Mayo the envy of Ireland after draw throws up easy passage to last 12
MAYO footballers have been handed the most accommodating schedule of all the contenders for next year's All-Ireland SFC, with the opposition, venue and timing all fitting neatly in a package which will leave them the envy of their rivals nationwide.
Having received a bye into the Connacht semi-finals, where they will play either Leitrim or London, they will also have home advantage in Castlebar and won't begin their campaign until June 24.
That's seven weeks after neighbours Sligo begin theirs and five weeks after Galway, Roscommon, Tipperary, Kerry, Louth, Westmeath, Longford, Laois, Cavan, Donegal, Limerick and Waterford have their first outings.
Unsurprisingly, Mayo have been installed 8/13 favourites to retain the Connacht title and are fifth favourites at 14/1 for the All-Ireland title behind Kerry (5/2), Dublin (3/1), Cork (7/2) and Kildare (14/1).
If, as expected, Leitrim beat London, Mayo will have home advantage against a county that has never beaten them in the championship in Castlebar. It leaves Mayo in the happy position of knowing that a win over Division 4 opposition at home in their first game will guarantee them a place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland race, irrespective of how they fare in the Connacht final.
Mayo's position is in marked contrast to Ulster champions Donegal, who begin the defence of their title away to Cavan on May 20. They have to beat Cavan and Derry to reach the same stage in Ulster as the draw automatically bestows on Mayo in Connacht. And, if Donegal reach the Ulster semi-final, they will face Armagh or Tyrone -- vastly superior to Leitrim or London.
It again brings into question the fairness of the provincial system, especially since it's linked so closely to the All-Ireland qualifiers, where a team's entry level is decided by their departure point from the provincial championship.
PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS 2012: WEEK-BY-WEEK GUIDE
May 6 (Sun) -- Connacht SF (quarter-final): New York v Sligo, Gaelic Park.
May 20 (Sun) -- Connacht SF (quarter-final): Roscommon v Galway, Dr Hyde Park; Munster SF (quarter-finals): Limerick v Waterford, Gaelic Grounds; Tipperary v Kerry, Thurles; Leinster SF (1st rd): Louth v Westmeath, Navan; Longford v Laois, Longford; Ulster SF (preliminary round): Cavan v Donegal, Kingspan Breffni Park.
May 27 (Sun) -- Leinster SF (1st rd): Meath v Wicklow, Carlow; Ulster SF (quarter-final): Monaghan v Antrim, Clones;
June 3 (Sun) -- Connacht SF (quarter-final): London v Leitrim, Ruislip; Leinster SF (quarter-finals): Dublin v Louth/Westmeath; Wexford v Longford/Laois, Croke Park; Ulster SF (quarter-final): Fermanagh v Down, Enniskillen.
June 9 (Sat) -- Connacht SF (semi-final): Roscommon/Galway v New York/Sligo, Markievicz Park or Pearse Stadium; Munster SF (semi-final): Clare v Waterford/Limerick, Ennis or Gaelic Grounds.
June 10 (Sun) -- Munster SF (semi-final): Cork v Kerry/Tipperary, Pairc Ui Chaoimh; Leinster SF (quarter-final): Carlow v Meath/Wicklow, Tullamore or Wexford Park; Ulster SF (quarter-final): Armagh v Tyrone, Morgan Athletic Grounds;
June 16 (Sat) -- Leinster SF (quarter-final): Offaly v Kildare, Portlaoise.
June 17 (Sun) -- Ulster SF (quarter-final): Derry v Cavan/Donegal.
June 24 (Sun) -- Connacht SF (semi-final): Mayo v London/Leitrim, Castlebar; Ulster SF (semi-final): Fermanagh/Down v Monaghan/Antrim.
June 30 (Sat) -- Ulster SF (semi-final): Armagh/Tyrone v Derry/Cavan/Donegal.
July 1 (Sun) -- Leinster SF (semi-finals): Westmeath/Louth/Dublin v Meath/Wicklow/Carlow/Offaly/Kildare, Croke Park.
July 8 (Sun) -- Munster SF final.
July 15 (Sun) -- Connacht SF final.
July 22 (Sun) -- Leinster SF final, Croke Park. Ulster SF final.
May 19 (Sat) -- Leinster SH (preliminary round): Westmeath v Antrim, Mullingar; Carlow v Laois, Carlow.
May 27 (Sun) -- Munster SH (quarter-final): Tipperary v Limerick, Thurles.
June 2 (Sat) -- Leinster SH (quarter-finals): Dublin v Laois/Carlow; Offaly v Wexford, both in Tullamore;
June 3 (Sun) -- Leinster SH (quarter-final): Galway v Antrim/Westmeath, Mullingar.
June 17 (Sun) -- Munster SH (semi-final): Clare v Waterford, Thurles; Leinster SH (semi-final): Antrim/Galway/Westmeath v Offaly/Wexford, Portlaoise.
June 23 (Sat) -- Leinster SH (semi-final): Kilkenny v Dublin/Carlow/Laois, Portlaoise.
June 24 (Sun) -- Munster SH (semi-final): Cork v Tipperary/Limerick, Pairc Ui Chaoimh or Gaelic Grounds.
July 8 (Sun) -- Leinster SH final, Croke Park.
July 15 (Sun) -- Munster SH final.