Believe it or not, this weekend marks the start of the Football Championship in the G.A.A. with Sligo escaping to New York for a short stay. While on their travels Sligo will take time out of their schedule to inflict the yearly beating on their hosts. The visitors have been put in at 1/20 so there is little point in focusing on a game where even the handicap, 17 points, makes no appeal on either side.
It is only on the 20th of this month that the Football Championship kicks into life when six games take place across the four provinces. With plenty of time for some things to change between now and then I’m going to start with a look at the Leinster Football Championship and what may happen when action commences on the 20th of May.
The logical place to start is in the province of the reigning All Ireland Champions as last year saw Dublin rise to the number one slot in the football ranks with a last gasp success against old foes Kerry in a pulsating All Ireland Final. Stephen Cluxton kicked himself into Dublin folklore on that memorable day but one thing we can be certain of is that Pat Gilroy and his team will want to show that it was only the beginning of a new era for Dublin football. The Dublin u-21s will do battle with Roscommon in tomorrow’s u-21 All Ireland Final and nobody can argue that Dublin football is not on the crest of a wave at the present time. In my mind there is only one county that can stop them en route to another Jack Delaney Cup and that is Kieren McGenney’s Kildare. They have been in the papers all spring as the Seanie Johnston transfer saga has dominated the G.A.A. pages but last weekend they capped their return to Division One of the National Football League by taking the scalp of an unbeaten Tyrone side. All the form points to no side being close to either team but that does not mean that some of the smaller counties cannot emerge and grab their day out in Croke Park.
Longford, fresh from their second consecutive promotion, will be looking to gain revenge for an unlucky loss to Laois in last year’s Leinster Championship. On the day Longford kicked sixteen wides and still only went down by a single point but with home advantage on their side this year they will be confident of turning around the trend of recent meetings and with all things considered they must have an excellent chance of doing so. Both sides have had contrasting fortunes in their respective league campaigns as Longford were promoted as Division Three champions while Laois suffered the pain of relegation from the top tier. The one thing that is really surprising when watching this present Laois side play, is that for a team who play a blanket defence and seem intent on smothering their opponents, they seem to ship some huge scores and for Justin McNulty this must be an area of huge concern. Couple this with the fact that their most talented forward, Donie Kingston, is not part of the panel and one can see while Laois have also been struggling to trouble the scoreboard in most of their league outings. The trip to Pearse Park has proved tricky for many of the better sides in football with Derry and Mayo both coming unstuck there in recent years and in my opinion it will prove no different to a very average Laois side. At 5/4 Longford are well priced for a home team brimming with confidence from their spring exploits and I would fancy them to progress to a meeting with their league victims Wexford.
Another of Leinster football’s more traditional counties may suffer the same fate on May 20th as Meath take on Wicklow. Meath seem to be a county who are caught in a downward spiral as their league season went from bad to worse as it ended in relegation at the hands of Louth. Seamus McEeaney has spent the spring fending off attempts from the Meath Co. Board to oust him from his position and as a result confidence must be at an all time low in the Meath camp. The players, who refused to publicly support their manager, claim to be fully behind him but you have to wonder if things can be reversed in time for their Championship opener. Wicklow, on the other hand, have been in excellent form for most of the year and continued their progression of the last few years with promotion from Division Four. It seems to me that they might be going in the opposite direction of Meath as Harry Murphy looks to continue the great work of the departed Mick O’Dwyer. They are a side that pose plenty of attacking threat with Seanie Furlong, Leighton Glynn, and Tony Hannon more than capable of putting the nail in Seamus McEeaney’s coffin as Meath manager. Glynn and company look sure to go close against Meath and 11/4 looks to be good value on them causing an upset while we may also get some value on the handicap market as bookies place the emphasis on McEeaney reviving the fortunes of Meath football rather than overseeing its downfall.
Come May 20th the summer days of two lesser lights in Leinster football may only be starting while their more illustrious rivals seek to gain their salvation through the backdoor.