Curve Ball: Pinkeens love sinking with sharks
THE heavyweights climb into the ring this weekend. Kerry. Mayo. Cork (well, more like a light-heavy with a glass chin, but you get our drift).
All starting out in the race for that famous old cannister. Chances are, at least one of them will make it to September.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, our summer minnows flop haplessly in the deep end. Provincial pinkeens forever sinking. They play it again for Sam and yet they don't. Gatecrashers at what's meant to be their own party.
Hence, every time they are mutilated in May or ruined in June by one of the big powers, we hear plaintive cries for 'Championship Reform'.
It simply has to happen - in the interests of fair play and level playing fields; in one last-ditch attempt to prevent nationwide narcolepsy; and because, if we didn't have something to bitch about, what would we do?
Now, here's why it won't happen ...
1 If county boards in the minnow ranks were offered a 'B' championship alternative, most would run a mile.
"This is all very well for you with your fat-cat sponsor," they will protest, "but our county team might end up playing until September ... and how would we pay all the mileage, and the manager, and his masseuse? More to the point, we'd never get to play the county final on the second Sunday in September. Sacrilege!"
2 Because some counties actually relish their whipping boy status. They wear it as a sadomasochistic badge of honour.
They are the first cousin of the 107 clubs who all claim to reside in the smallest parish in Ireland, picking their entire team - and sub, because it's never plural - from three houses.
They used to have a pub, but even that closed once people discovered the stay-at-home alternative of cheap Aldi beer.
3 Because the current system also happens to suit the superpowers. Most of the time, they'll cruise through their province - on autopilot, in the case of Dublin under Captain Jim.
On the off-chance that provincial ignominy occurs, the 'back door' system is the perfect pick-me-up if you have the playing resources to regroup without half of your panel doing a runner to the Bronx.
The only counties to claim Sam via the scenic qualifier route have been Galway (in 2001), Tyrone (in '05 and '08), Kerry (in '06 and '09) and Cork (in '10). Not a pinkeen to be seen ... not even Galway!
4 The recent thrill-a-minute hurling championships have underlined the benefits of a tiered competitive structure.
This year's race for Liam MacCarthy was confined to 13 counties, nine of whom would have started out harbouring some vague notion that they were possible contenders.
Meanwhile, the small ball minnows have their own cups with the carrot of progression - whereas too many big ball pinkeens suffer delusions of grandeur.
Their county boards reckon that, all things being cyclical, they will come with a decent team every half-century.
In the meantime, they can relax, let nature take its course ... and get ready for their September county final.