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All-Ireland SFC explainer: Game of snakes and ladders looms as race for Sam Maguire spots comes to the boil


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The hows and whys of qualification for Sam Maguire can take some teasing out given the caveats and clauses. But after this weekend, the guessing will be over.

Once the Leinster and Ulster provincial finalists are confirmed, the identity of the 16 teams who will duke it out for Sam Maguire will be locked in. We take a look at who is in, who is out, and who is on the cut line.

So who is already in?

There are very few things that are abundantly clear but we know this. Kerry and Clare will compete in the All-Ireland series as Munster finalists. Galway and Mayo are also in as they will contest the Connacht final.

For the purposes of the Sam Maguire draw, the provincial winners will be deemed to be first seeds, while the beaten finalists will be second seeds. Meath are also in as fourth seeds, guaranteed Sam Maguire football in 2024 after winning the Tailteann Cup last year.

Anyone else in the All-Ireland series?

Yes. The third seeds in the All-Ireland draw will be the four teams who have finished highest in the league but did not reach their provincial final. After that it’s Meath plus the next three best-placed teams.

League champions Derry, and relegated pair Roscommon and Monaghan, are in. They will also be joined by whoever loses this weekend’s match between Donegal and Tyrone (the winners will go through as provincial finalists).

Dublin will also be in Sam Maguire even if Offaly pull off the shock of this – or any other – century tomorrow and that would have a knock-on effect for teams further down the league rankings. But Armagh will be there, as will Cavan – having finished third in Division 2.

It’s worth pointing out that the teams promoted from a division are deemed to be ranked higher than the two teams they replace. For example, Westmeath, as Division 3 champions, are deemed to be seventh in Division 2 with Down in eighth, replacing Fermanagh and Kildare.

In summation, 13 teams are guaranteed Sam Maguire football, with seeding to be decided.

So who is around the cut line?

Cork, Louth and Westmeath are in pole position but could fall in or out of Sam Maguire this weekend depending on results, while Down, Kildare and Offaly can force themselves into the picture.

Louth have two routes to the top tier. Beat Kildare this weekend and earn a spot in the Leinster final and they are guaranteed to be at least second seeds. However, they could be assured of a spot in Sam Maguire – via their league standing – should Armagh beat Down tonight. But should they lose to the Lillies and Down beat Armagh or Offaly shock Dublin, then Ger Brennan’s men are heading for the Tailteann Cup.

Kildare’s mission is simple. Beat Louth and they’ll play top-tier football. Lose and they will be in the Tailteann Cup.

Westmeath will watch events in Clones closely. If Down beat Armagh, the Mourne men will leapfrog them in the standings and Dessie Dolan’s men will end up back in the Tailteann Cup. They’ll also want Kildare to lose to Louth, while Offaly stunning Dublin would also put them out. Any of those results going against them puts them out of the top tier. Cork are still at risk technically but only if Offaly beat Dublin and Down overcome Armagh.

What’s next?

The draw for the All-Ireland series is scheduled for Tuesday on GAA.ie at 3pm with the groups consisting of one team from each of the four seeding pots. The championship will have a staggered start.

The first games involving the Connacht and Munster provincial finalists will be played on May 18/19. The opening games involving the Leinster and Ulster provincial finalists will be held the following weekend.

In the first round, seeds one and two will have home advantage. Seeds three and four will play at home in round two, with the third round at neutral venues.

The top three teams in each group will move on to the next stage of the championship, building all the way to the final on Sunday, July 28.

What about the Tailteann Cup?

It will be run in much the same way. The top four teams, based on their league finish, who did not make Sam Maguire, will be deemed first seeds and so on down through the divisions. The top two teams from each group, plus the three best-placed third teams will progress with New York coming into play at the preliminary quarter-final stage.​

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