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Thursday 14 November 2019

Dubs now look even safer bet for Sam

Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly takes on Chris Healy of Kildare during their All-Ireland SFC Round 3 qualifier at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge on Saturday
Tyrone's Matthew Donnelly takes on Chris Healy of Kildare during their All-Ireland SFC Round 3 qualifier at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge on Saturday

Even without kicking a ball, Dublin footballers look an even stronger bet for that tantalising five-in-a-row.

All because of yesterday's fourth round qualifier draw.

Casual fans tuning into Morning Ireland on RTÉ radio may not have been fully au fait with the wider significance of the draw conducted by GAA president John Horan and Sunday Game pundit Kevin McStay.

But anyone with any partisan interest knew what was at stake: it wasn't merely the fourth round pairings, but the implications these had for the make-up of the 'Super 8s'.

Dublin already knew they would be in a group that contained Roscommon (as surprise Connacht champions) and whoever emerged from the two qualifier matches involving the beaten finalists in Munster (Cork) and Ulster (Cavan).

In theory, Jim Gavin's trophy addicts could have found themselves in a group containing not a single rival who'll play in next year's Division 1.

The flip side is that they could have ended up in more daunting company, alongside Tyrone and Mayo - if this battle-hardened duo had drawn Cavan and Cork (in whatever order) and duly survived.

As it transpired, a revitalised Tyrone were pitted with Cavan and will be favourites to qualify for Dublin's group. But Cork (Division 3-bound) were drawn against Laois (promoted to Division 2) and the winners will now join the All-Ireland champions, Roscommon and either Tyrone or Cavan.

On paper, it's all but impossible to construct a scenario whereby Dublin don't qualify among the top two for what would be their tenth consecutive All-Ireland semi-final.

Moreover, it's plausible that the Sam Maguire holders and the team they eclipsed last September (presuming Tyrone do make it) might both have already qualified for the last-four before meeting in an Omagh round-robin finale on the August Bank Holiday weekend.

Again, presuming Mickey Harte's men negotiate Saturday's 'Ulster derby' in Clones, there will be an element of Super 8s Groundhog Day: Dublin, Tyrone and Roscommon all shared the same group last year.

One key difference is that Donegal - now touted as potentially Dublin's greatest threat - will be in the other group, one that already contains Kerry and will now also include the winners of Galway and Mayo.

The clash of Connacht's erstwhile finest, both vanquished by the Rossies this summer, is the standout pairing in round four.

Mayo will be emboldened by their 'back door' wins over Down and Armagh - but injuries to key men, Lee Keegan the latest, are compromising James Horan's options. For Kevin Walsh, the scars are mostly psychological after their Connacht final second-half implosion.

And, for supporters of both counties, a Saturday trip to Limerick now beckons because there was "no agreement between the counties to toss for home advantage, and there was no other Connacht venue deemed capable of catering for the expected interest in the tie."

The only football qualifier fixed for Sunday will be the Meath-Clare tie in Portlaoise (2.0). After their Leinster final calamity and the Andy McEntee controversy that followed, a draw against Clare (as opposed to Tyrone or Mayo) represented some belated good news for Meath.

But any Royal complacency would be foolhardy in the extreme. And likewise for the Dublin hurlers who top the same Portlaoise double-header (4.15), facing a Laois side buoyed by their McDonagh Cup triumph.

SATURDAY FIXTURES

SFC Rd 4 Qualifiers: Cork v Laois, Semple Stadium, 5pm; Cavan v Tyrone, St Tiernach's Park, 5pm (live Sky); Galway v Mayo, LIT Gaelic Grounds, 7pm (live Sky).

All-Ireland MHC: Rd 1 quarter-final, Kilkenny v Clare, Semple Stadium, 3pm.

SUNDAY FIXTURES

SFC Rd 4 Qualifier: Meath v Clare, O'Moore Park, 2pm (live RTÉ).

All-Ireland SHC prelim q-finals: Westmeath v Cork, TEG Cusack Park, 3pm; Laois v Dublin, O'Moore Park, 4.15pm.

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