By Damian Dolan
The race to be crowned 2019 All Britain champions begins in earnest on Sunday, and only one thing is for sure – they’ll be a new name carved on the trophy.
Dunedin Connolly’s four-in-row hopes were left in tatters by Glasgow Gaels, who ended their 13-year wait to lift the Charles Quinn memorial trophy.
A result that has thrown this year’s provincial title race wide open, and the likely successors to the Edinburgh side’s crown are now jockeying for position.
None more so than perennial bridesmaids Sean McDermotts of Birmingham. The last of the club’s four provincial titles came in 1988 – since then it’s been a tale of final heartache.
Runners up in 2017, Sean McDermotts were also beaten finalists in 2015, 2010, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999, 1998 and 1995. The provincial title has become the Warwickshire club’s Holy Grail.
The Macs bowed out of last year’s provincial championship on the back of a 4-14 to 0-9 hammering at the hands of Dunedin Connolly’s.
If they are to end that barren run, they’ll first have to get through a tough opener against Yorkshire champions Hugh O’Neills in Leeds.
O’Neills beat defending champions Cu Chulainns of Newcastle in the Yorkshire final by 1-17 to 0-11 to add to their senior title victories of 2017 and 2015.
It’s 20 years since the Leeds club claimed the second of its two All-Britain titles, when they defeated McDermotts in the 1999 decider by 1-11 to 0-4.
It remains the pinnacle for a club which celebrated its 70th year in 2018.
Hugh O’Neills reached their first All-Britain final in 1980, losing 1-8 to 2-2 to London’s Tara. They were back, though, two years later to beat London’s Parnells in the final by 1-6 to 0-8.
The All-Britain has proven a trickier nut to crack for O’Neill’s in recent years. They were knocked out in the quarters in 2017 by Thomas McCurtains (2-8 to 0-6) and given a sound beating by Dunedin Connolly’s in 2015.
St Judes of Bournemouth versus Hertfordshire’s Eire Og is an intriguing quarter-final. For both sides this year, it was back-to-back county titles for the first time.
Last year, St Judes gave a good account of themselves at Ruislip in the semi-finals before going down by 3-13 to 0-13 to Neasden Gaels.
The last Gloucestershire side to reach the final was Cardiff’s St Colmcilles in 2012. Southern Gaels, who have roots in St Judes, did likewise in 1997.
Eire Og were downed by Sean McDermotts in last year’s quarter-finals by 2-12 to 1-7.
St Vincents were the last Hertfordshire side to reach the final, in 1989, when they lost to The Kingdom by 1-12 to 0-4.
Whichever way it goes, the champions of Gloucestershire or Hertfordshire will be in the 2019 semi-finals, and 60 minutes away from a coveted final place.
Representing London are Thomas McCurtains. The east Londoners won intermediate for the first time since 2007 and then defeated junior champions Dulwich Harps in the intermediate/junior play-off to earn their provincial place.
The club will celebrate its 100th year in 2020.
McCurtains will be attempting to become the first London All-Britain winners since Fulham Irish in 2006.
Since then, Neasden Gaels (2018), North London Shamrocks (2014, Tara (2008) and McCurtains themselves in 2007, have all reached the final, only to fall at the final hurdle.
In their favour is the fact they have recent experience of the competition. In 2017, having won the London junior championship, McCurtains beat Cuchullains in the play-off game, only to be knocked out in the semi-finals by Sean McDermotts by just two points at Ruislip.
They’ll face three-in-a-row Lancashire champions Oisin, who’ll be hoping to do better than their last two excursions into the competition.
Knocked out by Neasden last year (3-17 to 1-11) in Greenford, the Manchester club also bowed out at the same stage in 2017 at the hands of Sean McDermotts by six points.
All-Britain champions in 1994, Oisin last reached the final in 2006.
This year sees the introduction of the Provincial Shield – a knock out competition for the county final runners up. They’re joined by London junior champions Dulwich Harps.
The trophy is named after long-serving provincial and Warwickshire secretary Joe O’Rourke.