All Ireland Senior Football Qualifiers – Weekend Preview

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Four enticing fixtures beckon

It will be a busy weekend on the Gaelic Football front. Two qualifiers on Saturday to see who will face Dublin or Tyrone in the last eight of the All Ireland. Sunday sees Kerry take on West Coast rivals Galway and Mayo lock horns against Roscommon at Croke Park. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action on the All Ireland Senior Football qualifiers first.

A fascinating rematch between two Ulster foes. The Ulster semi-final result was a surprise to many pundits as Down deservedly beat Monaghan with a performance full of work rate, defensive organization and ability to score counter-attack points at the end to earn an Ulster football final spot.

The Ulster football final was a most disappointing performance from Down. After a promising opening period where they missed a glorious goal scoring opportunity just before the interval, the side’s performance deteriorated rapidly in the second half as Tyrone’s running game created massive holes in Down’s defense. Down’s attack also struggled to cope with the defensive pressure exerted by Tyrone who hunted in packs and were disciplined in their tackling often winning possession in the process.

The key to this weekend is how badly impacted has Down morale being hit after the Ulster final loss. Two weeks to pick themselves up and a trip to Croke Park, a venue which has being kind to the county in the past. They have beaten Monaghan in the championship this season so confidence will be reasonably high.

For Down to win, massive performances and leadership will be required from the likes of McKernan who will look to bounce back from a needless black card in the Ulster final, Mooney whose attacking play from half-back is a real asset and the Johnston’s inside to provide the scoring threat required.

Monaghan come into this qualifier with confidence somewhat restored after that shock loss to Down in the Ulster semi-final. The performance was flat for periods and attacking play was ponderous and wayward. Conor McManus is still the focal point for this side, an amazing footballer who will continue to take on the main scoring responsibilities. Kieran Hughes at midfield is a player who continues to grow; immense talent, ability to take a point and his work rate in defense and attack is a joy to watch.

The passage to this point has seen an emphatic victory over Wexford and a hard earned win over Carlow which was a banana skin. The late surge to beat Carlow was impressive as Monaghan held their nerve and composure to close out the contest. A win which should give the side and supporters confidence. The side are battle hardened.

Tempo and work rate will be key for Monaghan at the weekend. They will look to squeeze out Down’s attacking threat and counter-attack with pace and speed. Forward line movement will need to improve and perhaps quicker distribution from the foot and not the hand pass should be considered to provide more questions for Down to answer.

This is a close game to call. I think the Ulster final loss exposed weak points in Down’s game plan. Squad depth was also exposed in the second half. Monaghan will have revenge on their minds and their ability to right the wrongs of the provincial defeat to their weekend opponents. Tentative nod to Monaghan but I do not expect to be much between the sides. The contest potentially will be dour at times but Monaghan have their ace in McManus to call on to secure victory. Monaghan by four points.

No motivation required for either side as ex-Kildare football manager Kieran McGeeney faces his former team at Croke Park. This is a game which should produce fireworks. Both sides have shown plenty of promise in recent outings. Kildare may have lost to Dublin in the Leinster final but there was a lot of positives for Cian O’Neill to dissect.

The team’s resiliency was tested as their response to a shocking open ten minutes was admirable; yes, they were always at arm’s length of Dublin but Kildare refused to roll over and hit an impressive 1-17 against the reigning All Ireland champions. Several players came to the party with Flynn, Slattery, Feely and O’Grady all having good moments.

Kildare’s Leinster campaign also showed promising signs with emphatic wins over Laois and Meath. Their free scoring approach to game where speed, tempo and quick distribution to the inside forward line has being quite evident. There are promising foundations for O’Neill to build on in future seasons with the squad profile littered with young players to complement veterans such as Callaghan and Bolton. NFL Division One football next season will only bring on this team more.

Momentum is a key term when dealing with the football qualifiers. A team who have exited the provincial championship early but then find form in qualifier wins. Armagh are that team. They had a disappointing NFL Division Three campaign; pipped for promotion by a last gasp Tipperary goal. An early Ulster exit to Down increased pressure on Armagh and McGeeney but the team have responded with superb performances.

Their win over Tipperary showed to everyone the threat and skill of Jamie Clarke. The Crossmaglen star stood out for Armagh in the second half and his goal was sheer class. Armagh’s showed guts and determination to get that result in Semple Stadium and Kildare realize that they are facing a team high on confidence. Armagh’s physique is outstanding and the conditioning battle will be intriguing between the two teams on Saturday given the manager’s backgrounds.

The Armagh defense will look to close the space on the Kildare forward line to operate in and look to control the tempo of play with controlled possession. Armagh need to involve Clarke with early ball in and if this happens, Armagh could be in for an excellent afternoon.

Another 50/50 call on this fixture. Both sides will not want to give an inch. A slight edge to Armagh on this one given their recent qualifier outings. Kildare have to show that they can cope with the pressure that comes with playing in Croke Park. Their recent record this season at HQ leaves a lot to be desired with a loss to Galway in the NFL Division Two final and then the Dublin loss which was not as damning.

Kildare’s defensive lapses at the start of the Leinster football final worry me and that is why I am giving the edge to Armagh who look more solid, physically stronger and have a player in Jamie Clarke who could produce a match winning cameo at any point. Armagh to edge this by two points.