WHEN Colm Parkinson interviewed Cavan’s Dara McVeety on his ‘’ podcast in early February, Parkinson found himself having to break some bad news to his guest.
With Cavan beginning the league in Division 3, McVeety was unsure as to the long-term implications of even winning that division, which was their initial target, and what promotion might mean in the wider context of the overall championship.
“Our goal for the moment is to win the next few games and try and get into a position for promotion and then see …..if we win Division 3 have we a chance of getting into the Sam Maguire?
“No,” replied Parkinson.
“That shows how much I know,” said McVeety.
Parkinson continued to try and paint the bigger picture for McVeety, and where Cavan might eventually fit into it.
“If you get into the Ulster final, you get into the Sam Maguire,” said Parkinson. “I presume that would be yere route because Westmeath are guaranteed to get in as they won it (the Tailteann Cup last year) while Sligo, Leitrim, New York or London will get to the Connacht final. So they are the two teams that will join the 16.”
“Ok, I see,” said McVeety.
“I’m really sorry to be the one to break this to you,” said Parkinson.
“I was probably in denial about it,” he replied.
Most footballers are only focused on what is directly in front of them, whether that’s the next training session or next match, but the new football championship format was still always bound to cause confusion when there was so much complexity around the make-up of the new format when it was so closely linked to the league.
A result is always a result but it was easier to understand Cork’s elation at getting a draw against Derry with the final play of their last league game. Ian Maguire’s goal wasn’t exactly pretty but it moved Cork into fourth in Division 2, which guarantees their involvement in the Sam Maguire.
Cork would have finished in that position anyway even with a defeat to Derry as they would have edged in ahead of Kildare on a head-to-head, but they weren’t to know that in the moment as Kildare and Meath were playing in Newbridge at the same time.
Despite beating Cork in their first game and Clare in their second match, scoring seven goals in the process, only picking up one point from their last five games has now left Meath in a precarious position.
What makes it all even more infuriating for Meath in the meantime is that they won’t know for nearly another month, until all the provincial semi-finals have concluded.
On the other hand, at least Meath will be able to see how the whole picture is shaping up in a matter of weeks rather than months because all of the provincial championships will be wrapped up by mid-May.
That blitz format is one of the defining themes of the new championship structure, where teams will go into groups of four (in both the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup) by the third week in May. So the question some of the All-Ireland contenders may be asking is how sustainable is it to keep the foot pressed to the accelerator throughout the championship?
In thefootball podcast earlier in the week, the host Paul Rouse asked James Horan if he was still the Mayo manager would he prefer to have been in Croke Park last Sunday after winning a county, or Roscommon training in Hyde Park and getting ready for a huge championship clash? “Roscommon,” said Horan.
It was easy to see why Horan would have thought that was the more beneficial place to be. Roscommon can fully focus on Sunday whereas Mayo normal preparations early in the week would, Horan felt, naturally be a little off after the emotional and physical investment from the league final.
Although the new format is designed to be more equitable, that equity still only extends so far with the imbalance of the provincial championship. Mayo will have to beat Roscommon and Galway to reach a Connacht final. Kerry on the other hand, have to beat either Tipperary or Waterford to reach a provincial decider. While Mayo were dusting themselves down and getting ready for Roscommon this week, Kerry were on a warm-weather training camp. So were Galway.
There are still incentives for winning your province as it grants a first seeding in the round-robin, but how important is that in a four-team group where three teams qualify?
One of the chief concerns with the new All-Ireland system is the possibility of dead rubbers. On the other hand, three teams advancing is a provision that was inserted into the new format precisely to avoid dead rubbers.
After the placing are sorted, the team which tops the group will go straight to an All-Ireland quarter-final, with second having a home preliminary quarter-final and third playing an away preliminary quarter-final.
None of that stuff will happen for a while yet but the provincial championships kick off this weekend before the games start to come hot and heavy in the coming weeks. The blitz before the blitz in what will effectively be a blitz championship unlike any other.
Especially for the teams that keep winning.