It was a successful opening weekend for the new All-Ireland football series. It should be said, overall everyone would be better served if they reserved any grand evaluations until at least one edition has been run off. For now, let’s focus on the football. Here are eight observations from the recent rounds of the championship.
At half-time last weekend, Jack O’Connor made a move that prompted some grumbling from the terraces in Killarney. Kerry conceded the Mayo kickout, dropping back to the 45-metre line and allowed Colm Reape to tap the ball to one of his full-back line. Why?
The raw numbers are revealing. In total, Mayo had 21 restarts. 11 went short, 10 were long. From 10 long kickouts, they scored 1-6. From 11 short kickouts, they scored 0-3. Kerry mustered one single point from Reape’s restarts in the entire tie.
The Kerry football tradition looms large over the sport and their supporters understandably expect them to honour it. At the same time, O’Connor has some excellent coaches and analysts in his backroom team who would have realised they were generating very little from Mayo’s kickout and increasingly exposed when Reape went long. Forcing them to go short and run the ball through every line was a shrewd decision in that context.
In the aftermath of Galway’s victory over Tyrone, Padraic Joyce’s side received some muted criticism for their slow attack particularly during the period when Tyrone were reduced to 13 players.
Such analysis is understandable given their talent up front and the need to score heavy in the knockout stages. However, an issue throughout 2022 was a lack of control. They let a significant lead slip against Roscommon in the league final and almost repeated the trick against Mayo and Armagh. Their inability to manage the game was costly during the 2023 league away to Mayo and at home to Roscommon as well.
As last Saturday showed, Galway are now experts at dictating the terms. It is a similar style to Ulster champions Derry. They retain the vast majority of their kickouts, 88% and make sure that each phase ends in a shot. From 33 attacks, they finished with 28 shots. Just like the Connacht final, every effort came from inside the 45.
A key feature of Kerry’s defence in last year’s championship was Tadhg Morley getting back to offer protection. They conceded one goal during the campaign and he finished the year with a deserved All-Star.
In the 2022 quarter-final, Mayo started with Diarmuid O’Connor at centre-forward and Jack Carney in the inside line. Their middle third in Fitzgerald Stadium was significantly different. Carney was on the 40 flanked by Jordan Flynn and Jason Doherty. Matthew Ruane and O’Connor were in midfield and Conor Loftus had Sam Callinan and Donnacha McHugh either side of him.
Before throw-in it prompted a question. Could any Kerry player drop off to help cover for Morley if he was going to sit? There were threats all over and that is before you even get to Mayo’s inside line.
In the end Carney enjoyed wide open green grass in the first half and made hay. He had 17 possessions. The Kilmeena man can move the ball with the foot, as he demonstrated for James Carr’s goal chance. He kicked five passes and two shots for one point. He won kickouts on both sides and continually thrived in space around the middle, especially off kickouts and turnovers.
SPACE ON THE KICKOUT – IMAGE 1
SPACE AFTER TURNOVERS – IMAGE 2
FIRST-HALF POSSESSIONS – IMAGE 3
In the second half, Kerry were forced to change and Morley marked Carney tightly. He limited him to seven possessions, although Carney was involved in the goal after the six came off and assisted Matthew Ruane for a late score.
In the GAA, the All-Ireland champions are always a sitting target. On Saturday Carney helped Mayo hit the bullseye.
The news broke just before the action kicked off in Clones. Armagh’s James Morgan and Barry McCambridge came in for the provincial decider. Ben Crealey and Stefan Campbell dropped out. It was a move towards a more mobile line-up. Even Kieran McGeeney’s target men Andrew Murnin and Rian O’Neill spent plenty of time out around the middle because that is what Derry force teams to do.
Monaghan already know this having lost by eight points in the Ulster semi-final. Jack McCarron was taken off in the first half. Conor McManus was exposed for Conor McCluskey’s goal. An intelligent coaching ticket are now faced with a huge call. Do they follow Armagh’s lead, or can they concoct a strategy of their own?
Tomás Mulcahy, Pat Spillane and Michael Lyster have teamed up to launch a new venture, a GAA podcast available on subscription service Patreon. It is just the latest in a long list of GAA podcasts. There are a whole host of options and they are all thriving. Why?
For years a common complaint about GAA on TV was the lack of genuine analysis. It later evolved into frustration at the absence of any midweek show. For many podcasts now satisfy that appetite.
Niall Murphy took his total in league and championship to 2-39 (2-21 from play) for 2023 last Sunday with six points against Kildare. It was a fixture riddled with some poor finishing. Kildare kicked 11 wides in total and dropped four short. Sligo had 10 wides, one short and hit the post once.
Throughout it was striking how often Murphy came to the fore when they most needed him. Sligo started with a poor wide and short effort before he unleashed a sensational shot with the outside of his right. His opening free came after a similar outside of the boot kick, this time a pass inside to Patrick O’Connor who was fouled.
Murphy had a controversial wide after the ball seemingly curled just outside the top of the post, although the Sligo fans on the terrace side made it clear they felt that was the wrong call. He also missed with a left-footed mark. In-between it was his assist that allowed Darragh Cummins to score.
In the closing minutes, Sean Carrabine was sent off and Kildare kicked a point from the resulting free to push three clear. Carrabine had kicked four points and one wide before exiting. Murphy immediately stood up in his absence and kicked two points back-to-back.
It was a clutch passage that brought Markievicz Park to life once again. The sides exchanged wides after that. Then David Quinn popped up with an equaliser.
Down’s 2-18 to 0-6 win over Tipperary was the widest winning margin in the Tailteann Cup’s history. The previous record was Offaly 3-17 New York 0-11 in the 2022 quarter-final. The average margin so far this season in the second-tier championship is 7.4 points.
After a tumultuous league campaign that finished in relegation, Donegal’s Aidan O’Rourke opted not to have a media briefing ahead of the Clare group stages game. The 2022 Ulster finalists arrived in Cusack Park as underdogs for the tie and found themselves three points down at the break. It all looked bleak.
Despite only mustering three scores in the opening 35 minutes there was some cause for optimism in Donegal’s half-time numbers. They had 12 shots from 18 phases, a better ratio than Clare. Both sides had one clear goal chance. Shaun Patton only went long with two kickouts as Clare dropped off. From 10 restarts they had eight shots. The glaring problem was woeful execution, a lowly 25%. Could they show a little more composure?
The answer came with the throw-in. Donegal won the break and after two minutes worked an opportunity for Oisin Gallen on his favoured left foot. They repeated the trick shortly after for Ciaran Thompson on his right. At the other end, Clare’s first three attacks ended in a turnover in the attacking third.