Meath's quality can make difference in winner-takes-all battle
The qualifiers have come around again and while the draw was exciting because of the Meath and Louth pairing, it's really only glossing over the fact that the current system isn't working.
The back door has taken the bite out of championship football, the spark that came with a provincial first-round game is gone and even though it was brought in to help the weaker counties, it's ended up suiting the stronger ones and the evidence is in the results. It's very hard now for any county to get a bit of momentum going. The feat of beating a top-tier team in the first round is diminished as there is a very real chance that you will meet them again if you progress to the final stages. Getting a run like Donegal or Derry got in the early 1990s isn't feasible anymore.
In some cases I believe managers planned a less direct route to the All-Ireland final to give their players a chance to rest and when managers are using the qualifiers to gain tactical advantage, that has to be a sign that the system isn't working.
I think they should get rid of the back door altogether and look to other competitions that operate successfully to find a new model. The Champions League seems to be a fair system and Schalke making the semi-final ahead of teams that are perceived to be better was especially encouraging.
But I have to say the draw this year has thrown up a real gem in Meath v Louth. It's the one fixture everyone wanted to see and it's really a winner-takes-all type of showdown. Meath started off very well against Kildare; they were well in the game for 50 minutes but the sending off really killed them.
They were just about to bring on Graham Geraghty, the crowd were reacting and the game looked set to turn on its head. They had to go back to the drawing board and the moment was lost.
However, I think that the lead up to the match had a negative effect on their preparation. They just weren't focused. Louth may have won Division Three but they lost to Carlow in one of the biggest shocks of the championship to date. But both teams will put all their troubles behind them for this game and for the next few days they will be thinking of nothing else. Louth having to relinquish their home advantage is a tough blow as that could have been useful if the game was tight at the end.
But, overall, Meath have more quality players around the park. Last year was a flash in the pan for Louth; they won't do better.
I want to congratulate the Limerick hurlers and Donal O'Grady on their performance last week. The second half of that match was as good a game of hurling as I ever saw. I lived in Limerick for a few years and know what a sporting place it is. It's great to see them back doing what they do best.
I also want to highlight the unfairness of Michael Murphy's red card. The Cavan player clearly made the most of any contact and there is no place for that carry-on in the game of football.
Sunday Indo Sport