Eight Super heroes battle for control of the football universe

As Brendan O’Brien points out, the new format for the quarter-final phase of the All-Ireland SFC is the second biggest revolution in the championship structure in over 125 years.

If the action delivers anything like the anticipation, it will be a Super 8s in every sense of the phrase.

We asked eight of our staff writers and football analysts eight questions to whet the appetite for the weeks ahead.

Tomás Quinn

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Kerry and Galway: If Paddy McBrearty was fit, it might have been Dublin-Donegal but the top billing next Sunday is the stand-out tie. Galway will look to keep it tight and will know they need to get a press on Kerry out the pitch to limit the supply of quality ball into their full forward line. The Kerry youngsters will get to sample a different defensive challenge from much of what they have seen to date.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“After seeing their performance against Armagh Saturday, I’d give Roscommon a good chance against Tyrone next week. While Tyrone could run the bench in the second half against Cork, this will be their fourth game in as many weeks and if Roscommon can bring similar energy levels and pace it could give them a physical advantage. They will need to pair that with the smarts to break down Tyrone defensively but I believe they have the forwards who could do it.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“In an ideal world then you would look to avoid the clash with a game of that magnitude but the reality is that with the schedule for the Super 8s being as tight as it is then the GAA were left with very little wiggle room. They possibly could have looked to start the double header earlier — throw ins at 1pm and 3pm — but again there would still be cross over.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“For me it has to be Kildare. They have had an incredible turnaround from a team beaten by seven points by Carlow to a team who went blow for blow with Mayo and then backed it up with another very impressive performance against Fermanagh. Kildare have a lot of raw talent and you feel that three games against quality opposition will afford them a chance to keep this momentum going.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“Define ‘best’! The whole country will look forward to Dublin’s visit to Omagh. It can be a daunting venue during the league so a full house for a game of this magnitude is going to bring the atmosphere up a few levels. It is a game that both sets of players and supporters will relish and a game that will have a massive bearing on who qualifies from the group.”

How many points will it take to make the semis?

“Every team going into this will be looking to come out with six points but deep down will think that if they get to four points it would be enough.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“While I have some doubts over Monaghan’s strength in depth the fact they could ease their way past three Division 4 teams means they haven’t used too much gas to get here so I would say Tyrone. They needed extra time to beat Meath at the start of June and have had three more games the past three weeks. By the time the Super 8s is finished that will six games in seven weeks. A tough ask.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Dublin, Kerry, Galway, and Donegal — the four squads I believe are best equipped to deal with what is coming. Two of the four will likely have to deal with tricky away ties after a defeat (providing neither Dublin v Donegal or Kerry v Galway finishes a draw) so they will be vulnerable but should have enough to see them through. Donegal without McBrearty might the ones to get caught.”

Oisín McConville

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Tyrone v Dublin in Omagh, Dublin still have a question or two to answer my on the road, they haven’t played anyone decent on the road. Tyrone will make it nice and horrible up in Omagh, no red carpet.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“Perhaps Galway to beat Kerry, Kerry are really unproven when you see what happened to both Clare and Cork since they played Kerry. Kerry for me still have a huge question mark over their head. Galway much better prepared and generally better prepared now for latter stages.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“This thing of going up against other sports is an occupational hazard. Personally I feel better to go ahead with it, make our games the most important show in town. The GAA is getting a fair bashing at the minute, they can’t win right now so better to stick to the plan to the end of the season. “

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“Tyrone can benefit most, big squad, a lot of like for like players but huge strength and depth. They have been poor so far and lucky on occasions. But the more a team is on the road together, the more the fans start to up the excitement and the more the players start believing in Mickey Harte, the system, and the direction. If they start taking their goal chances, they can still be a force. They have momentum and there confidence has increased and they should be still fairly fresh with nothing more than a stroll against Cork.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“Clones will bring best atmosphere, it’s iconic and it has a certain magic about it. Whoever ends up playing there will enjoy it both players and supporters, the one street makes for a nice bit of banter. The Paragon and The Busted Sofa will have plenty of experts about it!

How many points will it take to make the semis?

“It will take four points to get out of groups because I expect Dublin to beat everyone and Galway the same in the other group.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Roscommon could suffer, few injuries on top of the few they have already. Don’t think quality runs that deep in Kevin McStay’s squad. Of the eight, they are the weakest. Could be a long month, their only chance of being competitive may be in Hyde Park.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Dublin v Kerry, and Galway v Donegal. Simple rationale is that they are best four teams in the country.”

John Fogarty

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Donegal and Tyrone in Ballybofey on the August holiday weekend. They’ve met there before but not nearly with the amount that should be riding on this one – an All-Ireland semi-final spot. Yes, the absence of injured Paddy McBrearty takes away from it but it is, in essence, what the GAA hoped the Super 8 would be: a pivotal game in a provincial venue at the height of summer.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“If Galway don’t give Kerry their fill of it Sunday, you can be sure Monaghan will in Clones the following weekend. It’s a visit Éamonn Fitzmaurice will have to consider more than just a banana skin. Donegal have had a tougher road to this point than any of their fellow provincial champions and the trip to Dr Hyde Park coming after facing Dublin in Croke Park is a mighty awkward one.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final short-sighted?

“Yes, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the meeting of Kerry and Galway is as pure a Super 8 game as you can get. It’s the old All-Ireland semi-final pitting two unbeaten teams against one another. It’s a game that merits its own slot, so to speak. Secondly, given the criticism of the Super 8, it’s strange the GAA would allow its inaugural weekend to be upset by another event. Avoiding a clash would ensure more eyes would be on their product.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“The only non-Division 1 team this year to make the Super 8s, Roscommon might only have beaten a Division 3 and Division 4 team to get to this point but they are the freshest team next to Kerry and Dublin, and what they displayed against Galway indicates they might be ready to do more than turn heads here. They are in the top flight again in 2019 and if this doesn’t constitute progress it certainly is consolidation.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match-day experience?

St Tiernach’s Park has always had that je ne sais quoi appeal about it on Ulster final day and Kerry going there will be an unique event. The stadium’s bowl effect cut under the town, akin to Breffni Park in Cavan, could lend itself to quite the occasion.”

How many points will it take to make the semis?

Home advantage is key. Five points should be enough to top in Group 1 – the Kildare team Kerry meet in Killarney next month could be out of contention at that stage. Assuming isn’t such a perilous exercise when it comes to Dublin, who should finish with six points in Group 2. The other three teams will take points from each other so three points might be enough to join them in the last four.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“You can’t but look at the two teams who have played four qualifiers over five weeks to get to this point – Kildare and Tyrone. Kildare are riding on emotion and it’s asking a lot for them to continue their competitiveness. Tyrone have form in this regard and the facile win over Cork will come as almost a breather but they too have five games. Donegal have also had a long run.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Monaghan. If Dublin are lacking in any areas it’s defensively and they can’t afford too many more injuries there. But they should top their group. Kerry will have it tougher but as their freshmen face the white heat of Championship they will get better. The Roscommon game is a must-win for Donegal as they will always fancy themselves in Ballybofey even against Tyrone. It should come down to Salthill to decide the second position in Group 1 and Monaghan can shade Galway.”

John Divilly

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Galway v Kerry. We’ll get a chance to see two of the best full forward lines in the country on the best surface. Comer v Crowley is the duel of the day. Both teams are very well rested so I hope to see a high octane, entertaining game. Galway showed fear against Kerry at this juncture last year. Galway have improved but so have Kerry. Which midfield can set the platform for victory? Which defence will be the meanest?”

If there is to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“Kildare v Galway. So much depends on Round 1. If Kildare can navigate Monaghan, they will know a home win v Galway could put them through to the semi. If Galway lose to Kerry, they know a result in Newbridge is vital. Twenty years on from the 1998 thriller, Kildare have a chance at redemption. Kildare’s hunger could help them overcome their possible fatigue. A real banana skin for Galway.”

Was putting Kerry v Galway up against the World Cup final a short sighted decision?

“No, like everything in life, people have a choice and a remote control. A live game played by two emerging and talented teams who will leave every drop of sweat on the field to win the next ball. Watching the likes of Clifford, Geaney, Walsh and Comer, playmakers like Ian Burke, Eamon Brannigan, Paul Murphy and David Moran and robust defenders like Peter Crowley, Brian O’Beaglaoich, Sean Andy and Eoin Keirns in the flesh is better than watching Putin on TV.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“Tyrone. The Red Hands have both experience and talent at their disposal. They have a strong panel which has been road-tested in five Championship games. They will be confident against Roscommon. They will make life very difficult for Dublin in Healy Park. They won’t fear travelling to Ballybofey. A direct running team with countless score-getters. Mickey Harte has the potential to make the All-Ireland semi-final for a second consecutive year.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“The seven provincial grounds will bring their own uniqueness and travelling supporters will bring out the best carnival atmosphere. Pearse Stadium has the best promenade, Newbridge the best mural and Hyde Park has the best playing surface. Ballybofey and Fitzgerald Stadium are picture postcard. Clones has the best chipper. For sheer atmosphere Healy Park will be hard to beat. This is only because the Dubs will be in town and they bring the colour and the banter.”

How many points will it take to make the semi-finals?

“Probably four for the runners up and six for the winners. But technically a team could make the All-Ireland semi-final on two points, either through two draws or one victory. This is what makes the Super 8s so exciting. A real ‘champions league’ feel to it. Assuming that Dublin win three games, the Donegal v Tyrone final game could be the ‘winner takes all game’. Similarily, if Kerry win all their games, Galway-Kildare-Monaghan will be scrapping for points against each other. Expect high scoring games as every point may count when it comes to determining the runner-up in each group.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Tyrone, Kildare and Monaghan have all played the most championship games (5) so far. So, in theory they should succumb to fatigue first. Fatigue brings injuries and injuries means less quality on the pitch. The freshest should be Kerry (2), followed by Dublin, Galway and Roscommon (3). However, this series of games is more about momentum and steel (inner belief). Managements and backroom teams will earn their crust over the next few weeks. I think Roscommon is the most vulnerable, as they are facing three high quality teams.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Dublin (still the best team in the country with the strongest panel), Kerry (can seriously hurt teams on the scoreboard and have also shown the ‘team’ comes first and everyone must attain a high number of tackles/turnovers in each game), Galway (getting closer to finding balance between defensive/offensive game), and Donegal (youthful, energetic and skilful bunch of players, given a new lease of life under Bonner/Lacey. If they

can put losing Paddy McBrearty behind them, they are well capable of beating Roscommon on the road and Tyrone in Ballybofey.”

Paddy Kelly

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Kerry v Galway: A big test for both teams, and valuable experience playing in Croke Park. Both teams are away in round 2 so the losers of this game will be under serious pressure. Kerry’s attacking style is made for Croke Park but the open spaces could expose frailties in defence.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“Kildare now on a high, welcome Galway to Newbridge in the second game. If they can overcome Monaghan in round 1 they will have serious momentum. Although given how even most of the eight teams are, games will be very difficult to predict.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“Possibly but with two double headers in the Super 8s, hurling to be played that weekend and to cater for fans travelling it’s very difficult to avoid some game clashing. I suspect a lot of sports fans will spend those two hours flicking through the channels.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“Kildare. They are athletic and well-conditioned. A team capable of pushing up to the next level given the individual talent they have. They are the best placed Leinster team to close the gap on Dublin with good underage teams coming through and fantastic support.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“Omagh. Tyrone welcome the Dubs to town in round 2 and with their travelling fans eager to watch them prove that they can win anywhere, the town should be buzzing with atmosphere.”

How many points will it take to make the semis?

“More than likely 4 points, although a draw in a group could see 3 points making it through. It’ll be interesting if a team loses their first two games to see how they approach the final game. Their final round opposition could benefit from a lack of interest.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Monaghan, they lack the strength in depth of other counties, so their substitutions might not have the same impact, nor will they be able to rotate to the same extent. We can expect to see at least three changes in starting lineups from week to week which is where the likes of Dublin will benefit most.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Kerry v Roscommon, Dublin v Galway. I reckon Dublin and Kerry are certs to make it through. The second round of games are crucial, whichever qualifier wins their first game has a great chance of causing an upset at home in Rd 2. I think Roscommon will overcome Tyrone in Croke Park in Rd 1 and if they do, momentum might be crucial in defeating Donegal in the Hyde in Rd 2.”

Colm Cooper

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Kerry v Galway. It will be the first meaningful test for Kerry and will be a good indicator of exactly where they are. For Galway, I saw them live at the Connacht final which saw them mix the good with the bad. Played ultra defensive in the first half handing the initiative to Roscommon. Dangerous to try that against Kerry. However in the second half we saw them come alive. Shane Walsh was always a player with outrageous talent. If he can continue his rise this can propel Galway to the final four.“

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“Keep an eye on Monaghan coming through the Super 8s. They received some favourable draws in the qualifiers and may be fresh to take a scalp or two. Possibly even make the semi-finals.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“I believe so. Putting one of the eagerly awaited ties up against the World Cup final makes no sense. The World Cup final (date and time) has been known some time and a work around should have been put in place. “

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“Donegal. Under new management had a relatively easy run through Ulster. A run of three quality matches is ideal for this young squad. However — Paddy McBrearty loss could be devastating. It may be 2019 before we see the best of Declan Bonner’s squad.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

Newbridge! A different place now with a different feel since the stand taken by Cian O’Neill and the county board. They weren’t going to be mugged by Fermanagh either, and the locals clearly have a sense of pride and ownership with their county footballers again.”

How many points will it take to make the semis?

Four. Both groups may be won by six points, but accumulating a first win is key for the rest. A lot will come down to the August Bank Holiday round of fixtures.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Tyrone. Haven’t seen enough from them to suggest they have improved on last year. Vulnerable against Meath and Cavan recently and Cork gave them no test. Still think their shape and structure will not survive the stress test of the very top sides.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Dublin — still the best team and squad in the country.

“Kerry — New fresh faces mixed with the 2014 winners gives Kerry the a nice blend for an assault for Sam Maguire.

“Donegal — If they can overcome the McBrearty loss I feel they have enough quality to be second in the group and make the semi-final.

“Galway — Face a tough group with Kerry and Monaghan. But will fancy taking at least one of these teams down. Strong defensive unit but will need to commit to attack . If Kevin Walsh can release Comer, Walsh and Brannigan to attacking part of the pitch — the semi-final is within their grasp.”

Brendan O'Brien

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“The third and final round will hopefully provide plenty of drama and calculations but a pair of the second-round fixtures stand out for now: Monaghan v Kerry in Clones and Tyrone-Dublin in Healy Park. It’s 12 years since the famous ‘Battle of Omagh’ and, while Tyrone aren’t the team they were and Dublin much better, this still has the potential to be a spikey, gripping affair. The very fact it is Dublin’s only Super 8 game outside HQ is an obvious selling point.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyrone found themselves needing to beat Dublin just to stay alive because they face a Roscommon side buoyed by a superb win over Armagh first up and Mickey Harte’s side has already played four times in five weeks. Kildare have had the same punishing schedule as Tyrone so it will be interesting to see how those two counties fare this and next month or so against teams that are less heavily-raced.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“Who would want to be a fixture maker in the GAA? You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel for the people tasked with this sort of stuff but it does seem to be a huge own goal. The Super 8s is THE big thing in this year’s football championship. It is the second biggest revolution in the championship structure in over 125 years and Kerry-Galway is arguably the most enticing game on the opening weekend’s bill. Hard to understand.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“It depends on the criteria used. The likes of Kildare and Roscommon will benefit hugely just from rubbing shoulders with the big boys, regardless of results. Even Dublin will get to fine-tune things and maybe mix up their side and squad in terms of personnel. Kerry, though, should lap this up more than most. Their young guns looked effective in the woeful Munster Championship but the next three games will accelerate the building process undertaken by Eamonn Fitzmaurice.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“St Tiernach’s Park, where Monaghan will host Kerry in the second round, will be hard to beat. Clones on a big match day is consumed by the occasion and any Kingdom fans should jump at the opportunity to experience an occasion normally reserved for Ulster folk. The ground itself is the perfect size for a game of this size, too and both sides will still be well in the hunt regardless of opening results.”

How many points will it take to make the semis?

“Predicting the quarter-final results under the old format was so much easier and many a manager and player has already stated their belief that this will resemble the spring campaign with teams taking points off each other. We’ll see. My gut is that Dublin and Kerry will take full points so two wins would do any of the others. A draw or two isn’t out of the question either, which would really make things interesting.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Tyrone and Kildare have played a mountain of games through the back door – four each in the last five weeks. By the time they’re both done with the Super 8s that will have reached seven games in nine weeks. Teams might do something similar in the league but that’s the league. We’re in the middle of the longest heatwave in 42 years right now and the likelihood is that both counties will suffer the consequences.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Dublin won’t be beaten, in Croke Park or Healy Park. They have everything, including greater depth than anyone else. Kerry are in a more experimental mode but they are still a more complete squad than the other three in their group. Galway have Kildare away and Monaghan at home and that should suit them just fine. The Croke Park thing is unfortunate but Donegal will be the fourth. The other fixtures, Roscommon away and Tyrone at home, work in their favour.”

Eoghan Cormican

Which Super 8 game are you most excited about and why?

“Sunday’s clash of the Munster and Connacht champions, their third quarter-final meeting in five years. In 2014 and more so in 2017, Galway were still learning, still figuring out what system to go with and which players to implement it. The script reads differently now. A new-look Kerry side, which threw up 3-50, at their ease, in their opening two games, trying to pick holes in a Galway defence which conceded just 1-12 from play against Roscommon and Mayo. What Cork exposed in the opening 10 minutes at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Galway did for a full 70 in their league win in Tralee. To do so again, Kevin Walsh will have to loosen the defensive chains, as was the case in the second-half against Roscommon. Outside of Mayo, when was the last time Galway took down a big fish in high summer? Do so here and Kerry will have to win at Clones to keep their season alive.”

If there’s to be a surprise result, what will it be and why?

“Roscommon getting the better of Donegal in the Hyde. Donegal, for starters, will be somewhat rattled after being run over by Dublin. For the hosts, the task is to replicate the opening half of their Connacht final effort. Diarmuid Murtagh and the Smith brothers, Donie and Enda, will do the necessary if properly fed. Their bench, meanwhile, bears a much stronger complexion now that Cathal Cregg and the Daly brothers are back sitting on it.”

Was putting Kerry-Galway up against the World Cup final a short-sighted decision?

“Certainly wasn’t as inexplicable as the Newbridge call. They could have gone for 1pm and 3pm throw-in times, with Kerry-Galway finishing up well before the start of the second-half at the Luzhniki Stadium. Those on the couch will likely tune into Dunphy and the boys, but it won’t affect the attendance in Croker. Kerry supporters are terribly excited by this new batch of youngsters and so Mikey Sheehy won’t have cause to label as “embarrassing” the numbers which follow them to the capital.”

Which of the four qualifiers can benefit most from the three-game series?

“Monaghan. Were blessed with the draw in both the second and third rounds, overcoming Leitrim and Waterford by an aggregate total of 40 points. Fourth-round pairing with Laois also sets them up perfectly to make a first semi-final since 1988. No Dublin. Kildare, first, and then Kerry at home.”

Which provincial ground will provide the best match day experience?

“Pearse Stadium. Yes, we know there’s no parking to be got once you come out on the far side of that endless crawl along the docks. Galway’s home fixture is listed for the weekend of August 4/5, the same weekend the Galway Racing festival comes to a close and there’s bound to be a few hangers-on from the Arts festival which wraps up a week earlier. The city will be bouncing. Salthill on a fine summer’s day, the stroll along the prom before the stadium comes into view and catching that first whiff of a Supermacs van. “

How many points will it take to make the semis?

“Two could be sufficient in Group 1. Dublin will ensure each county endures at least one defeat. Thereafter, Roscommon could take Donegal in the Hyde, with Declan Bonner’s charges subsequently overcoming Tyrone. In this instance, score difference, for the first time, will determine which county progresses onto the last four. In the other group, two wins will likely be necessary.”

Which team is most vulnerable to the taxing schedule?

“Kildare, one of two counties to reach the Supers 8s having successfully negotiated four qualifier rounds. Come the end of the group stage, Cian O’Neill’s charges will have played

seven games in eight weeks. And they

by no means had it handy in the early qualifier rounds — the trip to Owenbeg was followed by an 80-minute arm wrestle in Longford. The Mayo win, as significant and all as it was given the drama beforehand, won’t sustain them for a full month.”

Name the four semi-finalists and your rationale?

“Kerry to head Group 1. A reluctant nod to Galway for second. Dublin, because they simply have too strong a panel to be caught twice across the three games. The two ‘home’ games are also a help. The second spot in Group 2 will come down to Donegal v Tyrone in Ballybofey. Donegal without McBrearty are an altogether different proposition to Donegal with McBrearty, but we’re going with the hosts, in part because Tyrone will absolutely enter that game off the back of a defeat to Dublin.”


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