Now for some good old championship knock-out. After firing the starting pistol on the second weekend in April, the race for the Sam Maguire will be reduced to 12 after the third weekend in June, a picture of which at least now is now becoming clearer.
In keeping too with the good old championship spirit, Roscommon manager Davy Burke has the potential to knock out Kildare, the county where he was born, raised and played, later guiding them to the 2018 All-Ireland under-20 football title.
This weekend’s second round of matches did little to shake up the main contenders, but Roscommon’s 10-point win over Sligo in the blissful sunshine at Dr Hyde Park leaves them atop Group 3, equal with Dublin on points, just ahead on scoring difference.
Their final round meeting with Kildare, likely to be set for Tullamore (all final-round games set for neutral venues) will ultimately decide their quarter-final fate, preliminary or otherwise; if Kildare lose, they’ll be relying on scoring difference, and the result of Dublin versus Sligo.
“Look, I’m fully on this side of the page and will only be thinking about one thing,” said Burke, undaunted by that rendezvous with his native county.
“The colour of the jersey doesn’t bother me. Football is my whole life and I’m with the Rossies right now. I’ve a job to do.”
Sligo at times made Roscommon work for their win, Alan Reilly’s goal mid-way through the second half was later cancelled out by Dylan Ruane before Enda Smith restored their 10-point advantage at the death.
“Well it wasn’t that I wanted to be top of the table tonight,” said Burke. “I wanted to be top of the table in two weeks. Every point matters, I was conscious of that.”
On the criticism of Roscommon’s tactics against Dublin the previous weekend, particularly holding up the ball in play for six minutes, Burke was similarly undaunted: “Well I was watching Dublin and Kildare yesterday and the two teams tried to imitate it and got turned over, and turned over.
“And all the analysis this week, lazy stuff, look I don’t need to go into it. Look I know, if I was in the stand, it probably wouldn’t be brilliant. But when I’m on the sideline here, I love it, I find it intriguing.”
Sunday’s other second-round games also finished along expected lines, Mayo beating Louth 0-14 to 1-10 at Hastings MacHale Park, a 75th-minute goal by Louth wing forward Conall McKeever, and a Conor Grimes point moments later, taking the chunk out of Mayo’s five-point advantage.
Mayo sit two points clear of the pack in Group 1 and even a draw in their final group game against Cork in two weeks’ time will guarantee a direct passage into the quarter-finals. Louth have no option only beat Kerry on neutral turf if they are to have any chance of advancing to a preliminary quarter-final.
At Clones, Monaghan beat Clare 1-23 to 1-18, while Derry’s win over Donegal at Ballybofey (3-14 to 1-15) means that Clare can’t qualify for the next round, even if they manage to beat the Ulster champions on June 17th.
Monaghan, who face Donegal on the same day, are tied with Derry on three points at the top of the group. Jack McCarron gave an exhibition of point-scoring for Monaghan, finishing with 0-9, one from a free, Clare in front for much of the first half.
On Saturday, Kerry got their All-Ireland defence back on track after the opening-round loss to Mayo in Killarney, falling over the line against Cork in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh sunshine, 1-14 to 0-15.
“Today wasn’t about champagne football,” said manager Jack O’Connor. “It wasn’t about polished performances. It was about digging in and being better defensively than we were against Mayo. We were cut open against Mayo to an alarming degree. Mayo got six goal chances and scored one. I am not sure Cork got any clearcut goal chances today, so that was the first thing we had to correct. We can work on the other stuff; a bit of fluency and a bit more flow upfront. But you have to get that other side of the game right first.”
After puffing a little in the Kilkenny sunshine, Dublin eventually wore down Kildare, 0-22 to 0-13, before a relatively small attendance of 8,216 at UPMC Nowlan Park.
“The new competition format, everybody is trying to get their head around that,” said Dublin manager Dessie Farrell. “It’s not straight knock-out. That perhaps takes some of the edge off. It shouldn’t be an excuse really but it’s something we’ve discussed and are keen to address in terms of getting that quality and consistency in our performance week in, week out.”
Tyrone are perhaps finding some consistency, boxing off their two points with a 0-13 to 0-11 win over Armagh, who were never able to overcome a first-half red card for Rian O’Neill.
In the last round of the Tailteann Cup, Meath topped Group 2 with a thrilling win over Down, 1-11 to 1-9, 32 years after Down beat them in the All-Ireland final, securing them a home quarter-final.
Farrell, meanwhile, spoke for everyone when adding: “Ultimately, there’s tougher games coming down the track and we have to be ready.”
Such as some good old championship knock-out.