Sunday 30 April 2017

Walsh frustrated as provincial rota bias shackles runners-up

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

THE provincial football final championship rota that operated in 2009-2010 left the beaten finalists from Connacht and Ulster under a distinct disadvantage by comparison with their counterparts from Munster and Leinster.

Sligo and Monaghan head into Saturday's fourth-round qualifiers on a six-day turnaround, whereas Limerick had a 20-day break since losing in Munster, while Louth lost the Leinster final last Sunday week.

History is against beaten provincial finalists winning qualifier games six or seven days later, which won't be encouraging for Sligo and Monaghan as they prepare for the clashes with Down and Kildare respectively.

"Connacht was the first province to start its championships, yet it was joint last with Ulster to finish them. It's hard to understand why that was the case," said Sligo manager Kevin Walsh.

Dublin were the only beaten provincial finalists to win a qualifier tie a week later, and that was all of nine years ago, which was the first year of the new system.

Unfair

Since then, nine beaten finalists were eliminated in the qualifiers a week later. At the end of the 2004 season, it was deemed unfair and, over the next four years, runners-up were guaranteed a minimum 13-day break.

However, that was abandoned last year, leaving Galway and Antrim facing one-week turnarounds. They were beaten by Donegal and Kerry respectively.

It means there's a clear advantage in completing the provincial championships early but since the finals are fixed to facilitate TV coverage, two runners-up are left facing the one-week turnaround. Players from Connacht and Ulster counties will wonder why, for the second successive year, their provincial councils agreed to schedules that leave the runners-up at a disadvantage.

"Six days is a very short turnaround for players who have lost a provincial final. Lads are also carrying knocks, yet they only have six days to get right," said Walsh.

Kildare, who are the only survivors from Round 1 of the qualifiers, will be in action for a fifth successive weekend (they had a replay against Antrim), but history shows that teams who build momentum in the qualifiers are better equipped for a busy schedule than beaten provincial finalists.

Even provincial runners-up, who enjoy two and three-week breaks before the qualifiers, have fared badly over the years. In fact, of the 36 who tried to revive their All-Ireland ambitions after losing a provincial final since 2001, only 13 have won.

It suggests that losing a provincial final takes a lot out of teams, irrespective of how long the break. It's even more difficult when they're asked to return to action six or seven days later, as in the case of Sligo and Monaghan this week.

Irish Independent

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