Kerry and Dublin eyeing each other as endgame looms
Only 10 teams remain in the race for Sam Maguire and eight of them play this weekend
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly will be in action for the Leinster champions against Fermanagh at Croke Park. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Husk by husk, grain by grain, the championship winnows down. After the four games this weekend – and assuming we’re spared replays – only five more will remain before we know who the 2015 All-Ireland champions are. Only six teams will still have a shot at Sam, each with varying degrees of intent and belief. The summer is coming to a rolling boil in front of our eyes.
Will we see the champions this weekend? If we do, it feels more likely to be tomorrow than today. Kerry and Dublin come to Croke Park for a Sunday afternoon to dust a little business each off their hands in the shape of Kildare and Fermanagh. If they regard each other at all just now, they do so from a distance. Coolly. Suspiciously.
On being told Darragh Ó Sé wrote in these pages on Wednesday that Dublin could do with a game against a Division One team, Jim Gavin was quick to smile. “When any Kerryman talks about Dublin football, I take it with a huge pinch of salt,” he said.
But we get ahead of ourselves. If Kerry and Dublin are to entwine this year, it will be in September and not before. Six other teams alight upon Croke Park this weekend with something to say for themselves.
It would be a shame to turn deaf to their voices.
Here come Tyrone, a summer in the long grass behind them. The most successful team in the history of the qualifiers, their record reads Played 28, Won 23, Drew 1, Lost 4.
They’ve rocked and rolled their way to two All-Irelands through the back door and though few outside their county – and not too many within it – believe they have another in them this year, they’re back in Croke Park.
Here come Sligo, holders of a 100 per cent record against Tyrone. Played them once, beat them once, all of 13 years ago. That 1-14 to 0-12 victory in 2002 was the last Tyrone game played before Mickey Harte took over as manager. It’s no stretch to suggest that a repeat today could force the bookending of the Harte era.
In the Ulster final, Donegal looked just as sluggish and just as weary as a team with countless miles in their legs ought to look. In the half hour when Monaghan went from 0-3 to 0-0 down to 0-8 to 0-4 up, Rory Gallagher’s side were nobody’s idea of an All-Ireland contender. It wasn’t that they played badly, it was more that they didn’t make much of a shape at playing at all.
And yet they came within a couple of inches of a replay. They could roar back or they could take their sunset walk. We don’t know yet.
As for Galway, the chance presents itself now to turn the years of spineless underachievement into a matter for historians. Win tonight and they make the quarter-finals for the third year in a row but whereas in the previous two years they skipped past Tipperary (twice), London, Sligo, Waterford and Armagh to get to the last eight, this time around their path would read Armagh, Derry, Donegal. That’s a creditable year’s work, regardless of what happens afterwards.
Here come Kildare, credibility just about restored. Well, you can make the argument for it anyway, which is as much as Jason Ryan would have taken after another league relegation.
And finally, here come Fermanagh. Scorn not their simplicity. They may well get minced tomorrow but remember that Monaghan got precisely that treatment from Dublin in last year’s quarter-final and came back to win Ulster this time around. Whatever the future holds for Pete McGrath’s side, playing Dublin in the championship in front of a crowd is in no way a bad thing.
Nine games to go. The summer’s settling gets serious now.