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!