* Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which . . . hang on, that's something else I'm working on at the minute, let's stick to the action tomorrow instead. There are championship semi-finals in Ulster and Connacht, with two quarter-finals in Leinster (in Munster, it's already narrowed down to the two old reliables) and, from our perspective, by close of play tomorrow evening there should be four more names in the first round qualifier draw.
Let's deal with those semi-finals first. In Connacht (Mayo-less Connacht - sniff!), the Rossies square up to Sligo at the Hyde. Sligo have already had one day out - over in New York - whereas this is the first championship outing for the Sheepstealers. The last two times these counties met in the championship - in 1998 and again in 2004 - their ties went to replays but I doubt if tomorrow's will. I don't think it'll even be close. Roscommon were hugely disappointed to lose the Division 2 final to Meath in the manner that they did but Meath's subsequent championship exploits have cast the Rossies' league form in a better light. With Mayo out of the running, John Maughan will know he has a good chance of coming in under the radar to claim a Connacht title with the Rossies and I don't expect his charges to let him down at the first hurdle tomorrow.
Up in Ulster, the match of the day is undoubtedly the clash between Tyrone and Donegal at Clones. When I was up there at our league match with Fermanagh in March, the few hundred of us there were all huddled under the stand on a miserable wet and cold afternoon. Tomorrow, in contrast, St Tiernach's Park will be packed to the rafters and a fascinating clash is in prospect. Tyrone have had the devil's own luck with injuries over the past two Summers and they remain at less than full strength for tomorrow's encounter. Donegal, meanwhile, welcome back the influential Brendan Devenney and Michael Hegarty to the full-forward line and the league champions look a far more settled side than do Mickey Harte's men. You'd have to fancy Donegal for this one but their nervousness against Armagh - when it took a very doubtful late goal to seal the win - suggests that if Tyrone can raise their game anyway close to the levels achieved in 2003 and again in 2005, they might just do it.
Croker plays host to two matches tomorrow. The undercard features Wexford and Louth, two counties capable of open, expansive football and this could be quite an attractive encounter, not least in light of the snarlfest that's expected to follow it. Louth needed three attempts to get past a limited but well-marshalled Wicklow, leaving Wexford to kick their heels waiting for the winner to emerge. Wexford have undoubtedly disimproved over the past two Summers (before the off last year, they were being mentioned as possible Leinster champions) and the match practice that Louth have already enjoyed could well stand to them tomorrow.
And so to the only match that counts for the media tomorrow. They could use the excuse that today is Bloomsday but the typically skewed coverage of tomorrow's action in the Irish Times is just normal service. Dub porn, in other words. The Dublin-Meath match gets all of two whole pages of blah, blah, blah in the sports supplement, while coverage of the other five clashes (three football, two hurling) is squeezed into the following two pages. This is despite the fact that four out of these five games are provincial semi-finals, whereas the 4.15pm match in Croker is but a quarter-final.
So we get the guts of a page of complete piffle from Tom Humphries on the unique pressure that faces Dublin free-takers (the poor dears, having to ply their trade with the Croker crowd all hushed and expectant whereas opposing free-takers have the clear advantage of taking theirs amidst a screeching, caterwauling backdrop), an utterly pointless article about the 1894 clash between the counties and another largely unnecessary piece which uses the extremely annoying David McWilliams' The Pope's Children as its point of departure. And there's a piece of 'analysis' from John O'Keeffe, someone who has never stuck his neck out in predicting who might win any championship clash, going with the bookies by opting for a Dubs win. He's wrong, you know. Just ask Colm Coyle if he'll lead the Royals to victory and what he'll say is something along the lines of yes I said yes I will Yes.