For some, heaven is within touching distance but for others it appears as though it is as far away now as it has ever been. From the teams remaining, we take a look at those who are set to fight it out in an effort to reach the promised land and those who look likely to be turned away again.
The number one team in Gaelic Football at this present moment. Good at the back while having the firepower up front to rack up big scores. So far in this year’s championship they have been more willing to kick the ball in, with either Aidan Walsh or Nicholas Murphy stationed on the edge of the square. Paddy Kelly (pictured above) is the best Centre Forward in the game and in Colm O’Neill, Ciaran Sheehan, Donnacha O’Connor, and Paul Kerrigan they have the best set of scoring forwards in the game. Each is capable of putting together a match-winning total and when they all click together Cork take a lot of beating. Powerful all over the field, they are always likely to have enough ball to win any game they are involved in and are not hit with the same level of injuries which played a part in their downfall last year.
For years Dublin were their own worst enemy. They handed out beatings to weaker counties when they got to Croke Park and more than willingly lapped up the adulation of the sixty thousand Dubs in attendance. The media would go into overdrive as the famine which plagued the city since 1995 appeared to be at an end. However, when the big day arrived Dublin would go from flat track bullies to rabbits caught in the headlights. Pat Gilroy and his management team have changed all this. They are still winning Leinster titles at their ease but gone is the hype which used to plague them. The showboating has been replaced by a team who are only interested in turning it on for the big day and when the big teams arrive in town. When the chips are down they are willing to leave everything on the field for one another and this is the key to them as it allows them to get the scores which win games while also being able to deal with the adversity they face in games. Their performance against Meath has been called a poor showing in some quarters but for me they won as they liked. Sure, Meath roared back into the game in the last seven minutes but for the previous sixty-three Dublin had pulled them all over Croke Park. One must remember that when a famine ends a feast is never too far away.
Anyone winning back-to-back titles in the battleground that is the Ulster Championship deserves the utmost respect. Everyone said that when Dublin ended their involvement in the All-Ireland series last year that they would have to evolve as a team if they were play in an All-Ireland Final. It is safe to say they have. They have racked up three big scores this summer as well as coming through a tough local derby against Tyrone. They strangle the life out of the opposition and when they have cried enough Donegal put the games to bed. Their training and the rumours which surround it are fast becoming the stuff of legend as Donegal have become the team that for so long they seemed to fight against. Where once everything was off the cuff and done on a whim, now they don’t do anything without a plan. The wrong players don’t shoot and they can recycle the ball over and over until the right chance appears. The one huge area of concern for me is whether they have the firepower to take out the really top teams when it matters most. I doubt Donegal are too concerned by what I think as this group of players seek to rewrite the history they had deemed destined to leave behind them.
The finest obituary writers in Gaelic Football were out in force when Kerry limped out of Mullingar battered, bruised, and just about breathing but after their performance last weekend it appears rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. Or have they? Fair enough, they outplayed Tyrone but when you look at it in the cold light of day, it is a Tyrone team in rebuilding mode who were exiting the Championship for the second year running on the back of a big beating. Last year Dublin were questioned when they hammered Tyrone but when Kerry do it, is very much a case of “We’re back lads”. The reality is they kicked scores under no pressure, something they will not experience when they play any of the provincial winners. Their backs were not tested to any great degree by Tyrone and while it would be foolish to ever write the death notice of a Kerry team at this time of the year I would not be in any great rush to claim that I had seen them rise from the dead as far greater tests await in the coming weeks.
They hammered Leitrim and then limped over Sligo where the cynicism which was evident in the Mayo game for the last five minutes seemed to provide more talking points than anything that had happened in the previous sixty-five minutes. I presume critics wanted Mayo to revert to type and give away something silly and leave the game behind them? Nothing that I have seen this year suggests to me that Mayo will be there or thereabouts. For my money, when the quarter-final draw is made on Saturday night they will be the team which the teams entering from the back door want because while they are a good side, there is a thought that they are very beatable, something which cannot be said of the other three teams that await those arriving via the scenic route.
They take this position more by default than anything they have shown us throughout the year. They were talked up as Leinster Champions in waiting but as they were waiting they decided to show us that the problems which have existed for the last five years still exist and Meath promptly dumped them out of Leinster and pushed them into the back door. They were near being caught by Limerick last weekend and the fact that Clare had beaten the same Limerick side suggest to me that the form line is nothing special. In fact if Limerick had not been so naive in possession in the last sixty seconds then Kildare would not even be in this list.They will more than likely beat Sligo this weekend but I wouldn’t be taking any short prices about them doing so. Their season will
end in the quarter-finals where only drawing Mayo will offer them any hope of progressing through to an All-Ireland Semi-Final. Knowing this Kildare side, they will nearly do it and offer up a host of excuses when they fall just short again.
There is very little between here and number ten in the list and Down just nudge in at top of this section. After all, they did lose narrowly in an All-Ireland Final not so long ago to a team which tops this very list but both teams are in very different places right now. From midfield up, Down have the potential to be very good but sadly if you don’t have a good set of defenders you’re not going to survive. Down don’t and they wont survive in the shark-infested waters of the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals. They will score but teams will also score against them. In a straight shootout the others will be able to wrap up the Down sharpshooters easier and tag on scores easier at the other end.
They caught Kildare on the hop and showed everyone that the same flaws still existed in the Kildare setup. I’d like to think that they are somewhere between the team that drew with Carlow and the one that beat Kildare. They are most certainly not the team which looked so good against Kildare for long periods of the game and I am pretty sure of that. The six-day turnaround is going to be huge against a Laois team, which despite earlier reservations, are improving with every game and have built some valuable momentum in those games. In fact I would not be surprised if Meath were to lose this weekend. Losing a Leinster Final is tough but having to play six days later is even tougher. Expect Meath to make hard work of getting over Laois this weekend and if they do get over them you can expect them to exit in the quarter-finals. Still, after saying all that they appeared in a Leinster Final, ended the game with a rattle and will fancy themselves to break the six-day curse, so they will expect to get as far as the quarter-finals.
They have built momentum steadily through the qualifiers after their second-half collapse against Longford. In hindsight that is the game which they left behind them. They have regrouped well and while unimpressive in their weekend win over Leitrim, they got the job done. It was a no-win situation for them as a group because if they hammered Leitrim everybody would just say “it was only Leitrim” whereas a narrow win sees them come in under the radar. They enter into the game in good spirits and surprisingly for a Laois team they are a united group of players where egos seem to have been parked at the gates of O’Moore Park. Ultimately they are short maybe two forwards to have any great impact but they might drag Meath into a tight game this weekend. I would expect money to arrive for Meath and if you could get 5/2 on a Laois win then you might have some value. We have opposed them twice before but they are just signs that Justin McNulty is starting to win over the critics which clearly exist in Laois. A good showing this weekend will secure him another year as Laois manager, a scenario which is very plausible.
Beaten in the Connacht Final by Mayo, I’d imagine their whole season was based around winning another Connacht title. The plan did not come together and it’s a long road ahead if they want to compete in the the All-Ireland series. The positive things are that they have plenty of time to get the Connacht Final out of their system and Kildare are entering the game still under the cloud of the Meath beating. Kildare have a habit of being drawn into close games and Sligo will hold no great fear of them.
The coming team in Munster football and backed by the minor football success which is currently happening, a breakthrough may not be far away. Indeed they have drawn a team which they may compete with at the weekend. Still, in saying that, they are still in the early stages of developing as a team and you would fancy Down to have a bit too much for them. The year has been a success though and offers great hope that they will be a force moving forward.
Reached a Munster Final by being on the side without Cork/Kerry present and caused a shock by beating Limerick in the Munster Semi-Final. Showed up well in the Munster Final against Cork but were well beaten in the end. Drew the short straw when they drew Kerry and they will exit the Championship on Saturday evening.
Cork to win the All-Ireland (11/4 with Paddy Power)
Lay Kerry to win the All-Ireland (4.1 on Betfair)
Laois to beat Meath (Wait for betting on the day)