In some ways tomorrow’s All-Ireland rematch between Donegal and Mayo is building up even more steam than last year’s final, and wherever there’s steam there’s always potential for an explosion.
There was certainly some irony in Jim McGuinness talking up his fears about the increasing physicality of football, especially given it was his Donegal team who took that physicality to a new level – albeit within the rules. Managers are always looking for an edge, or perhaps trying to influence the referee in some way, but that kind of talk suggests to me that McGuinness knows his team aren’t playing as well as last year.
What was more surprising was that James Horan got involved, because the most important thing for his Mayo team is keeping a lid on all of this, ensuring the focus is on playing the game at their pace and tempo. Mayo don’t need to be drawn into a physical contest, a war of attrition, because that will be just playing into Donegal’s hands.
Still they will have learnt a lot from last year’s final, and should be much better prepared this time. They are even more athletic, and the influence of trainer Donie Buckley is showing in their improved tackling. If they can play the game wide, stretch Donegal, then they definitely have the pace and freshness to win out this time. What they’ll have driving them as well is that pain and hurt of last year’s final defeat, which no player easily forgets. They’ll be relishing this chance to make some amends.
Donegal had a hard time break down the Laois defence last weekend, especially with Billy Sheehan playing the sweeper role. In the end Laois had to go for broke, and Donegal will get some momentum from the way they finished that game. It's crucial for both teams to start well, although more so for Donegal. If they can get a small lead they're still very good at strangling a team and Mayo can't afford to let that happen.
But with Aidan O'Shea looking fitter than ever at midfield, that still dangerous forward line of O'Connor and Alan Freeman, the return of Andy Moran and a more experienced defence, especially in Ger Cafferkey, Mayo can use their freshness to win out, again provided they don't lose out in the physical battle.
It’s also a rematch of sorts for Dublin and Cork in this evening’s quarter-final, the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final no doubt still fresh in the minds of both teams. But the momentum is firmly with Dublin this time and it’s difficult to see how Cork will handle their attacking game.
Kerry ran riot in the first half of the Munster final, when Cork’s defence looked totally inept. Dublin also boast a similar playmaker to Colm Cooper in Ciarán Kilkenny, and if he dictates the play the way ‘Gooch’ did in the Munster final then Dublin can cause Cork all sorts of problems, especially with that full- forward line of Paul Mannion, Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O’Gara.
Yet again the Cork team as named looks questionable, and whether the likes Paul Kerrigan, Paddy Kelly and Paudie Kissane will actually start or not. Yet there may actually be some method to Conor Counihan’s madness.
Dublin, we know, will make it fast and furious, but if Cork can somehow match that relentless pace, then bring in the big back-up players as they need them, then they definitely have a chance.
Dublin will also want to be very wary of Aidan Walsh who made strong runs through the middle against Galway last weekend. Dublin can be vulnerable there, if Ger Brennan doesn’t get ample support. Cork will try to make full use of their kick-passing game, into their forward line, who again can test Dublin’s defence.
But still Dublin look to have the greater pace and spread of scoring forwards to see them through.
This evening’s first quarter-final between Monaghan and Tyrone is probably the closest call of all four games , and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either team win.
Tyrone are again proving their back-door tenacity and seem to be building some real momentum, while the big question about Monaghan is whether or not they can reignite the ferocious intensity of their Ulster final win.
It means another big display from the likes of Dessie Mone, Kieran Hughes, Vinny Corey and Drew Wylie, and also Conor McManus. In fairness, they’ll relish playing in Croke Park. I just have this nagging feeling about Tyrone’s experience at this stage of the competition, and if it is a close match, which I expect it will be, they’ll still have the knack of pulling through.
But as well as Seán Cavanagh, Tyrone also need another big display from the likes of Darren McCurry and Ciarán McGinley. Stephen O’Neill hasn’t yet found his best form this summer but if Tyrone can get more ball into his hands then all that can change, all of which suggests Tyrone can edge this one.
So to Kerry against Cavan, with its romantic memories of 1947 which are special to me too. My father Frank, now aged 89, is one of only two survivors from the Kerry team which famously lost to Cavan in New York’s Polo Grounds that year (the other being Mick Finucane). He was actually the youngest member of that Kerry team, playing at corner forward, and it was great to hear him being mentioned in some of the old match commentary being replayed this week.
While Cavan will certainly be no pushover, and have shown good spirit all summer, it’s impossible to see how they will handle Kerry for the full 70 minutes. Kerry to win.