Dead rubbers could spoil last round of leagues
Nothing personal, just business.
The GAA won't admit it, but they have a vested interest in defeats for Dublin and Cork footballers and Kilkenny and Galway hurlers this weekend, because otherwise the Division 1 finalists in the Allianz Leagues will be decided ahead of the remaining series of games.
Wins for Dublin and Cork would book a clash in the NFL final for the first time since 1999, while a Kilkenny/Galway double would line them up for their first NHL final meeting since 1986.
That would seriously reduce interest in what should be a day of high drama -- and big crowds -- in the last round of divisional games. It happened in hurling last year where Galway and Cork had qualified for the final after six rounds.
As luck would have it, the pair clashed in the final round, drawing a small attendance in Pearse Stadium for a game between two experimental teams.
This is almost certainly the last year that the current system will prevail, as a Central Council motion will be put to Congress next month, proposing the restoration of semi-finals in Division 1. The straight final between the top two was introduced in football in 2008 and in hurling a year later.
Here's how the various groups are shaping up, including best case/worst case scenarios in terms of the interest level in the final round of games:
Best Case: Down beat Dublin; Mayo beat Cork; Kerry beat Monaghan; Galway beat Armagh. The table would read as follows going into the final round: Dublin 10; Down 9; Cork 8; Kerry 8; Mayo 5; Armagh 4; Monaghan 2; Galway 2. That would leave the two final places and two relegation positions to be settled in the last round on Sunday week.
Worst Case: Dublin and Cork beat Down and Mayo respectively. That would set up a Dublin v Cork final, irrespective of results in the final round. At the bottom end of the table, if Mayo, Armagh and Kerry beat Cork, Galway and Monaghan, respectively, it would sentence Galway and Monaghan to relegation ahead of the last round.
Best Case: The best outcome to maintain interest in the final round is for Donegal to lose to Antrim, Laois and Derry to win or draw their games (v Sligo and Meath) and Tyrone and Kildare to draw in Omagh. That would leave five teams chasing two spots in the last round.
Worst Case: Donegal and Kildare win, Laois, Tyrone and Derry lose. That would leave Donegal and Kildare in the final irrespective of final round results. At the bottom, Meath and Antrim would be facing relegation ahead of the final round if they both lost and Sligo won.
With only five points between top (Wexford) and bottom (Cavan), it's the most competitive group, with most of the key issues unlikely to be decided until the last round.
Connacht champions Roscommon will be guaranteed promotion if they beat Kilkenny. Wicklow, Longford, Leitrim and Clare are in contention for the second promotion spot.
Best Case (1): Dublin beat Kilkenny; Tipperary beat Galway; Cork beat Wexford; Waterford beat Offaly, leaving Dublin leading on nine points, followed by Kilkenny and Galway on eight each, Tipperary, Cork and Waterford all on seven points. That would be six of eight teams within two points of each other, resulting in an exciting final round.
Best Case (2): Same as above except for Wexford beating Cork. That would eliminate Cork from contention for a place in the final, but would give Wexford a chance of surviving, if Offaly lost or drew against Waterford.
Worst Case: Kilkenny and Galway beat Dublin and Tipperary respectively. That would book Kilkenny and Galway in for the final on May 1, leaving the final round of games largely meaningless, unless Wexford resurrect their survival bid.
Best Case: Limerick and Clare lose to Kerry and Laois respectively (a 125/1 double) and Antrim beat Down, technically keeping the final places open until the last week.
Worst Case: Limerick and Clare win and qualify for the final ahead of the last round of games.
Derry and Wicklow have qualified for the final -- Armagh will be relegated.
Mayo, Louth, Fingal and Roscommon are still in contention.
Tyrone and South Down have qualified for the final.