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Darragh Ó Sé: Two huge battles will lead to a Dublin and Kerry final

Super 8s schedule shows GAA’s disdain for player welfare

What a waste of time Sunday's game in Omagh was. If you were left it in a will, you'd contest it. All-expenses paid, nice hotel, good feeding, all the rest of it – you'd still go back and ask if there was maybe something else there for you. At least an old clock might do you some use somewhere down the line.

Everybody has their own ideas about the Super 8s but to me there's a couple of things that stare you right in the face. The first is the timing. It's seriously wrong to give players only six or seven days to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final. I don't know who is responsible for that but I can tell you for damn sure they never played in one.

It shows no understanding of what goes into playing these games. It basically tells these guys that the GAA does not care in the slightest about the demands the sport puts on its players. It tells them that it doesn't value them or their time or their work/life balance or any of that stuff.

We’re told all the time that being amateur is the most fundamental thing about the GAA and then the fixture-makers force lads who have to go to work every day to play an All-Ireland semi-final with six days notice. How could that be seen as anything other than the GAA telling players that they’re way, way down the food chain?

No wonder Tyrone and Dublin played B teams on Sunday. In hindsight, I'm nearly surprised they didn't just throw 15 jerseys apiece into the crowd.

I don't know how anyone can take the Super 8s as a guide to anything that's going to happen this weekend

The other thing about the Super 8s – and this is less important, obviously, but it’s true all the same – is that it means we’re all guessing to a certain extent going into this weekend. How is anyone supposed to draw a coherent formline from the games that have taken place over the past month?

Kerry hammered Mayo and then Donegal drew with Kerry and then Mayo walked all over Donegal. The Dubs looked a bit shaky at times against Cork but were given no game whatsoever by Roscommon and then Roscommon went to Cork and beat them on their home patch. I don't know how anyone can take the Super 8s as a guide to anything that's going to happen this weekend.

What do we know for sure? We know that Dublin will bring a performance that won't dip below a certain level. Any team that can afford to leave Stephen Cluxton, Brian Fenton, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion and the rest of them at home with their feet up and a cup of tea beside them and still be easy winners on the road, we don't need to fret for.

The Dubs will be the Dubs. The question is what will Mayo bring with them. We can make a decent guess at Mayo’s formline because of the four teams left, they’re the only ones who had a game last weekend where everything was on the line and nothing existed beyond the final whistle.

Mayo don’t have to go searching for form and they won’t need the first 15 minutes to get to the pitch of things. They know what it is to be at full pelt, they’ll go from the first whistle as if their backs are to the wall. In that respect, it will be up to the Dubs to match them in the early exchanges.

Real physicality

You only had to watch that Donegal game to see what real physicality is in a football match. This was big boy stuff and it made most of the Donegal players wilt in the face of it. Only Michael Murphy was able to live with it and he damn near dragged Donegal through it on his own. I was nearly more taken with Murphy in defeat the other night than in some of the games Donegal have won this year. He was heroic but Mayo made sure he didn't get enough help from elsewhere in the team.

People talk about physicality a lot without ever really defining what it means. To me, it’s nothing too much more complicated than being able to hold your ground and not get knocked off what you want to do.

Like most people, I thought Murphy was pretty fortunate to get the penalty on Saturday night. But he got it because he had the physicality to be able to position himself in front of Lee Keegan and force Keegan to have to grab a hold of his shirt to get at the ball. The penalty call went his way because he had put himself in that position and didn’t get knocked off it.

It was about the only physical exchange Mayo lost all night. Otherwise, those physical exchanges are where Mayo flourish. It's Colm Boyle throwing himself into a tackle with abandon. It's Aidan O'Shea standing up a man with a tackle and knocking the ball loose. It's Keegan, Chris Barrett, Paddy Durcan, even up as far as Cillian O'Connor, all being able to go into a tackle and know they've got the conditioning to go again if they have to.

I always think of physicality like the tyres on a racing car. If the tyres are a bit worn down, you have to take a bit more care going around a corner because the important thing is that you at least stay upright. But if the tyres are good, you can let loose and go full throttle, happy in the knowledge that you’re not going to flip over.

Mayo are at their best when they’re going full throttle – they know they have the tyres for it.

Now, Dublin know that too, obviously. That’s why we’ve seen so many epic encounters between the two teams. Can we get it again on Saturday? I’m not so sure. I think now, more than ever, Dublin have the edge in most areas.

You'd back most of their forwards to score more than their equivalent Mayo attacker. Fenton and Michael Darragh Macauley are near enough the perfect midfield in terms of a combination of fielding, power, energy, scoring power. The O'Shea brothers are the match of them (at least) in a lot of departments but they'll hardly outscore them. The Mayo defence is a serious unit but the Dubs haven't conceded a goal from play all summer.

Huge loss

Jason Doherty is a huge loss for Mayo. When Mayo are at their best, when they are constantly turning over ball in their own defence and breaking out in packs, the element that keeps the whole thing moving is a dependable ball-winner in the half-forward line.

The fact that they play at such a helter-skelter pace means it's vital that out ball sticks. Doherty is as good as Andy Moran in winning his own ball and laying it off and he's usually fairly good when shooting as well. James Horan has a big call to make there when it comes to replacing him.

Even if Doherty was available, I'd have to side with Dublin. Jim Gavin has played everything perfectly so far and he's going into the semi-final with no worries. Mayo have a kick in them but I don't see it being enough to outlast the Dubs in the end.

In the other semi-final, you’re looking at two teams who have improved this year and wondering who has improved the most. Tyrone are coming from being in an All-Ireland final, whereas Kerry didn’t make it through the Super 8s last year. So the question is whether Kerry have gone past Tyrone in the space of 12 months.

Tyrone haven’t really changed the way they play. Cathal McShane has been the major difference, in that he is a constant danger on the edge of the square. He gives them a target man and allows them keep their shape better. In other years, the player they had in that spot was a Connor McAliskey or a Darren McCurry. McShane is a different beast and definitely an upgrade.

But I still think that the sheer amount of bodies they play behind the ball counts against them in Croke Park. It was only when Mattie Donnelly doubled up inside with McShane against Cork that they kicked into gear. I presume they will do that at some stage against Kerry but I don't know if they have enough faith in it.

In times of stress, it's human nature to go back to what you know best. Tyrone's fallback is a containing game based on a packed defence that converts into a running game when they force a turnover. It works against Ulster teams and it works against the teams that are a tier or two below the contenders. It hasn't worked against any of the really top-level teams in a long time.

The question is, are Kerry a really top-level team?

The win over Mayo in Killarney suggests that they’re getting there anyway. That was a day when they came in unproven, with a score to settle against a team that had bullied them in the league final and with plenty of questions about their readiness for the battle. And they answered them all.

Best game

Kerry forced their game on Mayo that day and took them to town. They had a test to pass and they came through with flying colours. They weren’t exactly found wanting against Donegal either in the best game of the summer so far.

I have plenty of worries about the Kerry defence but, in an odd sort of a way, I think this kind of test suits them. Some of the Kerry lads aren't the best one-on-one markers around the place but outside of a few key players such as Peter Harte, Donnelly and McShane, Tyrone don't really make that an issue. Instead, they put an onus on athleticism and covering every blade of grass. Kerry won't mind that too much.

At the other end of the pitch, I would expect Kerry to do well. Dublin have shown the way to play against Tyrone – be patient, don't take the ball into contact, find the right shooters in the right positions, take your scores. David Clifford, Seán O'Shea, Paul Geaney, Stephen O'Brien – between them, I'd expect them to take their scores and put up a good enough total to win.

A big weekend with a lot of X-factors but at the end of it, I think we’ll have a Dublin v Kerry final.