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League is still tops for rousing Rebels, Dubs slumps and hissy Fitz

WE'RE in the home straight now - over the next two weekends, a variety of league baubles will be divvied out to the movers and shakers of spring 2012. But what have we learned in getting here? And will it make a blind bit of difference come September? Questions, questions ...

Q1: Can humble, unheralded Cork challenge the 'Big Two' in this year's hurling championship?

A1: Based on their campaign thus far, yes. They have the precocity of luminous youth, epitomised by one Conor Lehane. They now have a manager in JBM who doubles as Leeside legend and proven All-Ireland winner. Time and again they have turned potential defeats into thrilling victories.

They've already given Tipp plenty to think about should a Munster battle resume in June ... oh, and they are Cork, one of very few counties able to mount a serious challenge from nowhere. But what's this about humble?

Q2: In a word, why mightn't Cork go all the way in May and/or September?

A2: Kilkenny.

Q3: Exactly 12 months ago, Dublin had qualified for league finals in both football and hurling. What in the name of Gilroy has gone wrong?

A3: The footballers had the temerity to win Sam Maguire. Whether that explains their underwhelming league is a moot point - their disciplinary woes, occasional lack of intensity and not-inconsiderable injury list conspired against making the generous semi-final cut-off.

Still, they've earned some breathing space as Pat Gilroy attempts to become the first football manager since Billy Morgan in 1990 to mastermind back-to-back All-Irelands (Kerry having swopped bosses for 2007).

Q4: And the Dublin hurlers?

A4: From revolution to relegation in 12 months. They ended last year's league on a 12-point final high against Kilkenny -- and ended this year's on a 14-point low against Galway.

Q5: Has the 'Dalo' bubble burst?

A5: Steady on there! They've actually played quite well for much of this ultra-competitive league. They could have the unique luxury of being full strength come championship.

And maybe, just maybe (with apologies to Laois or Carlow) facing Kilkenny in a Leinster semi-final away from Croke Park offers their best/only chance of toppling the Cats.

Q6: Where would that semi take place?

A6: Costa del Portlaoise - one hopes there is rather more grass and less of the sand that contributed to all the player bunching and bungled stickwork last Saturday. Otherwise, some losing manager will have cause to throw a 'Davy Fitz' next June.

Q7: What exactly is a 'Davy Fitz'?

A7: Your typical post-match debriefing with the Clare hurling manager. There's no 'I' in team? Perhaps, but there is definitely one 'i' in Davy Fitz. Not that we're complaining: he's a godsend for GAA hacks on a slow news day.

Q8: If you're a GAA boss, where's the world's most dangerous place this side of Damascus?

A8: NFL Division Three. Just ask John Evans, Gerry Cooney and Val Andrews (who didn't even relegate Cavan). The very thought of entering this battlefield prompted civil war in Meath.

Q9: The baliffs are knocking at your door. What should you do?

A9: Put your last euro on Mayo. Last summer, they were 5/1 outsiders against Cork. Nine days ago, they were 3/1 upstarts against Kerry. Looking to Sunday's top-flight final, Boylesports must be having second thoughts because Mayo are 'only' 15/8 to ambush Cork.

Q10: One reason why league semi-finals were a bad idea?

A10: We'll give you 26,766 reasons ... that's the total attendance that watched the footballers of Mayo, Kerry, Cork and Down (a paltry 11,342) plus the hurlers of Clare, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork (15,424) over the past two Sundays. Enough said.


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