The reality of this weekend’s Leinster Football first round games is that they are not remotely considered relevant to the All Ireland Championship. This is not meant to be an insult to the six competing countries, but a statement of fact.
The same applies to the Longford-Westmeath quarter-finals next weekend. With the exception of Louth, for whom promotion to Division 2 guarantees a place in qualifiers should they lose at Leinster, the Tailteann Cup will almost certainly become the new destination for the rest fairly quickly.
Barring a major turnaround – and the Allianz League hasn’t suggested that – Offaly, Laois, Westmeath, Longford, Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford will all be in the Tailteann Cup.
That’s seven Leinster teams in the new competition’s inaugural year.
The only way to avoid the second-rate event for districts in the bottom two divisions is to reach a provincial finals, a feat that seems far beyond the capabilities of the aforementioned teams.
Offaly have good reason to be offended. They finished second to bottom in Division 2 (15th in the 32-county rankings) but are considered less worthy of a spot in the All-Ireland qualifier than Louth, who finished 17th as the Division 3 champion located.
Offaly competed in a much tougher group than Louth but it doesn’t count for ‘backdoor’ qualification. A fairer system would be for Offaly (or other teams in a similar position in the future) to play in the qualifiers in the year they were relegated from Division 2, with the promoted Division 3 teams having their chance in the following season would receive.
There is another anomaly. If Louth loses to Carlow, they will still face off in qualifiers.
However, if Carlow beat Louth tomorrow and Kildare next weekend, they would not qualify unless they made it to the final. In fact, league placements in Division 3 would trump two wins in the provincial championship – one against Division 1 opponents.
For now, all six of the first round contestants will forget about the future and instead focus on winning their opening matches. This has proved very difficult for some of them in recent years.
Wexford’s win over Wicklow last year was the first at Leinster since 2014; Carlow has lost its first game in each of the last three years: Offaly started successfully in 2021 and 2020 but had only won a first-round tie against Leinster between 2007 and 2019.
Their rate of progress was hurt in the last league, where they were unlucky to lose to Cork in the last round head-to-head competition that decided who would join Down in relegation to Division 3.
Still, they could be encouraged by some of their performances in a hard-fought group.
Laois lost to Longford in a similar last-round shootout to send them through the Division 3 trapdoor. They have previously beaten Louth and led Limerick to a point, but this pair’s greater consistency saw them earn the promotion spots.
Louth, buoyant after advancing from Division 4 to Division 2 in back-to-back circumstances, is convinced Mickey Harte is building something substantial.
He may be, but they’d probably be even better off in the Tailteann Cup this year, where they’d have a good shot at their second trophy of the season.
The start of the Championship always creates excitement, even in districts with little chance of making much progress, but more broadly there is concern as to why so many Leinster districts are below the last 16.
Indeed, all 11 (Kilkenny does not compete) will play in Division 2 (Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Louth), Division 3 (Offaly, Westmeath, Longford) and Division 4 (Laois, Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford) next year.
Not having a Division 1 team is disappointing enough, but having seven in Divisions 3 and 4 suggests something is seriously wrong.
It’s a long way from 1995 to 2010, when Meath won two All-Ireland titles, Dublin one; Offaly won a Leinster and League title (Division 1); Kildare won two Leinster titles; Westmeath won the Leinster title for the first time; Laois ended a 57-year wait for provincial honors; Wexford reached a league final (Division 1) and an All-Ireland semi-final; Louth reached a Leinster final and Wicklow reached the last 12 in the All-Ireland race with victories over Cavan, Down and Fermanagh.
Dublin is the only Leinster county that has really thrived in the last 12 years. For many of the others, it was a case of serious decline.
That’s quite an indictment on Ireland’s largest province.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/leinsters-decline-a-big-concern-as-tailteann-cup-beckons-for-seven-counties-41579292.html Leinster’s decline is a major concern with seven counties in the Tailteann Cup