Manus Boyle column: Gap is as wide as ever between top and rest

Manus Boyle column: Gap is as wide as ever between top and rest

Before any provincial final there is always an air of expectation on both sides. Both sides generally go into the game with at least a chance of getting to lift a bit of silverware.

Last Sunday was no different. Both Kildare in Leinster and Down in Ulster would have thought that if they play at their best and close down and make it hard for the opposition that they might just have a chance.

Both sets of managements would have known rightly that they had an uphill struggle but they would have peddled the idea that they went into the game with the same chance as Dublin and Tyrone. Even the pundits gave them an outset chance, but in the modern game the good sides, the sides you expect to be there to at least the semi-final stage, always seem to be on their game.

Dublin hit Kildare with a couple of goals in the first ten minutes. They didn’t give them a chance to settle. The Dublin management would have known that there would have been a bit of nerves in the Kildare camp so the plan was to hit them early on, go for the juggler. They did and it was all over when James McCarthy slid the ball underneath Mark Donnellan, the Kildare ‘keeper. They could have handed the Delaney Cup there and then and saved all the bother.

Dublin, in the last few years, don’t let any team get back at them. They have learned their lessons, especially from the likes of Donegal. Dublin teams have always played with a bit of a swagger, but now they have a strong squad to go along with that. Dublin started without Paul Flynn, Jonny Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon and, of course, Diarmuid Connolly - a list of players that if taken out of any other side would struggle but such is the strength of the current Dublin squad they are going to be extremely hard to stop for that elusive three in-a-row.

Down were hit with the same avalanche on Clones. Tyrone, realising that there would be some bit of tension within the Down squad, never let them settle. They went at them from the outset and never stopped. In front of over 30,000 Tyrone went full on for the first fifteen minutes; they didn’t let the Down players find their feet and once they went seven points to two in front you just knew Down, even at their very best, would struggle to find a way back. At the same time Tyrone were not as sharp in front of goal as they were against Donegal but like Dublin they didn’t take their foot of the throttle until it was too late for the Mourne men.

Tyrone, just like Dublin in Leinster, have been dominant in Ulster. They have been the best team by a country mile with the rest of us failing to match them. They are strong and extremely well set up defensively when they haven’t got the ball. They use quick, small forwards inside who never stop moving and when they attack they do so in numbers but without being restricted to going through the hands. If the opportunity arises they kick the ball and then support the player.

Down were excellent against Monaghan and hopefully are able to build on this year’s Ulster championship. However, the signs are ominous for the rest of us that Tyrone are here to stay for a long time.

GALWAY NEXT FOR DONEGAL

Donegal travel to Sligo on Saturday evening hoping to continue in this year’s All-Ireland series. Galway, badly beaten by Roscommon in the Connacht decider, are in our way. Donegal have had a couple of wins since the defeat by Tyrone in Ulster; they struggled to get things going against Longford and had a serious battle on their hands away to Meath in Navan. You could see signs of improvement in Donegal, especially in the last quarter against the Leinster side, but Galway will again pose a different challenge.

Much was expected of this Galway side this year. Their performance in the Connacht final was dismal to say the least with most, if not all, the experts placing them as favourites going into the game. Kevin Walsh, the Galway manager, will have worked hard on the players in the last couple of weeks trying to get their heads right going into the game against Donegal. They will have had a couple of training sessions to set out a plan to curtail the likes of Paddy McBrearty, Ryan McHugh and especially Michael Murphy who, for another summer, has been immense.

With Galway going into the game with a point to prove and having to restore a bit of lost pride, Donegal will have to raise their game another level this weekend. After a good league campaign many would have expected Donegal to get to at least a quarter-final. Anything short of that would be considered a disappointing summer.