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Football without a pause: Counties hope to cope with quick turnaround as championships start

Galway will take on London in the first of nine championship matches this weekend

There is no time for a deep breath – a quick one will have to suffice. The National Football League trophy will have resided in the walled city of Derry for a mere six days when the floodgates open to the first waves of the 2024 provincial championships.

The condensed intercounty calendar provides a league and championship overlap that benefits neither competition. The weekend after eight counties contested four league finals at Croke Park, 18 teams will contest nine championship matches across four provinces and a couple of time zones.

There are three Connacht SFC matches next weekend. On Saturday London will host Galway in Ruislip, and on Sunday Leitrim are at home to Sligo in Carrick-on-Shannon, while New York welcome Mayo to the Bronx.

There are also three games in the Leinster SFC, all of which take place on Sunday: Westmeath v Wicklow in O’Moore Park, Longford v Meath in Pearse Park, and Wexford v Carlow in Wexford Park.


The Munster SFC begins with two matches on Sunday: Waterford v Tipperary in Fraher Field and Cork hosting Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

The game with the biggest billing of the opening weekend is the Ulster SFC preliminary round meeting of Monaghan and Cavan in Clones on Sunday.

But the first shots of the summer will take place at McGovern Park in London on Saturday at 3pm.

“We are flying on the Friday,” says Galway selector John Concannon. “You have to take every game as it comes. In John Daly’s debut five years ago, I think it was level at half-time, they only won by a few points in the end, so Galway got a shock that day.

“London have improved significantly. In the last couple of years their league results have been better than they have been in previous years.

“They beat a Mayo team in the Dome with two or three experienced Mayo players and a lot of squad members [in the FBD League in January]. We definitely won’t be taking them for granted.”

One of the talking points generated by the condensed intercounty season has been the implications for players if they suffer injury, as a serious muscle pull or bone break could put a player in danger of missing the entire campaign.

The Tribesmen have been dealing with injuries to several key players throughout the season, including Shane Walsh and Damien Comer.

Concannon recalls a period earlier in the year when the Galway dressing-room felt more like a hospital ward, and some managers believe the split-season model is a contributing factor to the increase in visits to the treatment table.

“At one stage we had 21 injuries,” says Concannon. “We could only play small six- or seven-a-side games. The elite players never get a break, from club to Sigerson to under-20. If elite players get to an All-Ireland club semi-final or final, it is straight through for them.

“I know you can say a few of the Derry lads had no break either until the middle of the league, but it is definitely not conducive to keeping players fit.”

Galway will hope to be in the mix for the Sam Maguire come July, but such lofty ambitions are less realistic for some of the other counties in action this weekend.

Waterford finished bottom of the Division Four table, picking up one point across their eight games. Former Meath footballer Paul Shankey is in his first year at the helm – the 1999 All-Ireland winner was the last intercounty managerial appointment for the 2024 season.

There has been a significant turnover of players from last season, with Shankey reckoning there are “only four or five” of the starting team remaining from Waterford’s Tailteann Cup match against his native Meath last year.

But Shankey, who has lived in Waterford now for the guts of 20 years, rails against any suggestion football in the county could tail away similarly to how it has done in Kilkenny, who do not field a senior intercounty football team.

“No, I wouldn’t fear that at all,” he says. “I don’t know where that came from, at club level football is quite healthy in Waterford. If Rathgormack or The Nire were playing Castlehaven or Nemo, there’d be very little in it.

“Club football in the county is healthy, so I wouldn’t see that as a major issue at all. I suppose the big elephant in the room is the finances, the money being spent on teams, and that is one of the biggest issues for the GAA generally to address, going forward.”

Shankey will be on the sideline for an intercounty championship game for the first time this Sunday when Waterford face Tipperary.

“It has been very enjoyable, the first three or four months have just flown by.

“We’ve competed well, some of the scorelines have looked bad, but we did create chances in those games. A lot of the other counties have probably had a consistent group for three or four years, whereas we have a lot of lads who are 20-21, it’s a fast learning curve.”

Incidentally, the only point Waterford picked up during the league was a draw with Tipp in early March.

“Historically, the lads don’t have any fear. Again, from a club point of view they have played the likes of Clonmel Commercials and other various Tipperary club teams over the years and they all compete, so there is no fear in that regard.”

The fear, generally, is the whole shindig will nearly be over before you know it started.

Because the 2024 Championship is here already – whether you like it or not.

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times