Frank Roche: 'History against seven distant pretenders to Dubs’ Leinster throne'
HOW has the provincial football championship been for you, then? Guess it depends on where you were at the weekend.
The giddy excitement in Cavan, followed by the edge-of-the-extra-time-seat in Newry, reinvigorated an Ulster SFC that has lost its minefield reputation in recent years.
But if you were in Markievicz Park, as this observer was, then you could have saved a trip and penned the script beforehand.
No insult intended to a young Sligo, whose application could not be faulted. Just a reminder that the gulf between Division 1 counties and the lower tiers has sapped most of the drama from our early provincial weekends.
You’ll always find an exception; but these outliers, by their very rarity, merely prove the general rule.
And so every double-digit defeat spawns another question for a minnow county manager about the merits of a two-tier championship. In his first season with Sligo, Paul Taylor has trimmed the chasm between them and Galway from 21 points (last year) to 13.
But, deep down, Taylor knows the status quo is not sustainable. Asked about a second tier SFC, he was non-committal on his own preference but admitted: “I feel it is something that is probably around the corner. My thoughts are that we would all like to be up there with the big teams but, at the moment, there are five or six teams that are probably going away from everybody else ... and it is probably getting more difficult.”
But if you think there’s a gulf between the best and rest in Connacht, then what of Leinster?
Taking 2005 as the start of Dublin’s monopolistic rule of the East, they have won 13 of the 14 Leinster SFC titles on offer. In the same period, the Connacht breakdown is Mayo seven, Galway four, Roscommon two and Sligo one.
Here’s another tell-tale sign ... once upon a recent time, the Leinster Council deemed Croke Park the only venue able to house Dublin’s colossal summer support. But diehard Dubs have learned to pick and choose their contests - by avoiding ones that aren’t.
So on Saturday, O’Moore Park (with a capacity of approximately 25,000, including 6,000 stand seats) gets the green light for a Leinster SFC double-header that includes Dublin and Louth as top billing.
Do the maths.
Speaking of numbers, there is another glaring impediment to hopes of a competitive Leinster SFC race any summer soon.
It’s not just that Dublin under Jim Gavin are so far ahead of the seven other provincial pretenders in quarter-final action this weekend ... it’s that those seven rival squads have such an impoverished Leinster history.
Bar the all-too-rare case studies of Ross Munnelly (that great Laois survivor from 2003) and Graham Reilly (a Meath veteran of 2010) these panels have no memory of what it’s like to lift the Delaney Cup.
Combine that with the disincentive that is Dublin’s domination, and it leaves you wondering who will have the mentality, let alone physicality and football, to go toe-to-toe with them?
Consider the other Leinster contenders: Meath’s last success was nine years ago; Westmeath’s first and only title was 15 years ago; Laois have been waiting 16 years; Kildare 19; Longford 51; Louth 62; Carlow 75.
Even those who’ve made a provincial decider in the Jim Gavin era can derive scant consolation, given that Meath’s last final resulted in a 16-point defeat (2014), Westmeath lost by 13 (2015) and 15 (2016), Kildare by nine (2017) and Laois by 18 (2018).