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 gameĀ 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.

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!