All to play for at Croke Park in the All Ireland Senior Football Championship. After the epic excitement (much needed may I add) of Mayo and Kerry last weekend, this weekend hopefully will see more superb action from probably the four best teams in the country. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his eyes on the fixtures.
Depending on who you might have met this week, the prognosis for the replay was varied. Do Mayo have another couple of tactical surprises up their sleeve? Can Kerry rectify the massive defensive space in front of a vulnerable full back line? Can Mayo deploy a different player in the full back spot to contend Kieran Donaghy? Can Kerry provide enough ball to allow O’Donoghue to become a major game changer at the weekend?
I feel sorry for Stephen Rochford. The comments post-game on RTE were incredibly harsh. Mayo have a problem in the full back berth. Ger Cafferkey has being their only option in recent seasons and his record against Donaghy has being a mixed bag. Aidan O’Shea and his deployment to the full back line was a surprise but it worked to a certain degree. O’Shea’s aerial ability negated Kerry’s game plan to launch high ball into the Mayo full back line. The weather may have negated that tactic but O’Shea in the full back meant that Kerry had to reassess their game plan. Rochford perhaps could have taken the Breaffy clubman further up the pitch in the closing minutes to see if he could conjure a game winning moment. However, if he did then there would be a question on how tight defensively Mayo would have being.
Rochford has a couple of decisions to make ahead of Saturday. The O’Shea tactic is probably off the table this weekend so who will Mayo management entrust to quell the influence of Star? Vaughan has being touted but the player is walking a disciplinary tightrope as a black card will leave him unavailable for the All Ireland Football final. The options are limited truth be told. Who can provide the aerial prowess and speed in ground exchanges to protect Clarke in the Mayo goal? Keane would have being an alternative. Can Seamus O’Shea adapt to the full back slot or will Mayo go zonal and look to the likes of Higgins, Harrison to nullify the danger. Compelling stuff.
Patrick Durcan will be pushing for a starting berth after a prominent cameo last weekend. Boyle was industrious and threatening in attack but was hauled off long before the final whistle. Lee Keegan at half-forward did not work and Mayo management need to deploy the Westport club man in the wing back berth where he can exploit his pace and running from deep to create issues for Kerry defensively even more so if Donnacha Walsh is unable to line out.
The Mayo half-forward line should have being the talking point for Mayo pundits post-game last weekend. No scores from this unit and their impact was minimal. Tweaks are required on the unit. Diarmuid O’Connor works hard but little return from play. Kevin McLaughlin showed flashes but his work was far away from goal. These players need to come out and provide attacking assistance to the full forward line where Moran and Cillian O’Connor threatened throughout. The half-forward line can argue that they left space for the full forward line to shine but this unit needs to pick up the scoring duties; otherwise Mayo will look one dimensional this weekend.
Kerry will be happy to come away from last weekend with a share of the spoils. Defensively all at sea in the opening period. Fionn Fitzgerald will fancy his chances of a recall. Mark Griffin is a superb footballer but is he really a full back? His pace and athleticism reminds me of an AFL player; his ability and football skill range suits him more up the pitch. The full back line was left exposed and the half-back line must do a better of cutting out the supply. Morley was prominent but defensive was moved all over the pitch resulting in massive gaps for Mayo’s outside players to distribute to Moran and O’Connor inside. A sweeper behind the half-back is a viable option and do not be surprised if Fitzgerald is asked to game read in front of the full back line.
The midfield area for Kerry was a mixed bag. David Moran and Anthony Maher struggled for supremacy against Mayo’s Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea. The weather conditions exposed mobility and speed issues on a slick surface and it was only when Barry was introduced that Mayo’s midfield area were asked serious questions. Barry surely will be included. The question is whether Kerry management look at a potential dry ball day and look to Maher and Moran to right the wrongs of last weekend. The unit lacked cohesion and shot selection at times was poor. More will be expected from Kerry in this area but was not helped by Walsh’s absence. His influence and work rate were missed.
Walsh and his defensive work rate was badly missed for Kerry in the first twenty minutes when Boyle was prominent in attacking positions. Michael Geaney struggled to get to the tempo of play and was caught out in defensive duties during this time which prompted Kerry management to call on Savage who steadied the ship. It was a game which Kerry required; their road to this point has seen precious little in competitive fare. Clare, Cork and Galway in small periods posed problems but the Kingdom were never put to the pin of their collar for the full seventy minutes. Mayo did though last weekend and it will be interesting to see how Kerry react and adjust to Mayo’s main threats.
It is a superb fixture in the offing. Mayo’s resiliency is unmatched and the footballing neutral will hope that they get over the line. The replay fixture for me has one key question: who has more scope to improve? The answer is Kerry and suspect that their adjustments will be pivotal to a close 3-4 point win. Mayo are in tactical limbo when dealing with the Star threat. Aidan O’Shea deployment to the full back line robs Mayo of attacking threat further up the pitch. With dry weather conditions, expect the likes of Geaney and O’Donoghue more prominent. Mayo had opportunities early doors to win this fixture but failed to do so. This will come back to haunt them come 5pm on Saturday. Kerry are far from the perfect team but their squad depth looks stronger to fill the gaps and issues which surfaced last weekend. An interesting game but one that Kerry will relish. Star and O’Donoghue to spear-head this Kerry victory.
Where do you start on this fixture? The open scoring cameos of Saturday afternoon will be extinguished on Sunday afternoon when Dublin face Tyrone whose defensive setup will pose serious issues for Jim Gavin’s men. Dublin’s team selection debate will focus on Diarmuid Connolly and whether the star player is named in the starting lineup. His suspension is served and his ability to shoot from distance is a massive positive for the Dublin team. However, who will someone like a Paul Mannion react to being dropped to a player who has not featured for the majority of the summer? Squad morale issues to be taken into account.
Dublin defensively have being on point without having to show all their tricks. Cluxton is still the de-facto blueprint in goalkeeping and his distribution continues to be on point. The full back line has being solid. Cooper and McMahon have provided the leadership, physicality and aerial nous to combat the threat from all comers this season. The half-back line has being on point. McCarthy and McCaffrey’s attacking threat and pace has being a standout for Dublin this season; their overlaps causing chaos for opposition back line units and both players have contributed on the scoreboard. Cian O’Sullivan though is the fulcrum for this Dublin side; his game management intelligence, game reading and organizing his colleagues defensively is a joy to watch at times. Dublin have rarely looked in trouble defensively this season and it is down to a good extent to O’Sullivan and his sweeper / defensive organizational traits.
The Dublin midfield area has being on point all year. Brian Fenton continues to develop and grow into the position. His aerial ability from Cluxton kickouts as well as his ability to support his forward line colleagues has left opposition midfield units bereft of energy in the last quarter of games. The Dublin forward line have scored extremely heavy this season; distribution to the inside forward line has being sharp and precise. Andrews for me and his movement sets the tone. His selfless runs creates opportunities for the likes of Mannion, Callaghan and Dean Rock who has reveled this season. The squad depth in the forward positions is huge with the likes of Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn waiting to come on and make an impression. No genuine weak links in this side and Tyrone will need to produce their best ever championship display this season to upset the odds.
Tyrone’s big question is how battle hardened are they for a contest of this magnitude? Convincingly beating all Ulster teams this season well before the final whistle, it is difficult to really scrutinize their performances. The key trait is their defensive work; their ability to suffocate the opposition ball carrier to either over-carry or cough up possession is sensational. Tyrone’s ability to then counter attack with pace and power from deep is amazing to watch. The running lines on offer for a Tyrone player with possession is incredible; at least three options to pass the ball to and if Dublin lose possession in the middle third, they will be under severe pressure defensively to combat the threat posed.
The Tyrone talisman that is Sean Cavanagh will need to provide leadership and support to a forward line unit who have shown flashes of brilliance along with moments of mediocrity in some wasteful possession and shot selection. The threat of Tyrone’s full forward line will be key on Sunday. With space at a premium, can Tyrone create goal scoring opportunities to win this contest? They need to score at least two goals personally to upset the odds but I don’t see that happening. Peter Harte will be asked to produce superlative game winning moments.
The officiating of the tackle as well will be a key point. Tyrone have the tackle down to a fine art and it will be interesting to see how the match officials deal with this aspect of play. If early frees are conceded by Tyrone in defense, will they adjust their tackling accordingly? It is a fascinating aspect to the game. Tyrone likewise will look to periodically push up on the Dublin kick-outs. When they do, they need to make it count; otherwise Dublin could spring fast attacking moves to kill this contest off.
A game where defenses will be dominant. The long distance shooter will be pivotal on Sunday and I think that aspect of play is with Dublin. Tyrone will pose serious issues to Dublin’s title credentials but think Dublin will shade this by 2/3 points. Questions will be posed of Dublin post-game and provide hope for Kerry or Mayo in the All Ireland final. An intriguing weekend of football action beckons.