Saturday 3 December 2016

Minority rule as big guns tighten grip in provinces

Concentration of power in last decade means most counties now rank outsiders

Published 07/05/2015 | 02:30

Dublin football boss Jim Gavin with Denis Bastick, right, and hurler Johnny McCaffrey, left, at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships in Farmleigh House
Dublin football boss Jim Gavin with Denis Bastick, right, and hurler Johnny McCaffrey, left, at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships in Farmleigh House

The number of realistic contenders for provincial football honours continues to fall everywhere except Ulster, where competition remains as fierce as ever.

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It's very different in Leinster, Munster and Connacht, all three of which have odds-on favourites to win the titles this year.

A comparison between pre-championships 2005 and this year shows that 22 of the 32 competing counties are priced at longer odds now than a decade ago.

In several cases - especially in Leinster - the difference is substantial.

It points to an ever-tightening grip by a minority, a situation that seems unlikely to change in the short term, at least.

And while the qualifiers offer all losing teams in the provinces a second chance in the race for Sam Maguire, progressing in the provincial championships remains the big ambition for many counties.

However, it's a far more forlorn hope that it was 10 years ago.

LEINSTER

Odds 2015/2005 (latter in brackets): Dublin 1/6 (15/8); Meath 13/2 (11/2); Kildare 14/1 (8/1); Laois 33/1 (11/4); Westmeath 50/1 (6/1); Wexford 50/1 (8/1); Louth 150/1 (100/1); Wicklow 200/1 (100/1); Longford 250/1 (50/1); Offaly 250/1 (10/1); Carlow 1000/1 (750/1).

Ten years ago, seven of the 11 competing counties were priced at 10/1 or lower; now only two (Dublin, Meath) are.

The difference in the Leinster landscape over the last decade could scarcely be any greater if a nuclear bomb had hit the province.

Westmeath started 2005 as Leinster champions, having succeeded Laois.

Wexford and Offaly were also regarded as serious contenders, while Meath and Kildare would always be expected to make an impression.

Despite losing to Westmeath in 2004, Dublin were favourites a year later, a status they lived up to on the start of a remarkable provincial run.

However, unlike recent seasons when they won games quite easily they were tested by Meath (1-12 to 1-10), Wexford (1-17 to 2-10) and Laois (0-14 to 0-13). That contrasts with Dublin's average winning margin of 14 points in six games over the last two years.

MUNSTER

Odds 2015/2005: Kerry 1/2 (4/7); Cork 15/8 (2/1); Tipperary 16/1 (80/1); Clare 50/1 (14/1); Limerick 150/1 (9/2); Waterford 250/1 (150/1)

The really significant change involves Limerick, who were regarded as genuine contenders a decade ago. That arose from their solid progress over previous seasons, which peaked in 2004, when they were very unlucky not to win the Munster title.

They drew with Kerry in the final, but lost the replay by four points, having run Armagh to two points in the Allianz League (Division 1) semi-final earlier in the year.

CONNACHT

Odds 2015-2005: Mayo 5/6 (1/1); Galway 9/4 (5/4); Roscommon 3/1 (8/1); Sligo 14/1 (10/1); Leitrim 150/1 (33/1); London 150/1 (125/1)

Mayo started 2005 as champions, but had won only one title between 1998 and 2003, unlike this year when they are seeking a fifth successive crown.

Galway were much more advanced 10 years ago, having won two All-Ireland and four Connacht titles in 1998-2003. Now, they find themselves chasing their first provincial crown since 2008, the longest barren spell since 1987-1995.

Roscommon are higher-ranked in the betting now than a decade ago. That's despite them having reached Round 4 of the 2004 qualifiers where they lost by four points to Dublin.

Sligo and Leitrim had better provincial credentials ten years now than now. That's despite Sligo having a bye directly to the semi-final this year, where they will play Roscommon or London.

ULSTER

Odds 2015-2005: Monaghan 9/4 (40/1); Donegal 7/2 (13/2); Armagh 9/2 (11/4); Derry 13/2 (6/1); Cavan 15/2 (9/1); Tyrone 9/1 (5/4); Down 10/1 (9/1); Fermanagh 20/1/ (10/1); Antrim 40/1 (50/1)

Monaghan are the big positive movers, but then it was all very different in 2005 when they went into the championship with memories of a 15-point defeat by Armagh in the 2004 Ulster quarter-final and a first-round qualifier defeat by Longford.

They are in a different world now as Ulster favourites. That's influenced by being on the opposite side of the draw to Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Derry and Down.

Still, there's no question that they are miles ahead of a decade ago.

Donegal are better too but Tyrone and Armagh have slipped back. Indeed, it has been a long time since Tyrone started the campaign as sixth favourites.

Armagh were reigning Ulster champions 10 years ago and went on to win the next two titles, clinching the treble in 2006.

Fermanagh, who made good progress when winning promotion this year, are still a long way short of where they were a decade ago, having reached the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final for the first time, losing to Mayo by two points in a replay.

Irish Independent

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