John McEntee: There's still time for Tyrone, Monaghan and Mayo to salvage their summer
WITH no football games to watch this weekend, some space is created to take stock of who the winners and losers to date in this Championship are, and what may lie in store for the rest of the summer.
The Qualifiers have been populated with the usual suspects from the lower divisions of the League.
For some, their one win may be their last. Take Antrim as an example. It would take a herculean effort and perhaps a large slice of lady luck for them to overcome the challenge of Kildare.
This is a game which should be played in their spiritual home of Casement Park but has been fixed for Corrigan Park after the small west Belfast ground was granted a safety certificate yesterday.
The detrimental harm to Antrim’s chances of progression caused by Casement’s closure, coupled with the lack of promotion of football within the county, remains a sore on the face of Ulster GAA.
From the successful first round Qualifier teams it seems that Westmeath have been given the most favourable draw – a home tie with Limerick – and the remaining seven games could go down to the wire, but the bookie may well side with each of the beaten provincial semi-finalists.
This suggests the Qualifiers are highly competitive in comparison to previous years and may prove to be an early death zone for some.
It doesn’t take a genius to identify Mayo, Tyrone and Monaghan as the obvious losers – to whom some refer to as the Snap, Crackle and Pop of the 2019 Championship.
One would have thought that winning the League would have filled Mayo with confidence – arguably the one missing ingredient in their quest for Sam – but, if anything, they’ve become complacent.
The divide between confidence and arrogance is so thin that often a person or group of people do not see the banana skins until they’ve hit the ground with a thump.
Mayo are down but they are not out. They have enough talent and new blood to guide a rough course towards the Super 8 series.
Monaghan have a problem. On a good day they are too much for this Armagh team. The fact they can compete in Division One consistently, whereas Armagh are ducking and diving in Division Two/Three, tells you all you need to know.
Yet, this is not a good time for Monaghan. The loss of Darren Hughes is even greater than first feared. With the exception of his brother Kieran, their other go-to players are playing below par with their confidence in the floor.
It is as if they are stuck in mud and, no matter how hard they try, and they are trying very hard, they are simply unable to break free.
They look tired. In their favour, they have huge experience and they have natural talent so I suspect the next 10 days will be about bringing freshness to players and reinvigorating their style of play.
They need to find their mojo again. The first slice of luck has gone their way as they’ve been drawn at home .
On the flip side, Armagh are a team improving. Jamie Clarke showed signs of the Jamie of old in the Cavan game as he kicked points for fun, like all special forwards can do. Scoring forwards need to be marked.
Other players whose form has been lost are starting to show glimpses of what they can achieve, so they will be hoping time does not lapse prematurely.
There have been a lot of personnel changes in comparison to other county teams, so perhaps a settled team is starting to emerge.
Supporters know the team they want to field but they don’t get to choose; picking the team is the manager’s prerogative.
Then there is Tyrone. They were everyone’s favourite for the Ulster Championship so they’ve not become a busted flush overnight. They were beaten by a strong, well-drilled team. That happens.
The Tyrone ego is wounded so they are a dangerous animal – with or without Tiernan McCann. They remain one of my top five teams, and one of only three teams who are capable of beating Dublin when it matters most.
Unfortunately for this current squad, they are always compared against the great team of the Noughties – perhaps unfairly so.
Success for them is winning an All-Ireland. Anything less is failure. That is a high bar to set.
They say goals ought to be achievable. If they are beyond one’s reach then performances can strain as they strive for success and a lesser outcome is delivered.
Entering the Qualifiers offers an opportunity to re-establish goals and get the train back in motion.
As for the winners in the Qualifiers? There are no winners in the Qualifiers until they gain a place in the Super 8 series. Prior to that, damage limitation becomes the order of the day.
The teams who fail to deliver a place in the Super 8 series start to rebuild for next year whilst their managers grovel to retain their job. Tipperary boss Liam Kearns is the first to resign. More to follow.