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.