Something to learn, every gameday

So, having not attended a game in one of the January tournaments since I was involved with the county scene directly over ten years ago, I decided today to take myself off in the wind and the rain to Parnell Park to see the Dubs against my alma mater – DCU. It won’t live long in the memory but what little is written about it will probably include cliches such as ‘lively’ and ‘fiesty’.

DCU won, scarcely deserved but I doubt Jim Gavin will have too many sleepless night seeing as only about a third of those in blue today saw any game time last summer. But there is always something to learn and what it will tell him is that talented and all as they might be, those that did play today have a way to go in terms of being front line players that couild close out a match.

In the first half, Dublin, with the wind, appeared to have 60% plus possession but still contrived to turn around level and even then having only pegged back the effect of an early DCU goal in the last five minutes of the half.  In truth they should have gotten more out of it.  DCU were really well organised in defence and were ‘ready’ for Dublin. But once they won the ball, they over carried and took the ball into contact, promptly handing the ball back, time after time, but the Dubs couldn’t capitalise. 

Sure enough Dublin adjusted their sights over the break and came out all guns firing in the third quarter and converted a series of scores that looked like they would propel them to an easy victory. But a dodgy goal of the school yard ‘bounced in front and in over the head of the keeper’ variety kept DCU in touch.

There still didn’t seem to be much chance of them winning at 0-15 to 2-3 ahead but two points were followed by a black carding for Rory O’Carroll and as the Dubs readjusted, the students struck for a goal with 6 minutes to go that brought it back to a point and the rest is history.  

DCU owned the ball for the remainder and tried to play whatever little football was played as a series of running skirmishes that had started about 5 minutes into the second half bubbled over into a a couple of sets of handbags, a good old fashioned wrestle and a maul that would have been quite acceptable if we saw it in Castres this afternoon. In the middle of it all, Paul Flynn got himself red carded having only been on the pitch for 15 minutes.

Dublin shouldn’t have lost given that they were six points up. It wasn’t much of a case for new talent but of the newbies, Costello was an outlet and was productive and Lowdnes was full of beans and, on the day, not unlike another half back tyro that emerged last year

Credit DCU that kept plugging away and took advantage of the opportunities they got. With another good game next week against Meath, they will be well set for their Sigerson.

All in, the most impressive thing today was that 2,500 came out in the worst of weather.Image

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The final showdown… or will it be?

70minutes of the championship to go and I have to say that I can hardly wait for Sunday’s game. I see it as a major clash of styles that will make for a classic game.

At the beginning of the year I had a fancy for Down to be involved in the August shakeup but I then downgraded their chances after the cave in against Tyrone. By the time they got as far as the Kerry game though, my sense that they had something going for them was restored and they have justified that expectation.

They have a really well organised defence in which there is no ‘star’ but a great work ethic and co-ordinated response. I read somewhere that they conceded less scores than any other team in the league and the meanness has continued through most of the championship. They have a big ball winning, space dominating midfield that can play ball as well and a mercurial set of forwards that combine flair and grind – tons of natural football and a well developed  variety in their game.  Clarke and Coulter are well celebrated but Poland’s probing and Hughes’ pace are equally vital while McCummiskey is delivering consistently – it is a good balance.

Cork too have many merits.  Their size and strenght is well documented and they have one of the most forceful half back lines around, all of whom are a threat in attack as well as strong under the ball.  Again big strong midfielders are four a plenty.  Up front, Cork has a different style of forward than Down – there is more stong running and individual rather than team plays.

Looking a bit more critically, I think that there are two ways to make inroads to the Down defence – either work the ball slowly up a wing and then switch flanks quickly as they play a ‘last man around’ defensive system that is vulnearable to that quick switch in the point of attack. That though does require that the Cork FF line raise their game and show and win their own ball – more than we have seen this year so far.  The other big play is to ‘clear out’ the centre of the Down defence and get Kelly and Kerrigan (and probabaly Sheehan and Walsh) coming onto ball  through that central corridor.

At the other end getting Clarke, Poland and Hughes on the ball and playing football going forward is the big challenge for Down. They will have an advantage on their defenders in terms of mobility and pace but will not want to be fighting for dirty ball themselves too often if they are to be available to cause damge to Cork with the ball.

For Cork to win, they have to deliver up front and combine to punch holes, get in between the Down backs and isolate them in one on ones rather than get swallowed up in a well balanced and practiced defence.  For Down to win they have to hold the ball and be patient as the chances will come if they make sure to have the ball to take them.

In getting this far, Tyrone apart, Down has progressed from game to game and have impressed most in the last three games. Question is have they played to their limits or is there more to come? Cork on the other hand have progressed without impressing once. There is potentially a lot more to come and if it does it could be irresistable. I backed Down to beat Kerry and think that they have the game to win an All Ireland but they have to maintain an already high standard. Cork have a lot of ground to make up. If they get it right, could blow anyone away.  I have a slight (very slight) preference for Down but I’ve backed the draw at 8/1… and what a weekend of sport would result from that – Ryder Cup, Leinster – Munster at the Aviva Stadium in the Magners League and an All Ireland final replay in Croke Park…

and then there were three… soon to be two…

After all the drama of last week – and Cork deserved it when the dust had settled – what will this week hold.  I think we wil see a contrast this weekend in that to win both have to come out and play.  In one corner we have a Kildare team that rolled up momentum over five weeks and were worthy winners in the quarter final playing a Down team that seemingly crept up on all of us and exploded into the quarter final.

There are plenty of questions. Will Kildare be as good from a standing start as against coming off three or four consecutive weeks.  Will Earley play and if so will he be a factor. Was the Kerry performance a one off and can Down repeat it. Can they overcome the loss of the imperious Rogers.

Looking at the respective line ups – Kildare are a well organised and tight team. There are three, maybe four names that you would look to but what they have is method, collectiveness and a great rolling engine.  Down have a defence in which one would struggle to identify a name well known in football circles, much less in the proverbial household – bar the re-sited Dan Gordon – but it is an effective unit and that is all that matters. Up front they have explosive potential and indeed in my view just looking player by player, there is more footballing ability in the Down side.

Kildare’s five week run saw them bounding from one match into another just playing them as they came.  For the last four weeks thay have had to sit back and would have been forced to think about the prospect of 70 mins from an AI final – a heady prospect. Add in that they have been made relatively strong favourites and suddenly instead of another game to play they are facing into a challenge with a lot to lose.  McGeeney will no doubt have worked hard on trying to dissolve that but he is not on the field.

Down will relish being underdogs. They know that they can play and it isn’t as big a leap for them to see the AI final in sight.  They have the football and they have the risk takers in the team and a willingness to go for it.  They could blow out – that risk taking can come back to haunt but I think that Down defence will be organised to pressurise Kildare’s forwards and get them remembering performances like Louth and the Antrim door where they couldn’t hit the target rather than the Antrim replay or Derry games. At the other end Down have forwards that will hurt any team.  They have the outstanding playmaker left in the competition in M artin Clarke and the most explosive goal getter in the business in Coulter.  Add in pace and a real ability to mix up the approachg though Polland and Hughes and I think that could be the difference in Down’s favour.

I’m going for Down then and am banking on football ability to be the difference between the sides

Can’t but be happy with that…

Junior football would never have been overly prominent on my football agenda as a youngster in Sligo but for all that there is great sense of pride in hearing that Sligo tonight are All Ireland champions in the junior grade.

For many it will not make up for the disappointment of how the senior team fell away but when you add this victory to the victory by the U-16 team in the Fr Manning Cup, the fact that the U21s and U16s got to their respective Connacht finals and that both Attracta’s and Summerhill had good seasons in Colleges, then – without ever considering what has been achieved by the senior team – it has been a good year.

Leaving aside the pleasure of winning, this and all of those other achievements are important as this is what establishes, in both their own and others’ minds, a real sense that Sligo have what it takes and that Sligo now are, in their own words a “serious” county. As those that have read here over time will know, I believe that this is the only tradition that counts in Gaelic football today.

Full credit then to all those in Sligo football that have contributed to this contemporary tradition and here’s a wish that they don’t let up on the good work now.

Let the battle for the ‘real’ capital begin…

Any clash between Dublin and Cork in football has the capability to be memorable.  I find myself having to try harder to see the excitement in this one which is illogical but there you go. The reluctance is because I think Dublin are limited and I remain totally unconvinced by the Cork ’10 vintage. From that low base though one often gets the better games so as my expectations are low, hopefully Sunday’s will be a great game.

Taking them in turn. Dublin has taken the long road. It has served them well. They came into the championship with a certain amount of untested expectation. Wexford put a good few dents in it and Meath with a rush of goals took advantage of the self doubt that Wexford had raised.  In many respects it was a good thing for Dublin football and for the project to rebuild Dublin as competitors, not just for 2010 but for the longer term.  It sent them back to basics and made them find a new heart.  I’ve seen Dublin in their three qualifier games and you could see the sense of common purpose, the collective work rate and the belief building.  Critically also you could see and hear the crowd getting back behind them.  They have gotten this far on will to win and the value of honest thard work.  However they now need more on top of that.  In some way, they remind me of the Sligo team that won Connacht in 2007 and, ironically, came up against Cork in the All Ireland Quarter final that year.  That Sligo team was game to a man but the team was hopelessly limited inside their opponent’s 45.  Dublin aren’t quite hopeless in that department given that in Bernard Brogan they have one of the players of the year so far. They do not however have a forward line to frighten with only two proven scoring forward (Brogans x 2), a colt that could go anyway or no way (O’Gara) and a reliable but not scary converted defender in Cullen.

The Cork set up is baffling.  They have an abundance of talented footballers, they could well be one of the biggest and strongest teams ever to play in Croke Park. They could field a second team that most couties could only dream of having as a first fifteen and yet they have looked decidedly ordinary thus far. As long as Kerry were involved and favourites Cork were held in high regard for being comparable but if we were to rerate Kerry now and then look at the subsequent Cork performances, they are underwhelming. That said, they do have an abundance of individually talented players and the physical capacity to impose themselves on a game.

In this game I think there will be a lot of hard grafting done between the two 45s where both sides have big men and where there will be present in numbers. Cork will have eight 6ft plus men in there and Dublin will have eight that are maybe not quite so big but are up for the fight with David Henry thrown in to make up the difference. That will leave three Cork backs to cover Brogan and O’Gara and the ever improving Dublin full back line to cover Goulding, Sheehan and O’Connor.

It boils down to three things. The winning of ball in the middle of the field, the speed at which it is moved up to the forward line and the one on one battles in defence. To win, Dublin will need to break even in the middle but move the ball early or quick and long to get their full forward line into play. If Dublin were prepared to gamble leaving three forwards out of the maelstrom of the middle and have one of the Brogans playing off O’Gara and the other brother inside the Cork ’45 then, provided they get quick ball and thus the opportunity to isolate those Cork defenders in one on ones, they will get scores.  At the other end the Cork full forwards tend to play more individually – team movements seen to come from further out.  For me, if they get enough possession, they will over time turn enough one on ones into scores.  Against that, if the posession coming to them is lighter, then they won’t be clocking up big scores.

Then there is also the question of the mentality of the Cork team – how will they react if they are in trouble.  All in while I have great time for the spirit and effort that Dublin has displayed in getting this far and while I have doubts about the extent to which Cork – for all their scale and capbility – have got it together, I think that they just have too many big guns across their squad as a whole and that they will win enough possession around the middle to take this by a few points. For Dublin to turn that they have take the risk to move ball from the middle to their forward line early and get a head early to get at Cork in their heads.  If they do that early on and then work to hold their advantage by smothering the supply to the Cork forwards, they could win.

All in all I think that Cork have enough to win.  It probabaly won’t be very high scoring and if Cork win it is highly likely that the pundits will be saying that they are in a final but have not been very impressive and have all sorts of questions still to answer, bla bla bla…  Don’t think they’ll be too worried.

Glass definitely half full…

The news last night that Kevin Walsh has been reappointed as manager of the Sligo football team is as good a time as any to close out my thoughts on the season that has just passed for the county of my birth.

There has been a lot said and written since the six day nadir in July that ended Sligo’s championship season.  I’m not looking to analyse all that – it happened. The season ended as it always would at some point. The question is where are we now and how are we fixed looking to Div 2 next year and beyond.

We shouldn’t have too many notions of ourselves. I believe that we can be competitive but  we will have to be stronger from the off, keep a high tempo all through and find a few new players – both in specific places and generally for the strength in depth of the panel.

Taking each of these briefly in turn. If  we start the 2011 league campaign like we did 2010, we could easily be too far behind before the gig starts. We could see ‘a Connacht final effect’ in the campaign… it happened Westmeath this year and four games in it became a self fulfilling prophesey.

The pace at Div 2 will be noticeably higher, in every game.  Decisions in play need to be taken more quickly. If not, things happen – the ball and / or the opportunity is gone.  That requires playing at a higher tempo all the time than was necessary in either of the past two Spring campaigns. To do that requires better conditioning and preparation by more players and not just a few. There is plenty of room for improvement among the Sligo players, and more particularly among those that are in their first or second years in the panel

That feeds into the point about the strength of the panel.  From April on this year Sligo seemed to be working off a panel of 20 – the 15 that started the Connacht final plus Sweeney, Coen, Mullen, Mark Quinn and Francis Quinn. Sure they had 30 listed at every game and possibly 3/4 more togged but only 20 appeared. Granted a lot of other lads played League and perhaps there was a conscious decision to keep it tight but the re-emergence of Michael McNamara and Paul McGovern in the Connacht final panel (leaving aside whether they were correct choices) would point to management recognising that there is a need for a strength in depth that hasn’t existed.  That will be important. Taking any inter county side on a step further from where Sligo is now means having 23 – 25 players that are putting real pressure on to be selected rather than just making up the numbers in training. It isn’t just about any bodies either. The additions that would be of value have to bring footballing ability. I’ve seen talk of Brendan Egan returning and clearly David Maye has proven capability if all sides are willing.  Likewise Johnny Martyn has the capability if he has the appetite, but the moment may have passed.  McGovern and McNamara could each add something in that they have the innate footballing ability to play at a higher level – something that you can’t give somebody or train them to acquire. Again the call with each is less about ability but more appetite and in the case of the latter it would be as an attacker rather than a defender – his 2003 deployment as a full forward was an experiment worth trying.

Looking at the squad as it is.  We have a good goalkeeper in as far as the protection of the goal is concerned but we need more in terms of distribution.  This year’s championship has seen a step up in that part of the keeper’s function with both the Meath goalkeepers (O’Rourke and Murphy), Down’s McVeigh, Tyrone’s McConnell, Cork’s Quirke and Dublin’s Cluxton all showing in different ways the importance and value of a higher capability to vary and mix kick outs as well as take the ball out the field. When he first joined the panel Greene struggled with distance on kick outs but the introduction of the tee helped that.  You’d like to think that the lack of variety that we saw in the Connacht final was less about his ability and more about playing to a plan that was being twarted but for which there was no plan B. Whether it was individaul ability or the plan, either way, Sligoi can improve the contribution from the goalkeeping department and we need to have that.

The Sligo full back line has been an excellent trio for four seasons but again there is no plan B and some cracks appeared. I don’t accept the simplistic assessment that McGuire is finished. Having had the task personally many times of playing full back – a position I loathed to be frank – it is a complete no win situation if the team is being beaten home in the two lines in front of you.  All year – and I wrote about this after the League final – we have had a problem with the centre of the defence, which was covered over at various times by midfielders, wing backs and wing forwards but when one – or as in the Connacht final all – of those don’t work… well then…  We certainly need to look at options in personnel in the full back line and we need to have plans B and C looking to the longer term. If there is reconstruction in front of them, then I would not panic if I saw the same three starting the first league game against Laois or whomever. If not, then frankly it doesn’t matter who is full back, we will be seeing an awful lot of pressure in an area of the field where we don’t want it.

On the half back line, it is a matter of balance.  We have  raw but potentially brilliant prospect in Cawley – for whom his second year and his first full league will be more difficult. He is an instinctive ball reader and will pop up all over the line, but not necessarily be holding the line. Add that to the  ‘bombing forward’ wing back that is Johnny Davey and for balance in the line you need something else very defensive and very baswic to hold the line.  The successful defences with those type of players in it are built around a rock that holds the centre of the defence together and forces attackers to go around him, thus slowing them down, pushing them away from the danger area, both enabling others to funnel back and also to do the defending required in less dangerous places. Think Divilly for Galway in ’98, Gormley for Tyrone, McCarthy for Kerry – Liam Harnan for Meath or Martin Gavigan for Donegal if you want to go back a bit further.  Sligo doesn’t have that balance. It isn’t a role that Philips could play and on the basis of the League final, I remain to be convinced that Mark Quinn is the answer even though he looks a good footballer.  It isn’t a role that Sligo has filled well since Michael Langan was there and he was hugely under appreciated. If  Sligo can’t find a natural holding centre back, then something else across that line has to change – one of the other two has to be sacrificed or play four across the line or something but otherwise it is easy street for a decent midfield or forward line, and in Div 2 and 1 as well as on the big championship days the opposition will all be capable of exploiting such opportunity.

In midfield Sligo has persisted with playing natural midfielders in midfield roles even if they all have a lot to learn.  It is a policy to be applauded and stuck with. Gilmartin was over celebrated for his League final contribution – there was no pressure exterted there  but he is a fine senior footballer in the making.  Midfield is a position in which guys improve with age and perspective – Paul Durcan was ridiculed in his early 20s but the rock of the team ten years later. Gilmartin will be a much better footballer next Spring. Taylor too is growing as a midfield presence and has a lot of natural ability – he is noticeably ahead of his recent partner in his development. Both need to have their sights set a lot higher next year and be prepared to impose themselves on a game.  I felt this year that they took games as they found them rather than imposing themselves.  That is a maturity thing but in allowing for that once, then one must expect to see that maturity come. I think Mullen is a game and honest replacement but as the younger two improve, I think he will be seen as a limited replacement and short of the pace of thinking and skill required in Div 2. Either way there needs to be further competition as the worst thing that could happen that pair is never being under presure to start.

Over and above though the performance of the named midfielders is the need to be better on breaking ball. There were periods of the Mayo game and the Galway replay where Sligo were at the races on the breaking ball but for the greater portion of the last six odd games they were not. The team needs a few ‘ground hogs’ – the best example of recent years being Brian Curran.  Again harking back to the pressure put on our defence, this is as much part of that as replenishing the full back line.

The forward line in general is the big plus of this year.  For sure there is a lot of work still to be done and the presence of a few extra bodies would be welcome but compared to 2007, for example, there is now McGee, Coen and Costello added to the mix as reliable scoring forwards. Costello is a huge plus. Granted there is a certain percentage of ball that he wastes every game but he handles so much, passes so well and then weighs in with a few scores himself that it is worth the frustration of a few balls going astray. Both Coen and McGee know where the posts are.  Both still need to acquire the physique of county footballers – coming from different directions if you like – but that is achievable and thus the potential is very exciting.  Add in to all of that Kelly now is at a completely different level to what he was in 2007 and it is like having four new forwards added.  Brehony remains a reliable scorer and contributor – a good playmaker as well as scorer. Marren I find frustrating in that he has the ability and physique but is inconsistent and then there is a question over temperment, but he can trouble any defence and keep any defender more than occupied.  Sweeney seems to be the ultimate impact player – always contributes as a sub, almost never as a starter. That must be frustrating for him but it is a squad game so he has a key role and should definitely be used in that context. I would like to see a few other forward options emerge though. Maye, McGoldrick from the juniors – others?

I haven’t mentioned O’Hara but there is no doubt that he has a role to play and has to be involved.  If there is one area where we have work to do it is in leadership and that may be down as much to selection as to any coaching that can be done as again, that is either there or it is not. O’Hara has it and there are a few younger lads that have something and can learn from him. To my eye, without him in the short term, there isn’t enough good example in that respect.

The management has done well on the whole. Sometimes they have got calls on the field right , sometimes maybe not but the old adage that when teams win players get praised, when teams lose management gets blamed looms large.  I would like to see the management introduce a little bit of fresh blood or introduce something new into their own ranks and / or approach next year. Some may argue that would be disruptive but a little bit of edge is often a good thing and keeps everybody on their toes. There is a big danger that as everybody gets more and more familiar and used to each other, questions don’t get asked – even this year the fault lines that were exposed in Castlebar were there to see in Croke Park in April but when everybody in the set up is ‘on the inside’ you get to convincing yourself that it was / is all OK. I say that from having been there and agreed at the time with the ‘wisdom’ of selections that clearly should and could have been challenged.  A change in the back up team may be the harder route in the short term but the better in time.

All in, Sligo is well better off than it was a year ago and can now be considered as ‘players’. In many if not all respects the real work starts now. The key to progress is in finding those little extra bits but also having real competition for places from guys of ability that are hungry to play.   If there are only 19 or 20 that fit that bill, then they will struggle. If management can identify, nurture and motivate another 4 – 6 players the future is bright. If not it will have bright moments, but there is a world of difference between the two

Wow, that was a weekend worth watching…

It was a weekend that will be remembered and talked about for time to come. It will in time I believe mark the begining of a new era in the football histories of both Tyrone and Kerry but in the short term it poses lots of interesting questions for the six weeks ahead.

Given the amount of football that has been on over the past six weeks, the couple of barren weeks ahead will be painful but with new names to the fore, anticipation for the semi finals will be greater than ever.  All in all I was not overly surprised by the results at the weekend  but some of the margins were surprising and there are stories to be told.

I felt there was something in Down and so it proved.  The big question about this game is how much of the result was Down on the up and how much of it was Kerry on the dip.  The previous week’s performance by Down was written off somewhat because Sligo on the ‘6 day turnaround’ were percieved as weak. I suspect Down will be happy going into the semi final being underestimated as a team that got everybody else on a bad day.  The truth is they have a really potent forward line.  They won with a bit to spare last weekend but Coulter wasn’t a feature in the game until it was over and there is more to be gotten out of Daniel Hughes and John Clarke.  They have a strong and robust midfield and a defence that one by one doesn’t make many claims but that works well together – Kerry had a lot of good players badly tied up and were it not for the individual efforts of Cooper, they would have been gone a lot earlier. Then they have Martin Clarke who is a really different type of player and has the capacity to make the difference.  His sense of position and movement is unlike anybody I can recall seeing.  I’ve always thought that Greg Blayney was the reference point for a gaelic football playmaker but Clarke is like having a Greg Blayney all across and around the pitch, not just anchoring the centre. There won’t be many that will mark this guy and countering him will take thinking.  As anyone that follows this blog will recall, I don’t go for this ‘tradition’ business that has attached to Down in Croke Park but there is no doubt that they are possessed with a tremendous self belief and I think that their graph is going in the right direction at the moment.

Dublin’s sense of belief will be high to and I really hope for the sake of all concerned that the hype machine doesn’t take over now.  Dublin just about deserved to win – for courage, honesty and the brilliance of Bernard Brogan.  All that said the gods were on their side and it was more a game lost by Tyrone than won by Dublin. Remember that with five minutes left the sides were level and  Tyrone had 17 wides accumulated to 9 by Dublin. Then the Dubs got the break – a shot off the crossbar fell back to an unmarked foreward who goalled wheras a similar Tyrone effort at the end of the first half bounced elsewhere. Tyrone did look tired, and a bit broken.  They are a team that moves well together but when a few of the cogs are not turning then the machine doesn’t work.  Dooher looks weary, even frail. McManamin looked like he was in discomfort from early on, Gormley was chasing Alan Brogan’s shadow, Sean Cavanagh looked a spent force – much as he did last year – has he burnt out?  They were still though there or there abouts until that late goal so lets be cautious about hailing Dublin given that measure. Tyrone will have to transition in some new faces.  There have been very few additions since ’07 and if undereage success is a measure then there has to be a pipeline. Credit Dublin with being there to the end to take the opportunity.  They can approach the semi final with hope and have created an opportunity all of their own doing. I would be concerned though for a team that at the minjute has limited scoring forwards. It helps that one of those is currently the hottest attacker in the game, bar none, but the next phase of rebuilding Dublin football, not just for this year but beyond, will rely on unearthing a supporting cast in attack for Bernard Brogan.

Cork and Roscommkon was a painful experience. Half way through the second half, when it became obviosu that Cork were going to win, Croke Park was depressing.  Roscommon had great support on the day but they no longer had anything to cheer. Cork had very limited support but they had very little to cheer in what was an uninspiring performance – the dark clouds overhead just summed up the mood of the place.  There was a moment early in the second half where Roscommon had a goal chance but Alan Quirke diverted the ball overthe bar and from there Cork worked back down the fioeld and just edged away. To my eye the difference between the Div 1 and the Div 3/4 team was obvious in that final 20 / 25 minutes.  Roscommon delayed for the split second in making decisions or in moving the ball. They were just not able to operate at the higher tempo that Cork created after the break and the difference wore them down.  Still though the difference didn’t feel like the 9 point margin we had at the end. Cork were seriously underwhelming.  It took three changes at half time to get them into line and even then, they only seemed to come in fits and starts.  The benchmark for Cork has been Kerry but given the rerating of Kerry after this weekend, there is little that stands out in Cork’s season so far (Kerry plus Cavan, Wexford, Limerick, Roscommon). It has to be said of course that each game from now is about getting to the next one and they have the strongest panel for sure.  The prospects for success lie in management’s ability to convert raw talent into a coherent team on a given day. All one can say with certainty is that though the potential is undoubtedly there,  they have not done so to date.

And then to Kildare and Meath.  It was an intruiging match and one that made up for all of the dullness of the game before. Kildare maintained the momentum that I and others thought they would bring into the game.  Meath displayed the frailties that had been shown in some games and papered over in others. Kildare have a real rythmn about them and when they got motoring yesterday they looked good.  A bit like Tyrone, they have no amazing stars but a lot of critical contributors. Meath tried very very hard but they were just outgunned by a force that wasn’t going to be denied.  Kildare have had trouble in front of the posts and there is still a sense of uncertainty about their reliability in that regard but they have seen off three well ranked teams in succession over recent weeks so they are full value for their semi final berth, and an intruiging game with Down awaits. The big questions will start with Dermot Earley – will he start. Thereafter the big challenge for Kildare will be in their heads – how well can they deal with expectation and with being 70 minutes from an All Ireland final.

All in all a great weekend for gaelic football.  There were three fine games, results that will inspire new interest, new faces and achievements and styles to celebrate – roll on the semi finals