With the provincial championships and the qualifiers now out of the way, the biggest battles of the 2012 championship season are about to get going. Ahead of the start of the All-Ireland series, I’m delighted to welcome JPM back into the guest slot to discuss this coming weekend’s quarter-final ties.
The provincial championships threw up entertainment and the qualifiers guaranteed exciting shocks however the business end of the GAA football year is now upon us. The quarter-final showdowns are here and they certainly have a familiar feel to them.
Mayo v Down
As Mayo supporters we are well used to the school of hard knocks. That is the way it goes when you are from Connacht. You will generally be sneered at or patronised. But for James Horan the reflection in years to come won’t be too bad. In delivering back-to-back Connacht titles for the first time in 15 years he is guaranteed a safe place in Mayo GAA history books.
However, his second year has been a much more personal one and whilst having the benefit of a soft draw in the provincial championship he has instead been dealing with off the field politics. But still the C-Mort question hangs like a noose around this Mayo inside line.
Our lack of firepower up front was visible against Sligo and a repeat of this in Croke Park will no doubt re-ignite the flames as to the handling of the whole situation. Further back we are much more secure than in previous seasons and bigger games will only benefit most of these fellas. The main worry for us is injury, as we don’t have a substantial bench of inter-county talent to draw upon.
Down will definitely be attempting to exploit these perceived weaknesses by pushing up hard against our inside line. Simultaneously they will hope to apply pressure to our defence by running directly at them. Down teams have always been associated with classy forwards and this one is no different. Certainly the exit of Marty Clarke in 2011 was difficult however James McCarten has rallied his troops. And in reaching the last eight of this year’s competition he has unearthed talent to replace this deficit. Plus he has overcome the six-day hoodoo, which will definitely add renewed confidence back to his charges.
It is also likely that the midfield battle for both teams will be crucial. It is unlikely however to be as rewarding for us as it was against Sligo. Ambrose Rodgers will certainly be determined to push his considerable bulk around, in the process knocking Barry Moran out of his undoubted stride. 50/50 is probably as much as we should expect out of this area.
Overall for us to progress it is up front that we will have to find our feet and perform. If we cannot deliver here then the result will most likely be another roasting in Croker, similar to Meath in 2009.
Dublin v Laois
Thus far Dublin have stuttered and staggered but they are still in the championship and this must be a relief to Pat Gilroy, as their form has certainly dipped since 2011. However, the counter argument is that these are big-time players and they have reached this stage even while playing poorly. The question now is how will they perform come the bigger occasion?
The comeback from suspension of Diarmuid Connolly will benefit the team although in Michael Darragh Macauley they had an able bodied replacement against Meath. Plus there was a welcome return to form for both the Brogan bros in that Leinster final. But their potency in attack will need to be even more visible against what will be much stiffer opposition than has been encountered to date.
Whether or not Laois will provide this stiffer opposition remains to be seen. Under their belts they have four weeks of championship winning football albeit against generally much lower level opposition. But they were worthy winners against Meath and they certainly have able scorers in Ross Munnelly, Billy Sheahan and Padraig Clancy. However Meath were coming off the back of that unforgiving six-day turnaround and it raises doubts as to how Laois will fare against a much more mobile and physical Dublin team, especially in the bigger Croke Park spaces. The bookies have Dublin at 1/14 to progress here and it would certainly be the shock of the year to see the All-Ireland champions not reaching to the semi-final stage.
Cork v Kildare
With impressive displays in the Munster championship, Cork are the only top three team to uphold their role as favourites. Their dismantling of Kerry was workmanlike and efficient, and when push came to shove they trampled Clare into the grass of the Gaelic Grounds. Along with Donegal and Kerry they look the form team. The fact that they may end up meeting in the semis proves a mouth-watering prospect. However none of them are there yet and this stage last year proved to be Cork’s Waterloo.
Kildare have improved steadily in the qualifiers and similar to Kerry they had their slice of luck against Limerick. However their subsequent hammering of Sligo in Hyde Park has left them in a better position than they could have hoped for since their untimely Leinster exit to Meath. The Seanie Johnston saga has also finally been put to bed and this has certainly given some relief to the team that half the country hates but the media loves. They can now enter Croke Park against Cork knowing they have nothing to lose.
They are also the big underdogs for this occasion and this position will certainly suit them much better than the favouritism foisted on them in previous positions. Whether this will be enough to see them through remains doubtful but there is always a shock in at least one of the quarter-final ties.
Donegal v Kerry
From a neutral’s point of view this is undoubtedly the tie of the round. The fact that Donegal have claimed back–to-back Ulster titles for the first time in their history has added to the growing aura surrounding Jim McGuinness’s team. Essentially looking at the team, they are a representation of the man himself and what he stands for. And you can neatly sum this up in one word. DESIRE.
Donegal are all about desire and this characteristic is very difficult to beat. If you want it badly enough, chances are you’re going to get it. The question is how long can they sustain this? Certainly they have improved as a team since last year especially up front with their more mature forward line all now contributing on the scoreboard.
Kerry however are also on the rebound. Their bow out of Munster was followed by an alarming second round display against Westmeath where they should have exited the championship except for a terrible refereeing decision to fall in their favour. However the home draw against Tyrone galvanised the team. The subsequent trouncing of Tyrone in Killarney exorcised many demons for the Kingdom and has resulted in returning Kerry’s confidence to the levels they expect of themselves. Last Saturday’s ensuing thrashing of Clare has left no doubt that Kerry are in a formidable mood and they move back to Croker now without any monkeys on their back.
This is the most difficult result to call. Will Donegal have the desire to continue where they have left off in Ulster or will Kerry continue to prevail? The nod goes to the Kingdom as their experience at this level might just get them over the line in what should be an exceptionally entertaining and tight game.
Overall looking at the eight teams, only two are newcomers from 2011. And all but one were 2012 Division 1 teams, the other being the 2012 Division 2 champions. It shows what League status is truly worth! These are the big guns in GAA football and now the rest of the country waits in anticipation to see what they are really made of – here, right now, at the business end of the season.