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Wednesday 26 July 2017

Alternative Leinster - no silver lining

 

Jim Gavin
Jim Gavin

Welcome to the alternative Leinster football championship. A six-team, one-day blitz in May, long forgotten by the time of the Leinster final in mid-July.

For Louth, Wicklow, Laois, Longford, Carlow and Wexford, this Sunday is a significant date in their calendar. But is it more important than, say, gaining promotion or avoiding relegation in April?

Leaving aside partisan concerns, what happens on May 21 has little or no bearing on the ultimate destination of the Delaney Cup, never mind Sam.

The bookies have it about right when quoting Carlow at 500/1 to win Leinster, Wicklow and Wexford at 300/1, Louth at 200/1, Laois and Longford at 66/1. The elephant in the room? A certain Sky Blue behemoth, priced at 1/20 to complete a record seven-in-a-row.

Monopoly

Dublin's monopoly of the east is such that it is deemed unhealthy for the rest of Leinster and, at this stage, not particularly helpful to the Dubs either.

As things stand, Leinster can boast its most successful All-Ireland decade since the 1970s. Then it won five of the ten Sam Maguires on offer (Dublin following Offaly's early brace with three) whereas this decade is all about the Dubs, who have won four and will surely add to that over the next three summers.

Yet it's abundantly clear that the rest of Leinster is not pushing Dublin to such consistent heights. Jim Gavin obviously won't say so but he can use June and July to road-test a few wannabes and/or tactical ploys, safe in the knowledge that calamity cannot possibly befall them.

The double-digit stats don't lie. Since overcoming Meath by seven to claim the 2013 title, Dublin have won nine consecutive Leinster ties by a minimum of ten points stretching all the way to 27 points.

When you couple Dublin's provincial dominance (11 of the last 12 titles) with the Leinster Council's seeding system (the previous year's four semi-finalists are all guaranteed byes to the last-eight) you are left with even less chance of a May 'bolter' lifting silver in July.

The last time a team emerged from the first round to conquer Leinster was in 2010, when Meath overcame Offaly (routinely), Laois (in a replay), Dublin (in a five-goal flurry) and finally Louth (via grand larceny at the death).

Previous to that, you must go back to 2005 - the last time Dublin had to win four matches, starting against Longford, to land a provincial title. Then again, they only found themselves in the first round because they had been ambushed by Westmeath in '04.

Speaking of which, Westmeath's history-making run had also started in the first round, with a close, controversial victory over Offaly.

Back then, however, a Leinster team possessing a cohort of quality players and a proven boss (Páidí Ó Sé) could dream big. Now it's more a pipe-dream.

Carlow or Wexford, whoever emerges from Cullen Park, know they face a near-impossible task, even with the Dubs removed from their Croke Park stomping ground.

The winners of Louth and Wicklow in Parnell Park would relish a shot at Meath; the same goes for Laois and Longford, who face off in Portlaoise for the honour of tackling Kildare.

But while those four may spy a potential roadmap to the Leinster final, with Dublin on the other side, that surely is the extent of their ambition.

It can't be any other way, eclipsed as they all are by Dublin's shadow.

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