Cork head the list of four real contenders for Sam Maguire
THE MIDDLE THIRD:EVERYBODY ALWAYS says that the championship doesn’t properly start until the August Bank Holiday weekend. Well it didn’t feel like that in Killarney on Saturday. And it definitely didn’t feel like it when I watched the two matches on Sunday, with Donegal blitzing Down and, to a lesser extent, Dublin beating Meath. It felt like the proper start had come a bit early this year. It’s as good a time as any to sit down and take stock.I think it’s fairly obvious now that the real All-Ireland contenders have been whittled down to a group of four teams. To my mind, Cork are number one, with Dublin and Donegal fairly level a tier below them.
Kerry, for all that they put in a big performance on Saturday, still have a bit to go. I think they’re contenders but they’re not in the top bracket and nobody can really argue that they deserve to be.
After that, Mayo and Kildare haven’t proven yet that they can beat any of the top teams so it’s hard to see how they can win an All-Ireland.
Kerry had a big win on Saturday but nobody can be getting carried away with it. It was a poor game and Tyrone weren’t really up to scratch. Unusually, after I spent last week praising him in these pages, I thought Mickey Harte made some strange decisions on the line. I couldn’t understand why he matched Joe McMahon up against Colm Cooper after Conor Gormley had struggled on him. The Gooch was moving well and Tyrone needed a sticky defender denying him ball.
Joe McMahon is a fine player but he wasn’t up to that job. And worse, he moved Gormley up to wing-forward in the same move, which didn’t suit him at all.
But on the whole, I thought Kerry outfought Tyrone and outplayed them. You could see that this meant a lot to them just by the way they horsed into Tyrone from the get-go. I’ve heard people give out about the referee but, with the exception of Brian McGuigan’s sending-off, I think he did quite well. This wasn’t an easy game to referee, especially with all the off-the-ball stuff going on from both sides.
The level of mouthing – not just in this game but in the Donegal-Down game as well – must be nearly impossible to take charge of. We can give out about referees until the cows come home but if players don’t take responsibility and just get on with the game, if they continually try to goad the opposition into getting yellow and red cards, then it’s very hard for a referee to police it.
It’s hard to watch as a spectator and it lessens your respect for guys when you see it.
There’s no lack of regard from me or from anyone in Kerry for Mickey Harte. But it’s been a disappointing feature of his Tyrone teams that his players have this bad habit of getting involved in things like trying to get guys sent off and goading them. These players are too good to be doing that. It comes from the top and Mickey Harte has to accept responsibility for it at some level.
Kevin Cassidy got in trouble in Donegal for letting people know that all of this goes on but we need to talk about it a bit more.
As far as the football goes, Kerry had one of those days when it was hard to pick out anyone who played badly. Now when an All-Ireland contender has one of those days, everything looks rosy in the garden and it’s very hard to stop them winning. The top teams will win some games if only half of them play well, they’ll win most games if 11 or 12 play well and they’ll win every game if all 15 play well. But that’s not going to happen every day they go out.
My worry for Kerry is what happens when they meet Cork, Dublin or Donegal on a day when only 11 or 12 of them play well. In other years you’d still fancy them but I don’t think this team is at that level.