We are down to the last nine in the football championship with all of the main protagonists still standing. Kerry are still my favourites to land Sam this year. They should beat Limerick with scores to spare on Sunday. They definitely appear to be focused and sharp this year. From what I hear they are putting in an extra effort to ensure that one of their favourite sons, the ‘Gooch’ has the opportunity to walk the steps in September. Extra miles on the clock and All-Ireland medals in the back pocket tend to blunt hunger levels, but Kerry look ferociously hungry. A number of their players, namely Declan O’Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, Darren O’Sullivan, and Donnchadh Walsh, have been particularly outstanding for them. I believe they played a challenge last week against Roscommon in Limerick and, despite pulling off half of their first 15, managed to win by seven points. And the word from that game was that the two best players on show were….. you guessed it…… Tomas O’Se and Paul Galvin.
Remember these two were not playing against Cork in the Munster final and on that occasion we witnessed a rare off day for Colm Cooper. Yet they managed to win the Munster final with a late flourish which indicates that they are greedy for more. Jack O’Connor would readily admit, however, that the one danger they feel could damage their chances of success this year is Tyrone and not Cork as you might have suspected. Tyrone are the only team left in this year’s race that really spook Kerry. They are building momentum at the right time and will, I expect, overcome the Roscommon challenge fairly comfortably tomorrow. Assuming Tyrone do come through they will be out again the following Saturday evening against the Dubs. That too is a game that Tyrone can win. In fact if they were presented with the same opportunity as Wexford were in the Leinster final, you would put your house on them to advance past the Dubs to a semi-final.
Dubs lack consistency
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy will be increasingly concerned about his team’s lack of consistency. Actually I have no idea how good or otherwise the Dubs are. Early on in the championship they looked like potential All-Ireland champions, but as the season progresses there are increasing concerns about some key positions in their team. They do however have the enormous advantage of playing most of their games in Croke Park which is always worth a few points to them. However it is at this stage of the championship that Tyrone begin to take on a formidable look. They are obviously an experienced and hardened side that know how to win and they certainly will not be lacking in belief. Fatigue might be the only thing to threaten their chances of making it through to an All-Ireland final. We will learn a little more this weekend as to how formidable they are as we enter into the business end of the campaign.
Arguably the most difficult game to predict this weekend is the clash of Donegal and Kildare. It will be the first time in the championship that Kildare come up against a team that play a brand of football that is quite similar to their own. Donegal as always play a defensive style of football with ball retention being paramount. Their backs rarely kick the ball as they play a short handpassing game, very often taking them over and back across the field instead of the more direct route into the scoring zone. Jim McGuinness, the Donegal manager has done a fantastic job this year. He will not be too concerned about entertaining the crowd in Croke Park on Saturday if he manages to come away with a win. He has two fantastic footballers in Colm McFadden and Michael Murphy. They have been a revelation so far and it will be fascinating to see how the Kildare defence copes with these two in particular. In the Ulster championship Donegal beat Antrim and Cavan reasonably comfortably, were lucky enough to hold on against Tyrone and beat a Derry side in the final that were missing the two Bradleys. I am not convinced that they are good enough and therefore I have a sneaking suspicion that Kildare might just sneak this encounter but will be pushed all the way by an energetic Donegal side.
Incidentally I hear the Kildare boys are preparing very professionally again this year. Apparently they are meeting at 6.45am a couple of days each week in Newbridge for shooting practice, nothing being left to chance with McGeaney’s outfit.
Worry for Mayo
If the Cork v Mayo clash goes along traditional lines then I worry for Mayo this weekend. Cork looked mightily impressive last Saturday and really brushed the Down challenge aside with a magnificent display of football. There is no argument that they are a better footballing side than Mayo. They are bigger, stronger, faster and are oozing with confidence at the moment. They just play their game at a higher level of intensity over a prolonged period, a facet of the game we have not witnessed from Mayo so far this year. I feel that Mayo are not at a comparable level right now and our championship performances have been somewhat mediocre to say the least. Saying that there has been an incremental improvement in every game we have played in this year’s championship. To be fair the weather conditions during the Connacht semi final and final did nothing to aid open, fluent, or pretty football. I just cannot see Mayo beating Cork this time round. However, if we are beaten I hope it will not be a comprehensive beating as that would undermine any progress made this year by the new management team.
So is there any point in Mayo turning up next Sunday? Of course there is. There is no certainty in sport and any team can be caught on any given day. If Mayo arrive in Croke Park with the right attitude, the right mental fortitude and every individual player is prepared to work his socks off, then a complacent Cork could just be caught out. Mayo teams have done this in the past. Wind the clock back to 2006 when Mayo played Dublin in the All-Ireland semi final, or what about 1996 when Mayo comprehensively out fought a cocky, complacent, Kerry side laced with talent. And another thing, Cork’s injuries are beginning to mount up too. For that very reason alone I do not think they are near as formidable as last year. They have added the names of Daniel Goulding and Barry O’Driscoll to their ‘injured’ list that already includes cruciate victims Colm O’Neill and Ciarán Sheehan. Graham Canty struggles with hamstring problems, and big midfielder Nicholas Murphy cannot be called upon if they are struggling around the middle of the field. I do not care how big a panel of players Cork have, these guys are difficult to replace.
My philosophy going into this encounter would be to attack Cork relentlessly from the throw in. Prevent them from building up a head of steam. If they are allowed to do so, there will be no catching them. I would love to see Mayo take to the field on Sunday and really try to wear this Cork team down. In the past our clashes in big games against Cork have never been tough or hard. We have often stood off Cork teams and allowed them come onto us. On Sunday we have nothing to lose as no one gives us any chance of victory. I realise we just do not have the reputation at the moment for being able to beat the very best teams on a consistent basis. But we have proven in the past that we are capable of creating upsets. If we are to win, I think we will have to score a couple of goals. That is possible if we have a half back line that plays on the front foot and a midfield that gets stuck into Cork’s formidable midfield pair. If Andy Moran, Alan Dillon and Kevin McLoughlin can put the reins on Cork’s attack-minded half back line then who knows how Cork will react. Remember Roscommon asked lots of questions of Cork in the corresponding fixture last year before running out of steam. However I just do not see this Cork outfit falling into the trap of complacency.