The weekend's Gaelic Games previews
The denouement of the inaugural Super 8s and the All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay
Monaghan’s Conor McManus in action during the All-Ireland quarter-final Super 8s game against Kerry in Clones. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
All-Ireland SFC Super 8s – Group 1, phase 3
Galway v Monaghan, Pearse Stadium, Galway, 6.0 (Live on Sky Sports Action)
Dark comparisons between the potential here for West Germany-Austria at the 1982 World Cup are probably fanciful even beyond the casting of Kerry as Algeria. But the ability of Galway and Kildare to stymie Kerry simply by drawing was a scenario that a round-robin format was always capable of delivering.
The counties here though do have something to play for: avoiding Dublin in the semi-final even if Galway manager Kevin Walsh sounded indifferent on that front when hinting that with qualification assured, after two very composed displays against Kerry and Kildare, he’d be minding players (“striking a balance”) this weekend.
There are a couple of reasons to believe that Monaghan can get something here. When two defensively-orientated teams meet, there tends not to be much in it at the end. The league meeting between them, also in Salthill, was distorted by Monaghan, leading having played into the wind, being reduced to 14 before half-time when Fintan Kelly was red-carded.
Conor McManus was in sensational form against Kerry in Clones and although it ended in the most dramatic sucker-punch any side has sustained this year, they’ve had two weeks to get over it and go again. And they will.
Kerry v Kildare
Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, 6.0 (Live on Sky Sports Arena)
Probably at the start of the quarter-finals, Kerry would have been hoping that this would be a dead rubber. Thankfully, from their updated perspective it isn’t and a decent victory combined with a Galway win will get them into the semi-finals.
They should be able to deliver on their side of the bargain with home advantage and a Kildare side, weakened by suspension, and having nothing to play for coming to Killarney.
Cian O’Neill – trainer when Kerry last won the All-Ireland – has reason to be pleased with his team, as they have been very competitive in the quarter-finals, particularly when down to 14 against Galway, having lost Daniel Kelly for the last half-hour, when they threatened the result all the way to the tape.
But Kerry’s need to respond to the chaotic display against Monaghan and the raw potential of the younger players, most obviously the prodigious David Clifford but also Seán O’Shea and Tom O’Sullivan, who showed most stomach for the fight in Clones, makes them likely winners here. But the suspicion is that a galvanised Kildare won’t roll over and make it an inevitability. The problem may arise farther up the western seaboard.
All-Ireland Under-21 HC semi-final
Cork v Wexford, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny 4.0 (Live on TG4)
It’s been a big year at the grade with Cork’s first Munster title in 11 years and a stylish team, featuring six of the side that started last weekend’s senior semi-final against Limerick, as well as a thundering Leinster final between Wexford and a fancied Galway, who needed a last-second goal to take the title for the first time. Unfortunately for Wexford, Rory O’Connor is battling injury and all things considered, the Munster champions look that bit too good.
All-Ireland SHC semi-final replay Galway v Clare, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 2.0 [Live, RTÉ 2 and Sky Arena]
Go back 20 years to another All-Ireland semi-final replay in Thurles, featuring Clare.
As All-Ireland champions, they had been hot favourites to retain their title but gradually things became complicated and they ended up losing their way in a tangle of replays and lost players.
Galway aren’t a perfect fit for Ger Loughnane’s team back then but they have carelessly drawn a provincial final before proving themselves far too good in the replay.
They also ended up surprisingly failing to beat opponents who, despite having won the All-Ireland a few years previously, looked to have their best days behind them.
Just as Colin Lynch’s suspension deprived Clare of a key player and All Star in 1998, Galway take the field on Sunday likely to be missing All Star centre back and Hurler of the Year nominee, Gearóid McInerney although Joe Canning is considered likely to make the cut.
Could this year’s Clare be on the way to rediscovering their full range in a protracted All-Ireland semi-final just as Offaly did in the second replay 20 years ago before going on to win another All-Ireland?
There were positive signs in Croke Park last Saturday. The cool heads and tactical flexibility to defuse the early onslaught was impressively directed from the line and executed on the field.
In this new context there were fine performances from Colm Galvin as sweeper and Tony Kelly, restored to centrefield whereas in attack, the red helmets of John Conlon and Peter Duggan took the fight to Galway, as did Shane O’Donnell, all energy and probing as well as a new, point-scoring threat.
Another unexpected advantage was their bench. The earlier than expected return of Aran Shanagher has greatly added to the options available in the full-forward line and a total of 1-3 came from replacements. Galway’s replacements were needed to cover injuries rather than supplement performance and didn’t have the same impact.
Yet Galway didn’t trail on the scoreboard for virtually the entire match. They found the lead scores at the end of normal and extra time only to be pulled back. Their attacking threat remains significant. The opening firestorm encouraged over-reliance on Johnny Glynn’s telescopic paw and they need to vary that approach.
They have generally been very clever at coping with sweeper systems and were unusually inaccurate (23 misses – between wides and shots dropped short) with their shooting in the drawn match but 15 of those wides were into the Hill 16 goal and as Nicky English pointed out in these pages last week, the unusual wind in Croke Park at the weekend led to difficulties not just for those shooting but also for umpires, explaining the frequency of calls for Hawk-Eye at the Northern End.
In the Leinster final replay, also in Thurles, Galway had only half that number of misses. The champions will also be better briefed on the scale of Clare’s reinvigorated challenge.
All-Ireland SFC Super 8s – Group 2, Phase 3
Donegal v Tyrone, MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, 3.30 (Live on RTÉ 1)
The weekend’s big match – a virtual, old-style quarter-final – brings together the two most recent Ulster champions. Donegal’s home advantage – they haven’t lost to Tyrone in Ballybofey for 45 years although they were champions then as well – must be balanced against the injuries that have plagued Declan Bonner. Just as they were getting used to being without star forward, the in-form Patrick McBrearty, Donegal lost their best defender, Eoin Bán Gallagher.
Mickey Harte has his own problems in that regard, as Ronan McNamee’s likely absence means that two-thirds of the full-back line won’t be available. Given Michael Murphy’s form on the edge of the square in Roscommon that might be a concern but Tyrone’s set-up and double sweepers would make life at full forward unrewarding, regardless.
Under Bonner, Donegal have been a livelier, more youthful and impressive collective and Murphy will, as usual, be influential wherever he plays.
Tyrone, though, will have been buoyed by the determined resistance shown against Dublin in Omagh and the vastly more comprehensive win they had over Roscommon when compared with Donegal’s, albeit in Hyde Park. Mark Bradley’s form off the bench after injury the last day is another plus for Harte and they have the edge.
Dublin v Roscommon, Croke Park, 3.30 (Live on RTÉ News Now)
A rubber so dead, its script might have been found amongst Monty Python memorabilia, this brings a struggling Roscommon back to Croke Park where they were beaten up by Tyrone a few weeks back. Dublin are disinterested in that the group is already won and with a six-day turnaround before next week’s semi-final, changes and panel rotation can be expected.
That could be a mixed blessing for Roscommon, as the Dublin understudies will be driven to make an impact. In pursuit of control, which they exercise in matches with an iron fist, the All-Ireland champions are compromising their scoring returns although this year’s league was actually their highest scoring under Jim Gavin.
The successful raid on Omagh was spoiled by the ill-advised resting on the oars in the last 10 minutes, which came close to capsizing the operation. One question for management: should Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan be rested to try and revive the scoring touch – their work rate is impeccable – or played in the hope of getting a few numbers in brackets? Roscommon were competitive for half an hour against Donegal but they have limited ability to absorb pressure and that will be an issue here.
All-Ireland Under-20 FC final
Kildare v Mayo, Croke Park, 1.15 (Live on TG4)
A first All-Ireland final at under-age for 10 years is testament to the hard work being done in Kildare in what has been a decent year for the county overall.
It started in heart-attack territory, trailing Laois by eight points but since then, Davy Burke’s side have been impressive.
The All-Ireland semi-final win over serial minor champions Kerry was a huge achievement even if their opponents’ most stellar talents at the age grade were unavailable, as pledged to the seniors.
Corner forward Jim Hyland has been the stand-out performer, bagging 1-3 from play against Kerry as well as five frees, but full back Mark Dempsey starred in Moorefield’s run to the All-Ireland semi-finals. They are deserved favourites.
Under Michael Solan, Mayo maybe haven’t the same stardust but they are quick and thoughtful. Characteristic of the county in modern times, they have a quick, aggressive half-back line with wing backs Paul Lambert and Oisín McLoughlin scoring 1-2 between them in their semi-final win over Derry.