Supporters from Donegal town pictured at the Ulster Final in Clones PICTURE: THOMAS GALLAGHER
After this coming weekend’s 4th Round Qualifying games, we will know the final make-up of the two Super 8 groups in the All-Ireland senior football championship.
There weren’t any surprises last weekend in the 3rd Round Qualifiers as Tyrone, Mayo, Laois and Clare prevailed to set up meetings with Cavan, Galway, Cork and Meath respectively. I expect Tyrone, Galway, Cork and Meath to advance to the group stages which will mean that Donegal and Kerry will play Galway and Meath in one group.
The other group I suspect will see Tyrone and Cork joining Dublin and Roscommon.
The Super 8’s kicks off on the weekend of July 13/14. The business part of the season is well underway but, the business of staying power and consistency will be well and truly tested in the coming weeks.
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For me, Tyrone gave the most impressive performance last weekend. They had a difficult tie away to Kildare in Newbridge or Nowhere.
Throughout the years, I’ve never rated Kildare - even when the great Mick O’Dwyer led them to Leinster titles in 1998 and 2000. The former Kerry great took the best out of them and they have huffed and puffed since. From time to time, they produce some quality players but never enough to sustain any momentum.
They also lack that hardened edge that is required for championship football.
Since their defeat to Donegal, Tyrone have returned to a more defined defensive shape which is the system that served them so well in the past. They reverted to this system against Longford and again against Kildare last Saturday. The players looked more comfortable and were always in control.
Irrespective of Kildare’s deficiencies, Tyrone still had to put in a performance. I believe that Peter Harte’s early dismissal against Donegal proved costly in the Ulster semi-final. With Harte on the field for the entire game against Kildare, Tyrone looked a different outfit. The O’Neill county will do damage in the Super 8s group and I feel that they will finish second to Dublin to reach the All-Ireland semi-final.
Donegal still remain the main challengers to the current All-Ireland holders. If my predictions come through, we will play Meath in Ballybofey. We have Kerry in Croke Park and Galway in Salthill.
And if they don’t materialise, we’ll still play Kerry in Croke Park and have Clare at home and Mayo in Castlebar.
To be honest it hardly matters. Mayo are struggling in this year’s championship and their form from the National League has evaporated. Andy Moran was taken off against Armagh last Saturday while Lee Keegan was helped off the field with what looked like a serious injury.
Diarmuid O’Connor and Matthew Ruane are already ruled out for the rest of the season and Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea are still recovering from long term injuries. Few teams can do without such quality at this vital stage of the championship campaign.
Galway will be reeling after their complete second half collapse to outsiders Roscommon in the Connaught Final. I still feel that there’s a sting in the Tribesmen’s tails and thehy should beat an understrength Mayo team in Limerick.
Meath, after their dismal performance against Dublin in the Leinster Final, will be raging with their ineptitude in that game. Surely, they will revive themselves and make amends against a surprisingly high-flying Clare outfit. Whoever wins this contest will be favourites to finish bottom of the group given the quality of the other three teams.
As stated earlier, Tyrone gave a decent account of themselves against Kildare last weekend and now face Cavan on Saturday.
Although the scoreline would suggest otherwise, Donegal gave Cavan a sound beating in the Ulster Final. Cavan will once again come up against another battle-hardened team.
Tyrone who have trodden this path before, seem to improve and gain momentum as the championship progresses. I would worry for the Cavan men who met a serious outfit when they played Donegal. They aren’t as physical or cute as the Tyrone team; something that comes with the experience of playing at a high level for a number of years.
Cavan will learn though. They aren’t far away and have a number of talented young players.
The other place up for grabs in this Super 8s group of four is between Cork and Laois. I know very little about Laois but I feel that Cork’s good performance against Kerry will boost their morale. They gave the Kingdom plenty to think about in the Munster Final.
There seems to be a bit of a resurgence in Cork having hammered Limerick earlier in the championship. Whatever issues they’ve had off and on the field are in the process of being resolved which will boost the team going forward. However, they are still a shadow of the team that played Donegal in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2012. This was one of the best games of football that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.
My last words are reserved for my own county. Great teams respect their opponents but that’s as far as it goes. Great teams focus on themselves where strengths are improved upon and broken parts fixed. We are working like a well-oiled machine where all the parts are moving in sync but yet to reach capacity.
Great days lie ahead when this unit hit the maximum. Watch this space and keep the faith!