Take a bow Dublin!

Four in a row. The elusive five in a row is nearly in reach for Dublin’s senior footballers. Credit to Tyrone yesterday, they threw everything at Dublin and into the contest but once Paul Mannion slotted home an emphatic penalty in the opening period, this fixture had taken flight and predictable course. Hawkeye Sidekick pays tribute to this side who look destined to be considered the best Gaelic Football side ever if they win Sam Maguire next season! 

The record of Dublin under Jim Gavin is extraordinary. One championship loss since 2013 out of twenty-eight fixtures managed.

Another clean sweep of the key football titles this season. NFL triumph over Galway then saw a routine Leinster SFC success and any doubters will have being quietened by the performances in the Super Eights. Their road trip win in Omagh was one of the keynote performances this season; a potential banana skin fixture dealt with in efficient fashion.

Gavin’s backroom staff is exceptional; their scouting network identifying the next Dublin stars (when to be brought in and contribute) is working superbly well right now and the team who look at upcoming opposition have being on point throughout consistently.

Jim Gavin is an incredible manager and his resume with Dublin footballers is unparalleled in the modern era.

This four in row side has seen evolution in the starting lineup. The likes of Scully, Howard, Murchan emerged this season. Con O’Callaghan for his age has two All Ireland Senior football titles to his name; a testament to Jim Gavin and management’s confidence in the youth emerging from the setup. When you consider the likes of Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn were not part of the subs bench, you start to see the strength in depth in this panel. 

The playing squad contains massive leadership. Stephen Cluxton in goal has revolutionized the position; his distribution from the restarts is his trademark and only Rory Beggan can consider himself to be on a par with the Dublin netminder this season. 

Pundits lazily pointed at the full back line as an area of weakness. Nope. The full back line has evolved over time. Different players evolving into different roles. McMahon, Cooper, Fitzsimons, Murchan have all impressed this season and when you consider the nous and game reading of Cian O’Sullivan in front of the full back line, the goal threat of opposition teams have being quickly nullified. 

The half back line has provided stellar support defensively as well as attacking options. McCafferey and Small started yesterday but is the versatility in the squad that the likes of Howard could slot into the wing back position to provide defensive stability if required. McCafferey’s pace and ability to break opposition defenses with his searing runs have being exceptional this season. 

The midfield of Brian Fenton (yet to lose a championship game) and James McCarthy who yet again shows player versatility moving to the middle of the park from the half back line. Their ability to defend while chipping in with several scores from play was evident throughout the year, the same again yesterday and Tyrone had no answer for the midfield duo when Dublin exploded into action in the second quarter on. 

Diarmuid Connolly went to Boston for the summer. A massive loss but Dublin’s forward line unit filled the void well. Ciaran Kilkenny elevated his game to the next level; his game management, his ability to distribute and look to burst past his opponent were hallmarks this season. Niall Scully’s runs from deep saw key goals in the championship including yesterday. 

Every forward on the Dublin side has the composure and ability to do the right thing. The inside full forward line yesterday was full of life; the movement of O’Callaghan and Mannion was at times incredible. Dean Rock has being superb in these past two seasons both from play and placed balls. When you consider the likes of Andrews, McManamon in reserve; enough said.

There is no weak link in this Dublin side. Their ability to adapt to the opposition game plan a key trait. Damien Comer for Galway had an encouraging opening quarter in the All Ireland Semi-Final (1-1 scored) but Dublin then cut out the supply and defensively switched deeper to counteract the long ball in. Colm Cavanagh was moved into full forward yesterday; a penalty ensued but the next high ball in was emphatically caught by Howard. 

A team for the ages. Mayo will be back next season. Kerry if they can address the clear defensive and middle third issues may threaten. Galway, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan will look for another opportunity to challenge Dublin but do any of these sides have all the parts and belief to get past Dublin?

Serious doubts right now unless Dublin suffer an injury crisis but even then, squad depth is so strong and who is to say that more underage talent will be introduced to Jim Gavin’s side next season. A scary thought! The standard that all other inter-county football teams have to aspire to and surpass. Daunting. Congratulations Dublin!

All Ireland Football Final Reflections

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Three in a row Dublin

The final whistle spoke volumes. Dublin players and management rejoicing on the hallowed turf as Mayo players slumped to the ground in sheer disappointment. Lee Keegan was distraught; Mayo threw everything and still for the second year in a row came up short in the championship minutes in the final quarter. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

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Dublin squad depth key

This was a final yet again where Dublin had to stay patient and persevere in the midst of a Mayo onslaught. Con O’Callaghan gave Dublin a dream start; exposing fragile Mayo full back line play to create the space to slot past David Clarke. Mayo were looking down the barrel but the team from the West refused to panic and hit the next four points.

Dublin had issues in the middle third in the opening period. Parsons, O’Shea’s and McLaughlin were all prominent and distributing fast into Andy Moran who scored a quick three point salvo. Furthermore, Jason Doherty got in on the act with a quick brace of points. Mayo could do no wrong midway through the opening period. Dublin’s full forward line were being starved of possession.

Mayo were two points clear just before the interval. Dublin got a vital lifeline when McQuillan adjudged an infringement which Dean Rock slotted over. It was a 50/50 call. Mayo fans were incensed. Dublin left the field a point down and probably fortunate to be only down by the solitary point. Mayo had left everything on the field in that opening half, the pace and tempo surely could not continue.

Dublin started the second half in ominous fashion, several middle third possession wins setting up two quick scores to go in the lead. Mayo were ponderous with ball distribution, slow buildup play and the quick distribution to Moran was cut out. Mayo needed a shot in the arm and Jason Doherty had a glorious goal opportunity; well saved by Cluxton. Mayo did score a point from a free ensuing this play but it was a key moment. Mannion immediately had Dublin up the other end of the pitch and forced a superb save from Clarke. A point was scored in the resultant play; another key turning point.

However, in the cold light of day; the sequence of events which led to the red cards are the decisive talking points. John Small in another era would have being applauded for the shoulder on Colm Boyle but on a yellow, the player was gone but the actions of Mayo player Donal Vaughan defied logic; ran twenty yards to get involved, shunted Small to the ground; third man in; striking action — red and to compound matters, a scoring opportunity for Mayo was negated. Incredibly reckless action from Vaughan and one that will haunt him and the team for some time to come.

Dublin got out of jail with this sequence of events but they were powerless when Moran and Keegan combined for the Westport clubman to dispatch to the net. The goal was superbly worked; Keegan’s run from deep leaving Kilkenny in his wake. Moran with composure to hold the ball and then pass to Keegan; the strike was sublime. Game on. Mayo were leading with fifteen minutes left; time for cool heads. Nope.

Mayo were defensively naive in the final quarter. Dublin were able to pinpoint long range passes into the full forward line; no decision from the line to deploy sweepers to cleanup. The decision of Cillian O’Connor to withdraw to the defense caused more problems for Mayo; no genuine outlet when Moran went off. Dublin’s forward line were really fancying the task; Mayo were going man to man. All Ireland’s are lost with such naivety.

Dublin to their credit and their squad depth came to the fore. McMenamin and Connolly were excellent in their second half cameos. Both scored inspirational points and Connolly won the vital free which setup Dean Rock for the game winner. Scully unlucky to not start was superb along with Cormac Costello who was the hero last year. Bernard Brogan selfless running off the ball caused Mayo defensive headaches. Dublin’s squad mantra was to the core. Mayo’s lack of squad depth was exposed in the final quarter.

Boyle and Moran had little more to give but the replacements lacked poise and composure in vital stages. Loftus coughing up ball in a good scoring position for Mayo. Full forward threat was finished as soon as Moran was subbed as O’Connor was playing in the middle third. Coen was decent but the other subs did not make an impact. O’Connor’s free miss into injury time; both Loftus and Drake not sensing the possibility of a rebound were static. Dublin cleared their lines and took full advantage.

Mayo’s kick-out strategy was tested in the closing exchanges. Dublin pushed up on Clarke and Mayo blinked. Mayo’s middle third did not contest the last three Mayo long kickout’s from Clarke. They abandoned the initial jumper / second ball winning tactic that had served them so well. It gave Dublin a platform to win this game late and their brilliance was to the fore with the last five minutes; scored the free and then killed the game with passing game as Mayo were chasing shadows.

Dublin have won this championship with several new leaders emerging from the panel. McCarthy was superb all season. O’Callaghan and Mannion with their pace, speed and scoring ability. Scully’s pace and work rate to the fore. When you decide to put the likes of Brogan, McMenamin, Connolly, MacAuley on the bench, enough said. Dublin are here for many years to come and it will take an exceptional side to beat them in the championship.

Mayo. Where now? Serious soul searching again required by management and players. Self inflicted wounds again. Donal Vaughan will only know why he did what he did. Mayo’s shot selections in the opening period which were wides were crucial, thinking of chances spurned by Durcan, Keegan, O’Connor and Moran in the opening period. If two of those scores go over, half-time would have being different.

The Mayo squad depth was exposed in the final quarter. Dublin produced the big guns and Mayo management put on underage talent wholly unproven in this championship. It was decisive. Mayo need to cultivate the recent U21 All Ireland team and blood players into the starting lineup. It is the only way that they can do; increase squad panel strength. Mayo had several standouts. Higgins, Keegan, Parsons, Doherty were excellent. Andy Moran was heroic and was their star man. Hard to see how Mayo pick themselves from another devastating reversal.

 

All Ireland Senior Football Final Preview

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Dublin third in a row or Mayo’s elusive All Ireland win?

Third Sunday in September can only mean one thing. Sam Maguire is either staying in the nation’s capital or heading out West to Mayo for the first time since 1951. Hawkeye Sidekick evaluates both sides and wonders if Mayo can produce a performance to get over the line?

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Jim Gavin continues to excel

Dublin enter this All Ireland Football final as firm warm favorites based on their dominant performances in the championship this season so far. Carlow provided resistance in the opening Dublin championship appearance but the reigning All Ireland Champions went through the gears in the final quarter to run out comfortable winners. Westmeath were no match to Dublin in the Leinster semi-final; one sided contest but one that introduced the GAA world to the talents of Con O’Callaghan. The Cuala clubman has excelled in hurling with his club but decisively focused on football this season with devastating effects. His scores from play, his movement and ability to hit off either left or right have caused opponent back lines with massive headaches.

It has being a season where new Dublin leaders have emerged. Jim Gavin has provided Jon Small, Con O’Callaghan and Paul Mannion with key roles and they have flourished allowing Dublin management with the great luxury of leaving the caliber of Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon, Michael Darragh McAuley in reserve. It is a scary prospect that if Dublin flounder this weekend, Jim Gavin can bring on this experience and winning mentality of these players to proceedings.

The Leinster SFC final against Kildare was reported as a game effort from the Lilywhites; obvious most of the rat pack forgot the first quarter when Kildare were blown away. They never hit a meaningful shot at Dublin throughout and only for a quick 1-1 at the finish, the scoreline would have being more accurate than the nine point margin at the final whistle.

Monaghan were meant to provide aggression, defensive nous and bite but none materialized as Dublin brushed past the challenge with contempt. 1-19 scored against a team who pride themselves on strong defense. Pundits thought Tyrone would cause the upset but it was as remote as Frank De Boer getting a fifth league game with Crystal Palace. Dublin’s pace, power and movement caused Tyrone massive problems and the star performers shone once more. O’Callaghan, Rock scored at regular intervals and Tyrone were routed in the middle third. 2-17 scored against a Tyrone side who looked impeccable in defensive work this season.

All lines are working in a cohesive fashion. The forward line are scoring on average 24.5 points this season in the championship. The back line are conceding a misery 12 points per game this season where Cian O’Sullivan has provided leadership and organization in the sweeper role. The midfield area has seen dominant performances from Fenton and McCarthy who have provided attacking support along with the McCaffrey from the wing back position. No genuine weaks and then you have the distribution of Stephen Cluxton, the template in which all intercounty goalkeepers must evaluate against. Do Mayo push up on the kick-out or surrender possession to Dublin deep in their half? Intriguing stuff.

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O’Shea performance key

Mayo have had an epic passage to the All Ireland Senior Football final. A regulation win against Sligo then resulted in a disappointing reversal to Galway in the Connacht SFC semi-final raising alarm bells in the county; the team were lackluster and not helped by the red card issued to Keith Higgins. Mayo had chances to not only get a replay from Salthill but also could have won only for questionable shot selection in the closing stages.

It was not to be and Mayo were again dealt the hand of going through the treacherous qualifier route. A banana skin was averted as Mayo overcame the challenge of Derry at home after extra time; a performance which was a mixed bag. Defensively at sea dealing with the long ball. Forward line failing to fire as a cohesive unit until extra time when Mayo’s conditioning and squad depth kicked onto secure victory.

A tricky trip to Cusack Park, Ennis then followed. Clare were seen as a team who would provide a stiff test and so it proved for forty-five minutes of the contest. Clare’s lack of scoring power to reward a dominant opening period was decisive as Mayo dusted themselves down at the break to go through the gears and beat the hosts by seven points. Cillian O’Connor was pivotal to the victory scoring 1-5.

Next round was a game against a Cork side pretty much written off by everyone. Mayo were dominant heading in the final quarter and management trying to save players hauled off the likes of Boyle. Moran. The move nearly backfired as Cork regained impetus and could have won the game in regular time. Mayo were again forced into a corner but their composure and resiliency were to the fore as the side won by the solitary point in the proverbial nail-biter. Question marks surfaced on Mayo management and their substitution policy, improved performances were now expected heading into the All Ireland Series.

Roscommon were next in the All Ireland Quarter Finals. Mayo underwhelmed in the opening exchanges as Roscommon had two goals on the board early doors. Mayo were again looking vulnerable but Lee Keegan (1-3) and Cillian O’Connor (0-3) rescued the result. Andy Moran work rate and scores (0-2) from play ensured a replay for Mayo who then made no mistake in the replay. Dominant middle third performance and the replay was over in the first quarter as Mayo struck goals at will. Superb running lines from deep causing Roscommon endless issues whose kick-out strategy was devastatingly exposed. 4-19 was a superb return for Mayo on the day and the likes of Jason Doherty, Tom Parsons and Kevin McLaughlin shone.

Kerry in the All Ireland Semi-Final, a much fancied Kingdom struggled to compete in the work rate and middle third departments over the two games. Aidan O’Shea was sacrificed in the full back role to contend with the threat of Kieran Donaghy, a player who has haunted Mayo in past seasons. O’Shea did as well as he could but his full back role robbed Mayo of their talisman in the middle third. Mayo again were left to rue defensive lapses to allow Kerry back into the opening contest and another replay loomed large on the horizon. Mayo were excellent and made no mistake dominating the middle third and striking goals early to keep Kerry at distance. The result was never in doubt as Kerry flagged under the pressure exerted by Mayo in the middle third; starving quick ball into the full forward line. It was a controlled performance. Andy Moran continued his superb performances with a cameo full of leadership and scoring threat.

The question though now for Mayo is attrition. Have Mayo enough in the tank to produce a performance to topple Dublin? Mayo’s tenth game in the championship, momentum has being built but at what cost. Mayo have to be on point from the first whistle; their resiliency has being truly tested but this is Dublin and their ability to kill off games is at a different level to anything that Mayo have faced this season. Work rate needs to be manic on Sunday, just wonder on the effects of the past games this season?

Who wins Sam Maguire?

Familiarity breeds contempt. Mayo are well aware of the Dublin threats having faced them last season but there are new threats to consider. Can Mayo management spring new threats for Dublin management to consider during the final this weekend? O’Shea positioning aside, what else can they throw up which will cause Jim Gavin to take stock. I am struggling for answers to that question.

The squad depth in the final quarter looks heavily weighed in Dublin’s favor with Flynn, Brogan, Connolly in the ranks. Mayo potentially have Patrick Durcan in the ranks to make an impact. Coen and Loftus will need to bring ‘A’ game to the mix to make the required impact.

Dublin have shown their versatility in defeating opposition in different manners. Man to man or blanket defense, Dublin will make the necessary adjustments. Mayo to be fair have improved their kick game, distribution to the inside forward line but on Sunday they are faced with a total entirely different proposition.

Dublin will keep their defensive shape; sweepers in O’Sullivan and Cooper will look to repel Mayo’s attacking intentions early. Can Mayo’s running lines consistently create the chances to score goals at regular intervals? They need to score a couple of goals personally to win Sam Maguire. I have my doubts.

Dublin enter this final contest looking to write a few wrongs from last season’s final games. A sense that perhaps Dublin just about got over the line last year. A bit disingenuous to Mayo but Dublin will look to impose their will early on this final; a repeat of last year’s opening final performance will not be tolerated by Jim Gavin and management even though they had scored two goals in this time (albeit Mayo own goals). Dublin looking for three in a row are looking to put on a show and early middle third dominance may setup this cameo. If this happens, this contest could be over early.

Where do Mayo win this game? Until they get over the line, they will be asked the wrenching question whether they have the mental and physical fortitude to get over the line. A touch harsh, their resiliency is beyond reproach. Mayo need to involve Aidan O’Shea early; get their key player into the game, supplying incisive ball to the deep runs of Boyle and Keegan.

Mayo have to provide an intensity in work rate throughout; they will go for the full seventy minutes. The issue is defensively. The full back position sticks out like a sore thumb. The kick-out strategy is a concern, cannot see Dublin letting Clarke take quick short kick-outs like Kerry did. Clarke may have to go long and distribution has being critiqued last season by Mayo management. Dublin work rate in the tackle will be a considerable threat this weekend; quick turnover could spell trouble for Mayo.

Mayo’s half-forward line also needs to provide a scoring platform as well like they did against Kerry last time out. Diarmuid O’Connor needs to be a goal scoring threat; making selfless runs from deep to keep Dublin’s half back line on their toes. Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran and Jason Doherty need quick ball to assert influence inside. Kevin McLaughlin needs to be the player to win that dirty second ball. Mayo have excellent facets of play which Dublin will need to pay close attention to but also they have vulnerabilities which should be exposed early doors.

For Mayo to win this game, they have to be almost pitch perfect in back, midfield and forward lines while nullifying Dublin in the middle third for long periods. It is a tall order and one that I do not see happening on Sunday unfortunately; it would be a superb story if Mayo get over the line but Dublin look the more polished side on paper and the squad impact in the final quarter could break Mayo hearts again.

The officiating will play a factor; interesting to see how Joe McQuillan plays this contest. Does he let the game flow or does he go selective in officiating the tackle? Mayo’s work rate to win possession has being a hallmark this season; officiating has ruled that their tackling was on point. Interesting subplots.

Verdict: Dublin

Dublin to win based on an excellent opening quarter, expect a fast start from the reigning champions. Mayo to grow into the contest but a lack of goal threat in the final will be their undoing due to the well structured Dublin back line. Dublin by four / five points. Dublin’s forward line have the better long range shooters as well as the inside threat to seriously put a score on a Mayo back line who will be under pressure throughout. Dean Rock potentially could be key player in this regard with his free taking prowess and potential goal scoring threat despite the best efforts of Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor.

All Ireland Semi-Final Football Review: Mayo 2-16 0-17 Kerry

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Mayo advance. Kerry lick their wounds

The scoreline was kind to Kerry. A rampant Mayo middle third set the foundation early to secure an All Ireland football final appearance next month. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action, a result where Mayo put the Kerry championship hoodoo aside and one more game to potential Sam Maguire glory.

Mayo domination

The perception during the lead-up to this replay was that Kerry would make the necessary adjustments to offset the Mayo threat from the first encounter. The assumption was wide off the mark as Kerry struggles continued to struggle in the areas that were highlighted last week.

The first sign of trouble within the Kerry ranks was the decision to introduce war-horse Donnacha Walsh in the Kerry half forward line. Speculation in Kerry suggested that Walsh would be most likely not line out given his hamstring injury woes. The decision of Kerry management to select the player indicated that all defensive options were exhausted; Walsh was required fit or unfit. The move backfired and Walsh exited proceedings at the break. Advantage Mayo.

Credit to Stephen Rochford and Mayo management who were under constant question from Mayo and national football pundits. They stuck to their convictions and fielded O’Shea to mark Kieran Donaghy again early doors. O’Shea fulfilled the role with more confidence this week and the goal threat apart from two goal threats in either half was non-existent. Mayo’s defensive setup were on point, great work rate and tempo and their physicality in the tackle was too much for Kerry’s attacking units.

Mayo’s middle third again set the platform. Kerry’s midfield were routed on the long kick-out with Parsons and O’Shea enjoying prominent moments. The key was the pace and support of Diarmuid O’Connor and Kevin McLaughlin in the dirty ball stakes as well as providing scoring threat something not done last week. 1-2 from the half-forward pair and O’Connor’s goal was a critical strike to assert the territorial dominance of Mayo on the scoreboard. More of the same in three weeks is expected.

The Mayo half-back line were dominant and the likes of Colm Boyle were sublime in defensive and attacking duties. Chris Barrett was solid defensively and allowed his wing backs to push further forward. Patrick Durcan energy from the bench saw Kerry further need to focus on defensive work. The sight of Paul Geaney in his own half to assist defensively spoke volumes in the first half.

Mayo full back line and keeper were comfortable for long periods. Clarke in goals was point with his kick out strategy; availed of Kerry’s decision to retreat defensively. Easy kick outs to the impressive Harrison, Boyle, Higgins creating good attacking opportunities for the Westerners.

The full forward line again were extremely dangerous. Jason Doherty’s work rate and movement off the ball was pivotal in creating space for Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran who was superb again in open play. The decision to drop Mark Griffin did not yield any rewards for Kerry as the full forward pair continued to enjoy time and space. If Mayo had dream’t of the perfect afternoon, this was it. Kerry had no answers.

Mayo advance to the All Ireland football final where serious questions will be posed by either Dublin or Tyrone. Game composure was not tested yesterday. It was a stroll for Mayo but they did the job well.

Ponderous Kerry have no answers when asked

This is a defining loss for the squad and management of this Kerry team. A side on paper with the skill set and caliber to contend for All Ireland honors this season but in various games this season, cracks have emerged in several Kerry lines. No significant answers to the questions posed and the result yesterday was no surprise on reflection.

The goalkeeper situation is again under the microscope. Brian Kelly in these two Mayo games has lacked the authority in the square and his kicking game was put under pressure from the first whistle. His kick-out which went for a forty-five in the opening quarter was a blooper reel moment. Mayo latched onto his kick outs thereafter and Kerry struggled to create attacking threats further up the pitch. A clear problem area to address. Kelly will be disappointed with the first goal as well as Diarmuid O’Connor showed the more conviction and hunger to punch the ball to the net.

The full back line have being unconvincing this season. Galway showed in the All Ireland Quarter Final and Cork in the Munster SFC final that this Kerry full back line when quick ball was distributed that this line struggled. Goal chances were missed by both teams but credit Mayo for implementing the tactic.

The Mayo half forward line and Jason Doherty created the space, quick ball inside and the results were devastating. Mayo’s second goal was a prime example; good attacking play and swift passing exchange between Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran to score. The game was over as a contest. The full back line consistently second best to their opponent. Young tried hard to support his colleagues but it was a forlorn battle. Alternations required. Full back a top shopping list item.

The half-back line are not immune to criticism. They lacked defensive conviction in these Mayo fixtures, leaving massive space behind for their much maligned full back line to deal with. Morey worked hard but as a half-back, not sure if that this was his position. The sweeper system was chaotic in implementation. Paul Murphy attempted to fill the role against Mayo but robbing such an attacking threat undermined Kerry.

Donnacha Walsh’s absence was huge and other half-forward options could not fill the role that Walsh fulfills. Crowley’s discipline again surfaced with an early bath in the second half; the ultimate final nail in the coffin. A defensive line which lacked leadership, poise and physicality when required. A stark contrast to when you consider the likes of Marc / Tomas O’Se, Aidan O’Mahoney in the ranks in recent years; leaders of men who put their bodies on the line, did not get the same impression from this current crop defensively.

Midfield area was a disaster for Kerry. The quality undoubtedly in the ranks is there but Mayo’s mobility in the area was a pivotal factor to this success yesterday. Moran had moments but was far from influential in attacking play. Jack Barry is a player who will continue to progress but this was a game which required leadership in the middle of the park. Anthony Maher would have fitted the bill; experience and leadership in abundance. Dry ball day and Maher could have provided composure particularly in the opening period. A clear mistake from Kerry management.

The forward line unit struggled for cohesion throughout against a Mayo defensive system that never gave a Kerry forward player any time and space. Only Paul Geaney and Kieran Donaghy (first Mayo game) can come out of these fixtures with any tangible credit. O’Donoghue’s early season promised evaporated under the immense pressure of Mayo defensive work. The impact off the bench was minimal. Jack Savage carried plenty but no cutting edge and Darran O’Sullivan’s cameo was short and brief with a needless black card. Mayo’s focus then turned to Star and they defended the long ball threat admirably.

A season which offered plenty for Kerry culminating in a NFL title has now being reduced to rumble. The Kerry underage conveyor continues to churn out quality inter-county talent but the side is lacking leadership and organization. A change in management maybe required; tactically one dimensional and the squad depth was hit and miss. Barry John Keane surely should start more games. Several key issues to be addressed for Kerry in the off-season. They are even further behind Dublin this season compared to last season. An intriguing off-season beckons.

All Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final Review

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All Ireland Football final places up for grabs

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.

GAA – Weekend Reflections

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Hurling classic but football was all a bit one sided

August Bank Holiday 2017. A weekend which will be remembered for one sided senior football encounters. A weekend where Joe Canning down the stretch was incredible to lead Galway to a nail biting one point win over reigning All Ireland Champions Tipperary. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Galway advance to the All Ireland Hurling Final

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Hail Hail Joe Canning!

With the scores level at 0-21 to 1-18, Joe Canning stood over a free deep in Galway territory. The subsequent free was short and many thought that was that and a replay was on the card. James Barry subsequent clearance was retrieved by the ever industrious Johnny Coen who had the presence of mind to pick out Joe Canning who from the sideline and under immense Tipperary pressure slotted a beautiful score over the bar.

It was a very ESPN classic moment. Galway supporters were in delirium but Tipperary had one more chance to level but O’Dwyer hit a difficult chance wide. The game ending was in fitting with a tenacious encounter. Both sides did not give an inch with both forward lines having work extremely hard for scores.

Galway’s back line were heroic all day. The full back of Tuohy, Burke and Hansbury set the tone with tenacious defending and team work. Tipperary’s inside forward line did pose a threat at times but in the vital moments, the Galway full back line stood up and won decisive ball.

The catch from Daithi Burke in the closing stages was imperious. Tuohy had an excellent second half, a shaky first half at times particularly on the John McGrath goal where he dwelled too long on the sliothar, was dispossessed and punished. Hansbury has being an unsung hero this season. The Rahoon / Newcastle club man reveled as the game progressed and his distribution out of defense was on point.

I have had asked questions of the center back position in this Galway team but Gearoid McInerney ticked all the boxes yesterday. Physically dominant, he won his duel with the ever willing Bonnar Maher. McInerney set the tone and won several key aerial tussles in the closing stages to setup the attacking platform. Aidan Harte and Padraic Mannion produced stellar displays as well. Their distribution on point and quietened the influence of the likes of O’Dwyer and Noel McGrath for long periods.

Galway advance but for the last twenty minutes of this contest, it was the Joe Canning show. Canning had a nervy start to proceedings but once he hit his stride and started to come out the field for ball, his influence was match winning. Canning hitting a couple of superb scores from distance in the closing quarter.

Tipperary management then decided to put Padraic Maher on Canning, a switch which was too little too late. It was fitting that Canning won this contest for Galway; the mercurial talisman for so many years. The match winning score was pure sheer class.

Conor Whelan in the full forward line had an impressive afternoon. His physicality and power for such a young man is unbelievable, kept Donagh Maher and James Barry busy throughout.

Whelan and Joseph Cooney moved deeper down the field in the closing stages and were prominent in winning critical ball. Glynn as an impact bench did what he had to do. Disrupt in the air and be a nuisance for Tipperary to clear the ball.

Tipperary will be devastated after this result. There were a couple of talking points during the contest. The free count was interesting. Galway won fifteen frees while Tipperary only eight during the contest. A disparity perhaps to some?

Galway free count was a combination of factors; indiscipline in the Tipperary tackling — going high but there were one or two frees where the Galway player went to ground easy and got a free. Some days, you get those decisions but there were a couple of frees on another day would not be given.

Further debate will ensue on the helmet pull on Bonnar Maher in the coming days. When I saw it first, it looked like genuine Tipperary claims considering the recent officiating of this offense in the All Ireland Quarter Finals. No action. The linesman could not run away from the incident fast enough.

The goal chances created by Tipperary were spurned. Callanan’s chance in the opening half was a key turning point. Galway’s full back line had a shaky five minutes immediately after McGrath’s goal and another goal then could have swung the game in Tipperary’s favor.

Noel McGrath’s goal chance was a tough chance, the pass was overcooked but the shot required a smart save from Callanan in the Galway goals. Two chances which on another day could have gone in.

Tipperary will rue a couple of point misses as well. Seamus Callanan received a head knock early in the second half, did not look right thereafter and the free taking was a mixed bag for the Drom / Inch club man. Brendan Maher and John McGrath had good opportunities wasted in either half. Fine margins.

The much maligned Tipperary back line had their best outing of the season but came up just short. The decision to move McCormick further down the field had the desired effect, the player won second ball throughout but the half-forward line suffered as a result, something that was articulated perfectly by the Sunday Game last night.

Maher, Barry and Cahill stuck to their task well. Padraic Maher was immense for Tipperary; his possession count and point taking was superb. Ronan Maher at half-back had his moments of brilliance but in the closing stages, his influence waned particularly when Canning moved out the field and Glynn was causing issues with his height on the aerial balls. Seamus Kennedy was good throughout. All players left everything on the pitch. A superb advertisement for hurling.

Galway advance to the All Ireland final. The goal for the season has not yet being accomplished and there are areas of improvement for the Tribesmen. David Burke was industrious throughout but will be disappointed with some scoring opportunities that got away. Cathal Mannion was out of sorts from the first whistle but is a player that should come good in the All Ireland final.

The forward line was all Joe Canning in the final quarter. Galway’s potent attackers such as Flynn, Conor Cooney and Niall Burke need to provide more leadership in the scoring duties for the All Ireland final as Cork and Waterford will look to mark Joe Canning (best of luck) out of the game. Conor Whelan was superb.

Johnny Coen’s performance yesterday needs to be highlighted; had my doubts about the Loughrea clubman in the midfield engine room but he was superb yesterday. Breen, Forde were taken off due to the work rate of Coen yesterday. He was selfless in his passing and distribution, assisted his colleagues defensively and was pivotal for the game winning score. Kudos where it is deserved. Roll on September!

Football Snooze-fest

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Bad day for Armagh

I type this blog posting as Mayo are twenty-two points up on a hapless Roscommon. The three senior football fixtures this past weekend lacked any bite or competition. Tyrone swept aside the Armagh challenge with minimum of fuss.

Peter Harte outstanding but you cannot rate Tyrone as a team given how poor Armagh were who struggled in all facets of play. The kick outs so good against Kildare was snuffed out and caused Armagh issues defensively. Mulgrew hit a nice quick brace of goals but will the Ardboe club man get the same space against Dublin? I don’t think so.

The only thing you can say about Tyrone is that they were defensively superb at present; the discipline of defending is a joy to watch. They put the pressure on the ball carrier who either fouls the ball or coughs up possession. Officiating will be interesting in the All Ireland semi-final on this facet of play. Colm Cavanagh’s injury and a red card (two yellow cards) to McCarron will be negative points for Tyrone on a stress free afternoon.

Dublin had little trouble getting past a disappointing, unambitious Monaghan outfit. McManus had minimal influence and Dublin were out of sight after fifteen minutes. Monaghan’s full forward line threat was non-existent; opening period saw no Monaghan inside forward thirty meters from the Dublin goal.

The usual suspects were to the fore for Dublin. McCarthy and McCaffrey were stellar in their runs from deep, caused Monaghan endless problems. Rory Beggan in the Monaghan goals was superb and only for him, Dublin would have scored more goals than the one goal scored by Dean Rock. The good news for Dublin was the squad bench that came on. Flynn, McAuley, Brogan all looking the part when coming on to create selection posers for Dublin management.

The All Ireland football semi-finals will be immense affairs. Mayo are the only team in the top four that have being battle hardened and will cause Kerry issues defensively. Their performance today was encouraging; they went for the throat and Roscommon were killed off in the opening twenty minutes. Mayo’s middle third was impressive; did not give the young Roscommon side a chance to settle.

Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor inside were constant menaces. Parsons, Vaughan, Doherty, Boyle and Higgins were critical in the middle third superiority. The running lines of Mayo were excellent but did expose massive issues in Roscommon defensively. The kick out strategy was a disaster for Roscommon as well. No general movement for the Roscommon keeper to launch kick outs.

Super Eight format next season looks a bit precarious on the basis of this year’s All Ireland quarter-finals. Super Four in a couple of weeks hopefully will provide better footballing entertainment. The GAA demands it from the two semi-finals. A nation holds it breathe!

All Ireland Football Qualifier – Review

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Ulster double on Saturday night

We now know all the teams who will feature in the All Ireland Quarter Finals. Monaghan and Armagh advance after stern examinations from defeated provincial finalists Down and Kildare respectively. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Monaghan second half display key

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McManus masterclass

The eight point margin of victory for Monaghan at the end of this contest belies the opening period exchanges. Down started the game with vigor and with Harrison and Johnston inside causing problems for the Monaghan full back line, the Mourne County led by three points deservedly. A sitter missed by McKernan were pivotal.

The Farney County needed to respond and the goal scored by Kelly was pivotal. It was a super goal and it laid the foundations for a thoroughly professional second half performance and with talisman Conor McManus hitting points from all angles, the result slowly but surely went away from Down.

Down were unable to compete with Monaghan’s energy and work rate in that second period. Defensive holes were gaping as soon as the forty minute and Monaghan knew it was their time to make the decisive break and a couple of well worked points had them five points up midway through the half.

It was an advantage that would not be surrendered and with Down looking for a goal, more gaps opened up in the Down back line which Monaghan punished. The qualifiers have seen Monaghan’s confidence slowly build and last night’s second half cameo is the blueprint for next weekend and a daunting fixture against Dublin.

O’Connell and Hughes were excellent in that second period and with some valuable scores from McCarthy off the bench, Dublin will know that there are threats next weekend. The sloppy first half performance if repeated will be punished; tight rope in terms of the performance requirements next week for O’Rourke and players.

Down exit the competition after a forgettable NFL campaign and only a good run in the Ulster campaign to show for their efforts. Squad depth issues reared their head last night in the second half; fresh bodies were required to make an impact but as Monaghan brought on game winning replacements, Down’s performance descended further into mediocrity. A long off-season beckons.

Kildare promise much but succumb to Armagh

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The Mercurial talent that is Jamie Clarke

The Leinster Football final plaudits look extremely hollow right now for Kildare management and players. The weak points exposed by Dublin in the provincial encounter were seen last night; sloppy goal conceded from defensive lapses at the end of the opening period was a nail in the coffin.

Kildare’s forward line also struggled to make an impact. Flynn had cameos of brilliance but Morgan was sublime in his man marking duties. McGeeney tactically won the battle last night as he setup his side defensively compact and Kildare were unable to get the space and freedom inside to make game winning contributions.

Grimley at midfield was excellent throughout, slight edge on Feely last night and he set the platform. Armagh’s decision to hit fast ball inside to their full forward line was a joy to watch at times; some lovely scores and highlighted once again the mercurial genius that Jamie Clarke provides to a football pitch. His poise, balance and ability to kick off either foot keeps defenders totally off-balance.

The final ten minutes required composure and ability to hold one’s nerves. Armagh emphatically won those two battles down the stretch, went for the best option while Kildare imploded on shot selection. The big shed again a mental block for Kildare; they had ample possession in the closing exchanges but were bereft of clear decision making. Armagh ran out the clock in the latter stages and their momentum continues to flow. Tyrone will know that they are in for a serious battle next weekend. The wins over Fermanagh, Westmeath and Tipperary have ready solidified management, players and supporters. McGeeney should be given the plaudits for his managerial performance.

Kildare will reflect on a championship which showed promise but little rewards. Laois and Meath wins were decent but let us frank facts, the last two fixtures in the championship were the acid test. Defensively at times all at sea in the midst of some superb fast running, distribution to the inside forward line where Flynn is a talent. Feely is an immense midfielder; dominant in the air and his free taking was superb.

The question is whether Callaghan and Bolton commit to another season — big experience lost to the Kildare camp if they depart. Cian O’Neill will realize that improvement is required and NFL Division One exposure will improve the side next term. Kildare need to take this disappointment and use it as motivation next year. The Croke Park experience also needs to be looked at; the side have had a miserable record at HQ this season. Three losses from three appearances. Kildare need to mentally toughen and improve their game management; no easy task.

 

All Ireland Senior Football Quarter Final Review

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Kerry advance but Mayo and Roscommon have to meet again

An afternoon which saw Kerry advance without showing their hand against a Galway side who were unable to take their goal chances and were unable to deal with the inside Kerry full forward threat. Mayo and Roscommon must do it all over again as the Connacht rivals drew in an exciting but very poor footballing spectacle. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Kerry advance but Galway will rue an opportunity missed

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Frustrating afternoon for Paul Conroy and Galway

Kerry will reflect on this nine point victory as mission accomplished. Quarter finals are there to be won and were first to admit post-game that they need to step up in terms of work rate, tempo and accuracy in the semi-final fixture. 1-18 was a good score considering the precarious underfoot conditions at Croke Park. The turf rework after recent summer concerts left the surface incredibly slick on top and players in both quarter finals today struggled for their footing.

Galway fans were very dejected coming out of HQ. There was a sense within the county during the week that the team would give Kerry a rattle but there were underlying fears on how they would combat Kieran Donaghy in the full forward line. Those concerns were well founded as Donaghy dominated inside in the opening period, winning multiple high balls and scored a fine goal. David Walsh had a thankless task this afternoon; the experiment or solution (whatever court of opinion you are in) failed.

The Tribesmen were devoid of defensive nous to combat the high ball into the full back line. Walsh was not alone in struggling with this facet of play. Kyne was a remote figure and Silke who was supposed to be a sweeper for the full back struggled to win any second ball. The goal scored by Donaghy midway through the opening period opened up a five point advantage. The goal was a killer blow for Galway as they had spurned two goal chances before this opener. Good Kerry goalkeeping but it exposed massive gaps in the Kerry full back line.

Kerry were never forced to go into the reserves as Galway’s forward line squandered some easy scoring opportunities. Armstrong after a bright opening missed a regulation free just before the interval. Shane Walsh was unfortunate on a number of occasions in the opening period. The clinical forward play required was at time short for Galway and the second half was a struggle only scoring four points.

Galway could not be faulted for work rate. O’Donnell, Bradshaw, Conroy, Armstrong, Daly and Comer attempted to take the fight to Kerry but the Kingdom closed down the space in a disciplined second half defensive display and scored at regular intervals. Jack Savage’s cameo was eye-catching; his work rate and possession count was on point. Paul Murphy was the player of the game personally; possession count, scores from play and involved in everything good for Kerry today.

Kerry’s inside forward line were not as incisive as in the Munster football final but Paul Geaney showed well, scoring some lovely points from long and close range. The Dingle native is such a threat. O’Donoghue running off the ball was sublime at times. Buckley chipped in with a couple of sharp scores from outside the twenty-two. Kerry played within themselves and the squad depth closed out the contest with assured performances from Maher, Savage, Young and Murphy.

A game that never caught fire. Galway will reflect on a season which secured NFL Division One football next season; the side will come on leaps and bounds next season as a result. The Galwegian natives will ask on the tactics and ability of the players to play more freely but Kevin Walsh has laid solid foundations for further progression. However, whether Armstrong or Meehan are involved in the setup next season is an entirely different story.

Kerry advance to the semi-final. Eleven wides is a tally that will need to improve and the side were sluggish at different intervals. No-one remembers quarter finals, victory is the name of the game. Mission accomplished.

Mayo and Roscommon share the spoils

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Aidan O’Shea must do it all over again

The last ten minutes of this contest was exciting for the neutral; probably not for the blood pressure for either Mayo or Roscommon supporters. Mayo edged ahead and then Roscommon without a recognized free taker placed their hopes on Donie Smith who produced a sublime long range free to secure the draw.

Was this a missed opportunity for Roscommon? Seven points up early doors thanks to an excellent work rate, tempo and incisive passing inside to hit two quick fire goals. Mayo’s full back line were cut to shreds but Mayo to their credit refused to panic and current footballer of the year Lee Keegan provided leadership and scoring nous in the opening period.

Not content to man mark Enda Smith, the Westport clubman went up the pitch to score a quick fire 1-2. His goal was typical Keegan; great run from deep, his drive was deflected to the net but he asked the question of Roscommon to defend the situation. The goal settled Mayo down and the two point advantage at the break was just desserts for a dominant last ten minutes.

Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran providing good scores for Mayo and Roscommon were running out of ideas and steam; static players in forward positions not helping matters. The half-time break came at the right time for Kevin McStay and backroom management in that they decided to push Enda Smith into the full forward line, moving the threat of Keegan further away from the Roscommon goal. A smart move and one that Mayo should have counteracted with a switch of marker for Smith with someone like Higgins or Boyle. Baffling stuff from Rochford and Mayo management.

The second half exchanges started with Roscommon in the ascendency and they were back level within five minutes of the restart. You hoped that one team would take the mantle of pushing home the advantage but let us be honest, no-one the pitch took the responsibility to make a game winning contribution. The draw was a fair result.

The last quarter could be best described as exciting due to the close scoreline but the shot selection and turnover rate was awful at times. Roscommon as an attacking threat inside were now non-existent and it provided Mayo with easy turnover possession in their half-back line. Even six minutes of injury time could not separate both teams who would like another crack at each other next bank holiday weekend.

Plenty for both teams to work on and improve. Roscommon showed that their Connacht title was no fluke and created chaos for Mayo defensively particularly in the opening period. Mayo’s experience, composure and refusal to not getting beaten was to the forefront again today. Roll on Monday week!

All Ireland Senior Football Quarter Final Preview

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All Ireland Football Semi-Final spots up for grabs

Sunday sees the first of the All Ireland Senior Football quarter finals. Kerry take on West Coast rivals Galway and Connacht football kingpins Roscommon take on a battle hardened Mayo outfit. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Can Galway stifle Kerry’s attacking play to upset the odds?

Galway enters this contest wondering realistically where they are in terms of team development. A narrow victory over Mayo in the Connacht semi-final saw several good moments and indicated scope for improvement which never materialized in an utterly disappointing Connacht final display against Roscommon. Last weekend, Galway took advantage of an insipid Donegal performance to easily advance to the last eight of the competition.

The performance was good but Donegal were shambolic throughout. A season where NFL Division One football was secured earlier in the season, Galway are still an unknown quantity on Sunday. They have superb footballers in all units. Silke, O’Donnell, Conroy, Sice, Bradshaw, Armstrong, Walsh are superb talents and if the game is an open affair, Galway will more than match Kerry in the skills department.

The main issue for Galway will be on how they stifle Kerry’s forward line who were extremely impressive in their Munster football final triumph. The speed, tempo, movement, quality distribution was a joy to watch and Kerry’s forward line were causing chaos with every possession in the attack.

Kieran Donaghy in the full forward position poses serious issues for Galway. What does Kevin Walsh and Galway management do? Donaghy’s aerial ability will pose Galway untold problems. Do Galway consider moving back Conroy to negate this threat? His physicality and power under the dropping ball would certainly be a plus point for Galway defensively but Galway will lose something further up the park. It is an intricate balancing act.

Kerry’s forward line has sparkled this season. James O’Donoghue has had a superb season so far; back to his 2014 form. His movement and ball striking have being exceptional. Paul Geaney as an inside full forward threat will punish Galway if given time and space. There is no weak link in this attacking unit. Galway will do well to keep Kerry under control so they are going to have to score heavy to keep in the contest.

Do Galway have hope? I believe they do. The Kerry performances this season in the championship have shown occasional lapses defensively. Clare for forty minutes in their Munster semi-final fixture exposed Kerry on occasion. For as bad as Cork were in the provincial final showcase, they could and should have scored a couple of goals against Kerry as the full back was left exposed due to player running overlaps. Galway need to score a couple of goals to seriously upset the odds tomorrow and with forwards such as Comer, Walsh, Armstrong in the starting line-up and Michael Meehan coming off the bench, chances will be created provided Galway’s outside players play good, fast ball inside to their forward line early.

That prospect though is dreamland stuff as Kerry will be prepared for Galway particularly after the recent U21 football fixture between the two counties earlier in the year. Kerry U21’s were humbled by Galway; the groundwork of this win was midfield dominance and this is an area where Galway will look to impose their will on proceedings. O’Curraoin and Flynn will look to set the tone with early 50/50 wins. Conroy will provide leadership and game management but a lot depends on whether he is tasked with stifling Donaghy.

Kerry’s midfield are no mugs. Maher and Buckley will look to execute the fundamentals well and with Donnacha Walsh coming back into form. Kerry have players to win their own 50/50 ball as well. I think the game will be a good spectacle for the neutral but if the weather is anyway decent, Kerry’s forward line could be too much for Galway defensively. It is imperative for Galway not to let the heads drop; it happened last year against Tipperary so twelve months on, it will be interesting to see how far the team have progressed. Kerry to advance but Galway will expose defensive issues with Kerry. The kick-out strategy could be also vulnerable if Galway decides to push up on the Kerry kick outs given their talent in the middle of the park but it is Kerry for me by five points.

Can Roscommon cope with the Croke Park occasion to expose Mayo?

I admire Kevin McStay, always liked his candid opinion on the Sunday Game and despite ferocious criticisms from within Roscommon, his side have secured the Connacht Senior Football title with a youthful, energetic side.

Roscommon had a miserable NFL Division One campaign but the calibre of opposition faced improved the side; the NFL Division One factor has being huge for Roscommon and they have safely negotiated Connacht with a minimum of fuss with a professional win over Leitrim and then overwhelmed Galway in the provincial final.

The victory against Galway was no fluke. Galway complacency argument is a little rich; a disservice for anyone associated with Roscommon who dominated the aerial exchanges in midfield and their speed and tempo consistently had Galway on edge throughout.

Enda Smith was sublime in the provincial final. His cameo from the middle of the park set the tone for others to follow. His catching and distribution were on point throughout and laid the foundations for Roscommon to score. Yes, there were numerous missed chances in the opening period but one hopes that McStay and management have worked on that side of play in the three weeks after this triumph.

A side which has a good age profile; more progression and scope for improvement can be seen for the team in the coming seasons. Roscommon should have no pressure on them this weekend. Mayo will be expected to triumph and they need to embrace the occasion. Their record in Croke Park has being shocking recently; too much pressure applied within and players have failed to produce.

Mayo come into this fixture with football fans wondering where the team are this year. The loss to Galway exposed leadership issues both on and off the pitch, misfiring sweeper system where Boyle was caught in catch twenty-two situations too many times. The qualifier campaign has being less than plain sailing. Extra time was required to beat Derry and Cork and in between struggled to impose their will against Clare until breaking away in the last quarter.

Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor have being outstanding for Mayo this season offensively. The decision to replace Moran last weekend nearly backfired against Cork; a true leader and leads by example. His work rate and ability to take a score has being to the fore this season. O’Connor against Cork was lights out; he focused on his inside forward line play and it paid rewards. Two vital attackers for Mayo.

The emergence of Aidan O’Shea is a welcome boost for Mayo. The Breaffy clubman had an indifferent start to the season but the physically imposing player has played superbly in recent outings. He needs to continue this form for the rest of the season.

Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Patrick Durcan are one of the best half-back lines in the country. I am dubious on Boyle as a sweeper though; better when having to man mark an opponent and contributing with scores from play. Keegan usually takes his game to the next step at this time of year. Durcan is so underrated; great running game and ability to score from long range.

The issue for Mayo is the full  back position. Ger Cafferkey has admirably tried to fill the position but Cork and other opposition have highlighted the area with ball in recent seasons. Roscommon will look to test this area of the pitch again as Cork created goal chances last weekend which on another day could have gone in. It is not just down on the Mayo full back; players around him need to protect the space in front of the full forward line but Mayo options to fill the full back position look limited.

Mayo management as well have not gotten away with criticism. Their substitution policy has created much debate particularly last weekend. Rochford’s decision to haul off Moran, Boyle against Cork was a mistake. Mayo management will point to scientific facts for the decision but these players were having good outings, why change a winning team? The decision making last weekend adds more ammunition to the fire when you consider the Mayo goalkeeping fiasco in last year’s All Ireland final replay. Management need to provide confidence and right now, they are struggling for form and confidence themselves.

Roscommon to win  will need to overcome their Croke Park nerves. Mayo are a battle hardened outfit in Croke Park and will relish playing a youthful side who have had nightmarish experiences playing at HQ.

The early exchanges will set the tone. If Roscommon can settle into the contest, then we will be in for a good game. Mayo will look to build momentum during the contest; continue the good form of their attacking units. The Roscommon back line will need to be disciplined and have slight reservations that they will leak needless frees.

Mayo’s experience could hold sway here, hoping Roscommon can produce a performance. The occasion is the one area I worry on Roscommon so tipping Mayo for a five point win. Two exciting encounters and mark the business end of the football championship!

 

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.