GAA Football

John McEntee: sensible expectations can produce Qualifier success

One of either Armagh and Fermanagh will have exited the 2017 Championship by Sunday evening

LAST weekend's Qualifiers gave the Championship scene an injection of momentum.

Gone are two Division Four teams –Wicklow and Waterford – and two Division Three teams – Antrim and Louth.

The death knell will toll for more Division Three and Four teams come Sunday evening, although the Qualifier draw offers a real chance of progress into the unknown for two of them.

I watch with interest as Limerick play host to Seamus ‘Banty' McEnaney's Wexford. Their meeting in early February was the first game of the League, with Wexford winning by two points.

A lot has changed within both camps since then so if you possess the skills of Dynamo, try to predict the winner, otherwise steer clear of betting on this game.

I have great time for ‘Banty' and I would like to see his team do well in recognition of the time and effort he has given to the GAA at home in Corduff and across many inter-county teams.

When he took charge of Wexford last October his priority was to achieve promotion to Division Three. That box is now ticked.

I can hear his first post-League talk with his players:

“Men, you might be happy with promotion and a night out in The Fiddlers, Carrickmacross as reward, but I don't travel to the sunny south east to train ye three nights a week and pay homage at the graveside of the men of '98, I want to win the f****** Championship!”

Winning is everything to the ‘Banty'. It is important managers have faith in their players and that he sets them a target to aim for.

Year on year, in Munster and Leinster there is one team who can win or lose their Championships, in Connacht there are two teams with a realistic chance of winning, while in Ulster there are perhaps three teams who can put forward a compelling case as to why they may become provincial champions.

The remaining 26 have no hope of success if their definition of success is a provincial title.

This being so, why then are so many teams utterly deflated following a Championship defeat to the extent that their season never recovers? Is it the case that managers pitch their team goals at too high a level that they are both unrealistic and unachievable?

The inevitable consequence is that there is no way back from a first round defeat. Louth is a case in point. They have been unable to recover from a first round hammering at the hands of Meath with a predictable defeat by Longford last Saturday. This was a nine-point swing in favour of Longford from their League match in February. It was a nightmare scenario for Louth's manager Colin Kelly, who stepped down after the defeat.

Armagh were comprehensively beaten by Down three weeks ago, a fact that my boss at work revels in each time we meet.

It's uncanny how many times Armagh versus Down can come up in discussions about healthcare, but some things I just have to suck up.

The reality is that Down play in a Division above Armagh, against tougher opposition and have become more resilient. As the saying goes, if you align expectations with reality you will never be disappointed.

Armagh's expectations within the public were inflated and baseless. I've no doubt that players listened to this loose talk and it altered their expectations and those of the manager, which undoubtedly were more measured.

One hopes the Armagh players can put this loss behind them but there is simply no telling until they face up to Fermanagh in the Qualifiers on Sunday night.

Other teams are experts in the Qualifier route. Derry consistently perform better in the back door than in the Ulster Championship. It poses another question: when setting their Championship targets do they aim to win an Ulster title, an unlikely and unobtainable goal, or do they set their target as getting to the last eight via the Qualifiers route?

They are matched up against Mayo in the next Qualifier, which is a tough ask for this Derry team, but it seems that the Oak Leafers will give it their all and will pose many questions for a wounded Mayo.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the draw pits you against a strong team in the early Qualifiers. Derry's season will come to a premature end against Mayo.

Cavan are another team who perhaps set out to win the Anglo-Celt Cup but are clearly a level below the top three Ulster teams. They play Offaly on Sunday evening in a game which should rekindle their Championship aspirations.

If they have refocused and set themselves a realistic target of getting to the last eight then Cavan might just deliver on their expectations.

The players surely know that anything higher is beyond their reach currently and such false aspirations will lead to underachievement and greater self-doubt.

There may be only four provincial winners and one All Ireland champion but many more can share in a successful 2017. The weaker counties need to embrace the Qualifiers.

To play on a known proverb, one disappointment does not a season ruin.

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