After last weekend’s two mis-matches in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, GAA people are really hoping for some high quality fare this Saturday, when Monaghan take on Tyrone, and Connacht champions Mayo face Donegal.
The second game is the more attractive fixture by far and following Donegal’s ten point defeat of Galway last weekend and in particular the way they finished the game, Rory Gallagher’s men will feel that they can take down Mayo, as they did in the All-Ireland final of 2012.
It will be very interesting to see if Donegal deploy their team captain and most potent weapon, Michael Murphy, in at full-forward for a longer period than they have been doing. And if the big Glenswilly man does ramble into the edge of the square, who will Holmes and Connelly put on him?
Mayo have unsurprisingly selected the same XV who hammered Sligo in the Connacht final and that means that Donal Vaughan is nominally picked at full-back, however that is not a position that he is likely to stay in.
It is possible that Ger Cafferkey will go to full-back with Tom Cunniffe relocating to the corner, however, Cafferkey will need support and extra defenders around the place if he is picking up Murphy in a one-to-one situation.
Mayo go into Saturday’s game untested as their two championship victories over Galway and Sligo were handy enough for them. This weekend will be a different challenge,and it is interesting that Michael Murphy mentioned the 4-17 to 1-10 drubbing they took off the Mayo men in 2013. Obviously that is something that still rankles, and they will be keen to get some revenge for that hiding.
The bookies have Mayo as 5/6 favourites, with the Ulster men at 11/8, and I think that is about right.
Mayo should be fresher
Mayo should be fresher than Donegal and they will have been able to target this weekend from a long way out. Their fitness team should have their programme running so that they are starting to peak now for the next few weeks and this quarter-final was always where they would have expected to be, in light of the ease with which they have been picking up Connacht titles.
How Aidan O’ Shea and Cillian O’Connor do from a scoring perspective will be critical to Mayo’s chances of advancing to meet Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final. In the likes of Paddy McGrath and Neil and Eamonn McGee they are coming up against hardy and experienced defenders.
However, both the Mayo lads have shown terrific form in the two games to-date and if they get good and regular supply, I would take them to do real damage. Mayo will have to vary the game though, and they cannot just try and lorry ball in on top of O’Shea’s head.
Strong running by Seamus O’ Shea and Tom Parsons and both wing-backs, and wing-forwards will be needed to keep the Donegal defence stretched.
Donegal’s Ryan McHugh is another Donegal player who needs to be tracked closely and whether it is Kevin McLoughlin or Diarmuid O’ Connor, McHugh needs to be kept on the back foot.
Defensively he is suspect due to his lack of power and height, however, offensively he is a super player and he does real damage if allowed to roam free.
I don’t expect there to be much between them, however I believe that Mayo’s freshness and the added scoring threat that O’ Shea at full-forward provides will see them through.
The other quarter-final is likely to be a real dog fight. However, I think that Monaghan will just have too much for Mickey Harte’s men. If they stop corner forwards Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey they will have nullified a lot of the Red Hand threat. The likes of Peter Harte, Sean Cavanagh and Mark Bradley are good players too, but I expect that Monaghan will be able for them and will set up a semi-final clash with the Kingdom.