Too much yapping about Donegal, you say? Perfect timing, then, for JPM to return to the guest slot to preview the weekend’s other three quarter-final clashes.
The Provincials are over and there have been great games, upsets and walkovers. But now comes the All-Ireland series. And isn’t it great to be in the mix yet again for the big one?
We may have our own game to content us this weekend and certainly it is the biggest match of the weekend. But there are three other mouth-watering fixtures to look forward to and enjoy prior to that.
Monaghan v Tyrone
Photo: RTE (2013 McKenna Cup final)
Another Ulster battle and another hard one to call. Tyrone, a Division One team that reached the League final and were just pipped at the post. Monaghan, Division Three champions but more importantly now Ulster champions as well.
Tyrone come into this match as favourites after travelling the hard road through the qualifiers. It is a testament to them that they have reached this level as through the history of the qualifiers very few teams that went out in the first round have managed it. Add this to the fact that every single game they played was away from home and it shows the battle hardened nature and determination of Mickey Harte’s men.
Tyrone also are no strangers to this level or to Croke Park itself. This team may have come through the back door, but in doing so have rediscovered some of the old magic that was prevalent in their golden years. The form of Sean Cavanagh now is a major plus for them and allied with the younger skills of Mattie Donnelly who has been playing brilliantly all season the future looks bright. It’s still unclear if Stephen O’Neill will miss this game due to the sending off but you can’t but admire them for how they have fought to get to this place through the treacherous path they took.
But that is a key question. Can they maintain this momentum now after so many hard battles? Having had only one week off in the past six, they now have to lift it again, against a new, resurgent Monaghan team. A Monaghan team that reputedly beat Mayo by six points in a recent challenge and then went on to demolish the All-Ireland champions in a memorable Ulster final encounter in Clones. Nothing but goodwill was extended to a team that has struggled to get recognition in Ulster. The problem for Monaghan is can they keep it up or will the ecstatic joy and nature of their win against Donegal be enough for them? Now they have it, are they satisfied?
It’s difficult to know. On the one hand they go into Croke Park with nothing to lose. They have their Ulster title. On the other, guys must know that after beating the All-Ireland champions (and ourselves) they must be getting something pretty right. This draw as it stands was a favourable one and Monaghan should realise they have a great opportunity to proceed from here into unchartered territory for this team. Generally there is at least one upset in the quarter-finals and the impression is that this is the prime suspect.
Dublin v Cork
Photo: GAA.ie/Sportsfile (1983 All-Ireland semi-final replay, Páirc Uí Chaoimh)
The form team and the bookies’ clear favourites, Dublin in this year’s championship have blown everyone away in Croke Park. In their three matches in Leinster they have racked up an incredible 7-53 or an average score of roughly 2-19 per game! In defence they have conceded 2-32 or 1-10. So essentially double scores. Basically Dublin have beaten the living daylights out of everyone they have encountered so far. Can they continue now into the All-Ireland series? Certainly their levels of fitness will not let them down. While watching the highlights one Sunday night my visiting mother casually remarked that the TV was on fast forward. Truth be told it wasn’t, but it looked it seeing those guys actually running full pelt, slicing the opposition defence while they in vain tried to recover. Great football being played too and very classy to watch.
If Dublin prevail and do win this year’s All-Ireland it’s also quite possible that one of their young future stars could scoop a double. Paul Mannion, Ciarán Kilkenny and Jonny Cooper can all lay claim at this stage to the right as being Dublin’s best young player and possibly overall national player of the year. Can they keep it up now for the bigger tests ahead? So far nothing has dictated otherwise.
In their way next stand a Cork team that has stuttered and staggered through to this point. Consistently this year they have failed to impress against top opposition playing only in fits and starts. But this is nothing new. Since their All-Ireland victory in 2010 Cork have been a disappointment to their followers. They have not reached a final since and have somewhat failed in their promise to deliver on all that has been expected of this current bunch of players. Yes, they have had serious injuries to contend with but this is the case for all counties. It’s really more their lacklustre championship displays and curious management calls that have disappointed their following.
Conor Counihan must shoulder much of the blame for this. Against Kerry in the Munster final he allowed the Kingdom build an insurmountable first-half lead before making the required changes. Add that to taking off a young player a minute prior to the half-time whistle and a completely different Cork team appearing for the second half. And in the end they nearly snatched it. Move on from then and only for a somewhat fortunately timed goal against the Tribesmen they would probably not be competing here at all.
Suffice to say that while Cork have the ability to beat most teams, the disjointed efforts they have produced thus far will not save them now as the real football battles begin.
If however Counihan does stumble across his best fifteen and can get them mentally prepared for 70 minutes, they are a match for any team in the country. Athleticism is not their problem and while some of the pace from the half-back line may have dissipated they still can rely on their physical size and strength to match the more established challengers. And if Goulding, Walsh, Kerrigan and Sheehan are finally picked together, and perform, then this could be a lot closer than people expect.
Overall while this looks on paper a dead certainty for the boys’n’blue I think it’s a tricky enough one to call as much will depend on what sort of Cork team takes to the field and what mentality they will bring. But for now the nod must go to the Dubs simply because of their flair, pace, strength in depth and fantastic consistency so far this year.
Kerry v Cavan
Photo: Joe.ie (1947 All-Ireland final, Polo Grounds, New York)
When the draw was finally announced a lot of people started nodding their heads. “Tis fixed!” When I saw it myself I assumed the same, but of course I have no proof. However this is a game for the purists and the historians. How long since Cavan played Kerry in the championship at this level? Well, the answer is way back in 1997 when Kerry beat a Cavan team with a Mike Frank Russell goal the clinching factor.
However most people reading this will probably reflect more about the historic final of 1947 in the Polo Grounds in New York when Cavan prevailed 2-11 to 2-7, when the heroes on that park that day included Paddy Bawn Brosnan and John Joe Reilly. Mayo man Bill O’Dwyer was mayor of New York at the time and guest of honour that day. But time has moved forward and a different era is upon us. And much has changed in the fortunes of both counties since.
Kerry have gone on to dominate GAA football in this country whilst Cavan have slipped back. It has taken them some time re-emerge. Terry Hyland is a factor and one of the reasons for this. He may not have significant experience at Senior level but he knows all of this team from their U-21 days and in fairness has built quite a smart, capable outfit out of them. The defeat of Derry away in Celtic Park after extra-time was hard earned but shows the ability of his team. Their subsequent defeat of London was not as classy however tiredness and London’s style should be taken into account. Yet they still won by a convincing nine points. But Kerry are a serious step up again and the biggest threat now for Cavan is can they handle the even more physical nature of this Kerry challenge?
We all know what Kerry are like in Croke Park, and truth be told, they will secretly be smiling at this draw. Kerry however have been somewhat unconvincing this year. Their victory in the Munster final was largely down to Cork’s inadequacies in the first half and in the end they were fortunate to come away with the win. However the move of the Gooch out to centre half-forward has proven to be a goldmine. He is used now as a link man for the inside line. His unerring passes and ability to deliver a ball that allows the receiver to naturally find space should be taped and played back to all aspiring forwards. And everyone knows that Kerry always improve in Croker. So certainly it would be a major shock if Cavan were to upset the form book here. They are 6/1 to do so. Mind you Monaghan were that price in the Ulster final!
To be honest it’s great for Mayo supporters to be in this position in August looking forward with anticipation to the weekend’s GAA delicacies. Every game is nicely balanced and we can savour them all before looking to the main course on Sunday afternoon. A lot more will have been revealed about September’s eventual winners Sunday evening. But for now we should look forward in anticipation to enjoying the long weekend’s action.