Opportunity knocks for Cavan, Fermanagh and Carlow
Claiming a divisional title would mean a lot to both Ulster counties and O’Brien’s side
Cavan players celebrate clinching promotion back to the top flight after the last-gasp win over Tipperary at Kingspan Breffni Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
To Croke Park, then, for the handing down of the first bits of tin of 2018. The Allianz League finals across all four divisions are down for decision, with eight counties and the best part of 70,000 punters expected through the gates over the Easter weekend.
At the top end of the scale, it’s not necessarily a red letter date for anyone. The further down you go, however, the more it means.
Dublin don’t particularly need another league title and even Galway won’t do the dog on it if the Division One final ends up going their way. Put it this way – both of them would swap a result tomorrow for one against Mayo the next time they see them.
That said, the various bouts of push-me-pull-you that characterised their meeting in Salthill a fortnight ago does add a certain seasoning to this. The Dubs don’t generally take too kindly to having their hair ruffled like that for all to see. Their reaction will dictate terms, you feel.
For the other six teams travelling to Dublin 3, there will be varying degrees of nourishment to take from it all. Cavan and Roscommon meet in the Division Two final with the Ulster side’s need more obvious on the face of it, if that in fact means anything. What it means in the immediate term for Roscommon is a named team in which their bench looks by far the tastiest portion – make of that what you will.
No such two-in-the-bush carry-on from Cavan. Not only have they a barren spell in terms of trophies to bring to an end – they haven’t won a cup of any stripe since the 1997 Ulster championship – but they also have an abysmal recent record against Roscommon to overturn. With one win in their last nine meetings against the Connacht champions, Cavan have some making up to do. Owning a record like that against a big beast would be one thing; not being able to land a glove on an apparent peer is quite another.
Saturday’s double-header is where the magic happens. You would imagine something in the DNA of Armagh (and certainly that of Kieran McGeeney) might rail against the notion of these games being de facto All-Ireland finals but Fermanagh, Laois and Carlow would surely have few qualms about allowing the sort of talk.
Fermanagh have never lifted a senior cup of any kind in their history – McKenna Cup doesn’t count – and were they to find a way past Armagh in Rory Gallagher’s first campaign, it would be a huge step forward.
As for Carlow, the Shawshank-style escape from Division Four only needs the neat little bow of a final win to tie it all up. Laois are without top scorer Gary Walsh, suspended by the county after his Tweeting in the wake of the Belfast rape trial.
Carlow frustrated the life out of them in Dr Cullen Park last weekend but doing so in Croke Park will require a huge step up for Turlough O’Brien’s crew.
No better time to do it.