All-Ireland football Super 8s previews

After a low-key start the new quarter-final series is set to step up a few gears

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara celebrates scoring his side second goal during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at  Croke Park in August 2017. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara celebrates scoring his side second goal during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in August 2017. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho


All-Ireland SFC Super 8s – Round Two
Roscommon v Donegal Dr Hyde Park, 5.0, live on Sky Sports Arena
There was a sense when Donegal stayed resolutely behind the ball for the closing minutes of last week’s match in Croke Park, as Dublin played what those of a certain age used to call ‘Donkey,’ that the round-robin structure was encouraging the Ulster champions to settle for a four-point defeat.

If so, part of the calculation was based on the prospect of playing Roscommon a week later and hoping to get Tyrone to Ballybofey with an All-Ireland semi-final at stake. The Connacht finalists will have something to say about that, as in the wake of the 18-point mauling by Tyrone there has been some soul searching. Even routs have their watershed moments and, as Kevin McStay’s team were edging out of the first quarter with parity a fumbling turnover by Enda Smith let Niall Sludden in for the first goal after which the match turned into a chase.

After a mini-recovery in the third quarter, another turnover led to another goal. They will hope to keep the match in play for longer this week. In many respects Donegal acquitted themselves well against Dublin but they needed more composure when in attacking positions. Their greater emphasis on getting forward has left them more exposed at the back, as evidenced both by the goals conceded and those that should have been. Roscommon have the forwards to exploit that but equally, Donegal are unlikely to allow the contest become a shoot-out. Their fluid transition play from the back will also pose problems. ROSCOMMON: C Lavin; D Murray, N McInerney, S McDermott; J McManus, F Cregg, C Devaney; T O’Rourke, C Compton; C Murtagh, N Kilroy, E Smith, D Murtagh, B Stack, C Cregg.

Verdict: Donegal

Tyrone v Dublin Healy Park, 7.0, live on Sky Sports Arena
For a variety of reasons this is a fascinating match. For a start – and, until Kerry found themselves fighting for their future in Clones – it has been the most eagerly awaited of the round-robin matches, bringing Dublin outside the comfort zone of Croke Park to face a team they humiliated last summer.

Tyrone have come into this through a different route. The advantage of the qualifiers plus last week’s Phase 1 is that Mickey Harte’s side have played five times in seven weekends and are thoroughly run in, as opposed to last year when arrived as Ulster champions. Dublin weren’t in top gear against Donegal and exhibited an alarming looseness in their finishing but there are good reasons for expecting a step-shift in their performance levels.

One is that an away fixture against top opponents crystallises the Croke Park issue: lose and it fuels the discontent with Dublin’s residency at the stadium. Two, Jim Gavin knows that Tyrone pose a massive threat on the field. Had last year’s semi-final been replayed a week later, it probably wouldn’t have ended in such a bad beating; the losers were better than that. Their tactical evolution sees Richie Donnelly in his preferred position at full forward, giving an orthodox, early option to a team built around the counter-attack. There remain good reasons for expecting a Dublin win, though: contrasting capacity at centrefield plus the suspicion that the shooting will be tighter and more accurate.

TYRONE: N Morgan; M McKernan, R McNamee, HP McGeary; T McCann, F Burns, P Harte; C Cavanagh, P Hampsey; M Donnelly, N Sludden, C Meyler; C McShane, R Donnelly, C McAliskey.

Verdict: Dublin

Kildare v Galway St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, 2.0, live on RTÉ2
The problem with any advantage is that people eventually get wise to it. Kildare certainly made their home advantage count when beating Mayo at St Conleth’s Park three weeks ago, but Galway will be well wise to that, not that they necessarily needed to be. Everything about the way the Connacht champions took Kerry apart in Croke Park last Sunday suggested a team still building towards a peak.

In a 20-year reprise of their 1998 All-Ireland final, which Galway won, there’s a lot at stake too - victory for Galway effectively ensuring them a semi-final, defeat to Kildare surely denying them. Kildare last beat Galway in the championship in 1926 and for manager Cian O’Neill that’s the sort of task at hand.

His team were still reaching out for victory late on against Monaghan last Sunday, but couldn’t quite grab it, Daniel Flynn among those cut adrift when they needed him most, the team returning just 44 per cent of their scoring chances. Obvious room for improvement there.

Galway lost their midfielder and leader Paul Conroy to a double-fracture of his left tibia in an accidental collision in the Kerry game, an obvious loss, but manager Kevin Walsh took some comfort in the performance of his replacements, especially Adrian Varley and Patrick Sweeney. Shane Walsh is in magnificent form, didn’t miss a placed ball against Kerry, and the fact Damien Comer was relatively quiet must be something of a warning sign for Galway. They have pace and power to boot, and with Declan Kyne and Johnny Heaney playing electric down the wings, Gareth Bradshaw typical central to the defence, they’ve been presenting themselves as a daunting prospect to any team, beginning again with Kildare.

Verdict: Galway

Monaghan v Kerry Clones, 4.0, live on RTÉ 2
After playing super bad against Galway in Croke Park last Sunday there’s only question here: can Kerry possibly play that badly again? It was their first championship loss to Galway since 1965, and having scored 3-40 in their opening two games, the Munster champions only hit double-digit scores in the seven minutes of injury time. By then Galway had taken them apart and laid the pieces all over the Croke Park.

As Darragh Ó Sé cutely put it this week: “They came, they saw, they got battered. Galway gave them a three-point hiding.” Kerry’s last two scores came at the death from David Clifford, a free and then a goal from a breaking ball. Clifford finished with 1-5, clearly their best of a bad lot, James O’Donoghue and Seán O’Shea left empty-handed, Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien both guilty of some soft misses. “As poor a performance as we’ve had,” admitted Kerry manager Eammon Fitzmaurice, although one thing is now clear about this trip to Clones: “They have to stand up or go home,” as Ó Sé put.

Mentally and physically Kerry were at sea, more worrying for Fitzmaurice is the fact tactically they looked equally adrift. With players like Kieran Donaghy left unused there are at least some fresh options, but no one off the bench scored on Sunday. Kerry have never lost to Monaghan in the championship, in their six meetings, but meet a team buoyed by their win over Kildare, and with scoring options spread far beyond Conor McManus, defender Karl O’Connell arguably a greater threat, scoring 1-6 this season, Kieran Duffy chipping in from the back too. Monaghan also beat Kerry in the league, have the tight pitch in Clones in their favour too, only after last Sunday is seems one thing is certain: Kerry can’t possibly play that badly again.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice settled on three defensive changes from the defeat to Galway last Sunday, keeping his midfield and forward lines intact: Ronan Shanahan, Tom O’Sullivan and Mark Griffin filling the full back line in indirect swaps with Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley and the suspended Killian Young. Older names like Kieran Donaghy, Donnchadh Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan, Anthony Maher and Barry John Keane remain on the bench.

KERRY: S Murphy; R Shanahan, M Griffin, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, P Crowley, G White; D Moran, J Barry; K McCarthy S O’Shea, S O’Brien; D Clifford, P Geaney, J O’Donoghue.

Verdict: Kerry

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