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My god, it's been a while. Believe it or not, it's been a full 13 and a half months since last year's All-Ireland Final, and really we don't need to go into the reasons. You know...that thing...the killer of craic. The destroyer of pubs. The unpleasantness.
Life without the Championship has been harsh. We had to put up with an extra few months of crowing Dubs, extending five years of smugness by another six months or so. We had to listen to the Artane Band doing songs that weren't Amhran na bFiann. We had to pretend that we liked the league.
Now, thank the GAA gods, the Championship is back and we're in for the treat to end all treats. We're going to get more games than ever, in a shorter time than ever, with a level of drama that hasn't been seen in two decades. Usually the season runs for five months or so, with qualifiers, replays, second chances and group stages: now, we're getting all the games piled into six weeks in a single knockout, no replay, winner-takes-all format that means games on games on games.
For those of us who grew up watching football in the 90s, this is the way it always way: provincial championships into semis into the final, with nothing in between. No second chances. One defeat and you're done. For a Football Championship that has seen Dublin smash everyone for years, this will arguably be their most difficult defence yet: one loss and they're out. That said, they haven't lost a Championship game since 2014, so there's that.
Given the increased uncertainty, Dublin only start this year at Evens with the bookies - and for those of you who think that 2020 is the year in which literally anything can happen: Mayo are 14/1 to take home Sam for the first time since 1951.
What it also means is that, starting this weekend, basically every county is playing both football and hurling, until they aren't anymore. For the opening round, we're going to get more than 20 fixtures taking place this weekend, all of which matter massively. If you're suitably inclined and have all the channels, you could sit down and watch GAA until your backside gets sore.
For starters, you can see Armagh v Tyrone in the Ladies' Football on TG4 on Friday night at half 7, before the men's stuff gets going on Saturday. You'll have Monaghan v Cavan in the Ulster Football Championship at 1.30pm on Sky Sports Mix, followed by Cork v Waterford in the Munster Hurling. Then you can flick to TG4 for the Ladies Football Championship match between Dublin and Donegal, before retiring for the evening.
Bright and early on Sunday you'll get Leitrim v Mayo, with RTE News press ganged into showing that instead of, y'know, news, or on the other side, Sky Sports will be showing football between Tipp and Clare. If you're in the North, you'll get football between Derry v Armagh on BBC NI at 4pm, while The Sunday Game on RTE will be Donegal v Tyrone at 1.30pm followed by Tipp v Limerick in the Munster Hurling Championship at 4. Oh, and of course you can catch the highlights of everything back at 9-30 on RTE One.
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