Donegal open with daunting challenge
GAELIC GAMES:ALL-IRELAND football champions Donegal have been drawn against their predecessors as Ulster champions Tyrone in next year’s championship. The draws for all of the GAA provincial football and hurling championships were made last night in Croke Park and Jim McGuinness’s team have been handed a bracing prospect to focus their minds over the winter.
Mickey Harte’s Tyrone ran the champions closer than anyone else in this year’s provincial championship and it took a great save by Paul Durcan from Martin Penrose to preserve the three-point margin in injury-time.
At least Donegal have been spared another preliminary round draw; that distinction goes next season to Armagh and Cavan, who are on their second early start having lost to Donegal last May in the provincial opener.
The champions are also on the harder side of the draw with the counties they defeated in the last two Ulster finals – Down and Derry – playing in the quarter-final from which the opponents for Donegal-Tyrone will emerge.
All-Ireland finalists Mayo are also chasing a three-in-a-row in their province and the Connacht draw has been about as hard as possible for James Horan’s team.
The counties that have won 17 out of the last 18 Connacht titles are on the same side of a lop-sided draw with Mayo set to face Galway in their first outing and the winners to play Roscommon in the provincial semi-final.
On the other side of the draw, Leitrim and Sligo look to have a place in the final between them. Sligo were narrowly defeated in this year’s provincial decider and they open their campaign in London and will play either New York or Leitrim in the semi-finals.
Not that they’ll take it for granted. Ten years ago Leitrim were taken to extra time by the exiles in Gaelic Park before pulling through by just two points.
In Leinster Dublin, under the new management of Jim Gavin, who is to be unveiled this morning at a Parnell Park media conference, will be looking for an eighth provincial title in nine years next summer. Their campaign opens against Westmeath or Carlow and they are on course for a semi-final with Kildare, who they last met at the same stage last year.
Of course this summer the assumption was that the counties would contest the Leinster final but that’s not how it turned out.
On the other side this year’s finalists Meath, expected to be under the baton of Mick O’Dowd, whose appointment is to be ratified next week, look most likely to advance to the final.