Posted by Shane Stapleton

It’s a long road back but entering the qualifiers in Round One and making it to the All-Ireland series is terrain that has been navigated before

2008 Tyrone Louth

It’s a long road back but entering the qualifiers in Round One and making it to the All-Ireland series is terrain that has been navigated before.

Not that it’s all that simple, of course. In the 11 seasons from 2001 to 2012 inclusive where the back door system has been in operation, 176 teams (eight each season) have contested first-round qualifier games. Of that, 9% have made it to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, which is 16 teams in old money.

The numbers continues to shrink from then on as 4.5% of first-rounders (eight teams) made it to the final four, while just two teams (1.1%) went on to contest the All-Ireland final, with just one side actually lifting the Sam Maguire after going the long way round. Quite the quiz question!

Of the 16 teams to make it from Round One to the All-Ireland series:
50% (8) are from Leinster
43% (7) are from Ulster
7% (1) are from Connacht
0% are from Munster

Leinster has more competing counties than anyone else so that somewhat accounts for their high number here, while the desperate return from Munster points to the level of teams behind Cork and Kerry who usually enter the All-Ireland series or later rounds of the qualifiers.

In just two seasons, 2002 and 2005, has no team actually made it through to the All-Ireland series from Round One of the qualifiers, with the average being 1.45 counties coming through the back door to the final eight in each championship.

There’s plenty of hope after an early setback, even if most teams do again quickly come acropper.

COMING BACK FOR MORE
In the first two seasons of the qualifiers, Westmeath were the sole side to make it from the first round to the All-Ireland quarter-finals but 2003 was arguably the best year for teams regrouping in the second-chance saloon.

Defending All-Ireland champions Armagh were immediately dumped out of Ulster by Monaghan and faced a long road back to the top, which they eventually managed thanks hugely to the exploits of soon-to-be Footballer of the Year Steven McDonnell.

Waterford, Antrim, Dublin and Limerick were all put to the sword in the qualifiers, with Laois and Donegal (another Round-One qualifier) next on the block in the All-Ireland series.

Tyrone lay in wait though, and they did what the Orchard County had managed a year earlier: won their maiden All-Ireland title. A close-run thing.

ERNE-D THE HARD WAY
Of the eight first-round sides in 2004, three made it to the All-Ireland series and two of those pushed on to the semi-finals. That’s quite a record by anyone’s standards.

Reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone had put both Derry and Fermanagh into the qualifiers with preliminary round and quarter-finals win in the Ulster championship, but both sides had plenty left in them.

Fermanagh’s journey is particularly interesting because their first win didn’t even require them to show up, as Tipperary withdrew from the championship after the resignation of manager Andy Shorthall.

From there, the Erne County strung together a necklace of wins against All-Ireland champions from the previous 15 years as Meath, Cork, Donegal and Armagh were all put on their backs.

Mayo eventually ended the dream after a replay in the All-Ireland semi-final, but what a run.

CHAMPIONS BACK FROM THE BRINK
Few would have foreseen what was to come after the Red Hand County lost to Down after a replay and extra-time in their Ulster quarter-final clash in 2008.

Manager Mickey Harte wasn’t beaten yet though and rehabilitated his team through the qualifiers with wins away to Louth, at home to Westmeath and in Croke Park against Meath.

With the beaten Division Four teams dropping into the Tommy Murphy Cup, there were just three rounds of qualifiers in 2007 and 2008 but that meant a better quality of shark in the back waters.

Once at the quarter-final stage, Tyrone’s quality was obvious as they swept Dublin aside with ease, withheld a Wexford comeback, and ended Kerry’s treble dreams in the final.

Harte’s masterstroke was to play Sean Cavanagh at full-forward, who won Footballer of the Year after scoring five points in the All-Ireland final against the Kingdom.

YEAR BY YEAR — ROUND ONE REBOUND TEAMS
2012
Laois got to the All-Ireland quarter-final 

2010
Kildare got to the All-Ireland semi-final 

2009
Donegal got to the All-Ireland quarter-final
Meath got to the All-Ireland semi-final

2008
Kildare got to the All-Ireland quarter-final
Tyrone won the All-Ireland title 

2007
Meath got to the All-Ireland semi-final
Derry got to the All-Ireland quarter-final 

2006
Westmeath got to the All-Ireland quarter-final

2005
None 

2004
Derry got to the All-Ireland semi-final
Fermanagh got to the All-Ireland semi-final
Dublin got to the All-Ireland quarter-final 

2003
Armagh got to the All-Ireland final
Donegal got to the All-Ireland semi-final (losing to Round-One qualifier Armagh)
Roscommon got to the All-Ireland quarter-final

2002
None

2001
Westmeath got to the All-Ireland quarter-final

*In 2008, Division 4 sides Antrim, Carlow, Clare, Kilkenny, Leitrim, London, Sligo, Waterford and Wicklow all played in the Tommy Murphy Cup as a result of their participation in Division 4 of the 2009 National Football League, and therefore did not feature in the qualifiers.
**In 2007, the Tommy Murphy entrants that did not feature in the qualifiers were Antrim, Carlow, Clare, London, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow.

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