Carlow the makeweight as Dubs get ready to roll
It’s as low-key an entry into the summer’s business as Jim Gavin’s side have seen
Carlow celebrate their victory over Wexford in the first round of the Leinster championship at Netwatch Cullen Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
To Portlaoise for the Dubs. The Dubs who the Leinster Council decreed couldn’t be accommodated in Portlaoise in 2016 because it was too small.
Playing Carlow, whose once-in-a-generation chance to bring the buzz of the championship to town got nixed by the most jobsworth call since last year’s jobsworth call. You’d get a migraine rolling your eyes at this stuff if you thought about it for too long.
That said, the last time Dublin did make the journey to Carlow, the day was best remembered for the interventions of three separate streakers. So perhaps, from behind the altar, the Leinster Council is guarding against a repeat. As a theory, it makes as much sense as the specious folderol about season tickets and whatnot.
Ah well. Dublin v Carlow, so. Back-to-back All-Ireland champions versus a team coming off their first championship win in six years. The bookies have pitched the handicap spread at 19 points. Turlough O’Brien’s side can count the day a success if they keep the margin anywhere below that.
“If Carlow turn up, they have a chance,” said a local chap in a Carlow vox-pop on Morning Ireland. “It might take Dublin not turning up, but they have a chance.”
For the Dubs, it’s as low-key an entry into the summer’s business as they’ve seen for a while. They haven’t lost a Leinster Championship match in seven years. Indeed, under Jim Gavin, they’ve never failed to win a game in the province by at least 10 points. They’re presumably not about to break either habit now.
Their profile this week has been snake’s-belly low. No press. No team announced as of teatime on Friday. They’re slipping into the championship with a cat-burglar’s weight of foot. The last time we saw them, Dean Rock’s injury-time 45 came back off the post in the league final and their record 36-game unbeaten streak came to an end.
Since then, they’ve lost Philly McMahon to a one-game suspension for abusing referee Paddy Neilan in that league final and may have lost Michael Darragh Macauley for the season to a leg injury. Further than that – and we don’t actually have much clarity on the Macauley situation – everything else about the Dubs is rumour just now. If nothing else, it’s probably worth heading to Portlaoise to see if they’re all still above ground.
The weekend’s other Leinster fixtures don’t feature potential champions but they’ll make for more compelling viewing. Meath and Louth face off in Parnell Park, a garden-fence row transplanted to the Dublin suburbs because Louth’s county ground isn’t worth the name. They’ll hop off each other for sport, just as Kildare and Laois will in Tullamore.
It may be low-grade stuff but it’s June football, remember. None of it is meant to scare the horses just yet. There was a time when we looked north for that kind of thing at this time of year but the Ulster Championship is such a sad old husk of itself these days. Down v Armagh could be decent but the sound you hear in the background is that of precisely nobody holding their breath.
Still, the championship rolls on. After this weekend’s games, the first qualifier draw will take place on Tuesday. A fortnight from today, the first counties will slide out of the competition, gone before the equinox.
In hurling, Clare and Limerick get their summer underway in Thurles, playing out what we all presume to be the soft side of the Munster draw. Much like the Dubs, both teams have tiptoed in mostly unnoticed. There isn’t the sort of unavoidable babble in the build-up that we saw with Cork and Tipperary, for instance.
But with new management taking the reins on both sidelines and a place in the last six of the All-Ireland Championship guaranteed to whoever wins, the stakes are sneakily high.