Having wasted one thousand-and-something words on predicting Waterford’s course through the Munster championship, it’s time to waste a few hundred more on predicting Waterford’s course through the All-Ireland qualifier series. This probably has more merit than the Munster effort, because trying to untangle the web that is the qualifier series is a task in itself.
It’s also got one prediction that is more dependable than betting on the name of the BBC film show Jonathan Ross is going to be presenting in 2009. Waterford will be playing Antrim in ‘Phase 2′. It’s curious that the GAA have decided to make the Ulster championship a contest between all nine counties, a project that has been a success thus far, yet only consider Antrim worthy of representing Ulster for the Liam McCarthy Cup. Either way, Galway will take Antrim to the cleaners, which leaves us playing the Saffrons.
Okay, time to hold my nose and take the plunge off the Guillamene. We’ll beat Antrim. I can’t recall us ever losing to them and despite the problems that are self-evidently present after the match last Sunday, they shouldn’t be starting now. It’s not impossible that they’ll trip us up. They’ve shown a capacity for defeating middle ranking counties like Dublin, Wexford, Laois and Offaly in recent years and there is a distinct chance that we could be sliding towards that dark and dismal level after a decade of hob-nobbing with Kilkenny and Cork. Still, the prediction has to be a Waterford win. Anything else would be taking I-have-a-feeling-in-my-waters to absurd levels.
Having overcome that hurdle, we would be playing one of two teams to come out of a playoff between the losing Leinster and Munster semi-finalists. Dublin and Offaly are likely to be the Leinster representatives, unless Wexford either take a theatrical dive to avoid being stomped on by Kilkenny for the 99th time out of 100 attempts or their recent spate of retirements means that they have to field Tony Doran and George O’Connor (although that might be an improvement on the current crop). At the risk of leaving hostages to fortune – not that that’s stopped me before, ahem – any of the likely Leinster teams would be fine. The manner in which Wexford took us apart in 2003 demonstrates that nothing is certain, but they would be better than the alternatives – the alternatives being one of the four teams left in Munster.
Clare looked tidy enough against us to think that they’ll be able to take Limerick, while Tipperary’s progress in the League suggests they should be capable of taking a Cork team who did little in the spring to indicate they will be an improvement on last season’s model that lost three knockout matches to Waterford and were ambushed by a Tipperary team just itching to get shot of Babs Keating. So that means Limerick and Cork would join Dublin and Offaly in ‘Phase 3′. It’s hard to see anyone other than the Munster teams winning . . . but if it were that easy, none of us would get anything wrong, right? With that in mind, and having conducted a notional draw with totally unwarmed balls which pits Dublin against Limerick and Offaly against Cork, I’m going to go for Dublin to shock Limerick – no shock in the other game – and leave us with a 50:50 chance of getting a fantastic draw in ‘Phase 4′.
(I’ve finally realised how daft all this is. Predicting Munster is fine because the draw is mapped out. But having to construct fake draws invalidates any attempt at an informed prediction. But hey, we’ve come this far . . .)
Maestro, can I have a drum roll as Waterford see whether they will play the Jackeens or the Langers in the All-Ireland series. And it’s . . . Cork! Like the two headed monster on Sesame Street, you can’t tear these two apart no matter how much you’d like to. And that, my friends, is where Waterford would come unstuck. The one benefit of this exercise is that it shows how a kind draw could carry a decent team bounced out in the early rounds of the Championship all the way through to the semi-finals. With my imaginary draw, we could draw Dublin and then clash presumed losing Munster finalists Clare again in ‘Phase 4’. The sample size of teams who have met in the Championship before producing a different result is statistically insignificant, with Waterford having the same outcome second time around on two occasions (Cork in 2005 and 2007) and a different result once (Tipperary in 2006), so the only thing that can be divined from that is that it is possible to reverse the result. But once a decent team starts meeting one of the more-than-decent teams – Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Galway (the last one being said really fast) – then there would be trouble, and the likelihood of beating two of them would be slim. Upon closer inspection, the new system seems to throw up a greater potential for exciting knockout ties. Dublin in particular must be relishing the prospect of having a meaningful backdoor match if / when they lose in Leinster as opposed to ploughing through a round robin phase from which they have little chance of qualifying. No amount of system tinkering can make a team capable of winning the All-Ireland though, and we don’t look capable.