Fermanagh and Down look for shock factor
The magnetic appeal of the provincial and All-Ireland championships does not necessarily have its roots in fashionable sides turning on the style and proving themselves masters of all they survey.
Rather, a particular fascination within the tapestry of the most important competitions in the annual fixtures calendar lies in their capacity to deliver unexpected results which can lend fresh intrigue and indeed drama to the summer campaign.
To see a minnow triumph unexpectedly is invariably hailed with enthusiasm – except of course by the players, manager and supporters of the team which is forced to bow the keen to them.
Within the past month, we have been treated to a handsome ratio of shock results which not only became major talking points but which cast a different light on some of the provincial championships.
In this respect, pride of place must go to London for the clinical manner in which they tamed a Sligo side which had travelled to Ruislip with high hopes of making it into the last four in the Connacht series. Manager Paul Goggins is now in charge of a side imbued with fresh belief and chomping at the bit to make it into the western decider – changed times indeed from previous years when London's early exit was inevitable.
And it was west of the Shannon that another major sporting tsunami unfolded last Sunday when Limerick, for so long the Cinderella side in Munster hurling, overcame Clare in the semi-final.
The celebrations that engulfed the Gaelic Grounds at the end of the game would have done justice to an All-Ireland final coup and if the Limerick fans get behind their side in even bigger numbers next day out – as they assuredly will – then I think that the team could enjoy an extended championship campaign.
In Ulster, Derry's eclipse by Down and Cavan's taming of a restructured Armagh side had not quite been expected.
Cavan will go in to face Fermanagh on Sunday with their spirits high and their ambition fermented by a competent if unspectacular display against the Orchard County but also aware that they are capable of taking things to the next level, particularly if Martin Dunne and Eugene Keating are on song again.
Derry manager Brian McIver had always been wary of Down and his apprehension was well-founded as his team could not live with the rejuvenated Mournemen throughout the second-half.
This win proved a massive shot in the arm for Down and has provided a further spur for the county board's ambitious Consultation Process campaign which is aimed at ensuring that Down can continue to dine at the top table within the sport and perhaps add to the five All-Ireland titles they have already won.
The vagaries of championship football were brought home forcibly to Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke, too.
He had watched his side defeat Laois by ten points, one of the reasons why Drogheda was sold out last weekend for the visit of Wexford who, despite the fact that they have been involved in the closing stages of the All-Ireland championship in recent years, were not given much of a chance.
Louth fans clearly sensed that their team might be on their way into another Leinster final but their aspirations were rudely shattered when Wexford won courtesy of PJ Bannville goal and some stout defending in the final quarter.
No wonder boss O'Rourke was flabbergasted at the finish – he had watched his side go toe to toe with their visitors for the greater part of the match yet were unable to drag themselves over the line. O'Rourke must now make a reluctant journey into the qualifiers where he will seek solace with a side that has looked impressive this year but failed to deliver in front of a full house on their own patch.
Predicting the outcome of games has now become a hazardous business. In a special Croke Park competition, I predicted the outcome of seven matches and got five of them wrong.
The winners of Sunday's Fermanagh v Cavan quarter-final will meet Monaghan in the second Ulster semi-final on Saturday, June 29 and this could prove a particularly attractive fixture irrespective of the pairing.
I know that the spotlight has tended to fall on the other side of the draw which includes provincial champions Donegal but they will surely be extremely wary of the challenge that Down will pose on Sunday week.
Let's not forget that Down entered the championship on the back of a fine win over Kieran McGeeney's Kildare in their last league game.
The mantra should therefore be – expect the unexpected.