Posted by Christy O'Connor
Thursday 18 August 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
It may be hard to believe now but in June 2010, the first two counties knocked out of the football championship were Donegal and Mayo. Donegal suffered the ignominy of being hammered by Armagh in Crossmaglen, live on TV. Mayo’s season combusted in Longford. The same weekend, Dublin were dumped out of the Leinster championship by Meath, who fired five goals past Stephen Cluxton.
It was that kind of a championship, the most open and exciting in years, with big guns falling everywhere; Louth should have won Leinster; Limerick could have won Munster; Kildare should have been in an All-Ireland final; Down, who defeated Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, did make the final, where they were beaten by Cork.
Football was a different landscape. Provincial superiority seemed to count for little; all four provincial champions were knocked out in the All-Ireland quarter-finals by sides rampaging through the backdoor. In another sense though, it was reaffirmation of a trend which had been obvious from the middle of the previous decade. Cork’s All-Ireland success that September was the fourth time in five years that the champions had travelled that backdoor route. Tyrone in 2005 and 2008, and Kerry in 2006 and 2009 had also managed it through the qualifiers but everything changed dramatically afterwards.
Over the following five years, the provincial champions completely dominated the All-Ireland series. Between 2011 and 2015, no team reached an All-Ireland final through the qualifiers. Only one team – Tyrone in 2013 and 2015 – made an All-Ireland semi-final through the backdoor. Tyrone have a solid history of success through the qualifiers, while in both of those All-Ireland quarter-finals, they defeated a Monaghan team not really cut out to play in Croke Park.
The days of a team like Down, who came out of nowhere to reach an All-Ireland final in 2010, were long gone. That Down team hit a ceiling, like most new teams do, and never reached that level again. Look at them now? Annihilated by Monaghan in this year’s Ulster championship, they were beaten in the qualifiers by Longford.
One of the reasons that the qualifiers had become redundant in recent years was because, with the exception of Tyrone, the big guns didn’t need them anymore. Cork and Kerry’s seeding in Munster effectively prevented them running into a car-crash away from home in June. Mayo and Dublin hadn’t needed the qualifiers to regroup or recharge like Kerry in 2009 or Cork in 2010. Prior to this season, the last real marquee qualifier match was Kerry-Tyrone in Killarney in 2012.
The modern culture of sports science and defensive systems which made teams harder to beat hadn’t tightened standards and closed the gap. The stronger counties just made the most of those means as well to make themselves better.
After the lows of 2010, Mayo and Donegal increased their capacity to compete at the highest level more through resourcefulness than resources. Mayo were financially broke when James Horan took over. When Jim McGuinness was installed in Donegal, he began cold-calling businesses for funding and assistance. Mayo and Donegal introduced a high performance culture, thought differently, worked harder, and stayed in Division One, all of which enabled them to compound their provincial superiority. When Mayo finally lost in Connacht this year, they were the one side with the profile, status, quality, experience and potential to reach, or possibly win, an All-Ireland, via the qualifiers. When Cork won the 2010 All-Ireland, they were also National league champions that season. As well as having lost two of the three previous All-Ireland finals, Cork had compensated for those disappointments by winning two All-Ireland U-21 titles in those same seasons of 2007 and 2009. Although Mayo lost the 2013 All-Ireland final, they won the All-Ireland minor title the same day. That team won this year’s All-Ireland U-21 title in May.
Tipperary don’t have the profile or experience of a Mayo or Tyrone but what they do have is underage success, and the winning culture that success has inspired. “The big thing about this Tipperary team and what differentiates them from other outsiders who have gone deep into the championship,” wrote Jim McGuinness in his column this week, “is that they have the experience of being winners because of the county’s success at underage level over a number of years.”
McGuinness was Donegal U-21 manager in 2010 when they met Tipperary in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final. Tipp had already beaten Kerry in Tralee in the Munster final and some of the players who featured against Donegal that evening are some of the main leaders on this senior team. Tipp won an All-Ireland minor title the following year in 2011. Last year, they were unlucky not to win an All-Ireland U-21 title, narrowly losing the final to Tyrone.
Tipp have continued to defy convention and expectation. They have been the story of the summer but some things haven’t changed. Dublin are still dominating Leinster. Kerry won four-in-a-row in Munster. Donegal reached a sixth successive Ulster final but were beaten by Tyrone. And Galway winning a first Connacht title in eight years illustrated how this championship has carried some echoes of that 2010 championship. Aside from Tipp’s glorious run, there has been plenty of other romance elsewhere; Galway’s breakthrough; Longford’s scalping of Monaghan in the qualifiers; Westmeath reaching successive Leinster finals for the first time in the county’s history; Clare’s historic run to a first All-Ireland quarter-final; even New York almost beat Roscommon on the opening day of the championship in May.
As the championship edges closer to conclusion, this is the first time since 2010 that two teams have reached an All-Ireland semi-final through the qualifiers. Whatever happens on Sunday, this will also be the first time since 2010 that a team has made an All-Ireland final through the back-door. It’s the first time since 2008 that a county from Division 3 (when Wexford burst through) have made the last four. Wexford never reached that level again but they didn’t have the underage success that Tipp have accumulated.
Three of the big guns – Kerry, Dublin and Mayo – may be still standing. The winners of the Kerry-Dublin semi-final will be favourites to win the final. But this championship has thrown up so many unlikely story-lines similar to 2010 that the winners of Sunday’s match (especially if it is Mayo) will be entitled to believe that this could finally be their year.
| ||Join my league|
|Join my league|
|Join my league|
Mayo to win: 76%
Tipperary to win : 21%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
© 2016 eir. All rights reserved