And so it begins. The odyssey to win Sam Maguire for some, the objective of being competitive for others while the rest are looking for the exit door pronto. The All Ireland Senior Football Championship is back and starts with a potential tricky opener for Sligo away to New York at Gaelic Park. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the upcoming season.
May 7th. New York. Sligo without several key players travel to the US for a very tricky encounter. It does not instill confidence within a team when your manager is publicly crying out the timing of the fixture, the loss of key players; it is almost like Niall Carew is fearing the worse considering what nearly happened to Roscommon last year when New York nearly upset the form book and win.
Niall Carew has valid grievances; the scheduling of this fixture has resulted in Kevin McDonnell, Luke Nicholson and Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch due to exams. When you add the fact that the Yeats County are without their star forward Niall Murphy due to a hamstring injury, Sligo have issues at both ends of the pitch.
Sligo should just about edge this opener despite their injury and forced withdrawals. A mid-table position in NFL Division Three which contained Armagh, Tipperary and Louth has provided the team with good early season encounters. New York was always an enigma; their preparations are either pretty solid or non-existent. Given the inclusion of players such as Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe and Mayo’s Tom Cunniffe, the team have added excellent inter-county experience and training preparations should be on point.
New York – Enigma
The lack of quality preseason games may be the difference between both sides. New York realistically probably have only had a couple of fixtures potentially against the likes of Boston, Chicago. The tempo and intensity maybe an issue in the final quarter and one would suspect that after a tricky opening period, Sligo should assert their dominance. If New York were to win, it really would not be surprise given how close they came to beating Roscommon last year. New York also boost the likes of Vinny Cadden, Ross Wherity and Conor McGaynor so Sligo will have to be on top form to win.
GAA and more to the point Connacht Council need to review the scheduling of this opening fixture. It is a nice fixture to kickoff the championship but do not see much hype or photo shoots in New York to promote the game. Given that the profile of an inter-county squad is consisting of mostly players who are in third level education, it would not be too unreasonable to schedule this fixture potentially after college exams. Short-sighted fixture scheduling to be honest.
Leitrim head to London town
Leitrim travel to Ruislip to face London later this month, a quarter final contest where the outcome should go the way of Leitrim. A solid campaign in Division Four and Leitrim had seven points to spare over the Exiles during the league. Leitrim’s only heavy loss came against Westmeath but the other losses were close to a resurgent Wexford and middling Limerick outfit away. Nothing in the league suggests that London will cause an upset in Ruislip so Leitrim advance for me and face Roscommon in the last four.
Opportunity knocks for Roscommon
This is a big opportunity for Roscommon to redeem themselves after a wretched league campaign. Kevin McStay has endured numerous issues this season; a hangover from last season’s dismal championship exit continued in the NFL Division One. The rumors of squad unrest were mentioned in public — typical stuff when a team is struggling for form and confidence. Their league loss to Dublin at HQ was a low point of the season. Roscommon have a golden opportunity to advance to a provincial final and one game away from an All Ireland Quarter Final. Roscommon should be too strong for Leitrim; squad depth and individual talent of the likes of Murtagh, Shine should see them through. The other side is the more compelling side truth be told.
Operation Redemption – Mayo
Mayo enter the Connacht championship with scores to settle provincially. Galway came to McHale Park and beat Mayo deservedly which forced Mayo to come through the backdoor system; not ideal but it culminated in an All Ireland final appearance, another heartbreaking loss to Dublin in a replay. Mayo would ideally like to go through the standard way and win the province. Their quest for another provincial crown starts with a home quarter final against the winners of Sligo or New York. A game which would rid the cobwebs. Mayo’s league form was very inconsistent, some bright points in their wins against Donegal, Kerry and Tyrone but there were some poor displays evident in a crushing loss to Dublin at Croke Park. Mayo are another season in with Stephen Rochford in charge.
The Holmes / Connelly saga still rumbles on but Mayo panel will focus and continue to improve in all facets of play. The goalkeeping situation will be interesting this season. Clarke surely is the front runner for the position but sometimes you cannot tell what Mayo management are thinking. The Mayo back line is strong. Harrison at corner back was a revelation last year. Higgins is a mercurial footballer. Boyle, Keegan and Durcan are superb players who like to venture forward and chip in with scores. The midfield of Parsons and O’Shea is a solid partnership. The forward line units will be closely monitored; how does Mayo tweak the half-forward line and full forward lines to become more potent in open play? Potential is there but game management decisions was at times an issue.
Provided that there are no system meltdowns, Mayo will advance to the semi-final and face old rival and resurgent Galway in Salthill. Galway football is going in the right direction; the recent performance of the U21 team combined with the senior team getting promoted to NFL Division One and winning the league final in addition to the win of Corofin in the Connacht SFC bodes well for Kevin Walsh and management. The squad looks on paper to be competitive and one that should be capable of surpassing their quarter final appearance last season. Paul Conroy, Tom Flynn, Michael Meehan, Gary Sice are supreme players and coupled with some exciting underage talent, the semi-final is one that I will be eagerly looking forward to.
Galway will be buoyed by their performance in Castlebar last season; the monkey of not beating Mayo in recent years was well and truly smashed with a smart, efficient display which exposed Mayo’s defensive system meltdowns and defensive work rate and organization stifling Mayo’s forward line units who looked extremely one dimensional. This is a 50/50 game and I will give a tentative nod to Galway; the team and county are on an upward curve. Buoyed by home field advantage, Galway for me have a slight edge but no better team than Mayo to upset Galway away from Castlebar. It should be a cracker; do remember the demolition of Galway by Mayo a couple of years ago in Salthill. Whoever wins this contest will be firm favorites to go on and win the province. No real complaints. Roscommon have a lot to prove and their league form has not inspired this confidence.
The Winners of Galway or Mayo (tipped Galway so it is the Tribesmen)