Mayo fans have hardly gotten over the traumatic All Ireland Senior Football final loss to Dublin but tonight (October 19th, 2017) saw the draws for the 2018 GAA Championship draws (well football at least). Hawkeye Sidekick has submitted a thesis investigating how the Senior Hurling Championship will work, let us focus on the senior football provincial championships in this blog posting because to explain the SHC format would require too much space of this internet service provider.
Let us get to the point. Preliminary games where the likelihood is that Clare and Tipperary will advance to meet perennial kingpin Kerry and a kingpin Cork who will look to restore pride next season. Tipperary out of the four perceived minnows in the province will fancy a cut off Cork given they ran the Rebels close last year. Stephen O’Brien’s return to the football fold is a welcome addition to Liam Kearns side. Cork will be warned; their performances last year were mediocre at best and only a spirited Mayo loss gave the Cork football supporter with anything realistically to shout about. Kerry will hope that Clare provide some level of opposition before a provincial final. I have my doubts that this will become reality; all aces stacked against Clare and with a trip to Killarney next year, doubt many will give the Banner County any hope of an upset. Kerry look the form team of the province again. Cork final showdown in the revamped Pairc Ui Chaoimh would be a superb occasion but Cork have to earn their right to the final and the Tipperary fixture looks close. No disrespect to Waterford or Limerick but NFL Division Four promotion is the objective this season; both well short in terms of squad depth.
Wicklow or Offaly senior football management will have to work overtime to convince some players to commit next season after this draw. The victor of this opening round tussle faces the arduous task of playing Dublin in the quarter final. Damage limitations already for either county. Meath are in the same side of the draw as Dublin and one would imagine the Royal County getting over the likes of Longford in a quarter final fixture. Kildare were probably the main beneficiary of this provincial draw, avoided Dublin and Meath. Kildare play either Louth or Carlow in a quarter-final tussle, a nice fixture to get the season up and running before facing potentially Westmeath / Wexford or Laois. Despite the musings afterwards, Dublin hold the aces in this province again. I cannot see any other county getting close to Jim Gavin’s men next year. Points spread bets could be the order of the day here.
Eanna Smith face was telling despite given due respect to either Leitrim or New York, Roscommon are nailed on for a provincial final appearance. The other side of the draw saw Mayo and Galway lock horns in a quarter final fixture. The loser faces the prospect of long and winding qualifier series and with the super eight’s immediately afterwards, All Ireland success would look remote. Sligo or London face the victor who will be battle hardened from the McHale Park local derby tussle. Mayo need to win this fixture and I think they will advance to the provincial final. Roscommon will be keen to retain their title; expect a close encounter and a lot will depend on Mayo’s mindset and whether they have the appetite to get off the canvas again and go for another Sam Maguire tilt. Slight edge to Mayo.
This province struggled in All Ireland series games last season and next year will be a chance for certain counties to redeem themselves. It is a fascinating draw; still the most competitive provincial championship. Donegal face a huge tussle over a progressive Cavan outfit. Declan Bonner will need to blood new players to the side and a loss here will spell massive problems for Donegal harboring any ambitions of advancing to the Super Eight format. The two sides of the draw are well balanced. Tyrone vs. Monaghan will be a cracker and no quarter will be given in Omagh. Armagh will be wary of the threat posed by Fermanagh away and Kieran McGeeney’s side will be keen to avenge the loss to Tyrone if they meet in the last four. Monaghan can never be discounted; another NFL Division One season beckons and with Conor McManus, they have a player capable of winning any contest on his own. The other side of the draw is perhaps a chance for Derry or Down to stake a claim for an Ulster final particularly with Donegal in transition from a squad perspective. Cavan if they progress could be the dark horse on this side. Down will face Antrim in the quarter-final and should set themselves up to seriously have a go in the last four. If Derry can get their act together with their top players committing to the cause, then they are the side to watch. Intriguing championship. Tyrone have lost several warriors from their ranks. McMahon’s and Sean Cavanagh will not be in the dressing room to provide leadership / experience and skill. Wide open championship with several progressive sides in the mix to attempt to topple Tyrone.