It can get much worse too. Again, you’ll probably have people saying that Division 1B isn’t so bad, that we could regroup and notch up a few victories a year against weaker teams, and I think it’s fair to say that, in itself, life in Division 1B isn’t that bad. There are enough decent teams in there that it isn’t the dropdown that falling into an eight-team second division might be, and it might be nice to freshen up the array of teams that we play each year after several years of painting-the-Forth-Bridge efforts against the likes of Kilkenny and Tipperary. There’s a potential pincer movement at work here though. After several near misses you can imagine Limerick would be well up for showing us who was boss, Wexford seemed to have bottomed out, Laois are definitely on the way up . . . in fact, they’d all see us as vulnerable. There probably wouldn’t be any 20-point massacre, but we can forget about a quick return to the top table.
Yes, I was rather pessimistic about our prospects in Division 1B, and all that was posted before the draw left us with three away games against the the three best opponents. The thing is, pessimism was the appropriate stance at the start. The task set before anyone in such a small division is to not make a single mistake. One slip and you can forget about promotion, and for all the reasons outlined above there were plenty of banana skins.
Yet here we are, having successfully negotiated all those banana skins. No doubt we’ll have some downplaying of this, with a few pointing out that the team that got relegated in each of the last two seasons came straight back up. While true, that doesn’t tell us anything of consequence. Dublin did indeed get promoted in 2013, but that was despite finishing second in the division behind Limerick, who they then beat in the divisional final. Would we relish the prospect of taking on Limerick again? This should knock on the head any suggestion that the relegated team has some kind in-built structural advantage over the teams that have been in the division for a few years. And when Cork got relegated in 2013, you can be certain there were groans among the incumbents in 1B, especially when Cork came within a whisker of winning the All-Ireland. Waterford, on the other hand, would have had them rubbing their hands with glee. The team who were occupying their place in the top flight were finally having to vacate it and would indeed be shown who was boss! How satisfying it is to construct that strawman and see it get well and truly torched.
Just to make our cup runneth properly over, we have a proper instant reward in a home game against Galway next week. All four Division 1B teams lost to the 1A opponents in last year’s quarter-finals so that’s a possible trend that we are going to need to buck. Scouring the League records for insight, I couldn’t find much to begin with. We lost six on the bounce against Galway in the Noughties but have won three of the last four. Our home record is okay, eight wins against six losses, and the Walsh Park record of four wins against two losses is hardly significant. What is interesting is the record in knockout League games:
Ouch. All of those games would have been at neutral venues and they also reflect Galway’s higher level of preparedness for the League given they would not get to the Championship until August, although why we would have chosen to treat the League with disdain over the years . . . no such excuses this time around.