Finally the Super 8s are here. The competition that many said would give Gaelic football the shot in the arm that it needs but was not the success last year that everyone had hoped.
Will this year be any different? The fear was that there would be more one-sided games that does nothing for the image of the game, but the reality is that there are about four teams outside of Dublin that can stop the five in-a-row.
In Donegal’s group are Meath, Kerry and Mayo. Meath scraped through against a Clare side who have adopted a very defensive style of play. Meath come to Ballybofey on Sunday with Donegal expected to have too much in the tank for the beaten Leinster finalists.
In the league they ran us close and only for a goalkeeping error, they may have taken the two points but Donegal are a different side now. With their strongest team available, they will be thinking of doing a lot better than in last year's competition. Donegal should take it but Meath will create problems; they will ask questions of our ability to stop runners coming from deep, also conceding two goals and sixteen points against Cavan will not have gone unnoticed and I expect the Donegal management team to address the ease at which Cavan scored, especially in the second half.
In the other game in the group, Kerry take on a resurgent Mayo in Killarney, Mayo were back to their league form and had just enough for Galway last Saturday night. Considering their injury problems and the amount of young players they have brought through in the last few games, James Horan will go to Kerry quietly confident that they can ask some serious questions off the Munster champions.
Kerry were not let play against Cork in the Munster final. Cork, for once, got in their face and they struggled to get over a Cork side that look refreshed since their poor league campaign. Kerry still have the forwards to trouble any team in the country but their defence lacks that physical strength that’s required in the modern game.
In the other group Cork take on the Dubs. Cork have that confidence back again and put a huge number on the board against Laois last weekend. Cork will know if they are going to get to the last four they need to get something out of this game; if they can keep it close going into the last 20 they will have a chance as Dublin have had it far too easy in Leinster.
Roscommon have the pleasure of entertaining Tyrone in the last game. Last year Roscommon were the whipping boys of the Super 8s. They were hammered in all three games and it certainly must have hit their pride and confidence hard. Under a new manager this year in Anthony Cunningham, they look sharp and full of endeavour but they face a Tyrone side that since their defeat to Donegal in Breffni have gone quietly about their business and established themselves once again as the team to beat.
TRAINING FOR SUPER 8S
I said at the time, Mickey Harte’s men were far from finished and there would be a question in many people's mind were they really preparing themselves for the Ulster championship or was their training tailored for a run in the Super 8s, peaking for around the time of the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Gaelic football needs a couple of clinkers this weekend. We need the likes of Meath and Cork to put it up to the likes of Donegal and Dublin; we need Tyrone to get a scare in Hyde Park and Mayo to awaken the kingdom. While I like every other Donegal man, woman and child want to see Michael Murphy lift Sam once again, football is in need of a great deal of positive press; they need everyone to be talking about the energy, skill and commitment shown by these great athletes and not discussing blanket defences, everyone behind the ball, poor refereeing and, of course, the dreaded question whether is was or wasn’t a black card.
There has been far too much talk about second tier competitions and the poor quality of some of the games. You can be sure if you watched all the hurling games, there were plenty of bad ones as well. We have to get past always talking about the same topics. Those at the top have to look harder into how the game can be made more open, letting skill, pace and scoring power take over from rigid defensive game plans. The game has become more about coaches, managers, match tactics and not about the players, the skills and the connection with those that follow the sport.
While everyone contrives to paint the Dubs as the big monster in the room, maybe it’s time other counties look at the way they (Dublin) do their business, look at the way they have turned around their fortunes in the last ten years and more so how they have sustained it; how those involved have still kept that hunger that drives them on, that can be quelled by success. Dublin are doing something right and if we want to get them off that pedestal, counties have to stop complaining about how unfair the system is and get on with improving and then hopefully competing with the likes of Dublin and Kerry who have dominated the sport for longer than we care to remember.