PARNELL Park is emerging as the most likely venue for the most dramatic draw in the 11-year history of qualifiers after Meath and Louth were paired together in the first round last night.
Louth's shock defeat to Carlow in the Leinster quarter-final was only sinking in when news came through that they would face Meath in the first round of the qualifiers next Saturday week (June 25).
You couldn't have made it up as the replay that never happened last season was inadvertently drawn. It's a draw that Meath may privately have liked to have avoided after the controversy that erupted in the wake of their Leinster final win, courtesy of a Joe Sheridan goal that should never have been allowed. That denied Louth a first Leinster title in 53 years and left a bitter taste.
The GAA and are expected to announce their decision on a venue today. Croke Park, the venue for last year's dramatic events, will also be on the shortlist for a fixture that could comfortably attract in excess of 20,000 with the prospect of a double header a consideration.
The pitch is being relaid next week but that shouldn't prevent a Saturday night game going ahead. But the costs of staging a game there may be prohibitive for Louth who have the choice of venue and would reap up to 10 per cent of any gate. RTE are likely to want to show the match live and with Monaghan, Cavan and Down all involved in qualifiers, and Dublin and Kildare playing the next day a Saturday night fixture may not suit.
Louth's ground in Drogheda has one of the smallest capacities of any county ground -- it was reduced to just 4,500 on health and safety grounds for the visit of Tyrone for a 2008 first-round qualifier -- and can't accommodate the crowd that is likely to want to see this one.
Navan is normally Louth's choice of venue when capacity issues arise and only last year they had a memorable win there against Kildare. But, after Meath's decision not to offer a replay last year, would Louth County Board wish to concede home advantage? Louth could elect to use Pairc Esler in Newry which would suit their fans in the northern end of the county.
The other seven fixtures pale into insignificance by comparison. Down have a quick chance to refloat their championship ambitions with a trip to Clare, while there will be plenty of local rivalry when Cavan take on an improving Longford. Westmeath were drawn at home initially but, because of the stipulation whereby counties who played away first in last year's qualifier have home advantage, Antrim will host the game.
SFC QUALIFIER draw
Clare v Down
Laois v Tipperary
Antrim v Westmeath
Louth v Meath
London v Fermanagh
Cavan v Longford
Wicklow v Sligo
Offaly v Monaghan