Four fallen empires living off memories of better times
Published 09/07/2015 | 02:30
It's not very long ago since they were mighty empires, winning All-Ireland titles, while setting standards to which others aspired.
Now, Meath, Galway, Armagh and Tyrone, who shared eight All-Ireland titles between 1996 and 2008, are hanging on grimly for Championship survival.
They clash this weekend (Tyrone v Meath; Armagh v Galway), with supporters knowing that the real All-Ireland business is likely to be conducted without them in late August/September.
Still, it's very important for the squads to stretch the season for as long as possible, as defeat would see Armagh, Galway and Meath eliminated much earlier than last year while Tyrone would go out at the same stage as in 2014.
How will they react to the trauma of the defeat by Westmeath in such dramatic circumstances? The response has to be positive if even more extensive damage is to be avoided.
It's very unusual - if not unprecedented - for a team that scored 2-19 and 2-18 in successive provincial Championship games to find themselves in the qualifiers.
But then, Meath's problems have been at the other end where they conceded a total of 6-31 against Wicklow and Westmeath.
Tyrone's strike rate hasn't been especially high in League or Championship this year, but they will relish having a go off this Meath defence.
To reach quarter-finals: 6/1
Their performance against Donegal in the Ulster first round was quite good, and while it left them a long way from the All-Ireland quarter-finals, the qualifier route has been very productive for them in the past.
Healy Park hasn't always been as advantageous as it might, but this is an ideal time to have a home game against opposition whose confidence has been damaged.
However, Meath have a high scoring capacity, which always given them a chance and makes their 5/2 odds look quite attractive.
To reach quarter-finals: 15/8
Cutting the margin between themselves and Mayo from 17 to seven to four points over three seasons represents progress of a kind, but it needs to be backed up by headway in the qualifiers.
Galway haven't won an away qualifier tie since beating Wicklow in Aughrim in 2001, which was also the last year they won the All-Ireland title.
They are a long way from repeating that feat, but even reaching the quarter-final, which they achieved last year, would be satisfactory. They will need to get everything right on Saturday to keep that ambition afloat.
To reach quarter-finals: 5/1
They reached last year's All-Ireland quarter-finals, via the qualifiers, so that has to be the minimum target.
After the collapse against Donegal, they needed a favourable draw in the qualifiers, which they got when paired with Wicklow in the Athletic Grounds. Even then, they were unimpressive for a long time against a team that was ranked 31 of 32 in the League.
A win on Saturday would kickstart their season, but defeat would suggest that the McGeeney project has a very long way to go.
To reach quarter-finals: 5/2