Tuesday 25 November 2014

Who can survive the Qualifier cull?

By Sunday night, eight football teams will have their championship dreams crushed for another year. Martin Breheny gives a team-by-team rundown

Published 27/06/2013 | 05:00

Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh takes on Mick Fanning of Louth during their first round qualifier in 2008. Tyrone will again be hoping that they can launch a challenge for Sam Maguire from the first round of back door games as they did five years ago
Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh takes on Mick Fanning of Louth during their first round qualifier in 2008. Tyrone will again be hoping that they can launch a challenge for Sam Maguire from the first round of back door games as they did five years ago

The 2013 championship cull is about to begin.

Barring draws, eight counties will exit the All-Ireland football race thisweekend from a series of games where Tyrone will be the only Division 1 team attempting to make the four-game journey through the qualifiers and into Croke Park for the All-Ireland quarter-finals on the first weekend in August.

Seven of the remaining 15 spent last spring in Division 2 (Wexford were the only team from that group to reach a semi-final) while four were in Division 3 and four in Division 4.

Here's how the 16 counties line up ahead of the games that leave eight with no further action until 2014.

CARLOW (V LAOIS)

The season looked so promising when they won their first two Division 4 games last February but they then lost five in a row, leaving them second last.

Westmeath finished 21 places ahead of them and translated that into an 11-point win in the championship. Carlow, who are seeking their first win in the qualifiers since 2005, meet Laois for the second successive year, having lost by four points in Round 1 last season.

Best qualifier season – 2005: Beat Offaly (then a Division 1 team) in Round 1.

LAOIS (V CARLOW)

They started the Leinster championship as fourth favourites but imploded against Louth and have since been hit by a number of defections.

The big question now is whether the depleted squad has the resolve to pursue a championship retrieval mission with the tenacity which took them to the All-Ireland quarter-finals last year.

They have the talent to make progress but will it come out to play?

Best qualifier season – 2012: Won all four rounds before losing the All-Ireland quarter-final to Dublin.

OFFALY (V TYRONE)

Six wins from 17 qualifiers is a poor return for a county which believed that the 'back door' would open up to bountiful feeding grounds.

Offaly have improved this year under Emmet McDonnell, winning promotion to Division 3 and giving Kildare a real fright.

Unfortunately for Offaly, they got the toughest possible draw against qualifier specialists Tyrone, albeit with home advantage.

Best qualifier season – 2010: Won first two rounds before losing by two points to Down who went on to reach the All-Ireland final.

TYRONE (V OFFALY)

They have lost only three of 19 qualifiers games so negotiating their way through the 'back door' is very familiar territory.

They invested a lot of energy in the clash with Donegal and while they were well beaten in the end, they have had five weeks to regroup.

This will be their first championship meeting with Offaly.

Best qualifier season – 2008: Came from Round 1 to win the All-Ireland title.

WESTMEATH (V FERMANAGH)

Westmeath achieved more than most would have anticipated when they won promotion to Division 1, but came up well short against Dublin in the championship.

Provided that hasn't deflated them too much, they can return to re-building towards proving they are a top-eight side, a level they have reached in the championship three times in the last 12 years.

Best qualifiers seasons – 2001 and 2006: Won all four rounds to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final.

FERMANAGH (V WESTMEATH)

They are on a 13-day turnaround after losing to Cavan so this is quite a challenge as Westmeath were operating at a higher league level, having won promotion to Division 1.

Fermanagh have won 10 of 20 qualifiers which is a decent return, while manager Peter Canavan has plenty experience of making 'back door' progress with Tyrone.

Fermanagh beat Westmeath in the 2002 qualifiers in Cusack Park.

Best qualifier season – 2004: Won three rounds, en route to All-Ireland semi-final where they lost in a replay to Mayo.

LONGFORD (V LIMERICK)

Played 8, Lost 8. That's Longford's unexpectedly poor return from league (Division 2) and Leinster championship action this year.

However, they have a fairly good qualifier record (10 wins from 22 games) and will be further encouraged by having home advantage against opposition they took to extra-time in Round 2 last year before losing by six points.

Best qualifier season – 2006: Won first three rounds before losing to Kerry.

LIMERICK (V LONGFORD)

After boasting the meanest defence in all four league divisions as they powered to promotion to Division 3, they found the step up in class much too demanding when conceding 3-17 against Cork in the Munster championship.

Longford will be much less intimidating but were two divisions higher than Maurice Horan's men in the league so this is really tricky encounter for Limerick.

Best qualifier season – 2011: Won three rounds to reach All-Ireland quarter-final where they lost to Kerry.

LOUTH (V ANTRIM)

Louth had high hopes of being in Croke Park on Sunday for the Leinster semi-final but after hammering Laois were scuppered by Wexford.

Somewhat surprisingly, Louth are seeking their first win in the qualifiers since beating Limerick in 2007.

Best qualifier season – 2006: Drew with Tyrone (then All-Ireland champions) after extra-time in Navan before losing the replay in Omagh.

ANTRIM (V LOUTH)

Antrim enjoyed two qualifier wins last year, including a home success over Galway, before losing to Tipperary.

Overall, they have won five and drawn one of 16 qualifier games. Worryingly, they scored only six points against Monaghan in the Ulster quarter-final, the lowest return in the 22 championship games so far. On the plus side, they conceded only 11 points.

Best qualifier season – 2012: Won first two rounds before losing to Tipperary.

GALWAY (V TIPPERARY)

Seeking their first win in the qualifiers since 2004 in what will be their first championship clash with Tipperary since the 1902 All-Ireland semi-final, Galway badly need a good run this year.

The heavy defeat by Mayo last month stunned the county and after a series of qualifier defeats by counties in lower divisions over the years, there's real apprehension in Galway.

Best qualifier season – 2001: Came from Round 2 to win the All-Ireland title.

TIPPERARY (V GALWAY)

They enjoyed a fine qualifier run last year, beating Offaly, Wexford and Antrim before losing to Down in Round 4. Like Limerick, who finished four points ahead of them in Division 4, they found the step up in class against Division 1 opposition too great a leap, losing to Kerry by 2-19 to 0-8 in the Munster quarter-final.

Best qualifier season – 2012: Won first three rounds before losing to Down.

ARMAGH (V WICKLOW)

The sloppy performance against Cavan, which led to convulsions among the Orchard supporters, has placed them under real pressure to salvage something from the qualifiers.

They are helped by having home advantage, even if Wicklow drew with them in the Athletic Grounds two years ago.

Best qualifier season – 2003: Came from Round 1 to reach All-Ireland final where they lost to Tyrone.

WICKLOW (V ARMAGH)

Losing a championship game in circumstances where a penalty was missed and a giveaway goal conceded seconds later is hard to take but Wicklow have no choice but to put the pieces together and hope they hold.

It's a massive challenge even if Armagh's mental state can't be all that strong either.

Best qualifier season – 2009: Won first three rounds before losing to Kildare.

DERRY (V SLIGO)

A first championship clash between the counties with Derry hoping that their good qualifier record (18 wins from 27 games) helps them relaunch the summer campaign.

Derry have won more qualifier games than any other county and, despite conceding 2-17 against Down in the Ulster quarter-final, will be hopeful the season still has a lot to offer.

Best qualifier season – 2004: Won all four rounds en route to All-Ireland semi-final where they lost to Kerry.

SLIGO (V DERRY)

Home advantage would have been helpful after the trauma of the Connacht quarter-final defeat by London but instead they must travel to Owenbeg.

Sligo have a 50pc success rate in the qualifiers, having risen to some very big challenges over the years.

They will need to produce another big one to remain active in championship 2013.

Best qualifier season – 2005: Won three rounds before losing to Cork.

Irish Independent

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