Who would have predicted that Dublin, Kildare, Down and Cork would be the last four standing in the chase for this year’s All-Ireland? It is so refreshing to see new teams emerge and it is also good that we will see new champions later this summer. Tyrone and Kerry have dominated the scene for the last eight years, and to be honest, it was becoming predictable and a little boring. That is why last weekend’s results were like a breath of fresh air.
Both games on Saturday were terrific with Down toppling Kerry and Dublin, Tyrone. Apparently the winning double paid 14/1 at the bookies, and rumour is circulating that John Kelly, the Barber from Castle Street, has made a small fortune by predicting correctly not just those two results, but the two winning teams from Sunday as well. Down have a terrific young team and if they are not to win this year’s title, there is no doubt they will be there or thereabouts for a few years to come. Martin Clarke was immense for them last Saturday. He has developed into a real superstar and could prove to be one of Down’s all time greats, such was his influence on the outcome. Kerry, having played in the last six All-Ireland finals, looked a tired outfit and were missing the sparkle that made them such a formidable force over the last few years. When you factor in the number of top class players missing from their line up, was it that much of a surprise that Down turned them over?
Love them or hate them - I like the Dubs - it is good for the GAA to have the Dubs in the last four. Pat Gilroy, the Dublin manager, deserves huge credit for rebuilding the team in a few short weeks. They looked shambolic in the Leinster championship and I recall seeing a banner on the ‘Hill’ demanding his removal as manager. But look at them now. They are in the last four and not without a shout in deciding the destiny of this year’s title.
Jimmy Magee was able to tell me last Sunday that Kildare haven’t won an All-Ireland since 1928 and hadn’t won a Leinster title, before Micko came along in the late 80s, in about 40 years. That is why I would like to see Kildare go on and win the title this year. They played brilliant classy football last Sunday. When you consider they gave Meath a six-point start before they scored their first point, it gives an indication of their near dominance over the next hour. And they did it without their inspirational Dermot Early. Yes, for me, that was the performance of the weekend. The fact that both the Dubs and Kildare are in the last four will do wonders for the promotion of Gaelic football in the most densely populated areas of the country. Both teams will bring huge crowds to Croke Park for the semi-finals, creating a great buzz and excitement around town for hours before the game. And of course they will generate enormous revenue for the GAA in the process. I suppose the message I got from these results is that any team that gets through the back door early can make real progress in the championship.
The Rossies did quite well last weekend. Nobody expected them to beat Cork, but they put it up to them for long periods. I just felt that they could not sustain the huge effort they were putting in all around the park over the 70 minutes. They ran out of steam in the final quarter and Cork limped into the last four. The Roscommon supporters gave their team a standing ovation as they made their way to the dressing room after the final whistle. Understandably, they were immensely proud of the progress made since relegation to division four a few short months ago. One thing is for sure, they are a young side that will be better for the experience of winning this year’s Connacht title and will be a team that will command greater respect in 2011.
Conor Counihan, Cork’s manager, was the most disappointed of the four winning managers last weekend. His team are not playing well. No doubt he will dwell on the looseness and sloppiness of his team’s performance and realise he has huge work to do before they play the Dubs in a couple of weeks’ time. They appear to be cracking under the enormous pressure of the favourites tag for this year’s title. They are still unsure of their best starting 15 and, with time running out for them now, there is even greater pressure on them to deliver. I still think they will.
I wasn’t in Roscommon to see our Mayo minors beat Offaly, but I was getting regular updates from the ground. They were pushed all the way by a good Offaly side, but Cillian O’Connor embellished his growing reputation as a player of genuine substance with some brilliant scores. And why wouldn’t he? Sure isn’t his mother a Crossmolina woman? It’s not from the wind he took it.
I am preparing for the club championship this Sunday with a home game against Garrymore in Crossmolina. It is a must win for both teams if they want to advance to the quarter finals. You cannot beat pressure games at any time. I am looking forward to it.