Beaten Ulster, Leinster finalists draw six-day turnaround short straw
DESPITE a vote for change by a three-fifths majority at Congress last April, two beaten provincial football finalists will be subjected to six-day torture again next year.
The Ulster runners-ups will face the 'week of death' turnaround between the provincial final and Round 4 qualifiers for a fourth successive year and will be joined by their Leinster counterparts, who replace Connacht on the rota.
The Ulster and Leinster finals are scheduled for July 22, six days before the Round 4 qualifiers which feature beaten provincial finalists against Round 3 winners. Dublin (2001) are the only county to have won a Round 4 qualifier the weekend after losing a provincial final, while 12 others have lost.
Those stark statistics underline just how difficult it is for beaten provincial finalists to relaunch their season six days later, a reality accepted by a 60pc Congress majority, who supported a call for a minimum 13-day break. However, the motion was defeated as it required a two-thirds majority.
Monaghan were six-day victims after losing the 2010 Ulster final and argued it was most unfair on players to force them into qualifier action so soon against a team that had built up a winning momentum.
Even without the required two-thirds majority, it was thought that the fixture planners would react to the wishes of so many and devise a method of changing the schedule to allow for a 13-day gap this year but that hasn't happened.
It means, based on precedent, the beaten Leinster and Ulster finalists have no real chance of advancing in the championship in 2012 and brings into question the value of reaching a provincial decider.
Derry became the latest six-day victims this year, losing to Kildare on the Saturday after being beaten by Donegal in the Ulster final. Connacht runners-up Roscommon were also due to play in six days, but got an extra week because the drawn Armagh-Wicklow game delayed a section of the qualifiers.
The Connacht final will be played on July 15 next year, ensuring a 13-day break for their runners-up, while the Munster final is on July 8.
It was thought the rota would be changed to give the Ulster runners-up a break, but it wasn't deemed possible because they stretch their championship over such a lengthy period. It's also policy to have all four football quarter-finals played by the first weekend in August.
It means that the Ulster runners-up will now face the same challenge as Derry (2011), Monaghan (2010) and Antrim (2009), all of whom lost qualifiers a week later.
The change in the rota will be bad news for some Leinster county, as it will face the quick turnaround, a fate not visited on their predecessors for the past three years, as the final was played on the second Sunday in July. Munster are usually the first to stage their football final and their beaten finalists will again have a three-week break before the Round 4 qualifiers next year. However, it's expected that Munster will have to take their turn on the quick turnaround in 2013.
Counties were guaranteed a 13-day minimum break between losing provincial finals and the qualifiers between 2005 and 2008, but a tighter schedule was reintroduced in 2009 in order to have the All-Ireland qualifiers completed by the first weekend in August.
No provincial final will be played on the first Sunday in July next year. Instead, they will start a week later, which means the last two to be completed (Leinster and Ulster) face the daunting six-day challenge.
July--September schedule, 2012
July 1: Leinster (2) & Ulster (1) SF semi-finals.
July 7: SH qualifiers Phase 2
July 8: Munster SF & Leinster SH finals
July 14: SF qualifiers R2; SH qualifiers Phase 3
July 15: Connacht SF & Munster SH finals
July 21: SF qualifiers R3
July 22: Leinster & Ulster SF finals
July 28: SF qualifiers R4
July 29: All-Ireland SH quarter-finals
Aug 4/5/6: All-Ireland SF quarter-finals
Aug 12: All-Ireland SH semi-final, Leinster v qualifier
Aug 19: All-Ireland SH semi-final, Munster v qualifier
Aug 26: All-Ireland SF semi-finals, Ulster v Munster
Sept 2: All-Ireland SF semi-final, Connacht v Leinster
Sept 9: All-Ireland SH final
Sept 23: All-Ireland SF final.