By James McMahon
Sport has a habit of throwing up surprises and the battle for the Delaney Cup has seen a few upsets over the years.
In 1975, Meath, on a high from winning the league, were sent packing by Louth in their Leinster opener.The Royals also fell at the first hurdle in 1982 against Longford.
With Wicklow and Laois set for action this weekend, we are reminded of their meeting in the ‘Battle of Aughrim’ in 1986. Six players were sent off that day by referee Carthage Buckley.
After a winning a league title a month earlier, Laois had designs on reigning supreme in their province. Amid all the madness they lost by four points. Many in the county are still bitter about what happened.
Mick O’Dwyer’s first championship match in charge of Kildare was a defeat, as Louth upset the form book with a deserved win in Drogheda in 1991.
In the last decade, Tommy Lyons’ Dublin were humbled by Westmeath at the quarter-final stage, and Kieran McGeeney’s managerial tenure with Kildare began with a defeat to Wicklow in a preliminary round clash in 2008.
Sky Blue supremacy
Looking at the fixtures for this year’s Leinster campaign, it’s hard to see any major shocks. Dublin are odds-on to claim a ninth title in ten years. Of greater interest will be the starting XV Jim Gavin picks in the forthcoming games and the approach opposition deploy in counteracting Stephen Cluxton’s kick-outs.
Ger Brennan is fit again after a stomach muscle problem and will be eyeing a return to the number six berth. After their success with the U-21s, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello and Jack McCaffrey are a trio who will add much to Dublin’s cause.
Eoghan O’Gara has found a new lease of life this year and his presence has caused opposing defences much panic so far. After a frustrating couple of years with injury, Alan Brogan has made a seamless return with some eye-catching displays during the league.
Reference has been made to the Wicklow v Laois tie and the winners from that game will face the Dubs in the quarter-final on 8 June. On the same side of the draw, Longford play host to Offaly on Sunday next. The prize for the winner is a date with Wexford in the last-eight.
Dublin’s passage to the Leinster final looks relatively straightforward, though you would hope that Laois could put it up to them if they get past the Wicklow challenge.
Kildare and Meath on collision course
On the other side of the draw, Louth visit Westmeath in the preliminary round. Kildare await the victors. The remaining quarter-final clash sees Carlow take on Meath at Dr Cullen Park.
A gaze at the crystal ball conjures an image of Kildare and Meath doing battle in the last-four at Croke Park on 29 June. With two progressive managers in Jason Ryan and Mick O’Dowd calling the shots from the sidelines, this has the potential to be a keenly-contested affair.
After relegation in the spring, Ryan’s Lilywhites need a good summer. During his time with Wexford, the manager masterminded two Leinster final appearances and had his side playing an attractive brand of football.
Kildare’s talent pool is greater and their attack boasts fine players in the shape of Paddy Brophy, Eoghan O’Flaherty, Padraig Fogarty and Darroch Mulhall.
Getting to a Leinster final and an All-Ireland quarter-final thereafter would represent a more than satisfactory campaign for Ryan in his first year in charge.
A similar return is surely on Meath’s agenda. In last year’s Leinster decider, they had Dublin on the run for the closing stages of the first half and deservedly led at the break. However, they could not sustain that effort on the resumption.
Meath subsequently lost narrowly to Tyrone in the qualifiers, but much could be taken from their efforts over the season.
The news that Shane O’Rourke has returned to the fold after a long-term injury is a plus – a welcome addition to a forward unit that includes Graham Reilly, Stephen Bray and Michael Newman.
What about the rest?
Westmeath, Louth, Longford and Offaly all endured relegation during the spring. Laois just about survived in Division 2, while Wexford preserved their third tier status on the last day. Carlow finished bottom in Division 4.This poses questions about the overall standard in the province.
Westmeath, Longford and Laois can clear their respective hurdles this weekend. Longford may fancy their chances against Wexford in the next round.
As has been the case in recent seasons, Laois could again enjoy a productive run through the back door.
LEINSTER FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP FIXTURES
SATURDAY 17 MAY
Westmeath v Louth, Cusack Park, 7pm
SUNDAY 18 MAY
Longford v Offaly, Pearse Park, 3.30pm
Wicklow v Laois, Aughrim, 3.30pm
SATURDAY 7/SUNDAY 8 JUNE
Longford/Offaly v Wexford, TBC
SUNDAY 8 JUNE
Westmeath/Louth v Kildare, Croke Park, 2pm
Wicklow/Laois v Dublin, Croke Park – Live on RTÉ TV & digital platforms
SUNDAY 15 JUNE
Carlow v Kildare, Dr Cullen Park, 3.30pm
SUNDAY 29 JUNE
Westmeath/Louth/Kildare v Carlow/Meath, Croke Park, 2pm - Live on RTÉ TV & digital platforms
Longford/Offaly/Wexford v Wicklow/Laois/Dublin, Croke Park, 4pm - Live on RTÉ TV & digital platforms
Sunday 20 July, Croke Park, 4pm - Live on RTÉ