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Colm Keys: It was a mistake to have the All-Ireland draw before the provincial finals


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The draws for the All-Ireland football series, the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cups, took place on Tuesday and with Derry lurking as third seeds, there was always the potential for a ‘group of death’ to emerge.

And so it transpired with the Connacht winners and Ulster losers mixed in with the league champions, all heavyweights with ‘Sam’ designs no matter who emerges.

It raised some rather absurd suggestions about the value of winning Sunday’s Connacht final especially when losing it would appear to present an easier path to the All-Ireland playoffs with, most likely, Dublin as Leinster champions, Roscommon and a Cavan team minus their chief marksman, Paddy Lynch who has sustained a cruciate ligament injury, in the group.

Does anyone really believe that such a conversation would take place in a dressing-room about foregoing a genuine shot at a provincial title just to improve a ‘Sam’ placing? Really?

It was an obvious topic earlier in the week.

It’s worth reflecting on a quote from the Mayo defender Padraig O’Hora on the possibility of result manipulation, whether to avoid a league final or a more difficult round robin group.

“I’ve never known a team to (say) ‘well if we go this route.’ I’ve never heard that in a dressing-room,” he said this week in an interview with colleague Conor McKeon, a piece that covered a few angles.

Having the draw some 12 days out from the last of the provincial finals begs the obvious question, could they not be held later?

But leaving them until the night of, or day after, the Leinster and Ulster finals would be more detrimental to the preparations of all the other teams, especially around accommodation for those who have to travel and must book well in advance these days.

Still, in the qualifier era teams often had just five or six days to get ready for opponents on the following Saturday or Sunday when draws were made on the Monday morning of that week so it is not without precedent.

To answer any question as to whether either Galway or Mayo would ‘manage’ a Connacht final with the aim of taking a handier route beyond the province is probably best answered through the Galway manager Padraic Joyce who, in nine sideline meetings now with their great western rivals, has only won once, in the 2022 Connacht championship.

The last thing Joyce is thinking about this week is what lies beyond.

And for his Mayo counterpart Kevin McStay, back-to-back provincial championships without a title would leave him feeling a lot uneasier about the immediate future.

So there’s much at stake for counties who, for all their rivalry, even enmity, have traded resources too over the years.

John O’Mahony, of course, went to Galway for seven seasons to manage them to their last two All-Ireland titles and Peter Ford followed him for another three. In the 1980s, Liam O’Neill went the other way.

Players have crossed the county boundaries too, John Nallen from Mayo to Galway and back to Galway in the 1950s and Tomás Tierney from Galway to Mayo in the 1990s.

Galway stalwarts Jimmy Duggan, originally from Claremorris, and Noel Tierney, could have played for Mayo while sons and grandsons of Mayo greats have routinely ended up with Galway through third level education and migration to the city.

For all the dilution of provincial football, a Galway/Mayo Connacht final still feels like a big deal, perhaps still bigger than any of the other traditional rivalries.

Kerry play Clare in the Munster final and the Kerry midfield has been under a glare this season but Joe O’Connor is standing up to the scrutiny well and spoke about his rugby background this week.

Away from the championship action, Croke Park underwent a swift makeover from football to rugby ground in preparation for tomorrow’s European Champions Cup semi-final between Leinster and Northampton Saints, the first rugby game to take place there in 14 years.

The staff have become dab hands at turning the place around quickly for concerts and of course, soccer and rugby games in the past too but there was a twist this week with pitch manager Stuart Wilson’s declaration that he is a devoted Saints fan, having grown up outside the town.

This weekend I’ll be looking at the deepening influence that Ryan O’Donoghue is having on this Mayo team. After their win in New York, his manager Kevin McStay described him as the best corner-forward he had seen in his time, high praise indeed.

Philly McMahon is focusing on Kerry in his column as they prepare for a first Munster final to be played in Ennis since 1919.

Wexford have once again backed themselves into a corner in the Leinster hurling championship with their loss to Antrim last weekend and with Galway heading south-east tomorrow Frank Roche examines their latest predicament.

John Mullane is assessing Tipperary after their Munster hurling championship trouncing by Limerick last weekend as Liam Cahill comes up against the team he left prior to taking on his native county two years ago.

Enjoy the games this weekend,

Colm Keys

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