Martin Breheny: Seconds out, round 2
Every team involved in this weekend’s qualifiers has lost one match but, according to the first manager to win the All-Ireland through the back door, this can be the perfect time to launch a Sam Maguire challenge
CROKE Park on All-Ireland final day may look a long way off for teams heading into Round 2 of the football qualifiers on Saturday but, according to the first manager to crack the 'back door' code, it can be a very good starting point from which to launch a major campaign.
John O'Mahony presided over Galway's regeneration in 2001 as they recovered from losing the Connacht semi-final to Roscommon to win six successive games, culminating in an All-Ireland triumph.
"Round 2 is a great place to come in if a squad has had a decent period to re-charge the batteries after losing a provincial semi-final. It's certainly far better than trying to lift yourselves in Round 4 after losing a provincial final," he said.
Both eventual winners Cork and runners-up Down re-entered the All-Ireland championship via Round 2 last year and built up an impressive momentum as they overpowered all challengers en route to the final.
Kerry reached the final from Round 2 in 2002 but lost by a point to Armagh. Tyrone, who won the '08 title, started from Round 1 but, in real terms, it was at the same stage as this weekend's contenders as there were only three qualifier rounds in '07 and '08 due to the exclusion of Division 4 counties.
Armagh advanced all the way from Round 1 of the qualifiers to the All-Ireland final in '03, but lost to Tyrone in controversial circumstances.
Eight beaten provincial semi-finalists begin their qualifier effort on Saturday against teams who have won a first-round game which, according to O'Mahony, is the first psychological block that must be overcome.
"Players always feel better about themselves going into a game off a win. But if beaten provincial semi-finalists have a good break and get a reasonable draw they can overcome that drawback. In 2001, Galway had nearly four weeks to prepare for Round 2, which worked very much to our advantage," he said.
"We took 10 days off to get rid of all the negativity and confront whatever issues needed to be addressed. The players were taking a lot of criticism but once we got back to training, we were able to re-focus and see it as a new season.
"We were still a bit vulnerable heading to Aughrim to take on Wicklow in our first qualifier game, but once we won there, we were ready to step up things considerably which we did against Armagh a week later.
"That's the great thing about the qualifiers -- once you get a win or two, you get a whole new momentum."
O'Mahony saw the other side of the qualifier coin last year when Mayo were beaten by Longford in Round 1.
"You're vulnerable in your first game and, unfortunately for us last year, we didn't perform. I felt that if we had got over Longford, we would have a right good chance against Down, who went on to reach the All-Ireland final," he said.
He believes that Meath, who play Galway, could be best placed of all to launch a major drive from Round 2 this year.
"They will have taken great confidence from scoring five goals in the win over Louth. They have home advantage against Galway. Given my Galway connections, I'd be hoping I'm wrong but Meath look well placed for a decent run in the qualifiers," he said.
Kildare are also highly rated after using the qualifiers so efficiently in recent years, but O'Mahony has reservations about whether they will do as well this year.
"They have the talent but after putting in such a huge effort in Leinster, it remains to be seen how they react now. Laois-Kildare games are always unpredictable and Laois have home advantage. If Kildare survive this, they could have a very good run, but it's a very tricky one for them," he observed.
The draw for Round 3 will take place on Sunday evening and while nobody will admit it ahead of Saturday's games, the winners of Meath/Galway, Laois/Kildare, Armagh/Wicklow, Down/Leitrim, Tyrone/Longford will be hoping to be paired against London/Waterford or Antrim/Carlow, with Limerick/Offaly as the third choice.