It’s time for the serious teams to get going so I expect Mayo and Kerry to stake their claim
We’ll know more about the destiny of Sam Maguire after this weekend
Cork’s Eoin Cadogan attempts a block on and Paul Geaney of Kerry during this year’s Munster final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
In Tralee, you always know it’s coming close to business time when the Dome starts going up. This is the time of year you live for. Time to get your ducks in a row and your house in order. The festival will starts soon, the puck fair in Killorglin won’t be far away and fellas will start talking about heading for Dublin.
It’s time to put a few bob away for an overnight in the city, find out who can get you a bit of a break on a hotel room.
With Galway on the horizon, Kerry people aren’t totally sure what to think just yet. As I wrote here after the Munster final, the result against Cork was nearly too good. You came away from it thinking that Kerry would have nothing to fear no matter who they met in the quarter-final but at the same time, you knew that whoever it was couldn’t possibly be as bad as Cork were that day. That gives you the jitters a small bit.
On all known form, Kerry should certainly have too much on Sunday but then what do we know about that form? We know nothing really. We know that if you give the Kerry forwards a load of space 30 to 40 yards from goal, they will punish you. But why would Galway do that? Does anybody really believe that they won’t play a sweeper on Sunday and force Kerry to find another way?
That’s what makes Kerry people think that this is a slippery one. Everybody would have taken it at the start of the summer – a quarter-final against Galway is far from the toughest route to the last four. You couldn’t send away for a draw like that, to be honest.
But, in a way, the opposition isn’t what people down here are interested in. It’s more a case of can Kerry repeat what they brought to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. All the guys who played so well in Cork, can they do it again in Croke Park. That’s not a given.
The system Kerry played against Cork was built around Declan O’Sullivan, Johnny Buckley and Donnchadh Walsh covering all the kilometres you could throw at them and leaving James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney inside. So what we need to see now is what O’Donoghue will do when he’s got a man on him and a man in front of him at all times. And how Geaney will cope with his first big day in Croke Park.
Interesting caseGeaney is an interesting case. He’s one of these players who might not be hectic in training but loves games. He’s not the fastest guy in the world and he’s not going to collect the ball 50 metres out and burn you for pace – his job on Sunday will be to stay close to goal and take his chances. His strength is in his finishing and I have no fear for him at all in this game. This is the kind of thing he’ll handle well.
What Galway will bring is good footballers. I know that seems like a fairly generic thing to say but it isn’t always the case. There is a difference between solid, dependable footballers and good footballers. You see it in the little fractions of time it takes them to gather a ball in or in the amount of change in stride a team mate is forced into by a pass.
That’s why I go on about the Gooch so often. It isn’t just that he’s able to score off both feet or that he can see a goal happening before anybody else. It’s that he makes the game simpler for the players around him. When’s the last time you saw him give a kick pass into a player who had to pick it up off his toes? It doesn’t happen.
Good footballers do things quickly, properly. That’s the key. Intercounty footballers all have certain skill sets that set them apart from club players but the best ones are those who aren’t just happy to do the simple thing right. They keep pushing on to do it quicker and better.
Galway have players like that. Shane Walsh is obviously in that mould, as we all saw on the weekend. The key for Galway is to get his attitude flowing through the team so that they can put teams away. I watched them against both Sligo and against Tipperary and they should have won the two games by far more than five points.
They will be good in a couple of years, or at least they should be. To my eye, they’re still physically a few seasons behind the serious teams. You saw it in the Connacht final against Mayo.
Horsed outPeople placed a lot of store in their midfield pair of Thomas Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin but the long and short of it is that they were horsed out of it by Barry Moran and the two O’Sheas. That won’t always be the case but it’s where they’re at right now. I expect Kerry to have a fair bit to spare over them.
Mayo should take Cork in the other quarter-final. They’re a serious operation with only one thing on their mind and they have to be respected. My one fear for Mayo is that some of the other teams who really have their sights set on the All-Ireland are moving towards a point where they are able to bring top-class subs in to finish a game. Mayo are struggling a bit on that score.
It’s obviously a thing Jim Gavin has brought in, this idea of finishing the game with your best team or something close to it. Kerry did it to a certain extent against Cork – and Cork themselves were able to bring in players of the calibre of Daniel Goulding, Fintan Goold and Damien Cahalane last weekend. Even Donegal, who probably don’t have as deep a squad as the others, were still able to send in Paddy McBrearty to score three points against Monaghan.
Mayo’s subs turned the game for them the first day against Roscommon but both Andy Moran and Alan Dillon started for them in the Connacht final. That meant that when James Horan was sending subs on, it was Mickey Conroy and Alan Freeman that he was turning to.
We know what these guys are capable of at this stage. Are they capable of an All-Ireland? Would Mayo be happy to be depending on them to come off the bench to turn an All-Ireland final against the Dubs? It’s hard to be certain of it.
But what they do have in abundance is experience and physicality. These guys are battle hardened, they’ve been on the road for five or six years together. They’re a professional outfit at this stage. They’re not coming to Croke Park with their fingers crossed, hoping for the best.
In a way, it would be easier for them if they were. When anything less than an All-Ireland is a disaster, some of the joy goes out of it. There’s a comfort in having low expectations and Mayo left that behind a long time ago. Their supporters don’t have the luxury of going to Dublin for fun of it any more. It’s business now. Get in, get out, get it done.
Early goalI expect they will. They don’t panic these days. You could very easily see someone like Colm O’Neill banging in an early goal for Cork on Sunday but if it happens, there’s no chance you’ll see any Mayo player with his head in his hands. It’ll be, “Right lads, next ball and away we go.” They have experience, ability and pedigree and I don’t see them being beaten this early.
As for the two qualifiers, I’d see them both going the way of the Ulster counties. Meath and Kildare seem confused and flustered with themselves at the minute. I can’t understand why Meath are still going on about the biting thing. I can’t understand why they brought it up in the first place. Crying after a big hammering would never happen with a Meath team of the past and it shouldn’t happen now. We’re all big boys. Get on with it.
To me, Armagh are ahead of them at the moment. They’ve got a bit of momentum behind them and they’ve been gradually getting their system right. I fancy them to tough it out.
As for the other game, Kildare look to be in a muddle altogether.
They seem disjointed and lacking in the sort of toughness they had under Kieran McGeeney. Monaghan should expose that on Sunday.