuam (where else?) for petrol on the way.

Oh yes, beating Galway sure is sweet but part of the sweetness is, I think, in knowing that it’s not every year that it happens. We’ve had plenty of days when we’ve been the ones sent packing, usually coming out the wrong end of close encounters, the odd time - 1982 in Tuam is still a searing memory, a quarter of a century later – beaten out the gate. Given the way the close rivalry has been over the years, we always believe that we’re good enough to beat them but we know that the feeling is more than reciprocated.

And so, tomorrow we face up to them again and, once again, we believe (don’t we?) that we’re good enough to beat them, even though it’s in Salthill, despite the fact that it’s “their turn”. I suppose that the day we pitch up to a Mayo/Galway encounter not believing we have chance of beating them is the day that this great rivalry begins to die.

There’s no sign of that happening soon. They beat us by two points in 2005, we had a point to spare last year and again last month in the league semi-final. Both sets of supporters expect it to be a close game, one where the significant spoils of victory could, once again, be secured by the narrowest possible margin. In such circumstances, a draw would shock nobody and, given the insane scheduling of matches (with a five-week layoff for the winners and a seven-week one for the losers), such a result would in fact be of positive benefit to both counties.

We’re the narrow favourites with the bookies, having gone further in the championship last year and having performed a bit better over the course of this year’s league, but that will count for nothing when the teams take the field tomorrow at Pearse Stadium. Indeed, with Galway enjoying home advantage, it would come as a surprise to a few of the pundits if we do prevail.

One thing’s for sure, though, and that’s if we start on the back foot – as has happened in most of our league matches this year – we’ll find it very difficult to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ll have created for ourselves. We managed to recover from such a start in the league semi-final against Galway last month but we know that much of what went on that day wasn’t for real. If we give them the same kind of headstart tomorrow, we’ll find it much more difficult to rescue the situation.

Yesterday’s post dealt at length with the team Johnno and his selectors have picked and so I don’t propose to go over this ground again in depth. Suffice to say that there are plenty of unanswered questions about our line-up, in particular the spine of the team from full-back to midfield. There are questions too about our ability to win sufficient possession around the middle and, as appears to be invariably the case, there are also some doubts about our ability to take what chances we get, given the enormous dependence we have on Conor’s scores. Questions, questions.

But Galway have plenty too, otherwise why would they be persisting with someone like Ja Fallon at centre-forward? And while the like of Padraig Joyce and Savo are dangerous forwards, they also have significant mileage on the clock and you’d have to wonder to what degree they’re up for what is sure to be another arduous battle tomorrow. On their day, Galway still have the ability to hold their own with any team in the country but that’s on the assumption that they can hit the kind of grace notes that they have failed to reach for some time now.

The Bainisteoir factor is a plus for us, given Johnno’s iconic status in Galway, but it shouldn’t be overstated. Johnno is a great manager, one of the very best in the business, and his knowledge of the Galway set-up allied to his renowned eye for detail makes him a huge asset for us. However, once the ball is thrown in, it’s the players on the pitch who dictate how the game will unfold and while the men on the sideline can and do influence the shape and direction of a game, they only do so indirectly. It’s the guys on the pitch who must win it for us.

If it is a close game, the unpredictable weather is likely to have a bearing on the outcome. It was chucking it down this morning a bit further down the coast here in Clare and although the forecast for tomorrow is for the showers to be more scattered, Pearse Stadium is but a trot from the Atlantic so the conditions could be difficult enough to cope with. If the showers prove more widespread than forecast, I hope the lads are better able to hold onto the ball than they were against Donegal in the league final.

Whatever the weather, I think we can look forward to a tense, tight and low-scoring encounter. It was 0-12 to 1-8 last year, 0-10 to 0-8 two years ago. We did cut loose in 2004, rattling over 0-18 but I’d expect tomorrow’s scoreline to be closer to those recorded in the last two clashes. In such an environment, every chance will count.

Prediction? Like Conoreen, I’m always optimistic when facing Galway (although, sadly, unlike him I’ve never had been presented with the opportunity to beat them on my own). Providing we lay into them from the outset and get enough ball around the middle, we should do it but I can’t see the margin being more than a few points in either direction. In other words, it’s a normal Connacht championship clash with Galway, which, like every other year we’ve met them, we know we can win.

Enjoy the match folks. I’ll be back afterwards to talk about it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More thoughts on Sunday's team

Well, we now know the team and there’s not long to wait till hostilities begin on Sunday afternoon. I’ve made it to Clare en famille after a very early start – despite which the M50 was still jammers (as us metropolitan dwellers are apt to say) – and I’m now ready to strike northwards before noon on Sunday.

Let’s start at the back. Kenneth O’Malley returns between the sticks and it’s not only because David Clarke appears to be crocked that this is good news. O’Malley inspires more confidence in the position than Clarke has done, he’s great under big inswinging Hail Mary balls and he has, to boot (pardon the pun), the mother and father of a kickout. This latter area is another one where Clarke has been iffy enough and having someone who knows how to kick the ball out and where to kick it to could be crucial, given the difficulties we may have (which I’ll get to in a bit) in winning primary possession around the middle.

Liam O’Malley has been selected to play but he still has to undergo a fitness test, which, if he fails, will most likely see Aidan Higgins start instead. I hope O’Malley does start – he had a superb game against Galway in the league semi-final and, with a fair bit of positional switching likely to be going on in Salthill, Paddy Power would give you short odds on his having to man the full-back berth at some point. In the other corner, we need Keith to totally nullify Meehan again and, into the bargain, sweep forward to help create a few scores too. And beat Galway single-handed in hurling while he’s at it.

BJ at full-back? Well, it’s not as if there’s a lengthy queue for the position and once it became clear that James Kilcullen wasn’t going to line out there, it was always going to be a case of running repairs. As well as this, BJ hasn’t inspired total confidence at centre-back (though I felt he’d done enough over the course of the league campaign to get the nod there for Sunday) so moving him back allows us pursue other options there. It’s impossible to know how BJ will do in the position: he played well there for 35 minutes in the challenge match against Kildare but marking P Joyce in a championship match in Salthill will be a slightly stiffer challenge for the versatile Belmullet man.

As I said last night, I’m happy that David Heaney hasn’t been selected there (though he might be switched back into the position at some point on Sunday) as this would, I think, have meant that he’d have ended up as our full-back for the rest of the 2007 campaign. No more than Paul Wolfowitz sorting out an extra pay increase for his girlfriend at the World Bank, this would have been a seriously bad idea. Far better that he (Heaney, not Wolfowitz) lines out at midfield, a position in which he’s far more comfortable and effective, with the added option there of switching him to centre-back, if needs be.

Like many others, I thought the last we’d seen of James Nallen in the no.6 shirt was when he trudged forlornly off Croker after only 10 minutes last September but, as spring has progressed, he’s been like a man reborn and was one of our best performers in the league final last month. Sticking him back into the position he graced so well for so long could be interpreted as (a) high-risk or (b) sheer lunacy but that’s before taking into account who he’ll be marking. Ja Fallon is as far past it as our man is and he’s unlikely to provide Jimmy with any kind of searching examination in the area of pace. So, Nallen at no.6 appears to be (c) horses for courses.

Devenney and Gardiner, as expected, take the wing-back slots. Both need big performances, especially Gardiner whose form this year has continued to disappoint. I think he must be close enough to losing his place at this stage and he really needs to put in an improved performance, both offensively and defensively, on Sunday.

Midfield has been a problem area for us all year, not surprising given the continuing absence of both Ronan McGarritty and David Brady. Bergin’s ball-winning ability is a major worry for us in this area – he won loads there in the league match without expending much effort to do so – and without Ronan (who totally bossed midfield in last year’s Connacht final) we have nobody to compete with Bergin in the air. Harte will win some ball but he doesn’t have the same physical presence and would be a better asset at no.10.

We beat Galway in the league match despite losing midfield but this was due to Galway’s inability to take their chances and our high conversion rate of what few chances came our way. In contrast, we won midfield in the Connacht final last year but still only won by a point due to some shocking profligacy in front of the posts. This means that unless we feel we can win the game on the odd few scraps of possession here and there, we need to do what we can to break even in this area. Heaney has shown his ability to win scrappy ball around the middle, a facet we’ll welcome more than once on Sunday, I reckon. We’ll just have to muddle through as best we can at midfield, through a combination of breaking it, crowding the area, channelling the ball up the wings and, where necessary, bypassing the sector altogether.

I think it’s largely pointless talking about the forwards in a fixed positional sense. Will Ger Brady stay at no.10? Or Kevin O’Neill at 14? Of course they won’t and Andy will also be buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly all over the joint. I’d expect to see the Skipper on the forty with Ger Brady more often than not inside, alongside young Mort. As I said last night, it’s great to see Trevor back in the starting fifteen again, especially against Galway and it’s safe to conclude that, if the Mort boys cut loose, we’ll be on our way.

Hopefully both DB and Super Mac will pass their fitness tests. With the likes of Campbell, Kilcullen, Aidan Higgins, Howley, Killer, Marty Mac and Austie also on the bench, we’ll have plenty of options if necessary to make changes over the course of the seventy minutes. It’s a strong bench and, as the brother (not to be confused with The Brother, this is the eldest one) said in a text to me last night after the team was announced, this is a fightin’ team. And one that I increasingly think will be a winning one, albeit by a tight enough margin.

That’s it - back (from De Banner) tomorrow with some final pre-match ramblings.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Galway team also announced

Galway have also announced their team tonight. Here it is:

P Doherty; K Fitzgerald, Finian Hanley, Damien Burke; D Meehan,N Coyne, Mike Comer; J Bergin, N Coleman; D Savage, J Fallon, N Joyce; M Meehan, P Joyce, C Bane.

No real surprises there either. Niall Coleman returns to midfield but Ford has decided to persist with Ja Fallon at centre-forward. Suddenly, Jimmy Nallen's selection at centre-back for us makes a whole load more sense.

Team for Sunday announced

Hot off the presses, folks, courtesy of Mid West Radio, here's the team for Sunday:

K O'Malley; L O'Malley, BJ Padden, K Higgins; E Devenney, J Nallen, P Gardiner; D Heaney, P Harte; G Brady, T Mortimor, A Dillon; C Mortimor, K O'Neill, A Moran.

The main talking points, I suppose, are BJ at full-back (by Sunday evening he'll have played competitively for Mayo at 14, 11, 8 , 6 and 3), Jimmy Nallen back in at centre-back and Trevor Mort back into the fray at centre-forward. Personally, I'm mightily relieved that David Heaney wasn't pressed back into service at no.3. Once David Brady is back to full fitness, the option - which I think will be used - will be there to shift Heaney to centre-back. I can't see Nallen lasting there for too much of the Summer but he could do alright in the position on Sunday.

I'm delighted to see Trevor back. The fact that it's Galway we're playing isn't a coincidence. I also think we can expect to see a big performance from Conor now that the big brother is there, feeding him the kind of ball he likes.

Johnno was interviewed on MWR a few minutes ago and he said that, although he's named in the starting team, Liam O'Malley will still undergo a fitness test on Sunday morning to confirm that he's okay to line out. Trevor is fully fit, according to Johnno, fully fit and ready to kick those Galway holes all around Salthill (no, he didn't say that - he's a putative TD for gawdsakes!). DB and Super Mac will both have fitness tests as well on Sunday morning and both are likely to be on the bench. If they both make it to the bench, I think we can expect to see both in action at some stage in the proceedings.

That's it for now. More in a bit, once they name the Galway team again - I missed it when they named it on MWR the first time around.

Galway blah

Only three days to go till the Salthill showdown and it’s mightily quiet out there, folks. Our lads appear to have their traps all shuttered up and there’s only a bit of blah from the opposite side to report.

There’s a piece in today’s Indo (the online version of which has undergone a snazzy remodelling overnight) where Peter Ford manages to say very little, apart from expressing optimism about the availability of his injured trio, Diarmuid Blake, Paul Geraghty and Alan Burke. He says the usual stuff about close matches between the teams and expresses the hope that Pearse Stadium might be worth a few points to them. Nothing of consequence, in other words.

Then there’s Joe Bergin in the Hogan Stand saying that Johnno’s in-depth knowledge of the Galway lads won’t be a factor. I’m not so sure: I had this odd dream last night that Johnno had hypnotised them all when he was in charge there and that, twenty minutes into the match, he blew this high-pitched whistle and immediately Bergin, Joyce, Savo and the other old-timers sat in a circle in the middle of the field and started playing imaginary banjos. We then proceeded to score 10-24 while the lads were in this trance and then . . . well, then I woke up and went looking for the tablets, didn’t I?

Anyway, as I've said things are spookily quiet, so much so that I’m reduced to pointing you in the direction of Michael Lyster’s piece on the RTE website about Connacht finals in the rare oul times. I know, I know, it doesn’t add that much to the sum total of human knowledge but there’s little else of interest out there today.

Even the usually active discussion boards appear to have fallen silent. The normally chatty site is like the Marie Celeste at the minute, the thread on the site has only a very languid discussion about the forthcoming hostilities, so the field has been left clear to the Mayo message board on Hogan Stand, where the usual scatological repartee is taking place in earnest. At least some things never change.

We should have team news tonight, shortly after our Inda and Bertie have finished knocking lumps out of each other on the telly. Both sides (just to be clear, that’s Johnno and the Boxer I’m talking about, not Inda and Bertie) are likely to reveal their starting fifteen tonight. I have to confess that I have a bit of a logistical problem in terms of late-night posting tonight, folks, as I’m fleeing the capital with the wife and childers very early tomorrow morning and I could really do with the kip ahead of the 170-mile trek westwards. The journey will also delay my posting tomorrow (penalty points accrue, apparently, for blogging whilst driving) and, throwing the metaphorical hammer after the hatchet, when I get there (Clare, to be precise, as I’m planning a sneaky rearguard attack up the N18 on Sunday morning) I’ll then be on the wrong side of the digital divide, with only my GPRS connection providing a tenuous, sub-128k link to cyberspace.

That’s it. Oh almost forgot, I’ve just been to meet The Brother in town to pick up my tickets for Sunday, Stand ones no less. Oh, God be with the days when we used to roll up to the ground in the Ford Cortina with our greasy fivers in our pockets and . . . I’ll leave the rest of these reminiscences on days of yore to Michael Lyster as I have a few cables for my GPRS connectivity to sort out before the off.

No midnight team news

Nothing to report on team selection for Sunday from the midnight sports news on RTE radio. It looks like we're holding our fire till tomorrow night when Galway are also due to name their starting fifteen. Alright then, I'm off to bed.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Team could be announced tonight

This is according to the Western, which has a few freshly-harvested quotes from The Candidate on how things are shaping up. The O'Malley and Clarke stories we know but Johnno had a few interesting things to say about Messrs Mortimor, Brady and McDonald. He says that Trevor is ahead of the other two in terms of match fitness and so is closer to a starting berth. I'd go further - though not as far as the Mayo News' Sean Rice apparently went in 1967 - and would confidently predict that Trev will indeed start against Galway. The Morts are border men who like nothing better than kicking Galwegian hide and so the more of them we have playing on Sunday, the better. What's Kenneth up to this weather, by the way?

DB might start, though I have a sneaking feeling that Nallen might get the nod to line out alongside Heaney in midfield. Fourgoal McGee suggests that DB could be selected at full-back and you'd have to agree that there's a fair bit of logic to this. Ahh, just name the shaggin' team, lads, and be done with it!

If it is named tonight, the first we'll hear of it is likely to be on RTE Radio 1 just past the witching hour. The sports bulletin that they run just after the midnight news usually contains a GAA roundup from Briiiaaaann Cartheeeeeeeeeeeeeee and he's usually first on the draw with news like this.

Mort speaks, you pay

There’s an interview with young Mort in the Irish Times today. You know the routine by now – it’s premium content and you have to pay for it or else buy the old-fashioned paper version. Either way, you pay.

Mort hasn’t much to say but we do learn that the poor sod has exams on both Saturday and again on Monday up in DCU. I suppose, then, it’s safe to conclude that, win lose or draw, he won’t be anywhere near any late-night chip shop altercations after this Salthill showdown. The power of education, eh?

Some team news at last

The cyber ink had only begun to dry on yesterday’s post when the first bits of gossip about the team began to seep out, courtesy, of course, of the Mayo News. The first noteworthy item in this respect is the surprising revelation in a report by Edwin McGreal that Ciaran Mac could play some part in the proceedings on Sunday. Johnno is quoted as saying that Mac will be given every opportunity to demonstrate his fitness to play on Sunday, including, if necessary, a fitness test on the day. I still don’t think there’s any chance he’ll start the game but Mac has played well against Galway in the recent past and they’d certainly welcome his return to action like they’d welcome a hole in the head. This could well be part of Johnno’s devious plan to soften up the opposition mentally in the lead-in to the game.

In the same article, it’s reported that Liam O’Malley is still struggling with the injury he picked up the other week and it’s beginning to look like he might miss out. If so, Aidan Higgins should fill his place in the corner but it would be cruel luck on Liam who missed most of last year’s championship season through injury and who, on current form, could well be pushing for an All-Star later in the year. Alan Dillon and James Kilcullen are reported to have picked up knocks in training but these don’t seem to be all that serious. Dillon (assuming he is okay) is certain to start but Kilcullen will probably be on the bench.

Kevin McStay seems to think that David Heaney will definitely line out at full-back, with BJ at no.6. It’s probably the most sensible option for this match but I must confess that the sight of Heaney with the no.3 jersey on him again gives me the heebies. If he does okay there on Sunday – which he probably will – the temptation will be to leave him there for the next game and the next and . . . Heaney has plenty to offer further out the field but we simply cannot head back into another All-Ireland series with him at full-back. We’re just asking to get our holes kicked again in the same manner as before.

Because of this, I’d sooner see Kilcullen, Paddy Navin, Liam O’Malley (if he’s fit) or even BJP line out at full-back, with Heaney in midfield or maybe centre-back. The Brother (who, as you might recall, claims some credit for BJ at no.6 and Ger Brady at 14) has long held the view that the man for the job at no.3 is Ronan McGarritty. He could have a point, though I can’t see him being tipped in there coming back from where he’s been over the last few months.

Talking of Heaney, there’s an in-depth interview by Mike Finnerty with him, also in the Mayo News. It’s an odd interview – I can’t understand why he was asked half the questions he was. Such as “Do you ever think what your life will be like without football dominating it?” and “Does it surprise you that nobody seems to talk about Mickey Moran anymore considering the results last year?” Well, Mr Finnerty, if we lose on Sunday, we’ll all get a glimpse of life without football dominating it. And what in the name of jaysus has Mickey Moran got to do with the price of mange-tout in 2007?

In fairness, he does ask our man about playing full-back, which Heaney says straight up that he doesn’t relish. So much so that he nominates James Kilcullen for the job instead. He also reckons that Johnno won’t place him there before hedging his bets by saying that he might. We’re none the wiser, in other words.

Back to Kevin McStay who, as we already knew from Sunday night on De Telly witt Pett, expects Galway to win but, sly fox that he is, he qualifies this by saying he won’t be surprised either if Mayo win. We’re none the wiser there either.

Kev also includes an instructive piece about refereeing and even includes a list of what foul merits what kind of card. So, before you expel your standard Whydontyouputonthefrigginjerseywhileyoureatityoufeckinbollix? the next day, take five minutes beforehand to peruse the list that Kevin provides. I got a few surprises, I have to admit. Such as, if all those offences are to be punished in the prescribed format, how come we don’t end up with five a side every time?

Away from the Mayo News (there's plenty more stuff there that I haven't even mentioned), Setanta have some interesting stats on recent championship clashes between Mayo and Galway. We’ve met in each of the last five championship campaigns and they lead 3-2. That a good enough reason, as if we didn’t have any other ones, to sort them out on Sunday. Another little nugget is that all those meetings were either Connacht finals or semi-finals – you have to go back to 1998 to when we last met them in the first round. That, of course, was Johnno’s bow as Galway jefe and we all know what happened then. Well, now he’s back, he's all ours (bwahahahahahahaha) and my spies tell me that the Galway lads are only planking themselves about Johnno’s intimate knowledge of all their dirty little secrets. I don't know about you but I’m starting to get a good feeling about Sunday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hostesses, take your seats

When I finally threw my hat at it and emigrated from pre-Tiger Ireland in the late Eighties, I did so – as had become somewhat fashionable at the time – on a Ryanair plane out of Knock airport. Not any old Ryanair plane, mind you, it was, in fact, a BAC 1-11 (that’s it in the pic), which - it’s all coming back to me now - was manufactured in Romania. (You see, even before Mad Mick came on the scene, those Ryanair boys always had an eye for the low-cost option).

Rumour had it at the time that the deal involved not just planes but also some Romanian pilots. That may be regarded as unremarkable in globalised, multicultural Ireland now but remember that this was 1988 and Nicolae Ceauşescu still had more than 18 months to go before getting his grisly Christmas comeuppance so it wasn’t as if one were encountering a Romanian person every day of the week in these here parts.

The presence of a Romanian gentleman in the cockpit made, as I still so clearly recall, for a very different pre-flight experience compared to the standard Aer Lingus fare. You know the crack: “Good afternoon, my name is Fiachra O Bignob and I’ll be flying you over to London today blah, blah, blah”. No, indeed, none of that smooth, masterful pilot’s language, the origin of which Tom Wolfe wrote so memorably about in The Right Stuff. Instead, there was this single, gravel-sounded blast of “hostesses, take your seats!” and then, all of a shot, like, we were airborne.

Now, many years later and safely settled back into what has since become post-Tiger Ireland, memories of that day in the month of May almost twenty years ago come swimming back to me. But put away the hankies, lads, I’m not going to come out with some drearily mawkish number about the consequences of layvin d'owl sod all those years ago. No, what I was ruminating on (bear with me, the metaphor is almost at my shoulder now) was the indecent haste with which that Carpathian gentleman propelled us into the Mayo sky back then and how similar that experience was to where we find ourselves this week. Because here we are, with May but a pup and Whit weekend still someway off, being pitted into Championship battle with the Heron Chokers. In five friggin' days time and all!

Needless to say, there’s no team news yet: you’d have been spared the opening paragraphs if there was. We may get it tomorrow night – Nickey Brennan is certainly keen that bloggers (and the wider media) should have this raw material to play with by Wednesday night at the latest. Mind you, I read somewhere (I can't recall exactly where it was but you've already got enough links in this post to be getting on with) yesterday that Galway weren’t planning to release their team till Thursday so The Candidate may do the same (oh and, Peter, if you’re planning anything on Stamp Duty or Pre-School Fees, our man will match you on these as well).

Shorn of any hard news – there’s a piece in the Indo about Galway and how close their matches with us have been of late that’s worth a glance - could I direct your eyeballs over to the sidebar entitled “Mayo’s top scorers 2007”? See the top six scorers on that list? That’s our forward line for Sunday, isn’t it? (Okay, that’s enough questions). It would mean no starting place for Kevin O’Neill but he doesn’t have the full 70 minutes in him anyway.

If that is the forward line, then we could see Heaney (or Nallen, if Heaney is pressed into service further back) and Brady at midfield. O’Malley in goals, the other O’Malley (if fit) and Keith Higgins in the corner, Devenney and Gardiner at wing-back and then . . . let’s wait till tomorrow night to see what the story is with full-back and centre-back.

Finally, a word of thanks to An Spailpín Fánach for his kind plug yesterday about these modest scribblings. Readers should, if you haven’t done so already, take the opportunity to enjoy the Spailpín’s own esoteric thoughts on Sunday’s showdown.

Monday, May 14, 2007

And they're off!

In Westmeath’s case, for eight whole weeks till they emerge into the qualifiers at the start of July. The Lakesiders have only themselves to blame, however, by falling into the trap of thinking that all the hard work had been done in the opening 35 minutes of their championship opener against Longford at Pearse Park yesterday, where they went in at the break 1-10 to 0-5 in front.

Longford looked buggered at that point, as did my credibility as a tipster, but Luke Dempsey’s charges were a totally different proposition in the second half and they were, in the end, full value for their 2-13 to 1-13 success. Colm O’Rourke called it right at half-time when he said that Luke would have ordered them to shoot for goals in the second half but also presciently noted that they had the requisite ability to get such scores. While their first was more than a little fortunate - in soccer, the verb used when a goalie fails to claim a ball that’s rightly his is “to spill” – as Westmeath’s keeper made a total hames of (or, if you will, spilled) a Hail Mary ball sent into the square and corner-forward Brian Kavanagh was on hand to bat the rebound to the net. Game back on, as RTE’s Eamonn Horan – in those twee little match summaries he does on the sports news – would say. (Followed rapidly by something like “Luke’s men not beaten yet” or some such non-sequitur.)

If Kavanagh’s first goal was fortunate, his second was pure class. Centre-forward Paul Barden created it, laying off a perfect pass to Kavanagh whose finish was more akin to the Jug-Eared Assassin of the South-West. From then on, there was only going to be one winner and Longford duly obliged, tipping their neighbours into the abyss that is the qualifiers and setting up a Leinster quarter-final tie with Laois.

While the standard left plenty to be desired at times, this was a cracking match and Longford’s comeback from eight points down at the break (we were only six behind Kerry at half-time in the All-Ireland last year for Chrissakes) provided a stirring start to the Summer’s action.

Then I decided the garden needed some TLC so I had to wait till the evening version of the Sunday Game, wit Pett and De Leds, to see de highlights of what was quite a bizarre match between Down and Cavan. Five goals were scored and twice as many goal chances were missed but there seemed a genuine reluctance to shoot for points. Cavan could have won, Down should have won and probably will do so the next day but neither county will light up the Summer, if yesterday's proceedings are anything to go by.

Meanwhile, over in the Bronx yesterday evening, Sligo recorded an utterly facile win over New York in an utterly pointless Connacht championship “match”. One which generated a stonking big carbon footprint and all. At least Sligo’s next outing, against the Rossies, won’t produce the same adverse environmental effect but it also won’t be quite as easy for them either.

I must say that I enjoyed Pett and De Leds on De Telly last night. On dis occasion, De Leds in question were Dara O Cinneide (a likeable soul, despite the damage he did to us in All-Irelands past), Anthony Tohill (surprisingly awake, perhaps the cattle prods were attached, only out of sight) and our very own Kevin McStay, who lost no time at all in doing the dirt on his native county – backing the Heron Chokers to win next Sunday – and then compounding this by repeating his belief that de Dubs will win Sam this year. Yeah, right and Joe Higgins will be the next Minister for Finance.

Pett pressed De Leds on who would win what dish ear and the answers he got were a bit all over the shop but eventually Dara and Anto plumped for Tyrone to win Sam while our Kev, as I’ve already said, opted for the Dubs. Pett was so amused by this that he got Kev to repeat his prediction which he did, with relish.

The other noteworthy point from last night’s programme – which Pett proudly announced at the outset – was that subtitles were available on Aertel. Yes, the same Aertel that can’t give results on the same day that the matches are played was apparently going to keep up in real-time with Pett’s high-tempo game. I didn’t put it to the test, though I should really have done so to try to decipher what Benny Coulter was saying when he got the MOTM award in the Down v Cavan game. Must remember this for next time.

That’s about it. However, I think yesterday’s meteorological events were highly appropriate and are worth a mention. A dirty big band of rain, which afflicted parts of Munster for the day, extended right across England where the final soporific action of the 2006/7 Premiership season was taking place. It pissed on all those pampered professionals all afternoon, while, back here, the opening shots in our own unique summer's action were played out under more benign skies. Yes, folks, Summer is here, the Championship is back and, next Sunday in Salthill, it’ll be all hands to the pump.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Championship time again

Well, well, well, well, well, well, well (as the Wizard in the Mr Men cartoons is wont to say from time to time), here we are once more at the eve of another championship season. Keith Duggan in today’s Irish Times has a nice, moody article (premium content, sub required) about how the perennial hopes that so many counties harbour about All-Ireland success ends in perennial despair. Does this sound vaguely familiar?

It brings to mind a banner I recall seeing photographed at a Connacht final back in the mid-eighties, when Liam O’Neill (our Kev’s old man) was our Bainisteor. It read “Liam’s Lions are Hungry” and underneath was the punchline “Haven’t Eaten since 1951”. Fairly mangy lions they’d have been even then, let alone what they’d be like now. But, once again, we set out in anticipation of a new championship campaign, thinking that this might be the year that we’ll do it. Or maybe not.

It’s a fairly low-key start tomorrow. Sligo open the Connacht championship by playing New York in an utterly pointless match on the other side of the Atlantic. And on a plastic pitch too. Sligo will win easily enough and then it’ll be someone else’s turn next year. Why on earth is this charade (and the similar one involving London) allowed to be part of the Connacht championship? It would be like having a bunch of ex-pat Yanks based over here taking part in the American football season, except with the addition of those sissy pads that they wear. I just don’t get it. Away win.

Down and Cavan face off in Ulster. Two counties with a proud All-Ireland history but who are a bit down in the Ulster pecking order these days, this is a contest between two non-contenders for the Ulster title this year. Down have, however, a strong record at minor level in recent years (All-Irelands in 1999 and 2005) and this talent, which is well represented in their lineup tomorrow could sway tomorrow’s clash in their favour.

In Leinster, neighbours Longford and Westmeath (two counties that would be moving West under the “Breheny Plan” – see Thursday’s post) clash at Pearse Park. Both counties briefly lit up the qualifiers last Summer, with Longford toppling Derry before the reborn Kerry lads did for them, while Westmeath sank Galway before getting hammered by the Dubs. This could be a close one but, at Pearse Park, I’d fancy Longford – remember that the Dubs only emerged from there early last Summer with a few points to spare.

That’s it as regards the matches. Elsewhere, the Indo has an interesting table showing who has done well under the qualifiers and who hasn’t. The table placings are based on how many matches counties have won via the qualifiers but this is, of course, a function of how many games each county has played via the backdoor. It comes as no surprise that the top of the table is dominated by Ulster counties (including top team, Derry, with 14 backdoor wins), who occupy four of the top six berths. We’re well down the table, with four wins and four losses but the most chilling stat for me is that relating to Kerry, with nine wins out of ten (their only loss being in the 2002 All-Ireland final). More ammunition about the shortcomings of the current structure, methinks.

And there’s more. Remember I mentioned the other day that, if we win against Galway on the 20th, we get to warm our posteriors for five whole weeks? Well, amigos, that’s only the half of it. If we lose, we get to remain on our derrieres for a further two weeks, as it is only then that the first qualifier round takes place. It gets even better: rounds two and three of the qualifiers then take place over the following two weekends. That’s right: after sitting on our holes for seven weeks after next weekend's opener, we’d have to play on three successive Sundays (again, that’s assuming we remain standing) in July. The little baby elephant that was born in Dublin zoo the other day (now you know why that picture is there) could have come up with better scheduling than this.

Still, mustn’t grumble – the action is almost back on again. And I’ll be back on Monday with a review of tomorrow’s opening shots of dish ear's campaign. Till then.