CONNACHT SFC SEMI-FINAL
LEITRIM v LONDON
(Carrick-on-Shannon, Tomorrow 3.30)
A FEW weeks back, the notion of London reaching a Connacht final would have seemed about as far-fetched as adopted Cockney Joe Kinnear riding back into Newcastle United, shooting from the lip in scattergun fashion and causing wholesale chaos on the Toon, writes Frank Roche.
Surreal or what? Well, at least one half of that equation. Truth is, just because London hadn't won a Connacht championship match since 1977 (against Leitrim!) was not sufficient evidence to pronounce that history could not repeat itself at some point.
They have been getting closer in recent years – Mayo required a desperate late rescue act to force extra-time two summers ago while, last year, Leitrim came from behind to pip London by a point. They also capitalised on Fermanagh's internal anarchy to scalp the Ernesiders in a 2011 qualifier.
Ergo, if you ignore their habitual tendency to prop up the league's basement division (especially since Kilkenny removed themselves from the firing line), it has been obvious that the emigrant-boosted Exiles have been getting ever-more competitive. That famous May ambush was within tantalising reach.
Then it duly arrived at hapless Sligo's expense.
Even though the woodwork gods were smiling on them, London deserved their moment in the Ruislip sun. Moreover, this was arguably the one year when such a momentous event genuinely opened up the possibility of ... reaching that elusive Connacht final.
Firstly, you had Mayo, Galway and Roscommon all on the other side of the draw. Then you had Leitrim, the province's one bona fide homegrown minnow, following up their New York cakewalk by shooting themselves in the foot.
We aren't of a mind to question the Leitrim management's decision to drop four players from the squad for "disciplinary breaches" – to do nothing could have had worse ramifications for the squad's dynamic and morale. However, such hardline calls have the potential to hurt Leitrim more than other counties with greater playing resources.
Wayne McKeon and Tomás Beirne started against New York (Beirne was Man of the Match); now they are gone.
To compound matters, they have lost corner-back Paddy Maguire to a dislocated ankle and wing-forward Gerry Hickey to a torn hamstring.
Remember, we are not talking Mayo but the same Leitrim who struggled past the Exiles by just one point last summer and by two points in their Carrick league encounter last April.
If all this suggests that Mission Improbable could happen tomorrow, you'd be right. But our own hunch is that home advantage, Emlyn Mulligan's unerring marksmanship and that old cliché, forewarned is forearmed, will swing the verdict.
ODDS: Leitrim 4/7, Draw 15/2, London 15/8)