Another weekend of championship football has passed with two of the main contenders Donegal and Dublin reaching the Ulster and Leinster championship finals respectively.
Donegal got past Derry with a low key performance while title favourites Dublin thrashed Kildare by 19 points. Derry made life very difficult for Donegal in Clones employing stifling tactics which made for a tense game. Donegal’s superior technical ability prevailed in the end though. Semi-finals are simply about winning and nothing more. This game will do Donegal the power of good and they can now look forward to the final with Monaghan in the knowledge that there is much more in the tank.
Dublin, on the other hand, has waltzed into the Leinster final not knowing how good they really are. Westmeath, who shocked Meath in Croke Park last Sunday, will provide the opposition. The fairytale for Westmeath will end there however.
Dublin’s first proper championship test will not come until the All-Ireland quarter finals in August.
The first football provincial final takes place this Sunday in Munster when All-Ireland holders Kerry will take on Cork. Both teams have played minor opposition on their way to this final but we will know a lot more about both teams come 4pm on Sunday.
It’s irrelevant who wins this game in terms of All-Ireland success because the loser will still play in the qualifiers. I expect Kerry to win this encounter but Cork are definitely capable of beating any team if they hit top form. As I’ve stated here before one does not have be a football expect to be able to predict which teams will win their respective provincial championship.
Should Donegal fear Monaghan? Yes of course. But fear sometimes is a great way to approach a game. Given Donegal’s below par performance against Derry, our odds will be reduced somewhat. We will still be favourites to win though.
Monaghan like to play on the edge and Donegal will be prepared for this. For now, training for all the main protagonists will be ratcheted up in preparation for tougher challenges ahead.
Donegal’s performance against Derry will have given Monaghan encouragement. Derry’s ability to contain Donegal will not be lost on the Farney men. Donegal’s overall performance lacked the intensity that we are used to but this game was all about getting over the line. This was always going to be a tense meeting but I genuinely believed that Donegal’s margin of victory would have been greater.
All that matters is that we won the game but with room for improvement. Our first major championship objective has been achieved in reaching the Ulster Final. Our path there has been much more difficult than that of Monaghan. This has to stand to Donegal. Nothing compares to difficult games.
Monaghan haven’t exactly set the Ulster championship alight. They struggled badly against neighbours Cavan in their first outing and it took them 45 minutes to come to grips with Fermanagh. To be perfectly honest, I would be really surprised if they beat Donegal. Our experience and vast array of talent will prove too much.
A lot of our men had quiet games last Saturday evening. A player never needs to be told how he played because believe me no one knows better than the player himself. Our players have set themselves very high standards and they may not be pleased with their performance but each and every player knows deep down that they have much more to bring to their game.
Their focus will solely rest on Monaghan, a team that can make life difficult for any opposition but also a team that is limited. Defensively, Monaghan are very suspect. In attack Conor McManus is their best player but was anonymous for most of the game against Fermanagh. We have top class defenders and any of them is capable of marking McManus.
Monaghan may be more optimistic about their chances of seeing Donegal struggle against Derry but Donegal can also take great confidence from Monaghan’s unimpressive path to the Ulster final.
Since their victory over Donegal in the 2013 Ulster final, Monaghan haven’t improved while Donegal have gone from strength to strength. It is worth noting that some pundits are now telling us that Monaghan will win this year’s Ulster final. After our game against Armagh, we were top of the pops. After our last game, we have slipped down the charts. And like last year Dublin are running riot. Unfortunately, for them the Sam Maguire Cup is not handed over until late September.
Westmeath and Sligo had their days in the sun which threw some excitement into the championship. The reality is that their days are numbered. I still hold by my prediction that Donegal will meet Dublin in this year’s showdown. Dublin were showboating their way to glory last year too. Then they met the men from the hills. The Dublin players are still complaining that they were caught on the day. Of course they were caught on the day . . . by a better team.
Psychologically, Dublin is vulnerable. Expectation is greater on them than on any other county. I don’t think they would like to meet us gain.
Until then let’s sit back and let the journey continue.