The memory I have of the Cork footballers from last year’s championship was their inept and substandard eight-points defeat to Kildare in the qualifiers in Thurles. Have they improved much since then?
The squad are on the back of two solid wins over Limerick and Longford in the qualifiers so they should arrive in Croke Park today with some energy and badly needed belief. However, assuming Donegal have licked their wounds sufficiently well from the Ulster final defeat, they will represent a giant step up in standards. If Murphy, McBrearty, MacNiallais and the hard running Ryan McHugh are up for it, the Cork defence can expect a busy afternoon.
Peadar Healy is correctly bringing in a few of this year’s U21 panel and it will be interesting to see if their forward division with the likes of Colm O’Neill, Mark Collins, Peter Kelleher and Paul Kerrigan on board can make any inroads into the quagmire that is usually the Donegal rearguard.
No doubt, Rory Gallagher has been trying to convince his squad that they are still in with a chance of silverware this year, and as they were only caught in the last few minutes by Tyrone, they should not be written off totally in terms of the September road. The belief by most people is that Donegal will prevail, however we will know a lot more about the Rebels and where they are at, or where they are going in the future under the guidance of Healy by 5.45pm.
Mayo were dreadful against Galway in their Connacht championship defeat in McHale Park.
They looked decidedly flat in the second half and when Tom Flynn goaled for Kevin Walsh’s charges, Mayo looked a stale and tired outfit with the likes of Aidan O’Shea a ghostly figure compared to his 2015 self.
Stephen Rochford’s squad have re-grouped hitting 2-14 and 2-17 against Fermanagh and Kildare respectively. Having shafted Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly last autumn, the players need to win in Corke Park. A defeat today to Westmeath who were relegated to Division Four earlier in the year would be a huge blow for Mayo and a big surprise.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his squad are the only ones who know the answer to that question. They have only played two championship games since their league final defeat to Dublin —- defeating Clare by 12 points (2-23 to 0-17) and Tipperary by 10 points (3-17 to 2-10) to become Munster champions.
Those victories were expected and hardly told us anything new about how Kerry were going to line up or perform when the bigger tests arrive.
Tomorrow with the team back in Croke Park we should see most of the likely starting 15 — barring injuries or recovering stars coming back — that Kerry would intend going with in an All-Ireland semi-final on August 28 if they get past Colm Collin’s men tomorrow.
Neutrals will be interested to see how new players are fitting in and if Kerry will display the ruthless streak that they showed at this juncture last year when they filleted Kildare by 7-16 to 0-10.
Fitzmaurice will not want to reveal too much of his hand before a likely semi-final slot, perhaps against Dublin, however, with competition for places high, the Kerry players will be keen to mark their territory and nail down starting spots for four weeks time.
The 2016 championship has already been a solid success for Galway and Kevin Walsh. They are Connacht champions and have blooded five new players in senior championship who will have learnt a lot from their jousts with Mayo and Roscommon. The entire full-back line and goalkeeper Bernard Power had never started a senior championship game prior to the Mayo match and they will relish their first championship trip to Croke Park.
If Galway — and Tipperary are formidable opposition — do win in headquarters tomorrow and find themselves in an All-Ireland semi-final for the first time since 2001 it would be a terrific achievement given the county’s lack of championship success in the past decade.
The last time Galway won a senior game of Gaelic football in Croke Park, their iconic names were Joyce, Fallon, Donnellan, Savage, De Paor, Meehan and Walsh himself.
Now Galway have forwards like Damien Comer, Shane Walsh, Eamonn Brannigan and Danny Cummins who believe that they have the pace, verve and firepower to do damage on a Tipperary rearguard who have conceded around 24 points in each of their three championship games this season.
Liam Kearns is a wily and experienced manager and he will have his men coming with all guns blazing.