WITH humble apologies to the wilfully forgotten of Leitrim and New York, the football championship starts this Sunday. These next few days are a tremulous time for the footballers of Galway, Mayo, Westmeath, Carlow, Cavan and Armagh; they will be drunk with anticipation (the real inebriation can wait) as they await their first salvo of summer, 2013.
The ambitious will be wondering if this will be their year. The underdogs will satisfy themselves with more constricted speculations on whether this will be their day.
Many of our heroes will fervently believe the hard work has been done. A minority will harbour private fears that the work is only half done and they are entering the bearpit on a wing and a prayer.
At least most players are prepared for this moment. Many fans are blissfully unaware about their team's true readiness for battle. Their mindset will be calibrated by old prejudices and bitter experience.
So what are they – the great unwashed – thinking as the clock counts down to next Sunday in Pearse Stadium, Cusack Park and Breffni Park? Here are a few clues...
1 You know the championship is here when nostrils are invaded by the alluring aroma of freshly cut grass.
2 You know that global warming has taken a perverse twist when you can't smell the grass because, well, winter is now a nine-month phenomenon and you can't cut something that has yet to start growing in the first place.
3 You know summer (minus the sun) has come when Mayo optimists who should know better greet each other on the street, not with the usual "Musha, how are we fixed for Sunday?" but with a grandiose "How are we fixed for September?"
4 You know summer has come when perennial green-and-red pessimists are already mulling over Mayo's dire back door record even before their front-door exploits have had a chance to go pear-shaped in Salthill.
5 You know the big picture landscape has changed irrevocably when Armagh are no longer talked about enviously as part of the Big Three and their younger fans have never even imbibed in the Big Tree.
6 You know May has arrived when RTé dusts down another nostalgia-fest feature on Cavan football – all black and white, mostly shot across the Atlantic – as the pre-match precursor to their latest elimination from Ulster.
7 You know summer has come when Carlow optimists are dreaming about a crock of silverware at the end of the rainbow.
8 You know the championship is here when sceptical scallion-eaters are angrily asking why isn't the first round of the club championship fixed for Sunday week?
9 You know summer is upon us when Westmeath Diehard inserts (for the thousandth time) his ruinously scratched DVD of Marooned, all as a blissful reminder of the maverick genius of Páidí and a tasty appetiser for when Dublin-vanquished history repeats itself on June 1.
10 You know summer is here when Carlow Diehard doesn't take mortal offence at the above presumption.
11 You know reality dawns when Westmeath Diehard follows up his viewing of Marooned by rewatching Nightmare On The Northside: 27, aka a repeat of the 2009 Leinster quarter-final. But only after the 9pm threshold.
12 You know summer is here and the GAA is back in all its idiosyncratic glory when a match ban suddenly becomes a time suspension that actually equates to a, wait for it, no-match ban...
(Editor: Can you smell the grass? More like weed!)