Big three must battle to final
Dubs, Meath and Kildare on same side of Leinster draw
WORLD Cup boffins in a variety of codes are familiar with the chilling moniker, Group of Death, and now the Leinster senior football championship can boast the GAA equivalent - the Top Half of Terror.
Last night's championship draw for 2011 has thrown up the most lopsided looking Leinster SFC race in recent memory.
The aforementioned top half is top-heavy with all the usual heavyweight contenders, namely Dublin, Meath and Kildare, with 2003 champions Laois thrown in for good measure.
All of this surely constitutes good news for those in the bottom half, who will all quietly fancy their chances of reaching a provincial decider next July - whatever about winning one.
In this respect, the gods that mocked Louth in the guise of Joe Sheridan's match-winning 'goal' have now - belatedly - shone a ray of good fortune in the way of Peter Fitzpatrick's marauders.
Many pundits will have presumed that the current Louth generation will never get another chance to win a Leinster title, not after being pilfered at the death of this year's infamous decider. Those experts may be inclined to revise those predictions upwards, with Louth now facing a quarter-final opener against Carlow and then, presuming they advance, a semi-final against one of Wexford, Offaly or Westmeath.
The only safe prediction about the other half is that whoever emerges is likely to be (a) more battle-hardened and (b) raging hot favourites to claim the Delaney Cup.
Of the pre-race favourites, All-Ireland semi-finalists Kildare face the most hazardous route. First they must negotiate a preliminary round hurdle against Mick O'Dwyer's Wicklow - something they singularly failed to achieve in 2008, when Kieran McGeeney's first SFC foray proved the ultimate baptism of fire. On the presumption, though, that the Lilywhites prevail, they must then see off the reigning (aka official) Leinster champs Meath in what promises to be a mouth-watering repeat of this year's All-Ireland quarter-final. Whoever emerges from that duel will have little time to recover before a likely semi-final showdown with Dublin, who will be favoured to see off either Longford or, more likely, a Laois team under the stewardship of Justin McNulty.
Still, McNulty's knowledge of the capital scene could make for an intriguing collision should that Dublin/Laois fixture come to pass.
Among the other main talking points to emerge from last night's draw, Ulster predictably serves up a couple of potential early-summer firecrackers.
Tyrone and Monaghan will reprise this year's Ulster final at the quarter-final stage when the Farney men, albeit under new management, will be desperately keen to avenge last July's crushing defeat. The Armagh/Down quarter-final arguably holds even greater appeal, with Down hoping to build on this year's shock 'back door' run to the All-Ireland final but now facing one of their favourite sons, with Armagh managed by Down's 1991 All-Ireland winning skipper Paddy O'Rourke.
Down south, All-Ireland champions Cork and Kerry have been kept on opposite sides of the draw, fuelling the prospect of a first Munster final between the pair since 2008.
Out west, Mayo and Galway teams under new management look poised to meet - but not at the Connacht final stage. Presuming James Horan's Mayo ease past London, they will face Tomás ó Flatharta's Galway in a semi-final. The other semi-final will be a repeat of this year's Roscommon/Sligo decider, on the proviso that they overcome New York and Leitrim respectively.