After last weekend’s round of championship games we now have six teams left in the competition; that is until this weekend when we will know the semi-final pairings.
The pick of the matches was Mayo and Cork. The former scraped it and will be delighted to be back vying for that elusive All-Ireland title. Mayo will not win it though. Cork, who was given no chance, could have beaten Mayo had they not run out of steam in the final quarter. Worryingly for Mayo they, too, were also struggling with their fitness towards the end of this game.
There’s little point in writing about Cork since they have left the stage so we will focus for a moment on Mayo. Their overall performance was adequate to beat the Leesiders but they huffed and puffed for much of this game. Their full-back line is weak; their half-back line prefer to attack than to defend; their midfield is very good and their forward line lacks the firepower to convince me.
Sure, they have some nice forwards but none who can break a tackle or seriously breach a defence. If a defender stands off them as Cork did then they will score all day at ease.
Kerry, who will be their semi-final opponents, also struggled with a poor Galway team. The stand-out player of the day was Kerry’s James O’Donoghue who tortured the Galway defence. He is a quality forward but unfortunately for Kerry he seems to be the only player of note in this Kerry team. Mayo and Kerry will be evenly matched but both will need to improve considerably if either of them will be serious contenders for the All-Ireland title.
This Saturday, Donegal and Armagh will do battle as will Dublin and Monaghan. The latter scrapped it out against Kildare in Croke Park last Sunday evening. It was an exciting enough affair. I have never rated Kildare. They have always received so much hype down the years. For what? What have they won? A Leinster title some time back. I know that they have spent an awful lot of money preparing their respective teams in the hope of achieving All-Ireland success.
Monaghan, for their part, will have to pick themselves and regroup to play the mighty Dubs this Saturday evening. I expect Dublin to win this game comfortably since Monaghan will surely be tired after their exploits this season. It is difficult to bounce back after losing an Ulster championship final. Had they faced a better team than Kildare then they, too, would be now out of the competition. Still, we have to give them credit for hanging in.
And so to Armagh who will be faced at 4pm this Saturday at GAA headquarters. It is great to be back in the Capital because when a team reaches Croke Park you know that you have made it to the business end of the season.
Armagh beat a very disappointing Meath team last Saturday and one could see how Dublin scythed through them and amassed a huge score. Armagh are an Ulster team which makes life that bit more difficult for Donegal. They have ploughed away since exiting the Ulster championship if not in an impressive manner. They get bodies behind the ball and like to make their games physical. I’m sure that Armagh, too, would have preferred not to play an Ulster team and especially not Donegal.
The one advantage that Armagh does have is that they have a game under their belt in Croke Park. They will feel that they have absolutely nothing to lose against Donegal and will attack Donegal at every opportunity. It is a given that nothing will be taken for granted against the Orchard county. Their style of football is similar to that of Monaghan. I expect that this will be a close encounter but Armagh may be battle weary and this game might be a game too far for them.
Donegal are also back where they want to be. At the quarter-final stage last year, Donegal succumbed meekly to a rampant Mayo outfit. As I’ve repeated here many times, Donegal are in a different place this time. That said we cannot look beyond Saturday evening. Donegal will be eager to get the job done and get back down the road again to get ready for what lies ahead. Whether it’s a pretty game or not does not matter. Playing Armagh is never pretty but to win is a must for us.
Our minors are already in the All-Ireland semi-final thanks to a great victory over Roscommon in Sligo last Saturday. Well done again to Declan, his management and his team. This is where our senior team want to be come this Saturday evening. The All-Ireland semi-finals could be another ground-breaking feat for Donegal. Let’s hope so. Keep the faith!