All Ireland Football Qualifier – Review

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

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

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.


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