This year's AIB All-Ireland club semi-finals, starting with Corofin v Moorefield tomorrow, break with one recent tradition but copperfasten another.
For the first time in 15 years there are no clubs from Armagh or Dublin but once again two very experienced sides are back in the last four: both Corofin and Slaughtneil, who next week face Nemo Rangers, are both back at this stage for the third time in four years.
The statistics of the first tradition are straightforward: Armagh’s frequent presence is entirely down to Crossmaglen’s extraordinary record over the past 20 years or so whereas Dublin’s is a reflection of the county’s growing dominance at all levels of football in Leinster and increasingly at All-Ireland level.
In the past 10 years clubs from Armagh, Crossmaglen, and Dublin have between them won six of the All-Ireland club football titles and in the past 20 they have each won 10 provincial titles. In Dublin's case three different clubs have won the All-Ireland since 2008 – Kilmacud, St Vincent's and Ballyboden – and Ballymun reached the 2013 final.
The underlying modern trend persists, however.
If the 47-year history of the official club championship to date is divided roughly in two, the benefits of experience weren’t as pronounced in the first 27 years as they have been in the past 20. Clubs who reached the All-Ireland final in the last 20 years have been nearly twice as likely (.77 per annum as opposed to 1.4 from 1971-97) to get back to another decider.
Current Cork women's football manager Ephie Fitzgerald has experience of both phases, winning three All-Irelands as a player with and later, coaching Nemo Rangers. He identifies two major influences in the figures.
“Crossmaglen have gone through a golden era, winning 19 county titles in 20 years, which is phenomenal. Tradition plays a part in this. Clubs that have done it before are more confident and better able to manage the season to get back to the later stages. Nemo always believe they can win it and I’d say Crossmaglen are the same.
“Dublin football in general has got an awful lot stronger in the last 15 years. It may not be the same club but whoever comes out will be there or thereabouts.”
Fitzgerald also believes that advances in preparation have helped leading clubs optimise their preparation to meet the challenge of a 15-month season if progressing to the All-Ireland stages.
“It’s all-year-around. When we won All-Irelands in my time we found it very difficult the following year. More often than not we got beaten in the earlier rounds and it was motivation as much as anything else.
“Training habits now have changed dramatically. The days of the long slog are gone: 20, 30 laps of the field – that doesn’t happen any more so players are managed better and so are injuries. They’re also putting it in off the pitch. Lads in clubs are looking after themselves. Yes, they enjoy themselves on occasions but they’re careful.”