Sunday 26 March 2017

Alarm bells ring as back door closes on provincial finalists

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The failure of any one of this year's beaten provincial football finalists to win a fourth-round qualifier is only the third time that all four in that position have lost their next fixture.

Monaghan, Sligo, Limerick and Louth all came crashing down in the last round of the qualifier series on Saturday as momentum remained with the strong teams who had dusted themselves down after early falls.

It means that out of 40 provincial finalists in the 10 years since the current championship format offering second chances for the majority of championship teams was introduced, just 14 have availed of that second chance.

That makes it just less than a two to one chance, 35pc, that provincial finalists will not be able to pick up the pieces from their provincial final defeat -- a statistic that clearly illustrates how the advantage is with the teams emerging from qualifiers.

The total wipeout of the provincial finalists for the first time since 2004 -- when Laois, Limerick, Roscommon and Donegal were all beaten -- in the 'last 12' will once again throw the spotlight on the championship format and the advantage that teams coming through the qualifiers have.

Eliminated

Twelve months earlier, Kildare, Limerick, Mayo and Down were eliminated next time round after losing their provincial finals.

The best year for beaten provincial finalists was 2005, when all four triumphed. Mayo beat Cavan, Tyrone took out Monaghan, Cork beat Sligo and Laois beat Derry. From 2006 to 2008, half of the beaten provincial finalists were able to advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals through qualifiers but in two of those years, 2007 and 2008, there were just three rounds of qualifiers as Division 4 NFL teams were re-routed to the Tommy Murphy Cup.

The failure of Sligo and Monaghan to turn things around after provincial final defeats six days earlier will raise questions about the short turnaround teams are afforded.

Twice the All-Ireland champions have come from beaten provincial finalists: Tyrone in 2005, who won four games after losing to Armagh in an Ulster final replay; and Kerry, 12 months later, when they lost a replay to Cork but then went on a rampage and won their next four games against by a cumulative total of 36 points.

Irish Independent

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