The Championship finally erupted into life last weekend. Admittedly, the game between Down and Armagh on Sunday week last was fiery but lacked finesse and the technical ability that was on display last weekend. I always doubted Mayo’s stomach for the fight and I think Monaghan are just a wee bit short on overall firepower to win the Ulster championship. That said, Monaghan will be a tough nut to crack for any team.
Cavan versus Monaghan was always going to be a hard-fought game. Cavan gained a lot from playing the top teams in Division 1 of the National League this year. Although they played with a lot of passion they were still naïve and inconsistent with some of their play. Still they could have snatched a draw at the end of the game with a shot at goal hitting the post. Cavan will now go into the qualifiers and I expect them to go a long way there. As for Monaghan, they will march on to meet Down in the Ulster semi-final. I believe that their tough battle with Cavan will stand to them. They play on the edge but too often are rash in their challenges especially in front of goal. They conceded a lot of frees against Cavan within scoring distance which they will have to tidy up going forward.
In Connaught, an ever-improving Galway won a thriller against much touted All-Ireland glory seekers Mayo in Salthill last Sunday. I suppose it’s better to let their supporters down early in the championship than drag them through the pain and turmoil of giving them false hope. One has to be realistic about Mayo’s will to win. They have been battered and bruised with their “nearly there” tag. Sure, they should go well in the qualifiers and will still be there in August. And maybe this is the way to go for Mayo. They will be off the radar and expectations will not be as great as in other years. One has to give full credit to Galway though. They exposed Mayo’s weaknesses time after time. They deserved to win and it will be interesting to watch their progress as the championship moves on through the summer.
The long-awaited championship clash between Donegal and Tyrone has arrived. I believe that the winners of this game will win the Ulster championship. The many expert pundits out there will always have Tyrone in the mix when they talk about potential All-Ireland champions.
I haven’t heard any of them mention Donegal this year…yet! This is good for Donegal. For any team to succeed, they need firepower up front. Having watched Tyrone last year and this season, they are currently lacking a forward with the potential such as Peter Canavan or Stephen O’Neill.
Killyclogher man Mark Bradley is a class player and is well capable of splitting any defence. He’s ploughing a lone furrow though. This may change on Sunday though. Trillick’s Lee Brennan scored 13 points in a club game recently and Tyrone supporters are calling for his inclusion in the starting line-up. He is an accurate free-taker which is a vital necessity when games are close.
Peter Harte hasn’t been going as well as he can and again he is a terrific player. I expect him to be more prominent this Sunday. Other Tyrone players who will make an impression could be Cathal McCarron and Justin McMahon. I understand that both players were fit for Tyrone’s first round championship against Derry a few weeks back but Mickey Harte held them back. I have no doubt that they will appear on Sunday. McCarron is a very good man-marker and generally a very good player. McMahon, like Sean Cavanagh, may find the going tough on Sunday but still has much to offer this Tyrone. One can never write off Cavanagh as was evidenced by his superb display against Derry.
Donegal are a different prospect though. Let’s not forget about the McCann brothers either. Conall McCann gave a man of the match performance against Derry and I was very impressed with not only his hair style but more importantly his performance. Tyrone have unearthed a very talented midfielder here. Tiernan McCann is an experienced campaigner who is great going forward but I’m not so sure about his defensive qualities. Mattie Donnelly is yet another player who has the potential to be a match winner is not playing to his usual high standard but then again, he has been played out of position in the full-forward line. Things will change for Sunday though and I expect the Tyrone will field a much stronger team than we saw when they played Derry.
As you see, Tyrone have a formidable group of players. This will be a tactical battle and as we’ve witnessed last Sunday, the ultimate factor will come down to which team is more positive. I feel that Donegal were possibly too negative in last year’s Ulster final against Tyrone. When it counted, we didn’t push on in the final ten minutes and attack Tyrone.
Donegal will have learned from that game and as we’ve seen in National League, Donegal are playing in more advanced positions this year. Both teams will pack defences but the team who counters quickest will be more fruitful. I believe that we will have the edge because of the new talent introduced to the team. They have added energy and pace to the team. Young players don’t play with fear. They are like horses chomping at the bit. Even if Rory Gallagher wants to tame them and hold them back at times, they will still go. Tyrone will be very focused on Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty but I feel they need to be more concerned about the lesser known Donegal players. Let’s see what Sunday brings.
Dun nan Gall Abu!