Singing Russian grannies, the importance of the No 17 ball in a leap year, an Austrian rap duo . . . RTE’s Eurovision expert Paul G Sheridan unravels the arcane mysteries of the Eurovision Song Contest, looks at Jedward’s hopes in Baku tomorrow night and checks out the competition

When Edward won Euro song (still referred to as the National Song Contest by us diehards!) back in February, they joined a long list of artists who represented their country in two consecutive years.

Half a century ago now, Belfast crooner Ronnie Carroll flew the UK flag in 1962/63, and finished in fourth place on both occasions. But the last performer to do two-in-a-row was Lena (Meyer-Landrut) from Germany, who won the event in Oslo two years ago with Satellite, and then decided to go again last year on home turf, but only managed tenth place in the Final.

But Germany don’t have to worry about qualifying for the Grand Final, being one of the “Big Five” nations – alongside France, Italy, Spain and the UK. The same can’t be said about Ireland, however, despite holding the Eurovision record with no less than seven victories, although it’s been sixteen years since our last winner Eimear Quinn took top honours in Oslo with Brendan Graham’s The Voice.

So now Jedward, who represent Ireland for the second year in a row (Liam Reilly was the first songwriter to do so, firstly in 1990, when he performed his own song, and again in 1991 when he invited Kim Jackson to sing his song in Rome) have a tough battle on their hands in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

RTÉ Eurovision expert Paul G Sheridan

Last year in Düsseldorf, the Grimes twins managed to qualify for the Final by finishing in the first ten in the second of the semi-finals (eighth position), and finished in the same position in the Final. Another first is that Jedward will once again sing last in the semi-final line-up, so the voting public across Europe may still have Waterline pounding in their heads as they reach for their phones.

But the twins are up against some real competition in the first of the semis (Tuesday 22 May, RTÉ Two, 8pm). The much talked about sextet of grannies Buranovskiye Babushki from Russia, and the rap duo from Austria calling themselves Trackshittaz are the novelty acts who will give Jedward a run for their money.

Other strong contenders in the first semi are the songs from Iceland, Greece, Romania, Israel, Cyprus, Denmark, Hungary, and the Moldovan entry which will be performed directly before the Irish song. The Lucan lads are sure to qualify with the song composed for them by Swedish songwriter/producer Nick Jarl, and US composer Sharon Vaughn.

And if they should make it to the Final next Saturday, John and Edward must select the No. 17 ball (which thankfully had not been taken by any of the six direct finalists) when they come to draw their position for the Grand Finale, and especially in 2012, which is a leap year.

In the past, singing in seventeenth position in a leap year has been a lucky omen for Ireland - it has happened three times before in 1980, 1992 and 1996 - when the Irish songs in those years all won the contest. But that was in the days when the decision lay with the juries only.

It’s a different ball game now with the so-called “democratic” televoting procedure having been in place since the late 1990s, so the Jeds will have to put on a spectacular and unforgettable performance to win the hearts – and more importantly the votes – from southern and eastern European viewers.

Their biggest fan base is in north-western Europe so they will be guaranteed votes from there. As was decided by the draw, Jedward fans in the UK, Germany and Sweden cannot vote for their idols until they reach the Final. In their semi-final, they’ll be relying on votes from Denmark, Iceland, Belgium and Switzerland.

But it’s doubtful whether Romania and Moldova (neighbours who speak the same language), or Greece and Cyprus will be awarding the maximum points to the twins – they’ll be giving them to each other!

But of course we wish John and Edward the best of Irish in the first semi-final with ‘Waterline’. Hopefully we will see them performing in the Final next Saturday night in Baku. Good luck, lads!