THE Championship action continues in Connacht this weekend as Roscommon play Leitrim while it gets underway in Leinster with three games down for decision.
However, with due respect to those four games, the big attraction this weekend is the Preliminary Round meeting of Tyrone and Down as the Ulster Championship swings into action.
Tyrone are favourites to advance to a quarter-final meeting with holders Monaghan next month, with home advantage and their ability to put together and create many scoring opportunities as has been evident throughout this year’s league campaign.
In fact, only Cork and Mayo scored more in the seven round series of games yet only relegated Kildare and Westmeath conceded more than Mickey Harte’s side, which suggests that there is a weakness in their defensive set-up.
However, Down’s record in Division 2 shows that only relegated Louth scored less than them with only the promoted pair of Donegal and Monaghan conceding less which suggests that James McCartin’s team are stronger in defence.
Ever since they were hammered by Donegal in the 2012 Ulster final Down have persisted with a game plan of keeping things quiet in defence and to a certain extent that has worked – a perfect example was their low-scoring win over Donegal in Newry.
All that means is that we could witness a scrappy, untidy game on Sunday which would suit Down very well – a niggly game, low on entertainment value.
The introduction of the black card has yet to show its real value despite what some would have you believe and it’s interesting that Meath’s David Coldrick has been selected by the Ulster Council to take charge in Omagh while Cavan’s Joe McQuillan will be the man in the middle for the Derry v Donegal game at Celtic Park next weekend.
I’ll be very interested to see how these two most experienced referees deal with the issue of fouls in these high profile games. They could well set the standard for what’s ahead in the summer of 2014.
I expect Down to try and keep things very tight but I still think that Tyrone will come through.
I’ll deal with the Derry versus Donegal game next week but the news that Big Neil Gallagher is very doubtful after injuring an ankle in training is surely a cause of concern. Rory Kavanagh’s absence in that sector is already a big blow for Donegal and here’s hoping that Neil can recover enough to take his place in the starting line-up.
This year also sees changes in terms of the structure of the qualifiers. The losers of the early Championship matches go into what has been described in the fixture list as Round 1 of the qualifiers while teams that play and lose later in their respective Championships play in Round 1B. Then there’s rounds 2A and B, 3a and B and finally the winners of 4A and B progress to play the provincial champions in the quarter finals. Those game will be played on two separate weekends in August rather than all four quarter-finals taking part on the Bank Holiday weekend as was the norm in recent years.
The open draw as we knew it no longer applies in the qualifiers and has been replaced by a two-sided draw depending on who and when you play. It looks a bit complicated but, like most things when it comes to the GAA, it will probably sort itself out as the summer progresses.
TIM Sherwood had just been sacked by Spurs after 127 days in charge since taking over from Andre Villas Boas, making it two managers to be sacked at White Hart Lane this season.
They weren’t the only club to go through two managers this season as both Fulham and West Brom have done the same. Indeed, Fulham’s third manager Felix Mageth is not sure of keeping his job following their relegation.
Other clubs who have changed managers this year include Manchester United, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Swansea and Norwich – the last two of whom still got relegated – while Gus Poyet and Tony Pulis did the jobs that were asked of them by keeping their clubs in the Premier League. Pepe Mel did the same at WBA but he still got the sack.
Reports suggest that Sam Allardyce, Paul Lambert and Alan Pardew are all struggling to keep their jobs. Should they lose their jobs it will bring to 15 the number of managers sacked by 12 clubs in the top flight. Pardew’s 1,229 days and Allardyce, at 1,055 days, are currently the second and third longest serving managers in the Premier League. Lambert (689) is fifth, just ahead of Steve Bruce (683) who steered Hull City to this weekend’s FA Cup final.
Way out in front is Arsenal Arsene Wenger, despite the fact that the Gunners have won nothing in nine years. The Frenchman has been in charge since 1996, an amazing 6,408 days, at the time of writing. Indeed, the combined total for the other 19 managers stood at 6,898 less than 500 ahead of Wenger.
If Pardew and Allardyce both lose their jobs, Brendan Rodgers would become the second longest serving manager despite being at Liverpool for just two seasons.
It’s a crazy situation that clubs are prepared to charge their managers so often in the ongoing quest for success. Okay, it would for Sunderland and to a lesser extent Swansea and of course Crystal Palace but not for Fulham, Norwich and Cardiff while WBA just about survived.
Next season the pressure starts once again. Whoever takes over at Old Trafford will be expected to win titles, Brendan Rodgers will want to do better than this year while Jose Mourinho will also be under pressure.
While nothing in life is certain, it’s fair to say that not too many of those who start the league season will still be there come the season’s end.
So it’s not the driver
German driver Sebastian Vettel has dominated the Formula 1 grand prix series for the past few years but this year it hasn’t been all plain sailing for the current World Champion and his Red Bull team so far in 2014.
There’s no doubt that he’s a hugely talented driver but it would appear that he’s no longer driving the best car on the grid. Those cars would belong to Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
When Hamilton left MacLaren in favour of Mercedes many felt that the Englishman was simply following the money but it would now appear that he knew a lot more about it than we first thought.
He’s won four out of the first five races this year and himself and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg have moved well clear of the pack at the top of the drivers championship. They’ve led the way from start to finish in all races and while Sky and BBC have tried to make things interesting there’s very little value in Formula 1 at the moment. It’s becoming more and more obvious that it now all about who has the best car.
Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg and a few others are probably on a par when it comes to racing cars but now it’s all about which of them has the best car and at the moment it’s Hamilton and Rosberg. As a result, the sport is in danger of coming to a stand-still and that’s never a healthy situation.