The GAA provincial football championship has taken place live on RTÉ Radio’s Saturday Sport with the Connacht draw immediately commanding attention — guaranteeing that a current Division Four county will qualify for the provincial final.
That is because champions Galway and fellow Division One counties Roscommon and Mayo, who meet in the quarter-finals, are all on the one side of the draw with New York, Leitrim, Sligo and London on the other. Sligo or Leitrim will be favourites to make the final — Sligo for the first time since 2015 whereas Leitrim who won’t have been in a provincial final for 23 years — but neither can qualify for a top 16 seeding in the league, as both are in Division Four of the AFL.
In the Tier 1 Sam Maguire championship, the first eight seeds are the provincial finalists with the next eight places allocated to counties, based on the league positions. Already, therefore, the 16th team — runners-up in next year’s Division Three final — will NOT qualify for Sam Maguire but instead contest the Tier 2 Tailteann Cup.
There is an added complication in that Westmeath, who won the Tailteann Cup in July, are also guaranteed entry to the Sam Maguire.
The county, which will play in Division Three of next year’s league, will be a guaranteed addition to the field even if they fail to secure promotion, meaning now that in that case the Division Three winners would also fall short of the Sam Maguire.
If Connacht shone a light for lower division teams to reach the provincial final, Munster offered no such comfort with Cork and Kerry on separate sides of the draw. All-Ireland champions Kerry will open their defence against the winners of Tipperary-Waterford.
The other side of the draw pitches three Division Two counties, Limerick, Cork and Clare against each other and depending on their league campaigns — specifically if they were to be relegated — the outcome could prove very significant.
Ulster, traditionally the most competitive of the provinces, sees champions Derry take on manager Rory Gallagher’s native county Fermanagh. That side of the draw also includes 2021 All-Ireland winners Tyrone and the team they beat by a point in that year’s provincial final, Monaghan.
On the other side, favourites to come through will be Division One sides Armagh and Donegal, who played each other twice in last year’s championship with each winning one: Donegal in Ulster and Armagh some weeks later in the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Leinster didn’t throw up anything out of the ordinary but 2022 finalists Dublin and Kildare are on the same side of the draw with Meath, now under the new management of Colm O’Rourke, on the other side of the draw with Longford, Offaly, Westmeath and Louth.
Technically no Leinster county — except Westmeath — is guaranteed entry to the Sam Maguire, as none of them are in Division One, including champions Dublin and finalists Kildare.
Draws were overseen by Bernard Smith, the GAA’s Games Administration Manager, and conducted by representatives of the provincial councils: John Murphy (president, Connacht GAA), John Prenty (Connacht CEO), Pat Teehan (chair, Leinster GAA) and Ciarán McLaughlin (Ulster chair).
Quarter-finals: New York v Leitrim; London v Sligo; Roscommon v Mayo,
Semi-finals: Galway v Roscommon/Mayo; London/Sligo v New York/Leitrim
First round: Longford v Offaly; Wicklow v Carlow; Wexford v Laois.
Quarter-finals: Kildare v Wicklow/Carlow; Dublin v Wexford/Laois; Meath v Longford/Offaly; Westmeath v Louth.
Semi-finals Kildare/Wicklow/Carlow v Dublin/Wexford/Laois; Meath/Longford/Offaly v Westmeath/Louth.
Quarter-finals: Tipperary v Waterford; Cork v Clare
Semi-finals: Limerick v Cork/Clare; Tipperary/Waterford v Kerry
Preliminary round: Armagh v Antrim
Quarter-finals: Cavan v Armagh/Antrim; Fermanagh v Derry; Tyrone v Monaghan; Down v Donegal.
Semi-finals: Down/Donegal v Cavan/Armagh/Antrim; Fermanagh/Derry v Tyrone/Monaghan.