Super 8s should see strong get stronger and mystery get weaker
Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien says people are writing Tyrone off too easily
Turlough O’Brien: “Are Dublin going to win all three games? I don’t think they’re as good as they were. Donegal will test them the first game, and then Tyrone.” Photograph: Getty Images
And then there were the Super Eight. For all the uncertainty of what happens next in the football championship there is an equal sense of familiarity – and only meek hopes and dreams for those not there.
Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Galway, Tyrone, Monaghan, Roscommon and Kildare: of these eight, seven played Division One football this season; Roscommon were promoted, and Kildare and Donegal were relegated – those looking like temporary blips given how Kildare and Donegal have already turned things around.
There may still be potential for the element of mild surprise, although nothing to suggest a seismic shift in the existing football fortunes. The strong stay strong, the meek may inherit, and the mystery continues to be written out of it.
“I still don’t think it’s right that it was set up for the stronger teams, and that’s what we’re getting,” says Carlow football manager Turlough O’Brien, whose team beat Kildare in the Leinster championship for the first time since 1953, before exiting in the qualifiers against Tyrone.
“All the attention will be on the Super 8s for the next few years, the big cash cow. And the way we organise championship fixtures, there are too many get-out clauses for the top teams. The first thing about competition is fairness.”
Still, Carlow can aspire to being there: after beating Kildare, a kinder draw may have brought O’Brien close this year.
“Yeah, you look at those eight teams, we’ve played four of them over the last two years, and held our own against all four. So the dream is there for teams like Carlow to make the Super 8s next year.”
From the teams he has faced this year, Tyrone look the more capable. Did he expect to see Kildare make the cut, having beaten them back on May 27th?
“I wouldn’t say surprised, no. I’ve always thought Kildare have fantastic individual talent, are a very, very athletic team as well. But, and I wouldn’t be critical, you’d wonder sometimes are they mentally fragile. When they play very well, get on top of you, they can blow you away. But maybe if they’re in a dogfight how will they react?
“They probably underestimated us a little bit, and weren’t able to deal with our game when things started to go against them. They struggled a bit to get over Longford as well, had two great wins since then, and they’ve plenty of talent, no doubt about.
“When we got the upper hand they had no real answer to how we set up. And it was a great win for Carlow. Then the whole Newbridge debacle came into play, galvanised them, so they’re in a different place now, almost two seasons in one.
“At the same time they may find the Super 8s difficult enough. Galway will be very difficult to beat, already beat them in Newbridge with more or less a second string team. Going to Killarney to play Kerry is a different task as well. But, again, they have the talent, and Croke Park and Killarney will suit them, and they could make the semi-finals, but it’s a tough group.
“We played Monaghan last year as well, and they’ve had an easy run this year, haven’t really been tested. But they’re playing with confidence, aren’t just relying on Conor McManus either. But I think Kildare can beat them in Croke Park, and that would be a great start.”
However, he thinks Tyrone, who beat Carlow in the Round Two qualifiers, will have the greater say. “I think people are writing Tyrone off too easily. They had a shocker last year against Dublin, got stung early with a goal, and there were huge gaps at the back. But I still rate them very, very highly. They’re a phenomenal team, incredible team work, work rate, and if they’re lacking anything it might be some out-and-out midfielders and an out-and-out finisher maybe.
“But they’re racking up great scores, have Dublin at home in Omagh, which is a great draw for Tyrone. If they beat Roscommon on Saturday that sets up some game for Omagh.
“Are Dublin going to win all three games? I don’t think they’re as good as they were. Donegal will test them the first game, and then Tyrone. It won’t get any easier. Roscommon are playing very open football as well, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.
“I think the best two teams will come out, of course they will. But you could have picked seven or eight of those teams at the start of the year. It’s an attractive programme for fixtures now, they all have strong panels, but I’m sure by the time all this has played out we’ll still have Dublin and Kerry in the All-Ireland final.”