This is the weekend when the football championship finally starts to take shape. By 6 pm on Sunday evening, the provincial finalists will be known across all four provinces and we’ll be one step closer to knowing the identity of the teams who will contest the Super 8’s this year.
We will also see the first eight teams exit this year’s competition*. The most high profile of which could be Monaghan, who topped Group 1 of the Super 8s last year, before going out to Tyrone by a single point in the All-Ireland semi-final. They face a tricky tie against a Fermanagh side that beat the Farney men in the Ulster semi-final last year with a late goal. Tipperary, who reached an All-Ireland semi-final as recently as 2016, face a tough trip to Newry to face a Down team who were unlucky to lose out by a single point after extra-time in an epic battle against Armagh last time out.
*(New York are already out after their loss to Mayo in the Connacht Championship, as they do not compete in the qualifiers).
There are another six matches to be contested over the course of Saturday and Sunday, and all eight qualifiers must be decided on the day. We have the confusing scenario of a different set of rules governing extra-time in different games this weekend.
In the event of a draw in the Ulster semi-final between Donegal and Tyrone there will be two ten-minute periods of extra time and if the sides still cannot be separated there would be a replay. However, if the Ulster semi-final replay between Armagh and Cavan finishes all square again at full time then we will have twenty minutes of extra-time, followed by two five-minute periods before being decided by penalties.
The contingency plan for a draw in any of the round 1 qualifiers is slightly different, as a draw in any of those ties would see the contestants battle out for two ten minute periods of extra-time, then if still level we would go straight to a penalty shoot-out. Of course, once we reach the Super 8 stage any of the games can end in a draw as it works on a league basis, before back to extra-time if required for the All-Ireland semi-finals and final.
We already know the makeup of the provincial finalists in Connacht and Munster, while barring a draw in either of the Leinster semi-finals or between Donegal and Tyrone we will have the full provincial final pairings by this weekend.
The Provincial winners will claim a spot in the Super 8’s, while the beaten finalists will get another bite of the cherry against one of the four teams that advance from round 3 of the qualifiers.