And then there were eight. Watching the qualifier between Tyrone and Meath and Ger Canning announcing that Donegal seem to be into the quarter final after a struggle against Laois, I promptly let my Donegal wife Rita know that Mayo could now get drawn against Donegal. I knew it would happen, it was written in the stars, a chance for this Mayo team to right what went wrong in last year’s All-Ireland final. They could have got an easier draw in the likes of Cavan but getting pitted against Donegal - the All-Ireland champions, the team that made us sick to the pit of our stomachs last September means there is little needed in the line of motivation and complacency is gone out the window. It also means not much chat in the Casey house this week. I hope and expect to have bragging rights at 5.30pm next Sunday.
Donegal are not playing with the same panache and hunger as last year, it happens to teams that win All-Irelands, and Mayo by chance are a dab hand at dethroning All-Ireland champions. We have knocked the likes of Galway, Tyrone, Cork, and Dublin out in the not to distant past and prevented them from retaining Sam Maguire. I expect Sunday to be more of the same. There is no question Donegal have issues and Jimmy McGuinness’s interview in which he declared his team were been targeted by extreme physicality confirms that. I never like to see a player getting injured but when Paul Finlay of Monaghan and Mark McHugh collided in the Ulster final there was absolutely no malice intended from Finlay, just two players desperate to win a ball. It may be an Alex Ferguson type tactic by McGuiness to influence the referee next Sunday. He will use this to galvanise his team for their quarter final.
The match on Sunday is going to be intriguing to say the least and I cannot wait for it already. There are questions about Donegal’s appetite and their injury problems but let’s face it, they have the best full forward line in the game and how James Horan plans on lining out against them already fascinates me. I am sure the planning started on Sunday morning last, as at the Charlestown and Ballina league game none of Ballina’s county contingent was in attendance. I’m sure the video of the Ulster final has been watched again and again, and for me the most notable factor was the way the Monaghan full back frustrated the daylight out of Michael Murphy, he niggled and annoyed him off the ball and on the ball, and when the ball came into their area he was very often on the ground with Murphy wrestling him and then he would innocently show the ref that he was doing nothing wrong and portray that Murphy was the perpetrator. I expect Ger Cafferky to go on Murphy, Keith Higgins on Colm McFadden, and Tom Cunniffe on Paddy McBrearty, although any of these match ups are interchangeable. If Mayo stop these guys they win the game. They accounted for 11 of Donegal’s 14 points against Laois. The two Monaghan full forwards of Conor McManus and Ciaran Hughes ran the two McGees ragged up the other end in the Ulster final. Alan Freeman needs a big game in Croke Park against McGee - this has to be his time. Mayo will have to move the ball fast into the scoring area because if they don’t Donegal will have the cavalry back which can become very frustrating for a forward and their defensive system can make brilliant players look very ordinary.
Mayo have the power and fitness to break the gain line and wreak havoc. Donegal’s main attacking catalysts from the back are Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey, while Lacey is not the player he was last year because of injury, McGlynn poses a huge threat and Kevin McLoughlin will have the task of marshalling him. Mayo should try to expose this and make McGlynn defend more and burn his energy up that way. Last year Donegal had Mark McHugh covering for whatever defender decided to attack but that is not an option this time. I expect Boyle, Vaughan, Higgins, and Keegan to be vital in setting up many Mayo attacks and pitching in with a few scores as long as the two O’Sheas win their fair share of midfield possession and I think they will.
My tip for last weekend did not come off because of the miss of the decade, Cavan forward Eugene Keating had an open goal only to crash the ball off the upright which meant Cavan would have covered their -11 handicap. This weekend a €10 accumulator on the four provincial winners to qualify for the semi-finals will get you back €78.26. Monaghan 2/1, Dublin 2/5, Kerry 1/6 and Mayo 4/6. Whatever happens in the other three we want the green and red back in Croker for the semi-final while relieving another team of the ownership of Sam Maguire.
You can get in touch with John, by e-mailing him at [email protected]