Provincial battles and beyond

The championship season is upon us once more and I’m delighted to welcome JPM back into the guest slot to preview the key provincial tussles that are in store in this year’s summer campaign.

Sam Maguire Sept 2011

One of the most notable features from this year’s League was the level of competitiveness that was apparent throughout the competition. The majority of matches were played at a phenomenal pace (coming close to championship level at some stages). As it wore on it became obvious that teams (in Division One anyway) were desperate to maintain their divisional status. But when you consider it why wouldn’t they? The top teams in Division One are all playing each other regularly, they know each other’s strengths and they are constantly trying to work out any perceived weaknesses.  Every one of them has anticipations and for the most part it’s a day out in September that’s on the wish list.

However the question of overall glory remains for another day. Right now we have provincial titles to look forward to and they will certainly prove entertainment for the nation and for all that support their respective counties with passion and desire.

To begin with is Ulster and the current All-Ireland champions. For the record Donegal were relegated from Division One. And if they are to retain their Ulster crown they must do it the hard way. Their first championship game is a replay of last year’s Ulster semi-final, against a Tyrone team that had a superb League and were just pipped at the post in the final. Tyrone will be keen to get the result here. I remember watching last year’s match and I thought that they kicked it away. They had several opportunities but just couldn’t convert them. This is their chance at redemption. It is a top class fixture and a difficult one to call.  But Donegal are still champions and Jim McGuiness’s side have always proven a tough nut to crack.  At home in Balybofey it’s difficult to see them exiting, especially in the first round of the championship.

The victors here go on to meet the winners of Derry/Down in the semis. Down were relegated before the final round of the league and Derry won the Division Two title. So the nod must go to the Oak Leafers with their League success and home advantage in Celtic Park the decisive factors.

On the other side of the draw Monaghan are a good bet to reach the Ulster final.  Opportunities do not appear very often for the lesser teams in Ulster and Monaghan’s hard won Division Three success over Meath embellishes their credentials. They must have desires now to push on from this. Also many of these fellas have been part of this current team for a significant period now. Players like Clerkin, Freeman, Gollogly and Paul Finlay must realise their opportunities are running out at this level and this should spur their desire. At 15/2 they are a good price to have a right crack at the Anglo-Celt Cup 2013.

In Leinster the provincial title already seems virtually done and dusted. Dublin set the League on fire this year, and are (currently) cited as the frontrunner for additional glory. Although the final itself was a close encounter it must be remembered that B Brogan had a very poor day. But still Dublin prevailed and this must be re-assuring to their fans as no longer do they appear to be a one-man-band up front.  Plus the reward of early national silverware for a relatively young crop of players will only be of benefit to their overall confidence.

The question that surrounds Dublin is whether they can improve on their League performances into the championship. Certainly they appeared the fittest team around and throughout the park they are blessed with both pace and power. Introducing several U21s was a great success for Jim Gavin as the blend of youth and experience worked really well for them. In their way stand a variety of teams who must all visit Croke Park to play them.  This particular fact (i.e. Dublin always having home advantage) is becoming very irritating now. It’s also damn unfair on the rest of the teams in Leinster. But the GAA masters have their own ideas on what’s necessary here and as such have decided Dublin at home is of benefit for the greater good. It sounds like ‘money talks’ to me.

Here are the Leinster provincial semi-final pairings as they stand:

  • Westmeath/Carlow/Dublin V Offaly/Kildare
  • Wicklow/Longford/Meath V Laois/Louth/Wexford.

On the face of it looks like Dublin V Kildare on one side and Meath have what appears to be a decent draw on the other. Wicklow and Longford were both relegated in 2013 and Meath’s experience and resilience will always be hard to overcome. Laois get the nod to meet them. Both they and Louth had solid campaigns in Division Two, finishing third and fourth respectively whereas Wexford ended up being relegated. But again home advantage reigns for the O’Moore men in their match-up with the Wee County.

Down South it is a pretty straightforward call. Both Kerry and Cork avoid each other right up to the final and if so it will be in Killarney.  Cork’s recent record in Killarney is poor having not won there since 1995. Plus they been blighted all season by injury and although there is a likelihood of guys returning in time, it may not stop another Kerry victory. After a dismal league opening the Kingdom had to return to familiar old faces to maintain their divisional status. The fact that these guys can still produce it is a major bonus, although the question mark over their age hangs in the background with every begrudging cynic. Perhaps in the modern game with modern techniques guys can last longer and maintain standards through extended careers. Certainly it will be interesting to see the selections made in Munster by the new pairing of Fitzmaurice and O’Neill.

Perhaps though the most interesting of all campaigns will be fought out in our own province. After the draw our Mayo team now has to prove itself capable of managing the favourites tag. Everyone  expects us to win and this is what they will be preaching both nationally and locally in the news. However favouritism is not something that has ever gone down especially well for us and history has shown that our team doesn’t carry this mantle with ease at all. Whether this current bunch of lads and management can handle this expectation remains to be seen.

The timing of the game against Galway is also probably a better one for them than us (considering our injuries). The Tribesmen must be delighted with our recent spate of trouble in this department.  Also their recent U21 victories must give confidence to the team and management.  They seem to have the skills required to negotiate big hurdles. For their part everyone is currently pretty quiet in Galway, however keeping a lid on this for the next week will be difficult. It will cetainly be interesting to read Ray Silke’s preview analysis of the match in this coming week’s Advertiser.

If we are to prevail then we must win the battle around the middle. And whoever is selected up front must be able to deliver. Recent championship matches between the sides have been close with just a kick of the ball between them. Losing the match would not be the end of the world for either team (what with a 6-week break to the qualifiers) but it would likely be the final nail in the coffin for any further glory at national level. The backdoor is not the way to go anymore for any teams aspiring for success in autumn.

Whoever comes through here will have to face the Rossies. Roscommon had a pretty good League and St. Brigids won the most exciting of club finals in recent history. But can this be extended to the inter-county championship level? It’s difficult to know however it would certainly be a shock if the winners of Mayo/Galway were to lose in the second round as whoever wins in Salthill will also have home advantage following it.

On the other side Leitrim are the quiet pick in the long grass to reach the Connacht final. Sligo have blown hot and cold for the past three years in Connacht. They had an indifferent League just about holding off relegation and they have a tricky enough fixture in London to overcome first. Leitrim have already coasted in NYC and have nothing to lose in this year’s championship. Their FBD success was a welcome boost to their stalwart supporters. In Carrick and if Emlyn Mulligan is on form they will be prove very difficult to beat.

Possibly supreme glory and Sam Maguire is in the back of every teams mind. But nearly all self proclaimed pundits expect the ultimate winner to arise from Division One so being here is key to counties’ ambitions of overall success. In fact in all provinces bar a couple of occasions, provincial winners have also invariably come from Division One.  Furthermore it can be argued that the gulf in football class between Division One and lower levels is actually becoming wider and wider. And as a result the likelihood of any shock happening between divisions (with the exception of the back-door) will become more infrequent.  As Mayo men we have already maintained our status here and we should be more than satisfied with that outcome.

Whether we can build on this enough to reach a higher peak remains to be seen. Certainly there are several teams that stand in the way. Most notable of these is next weekend and that is enough to be concentrating on for now. Further afield stand Dublin and their obvious strength in depth, but don’t rule out Kerry. If they sail through Munster this year they will certainly be a force.

However nothing in life ever runs completely to plan. In the heat of championship sun (and rain) surprises will still undoubtedly occur. Whether they affect us and the overall result remains to be seen.  The championship is upon us folks and we must look forward to it in anticipation.

30 thoughts on “Provincial battles and beyond

  1. If I was Galway I wouldnt get too carried away with their U21 All Ireland. Mayo kicked 14 wides the day we played them in Tuam and our much vaunted forwards were a big disappointment. And if my information is correct those same forwards had the arses ran off them with the seniors and the U21 management had very restricted access to them in the run up to the match.
    That said Galway will always be a handful in Pearse Stadium and sure we wouldnt want it any other way. Bring it on!

  2. I know I trot this out every year, but its that time again so I’m trotting again.
    Imagine if this was like the old days, a knock out match, would be counting the minutes. Now, while of course when the ball is thrown in we want to win, its just not the same. Excitement only starts in the quarter final stages now, why’s that? Well its knock out, win or bust.
    Too close to call this one given our recent histories there is always just a kick of a ball in it with the odd exception. As or right now, with Andy feeling his way back, Varley injured and no-one else really playing well in the forward line as it relates to scores (besides COC and his deadball skills which we couldnt be without) we just dont have the scoring power to really rattle Sam. Mind you get to the quarters without any other injuries, and get everyone back we could be a different proposition.

  3. east cork to all intents and purposes it is a knock out match , we never seem to recover from exit in connacht and tend to meekly depart the qualifiers,

    hopefully someday this might change but its all or nothing next sunday

  4. Diehard, I agree with you over the hype of the Galway U21 success.
    It has to be seen in its true context and while the victors are to be commended our under 21’s certainly failed to give them any challenge whatsoever. Kildare completely dominated possession against them in the semi-final, but like their senior counterparts, did not have the quality in the forward line to turn that possession into scores. Cork had twice as many scoring opprotunities as Galway had in the final and failed to make them count. Let’s not forget that Galway did not score from the 42nd minute on in that game!
    Fair play to them, no doubt 2 successes in 3 years at that grade is impressive. But if that is suddenly going to put the fear of God into a side that has defeated the All-Ireland Champions of the last 2 years, in Croker, in SENIOR championship football, then our lads and James Horan are alot softer than we thought they are.
    I, for one, know we are not soft. We are alot tougher and better than we are given credit for (ask Noel O’Leary!).
    If we cannot go to Salthill as favourites against our great rivals (a 2nd division team) and back ourselves to win, then we are as well off staying at home. Sure, we do respect them and we will prepare properly for them, but fear them? I don’t think so.

    Hon Mayo

  5. The match is on RTE on Sunday. Throw in 4p.m. Sligo v Mayo in Connaught Junior Final at 2 p.m.

  6. Agree with Roger, we don’t do well in the qualifiers and all main contenders will want to come through the front door. Even with the injuries I’d expect Mayo to play at a tempo that Galway won’t have experienced this year. I think JH will go with the following starting team:

    Clarke, Barrett, Caff, Higgins, Keegan, Vaughan, Boyle, B Moran, SOS, McLoughlin, AOS, Carolan, Regan, O’Connor, Doherty. Dillon prob hasn’t played enough to start.

  7. Agree David…I’m hoping we’ll discover a diamond in the rough…maybe Regan is it!
    All things considered though, we shoud win in a canter.

  8. Its funny how the Mayo men on here are trying to talk down Galway’s u21 success. I’m sure if the shoe was on the other foot and Mayo had won the u21 title ye wouldn’t be thinking of other teams mischances and possession. Galway beat who was put in front of them and thats all you can do.

    This Mayo team coming up to Salthill is the best ye have had in 20 years, that I have no doubt about and if you play to full potential then you should account for us handily enough in Pearse. But gaelic football is gaelic football and come championship nothing is guaranteed.

    Roll on Sunday!

  9. Is Cunniffe fit? If so, i really hope he gets the nod ahead of Vaughan. We look a lot more solid, with Cunniffe in the team and he rarely gives away possession in key areas.

    I like Vaughan going forward, but sometimes forgets where he is. At championship level, turnovers are punished with scores.

    I’m not too concerned with the forwards, I actually can’t remember when we had so many options up front, we ceated umpteen chances in the league and i would expect a higher conversion rate, starting on sunday.

    If Mayo can get their high intensity game going on sunday, i expect a 3-4 point victory.

    One game at a time!!!!

    Maigh Eo Abu

  10. I have supported Mayo for 70 years, was in Ballaghaderreen at the bonfires when Sean Flanagan brought Sam to Mayo and I actually like what Michael Joyce is saying. I have respect for Galway and their u21 wins. Contrary to a lot of the experts here, I have doubts about Sunday. Mayo haven’t inspired so far this year whether you admit it or not. I would love to be seriously wrong and see a great display by Mayo on Sunday. I would be a very happy man indeed!!! Even if Mayo lost, they still have a chance to prove how good they are and this thing that Mayo don’t do well in the qualifiers; why not? If they’re good enough, they will do well. I hope they show the quality that they have and prove me so wrong.

  11. lookn forward to game on sunday should be a good open game wood also like to see cuniffe start if fit vaughan good player put keeps running into traffic put hopefully last 2years experience under james will do the trick for us on sunday

  12. Actually Michael Joyce, the shoe was on the other foot in 2006 and unfortunately for us, it’s not like it led to several Celtic crosses for our players. Also, that year Mayo were fortunate to get through at certain stages of that campaign.
    I am not talking down their success, “the victors are to be commended”, “Fair play to them, no doubt 2 successes in 3 years at that grade is impressive” I am just putting some perspective on their success, as I have done throughout Mayos’ patchy league form. I expect it to be tight and close throughout because, historically, whenever one side has been in the ascendancy the other has always been capable of taking the spoils irrespective of the match location, e.g. Mayo in Tuam when Galway were reigning All Ireland champions, Galway in Castlebar when we were going for 3 in a row Connaught titles!
    Looking forward to it now.

  13. Michael Joyce puts a case for the opposition. He flatters us slightly saying this team is the best in 20 years. Not in my opinion, the team of 1996 and bench was a superior and craftier side. Connacht football has been in the shadows for a number of years and for once we picked up a few titles in that downturn. The Mayo team is well drilled but average. It lacks a real threat in the forward six, witness the candles being lit for the return of Dillon and A Moran all year. Galway are in an ok place and we arent what we like to think we are either. However this is the challenge…year three should be the year to pick the fruit. We will see but I seriously doubt it.

  14. Michael Joyce – my initial comments were in no way designed to take away from the great win the Galway U21s had. Fair play to them and I was as proud as punch to see them beat Cork. I have great respect for Galway football.
    I was merely making the point that Mayo’s U21s weren’t that far behind Galway and we would expect to get a few decent seniors out of that bunch. In other words the win doesnt put Galway way ahead of Mayo in the future.at senior level in my opinion.
    All that said it is always better for both Mayo and Galway that both teams are strong at Senior level. Roll on Sunday and if Galway beat us I will disappointed and downhearted but I will be the first to say fair play to them.

  15. Uld 1996 team v 2013 team. 2013 team would shade it imo. Aos and barry v mchale and brady would be a fair battle but AOS best of the four for all round ability.

    Madden or Clarke….Clarke

    Cahill or Caff….Caff

    Nallen or Vaughan/cunnife….Nallen

    Andy moran/Dillon/conroy would of pushed for a place on 96 team

    COC v afraid of me shadow sheridan….Cillian all day.

    This present team is not getting the praise it deserves, they are a mighty side . Yes we could really do with just one scoring forward but ya never know what the year might bring.

    Maigheo abu

  16. Good comparisons Sean with 1996 team and but it would be hard to pick from 2 to 9 anyway but Iwouldn’t be so sure of Caff over Cahill. Kevin Cahill was a magnificent no.3 so it would be a toss of the coin for me. Also Keith Higgins would do well to get a place in the back 6 of that 96 team!

  17. I love this part, struggling with the front 6 though, mostly enforced changes due to injury rather than better players discovered compared to the All-Ireland start

    Clarke, Barrett, Caff, Higgins, Keegan, Vaughan, Boyle, AOS, SOS, McLoughlin, Feeney, Carolan, Varley, O’Connor, Doherty

  18. are the stand tickets for pre reseved seats or is stand ticket access all ares. tickets are numbered not sure if seats are….. ( question)

  19. You are probably spot on with that team DeelRover although I did hear Varley is struggling with an ankle he has had all season and it is a pretty bad flare up. Although if Varley couldn’t start I don’t think one of Murphy/Coen/Regan would be much of a downgrade in player. Hope fully we will jave a formidable bench to call on with Barry, Alan ,Andy and a couple of wild cards in Gallagher, Regan, Coen,Conor O’Shea waiting in the wings. Any word on how Tom Cunniffe is doing?

  20. The problem with the so-called wild cards is that they have not played for Mayo.

    Why were they not used in the league? There were plenty of opportunities.

    You just cannot turn it on come Summer.

    Evan Regan is a great prospect but was given a shot against Kildare and then ignored. How can he be expected to turn it on in the heat of a game v Galway

  21. Stand is restricted for season tickets. All seats are numbered, printed my 3 out yesterday morning. Group seat that I set up applies as well, we are all seated together 🙂

  22. I see wikipedia has ourselves & the Galwegians on 44 Connacht Titles each so this year could push us into the lead …. yet another reason to up the ante on Sunday.
    Does anyone know if this is correct as I believe some of the earlier titles were a bit dubious & needless to say I wasn’t at all of them !
    With regard to the game I am feeling cautiously optimistic on this one.
    There is no doubt that Galway will be waiting in the long grass for this one & on all such occasions we need to mow the lawn early.
    Get the attitude right & we should still be on course for our 45th come Sunday evening.

  23. Mayo MIck, the stand is not restricted to season ticket holders. I got 4 numbered stand tickets last week on http://www.tickets.ie, but i don’t know if they are still available or not.

  24. I had heard that the stand is restricted to 6000 and was sold out. Assumption on my part that they were for season tickets and cairde mhaigh eo only.

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