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'Back door' remains shut for counties it was supposed to help


Mick O'Dwyer

Mick O'Dwyer

Mick O'Dwyer

With the 'back door' due to re-open for business in the All-Ireland football championships this weekend, figures reveal that it has been much less accommodating than originally anticipated for several counties.

Leitrim, London and Waterford have had only one qualifier win each since the new system was introduced in 2001. Clare (3), Carlow (3), Antrim (4) have had only had 10 wins between them, while Wicklow, Tipperary and Offaly have had six each.

Those counties make up the bottom nine on the qualifier wins table, returning a disappointing total of 31 victories between them in 13 seasons. Despite being in place since 2001, the All-Ireland football qualifiers have not provided the expected boost for several counties.

And since four (Wicklow v Offaly and Carlow v Waterford) have been drawn against each other in the first round this year, two of them will improve their return, but it also guarantees that the other two teams will remain on their current low standing.

Meanwhile, the outlook for Leitrim, who enjoyed their only qualifier success when beating Wicklow two years ago, looks grim as they will be 'away' to Down in Newry next Saturday week.

London (one win) face Limerick in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday. Antrim face Donegal in the Ulster semi-final on Sunday and will join the qualifiers in the second round if, as expected, they lose.

Wicklow have had only six wins in the qualifiers, but three of those were in the same season (2009) when they embarked on a winning run under Mick O'Dwyer, which took them to the fourth round after beating Fermanagh, Cavan and Down in Aughrim.

It was Wicklow's most exciting summer in championship history, leading all the way to the last week in July, before losing to Kildare.

Unfortunately, that type of run by so-called weaker counties has been rare in the qualifiers, which have been dominated by stronger forces who are upended in the provinces.

Offering every county a minimum of two championship games was the main target when the straight knock-out championship was abandoned after the 2000 season and while it has achieved that, questions are now arising as to whether it remains fit for purpose.

The Football Review Committee proposed no alterations to the qualifiers when they deliberated last year, but they did recommend tweaking the provincial structures to balance all four into groups of eight. The qualifier format has been adjusted this year to make for a more streamlined fixtures' programme, but the basic framework remains in place.

At the top end of the market, Kerry remain the only county with a 100pc record in the qualifiers, while Dublin have lost only one.

Both have had a low exposure to the qualifiers, though, having been so successful in their provincial championships.

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