Saturday 21 October 2017

Three games to save the provincial season

Paul Conroy, Galway, in action against Lee Keegan, left, and Colm Boyle, Mayo in the Connacht championship in May
Paul Conroy, Galway, in action against Lee Keegan, left, and Colm Boyle, Mayo in the Connacht championship in May
Diarmuid Connolly scores for Dublin in their easy win against Kildare
The scoreboard tells its own story as Kerry tear Waterford apart down in Munster
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WITH all but three of the 30 games completed, the 2013 provincial football championships need at least one major shock in the remaining provincial finals to avoid being the most forgettable campaign for many years.

And while only half of the All-Ireland qualifiers have been completed, they too need an urgent jolt of excitement to avoid being sucked down the predictability chute that has run through the provinces.

Football's slavish adherence to the status quo is in clear contrast to hurling's rebellious streak, which has seen several favourites chopped down already this season. London have emerged as the unlikely saviour on the provincial football circuit, defying the odds to beat Sligo and Leitrim (in a replay) to qualify for the Connacht final for the first time.

It's a thrilling adventure for the Exiles but reflects badly on the rest of the provincial series, which has been little more than a training ground for favourites.

Ulster has been the most competitive but still produced the final pairing that everybody expected. Almost inevitably, Kerry and Cork reached the Munster final; Dublin and Meath were popular fancies to reach the Leinster final, leaving the Mayo v London Connacht final as the only novel pairing.

There is a real probability that Mayo will complete their devastation of opposition forces, for in addition to being one of the top sides in the country for the past few seasons, they finished 28 places ahead of London in this year's league rankings. They will also have home advantage on Sunday week.

Leinster

Games: 9

Average winning margin: 8pts

Wins by 5 pts or more: 6

Wins by 10pts or more: 4

Older Meath war horses must be snorting with frustration when they see the current team quoted at even money to lose the final to Dublin by nine or more points. This after Meath hit Dublin for five goals in 2010 and lost by just three points in last year's Leinster final. Clearly, the view is that while Dublin have advanced, the Royals have slipped back.

Leinster needs a competitive final after four of the nine games to date were one-sided non-events, while only three were won by four or less points.

Adding to the predictability is the fact that Dublin are seeking their eighth win in nine seasons, a run interrupted by Meath in 2010. It's Dublin most successful run in Leinster championship history, which is good for them but bad for the province.

Munster

Games: 5

Average winning margin: 15pts

Wins by 9pts or more: 4

It ended up close between Cork and Kerry in Sunday's final but it won't be remembered as one of the classic finals. Kerry thrived in the first half when Cork were poor, whereas the reverse was true for a long period in the second half. The quarter and semi-finals were the most one-sided in championship history with the 'big two' whipping Limerick, Waterford, Clare and Tipperary by a combined total of 71 points.

Connacht

Games: 6

Average winning margin: 10pts

Wins by 9pts or more: 3

Sadly for the Connacht championship, Galway and Roscommon weren't even remotely competitive against Mayo. And while London's progress spiced up the campaign, it also suggested that Sligo and Leitrim had gone back on previous years.

Mayo are genuine All-Ireland contenders but it says a lot about the decline of Galway that they were beaten by 17 points in Pearse Stadium. It won't exactly boost ticket sales the next time Connacht's so-called big two meet in the championship. Connacht needs both Mayo and Galway going well, which is definitely not the case at present.

Mayo have a +26 points difference going into Sunday week's final – what odds they take it up to +40?

Ulster

Games: 7

Average winning margin: 4pts

Wins by 5pts or more: 3

Wins by less than 5 pts: 4

By far the most competitive of the provinces but the overall campaign has still been far from memorable. Surprisingly, the Donegal v Tyrone clash provided the biggest winning margin (6pts) and did not live up to its billing as one of the likely highlights of the summer.

The last four games, involving Monaghan (twice), Cavan (twice), Fermanagh, Antrim, Down and Donegal produced an average scoreline which is scarcely a monument to creativity: Winners: 12.3pts; Losers: 9.5pts.

Christopher McGuinness' strike for Monaghan in the semi-final win over Cavan was the only goal scored in those games.

All-Ireland qualifiers

(Round 1)

Games: 8

Average winning margin: 11 pts

Wins by 5 pts or more: 6

Wins by 10 pts or more: 4

Fermanagh's one-point win away to Westmeath was the best game from eight contests, as Tyrone and Armagh beat Offaly and Wicklow respectively by 22 and 25 points.

One-sided games dominated the entire round which also included Galway struggling to beat Tipperary. They won by four points, whereas Kerry beat Tipperary by 17 points in the Munster championship, which indicates how far Galway have fallen behind the top sides.

All-Ireland qualifiers

(Round 2)

Two close games (Tyrone v Roscommon and Galway v Waterford), a five-point win for Derry over Down and a Laois runaway against Clare.

None were especially memorable with probably the best pound-for-pound performance coming from Waterford, who came within a point of Galway who were 17 places ahead of them on the league tables and who have a much superior championship pedigree.

The four remaining Round 2 games are on next Saturday's programme, where a vast improvement on last weekend's fare is badly needed to inject much-needed energy into the qualifiers.

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