Football Championship Q&A: From now to a glorious day in September

Q. Who or what has been the biggest disappointment of the football championship so far?

 

Tony Leen:

Its predictability. Depending on the draws, I would have said Dublin and Mayo were shoo-ins for provincial titles. Kerry-Cork was a lock, and the skewed draw indicated a Monaghan-Donegal Ulster decider. You’re braced for the All-Ireland quarter finals to ignite things... Really? It’ll be the penultimate phase before the football championship will really fly. I thought Meath would provide a gut check for Dublin in the Leinster final, but..well see below.

Kieran Shannon:

How some teams roaring like lions in the league whimpered out like lambs in the championship: Armagh, Roscommon, Down, even Cork; Meath too only lost out on promotion on the head-to-head regulation but provided the collapse of the championship against Westmeath. We wanted someone new to rattle and even break into the top four or five and those counties looked well placed to do so. Kildare and Galway may be making moves to do so next year, but still…

John Fogarty:

Toss of a coin between Roscommon and Armagh. Admittedly, Roscommon didn’t have the best of luck coming into the Sligo game but Sligo had been planning the ambush for quite some time. Roscommon’s Division 2 success, and what it prompted John Evans to say, only fed the hype monster. Armagh were also talked up to give Donegal an examination in their Ulster quarter-final but flattered to deceive and were poor against Galway.

Tomás Quinn:

Probably the fact we’re now at the bank holiday weekend and we’ve only had a handful of truly high-quality competitive games. As Tony says, there’s a predictability there where you are waiting from now on for the championship to kick into life.

Conor McCarthy:

Roscommon and Armagh because of what they promised. Roscommon explicitly via John Evans’s comments and their Division 2 success. Armagh, in a more implicit manner, appeared ready to make a statement via rumours of their extreme training regimes and Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s tip for them to be the breakthrough team this year. Both even had championship draws which appeared favourable for a team coming from the long grass. Cork bowing out in the fourth round qualifier was more of an acute disappointment when it followed only two weeks after the promise of the drawn Munster final.

Brendan O’Brien:

All of you guys are from traditionally strong counties so you can pontificate all you like about the bigger issues here, like the championship at large. I’m from Laois and, like so many others from the less heralded corners, I couldn’t in all good faith respond to this one with anything other than a lament about my own county’s fortunes. Again. That’s the painful reality for most of us, I’m afraid. Year-on-year torture.

Q.

What has been the most pleasing, even joyous, moment of the championship so far?

Football Championship Q&A: From now to a glorious day in September

TL:

Westmeath’s throw-off-the-shackles comeback against their Royal neighbours in Croke Park and the visceral sense that Kieran Martin and John Heslin were dragging a whole county on their backs for that madcap 15 minutes. That apart, the drawn Munster final was probably the only dukes-up slugfest between two quality teams there’s been thus far. I had a sense that Cork, with little expectation, would have made it quite uncomfortable for Dublin in a quarter-final, but that was torpedoed by the Thurles appearance of Mr Hyde in red.

JF:

Fermanagh reaching the last eight for the first time in 11 years. It might be David v Goliath tomorrow but whatever happens they should feel a deep sense of satisfaction at what they have achieved this year in both league and championship. Losing Marty McGrath and Barry Owens these past few years, they could easily have fallen into the folder of fodder but Pete McGrath deserves huge respect for more than keeping their heads above water. This year they’ve shown they can win without Ryan McCluskey and Eoin Donnelly too.

KS:

I’d also have to go to with that rollicking last 15 minutes from Westmeath against Meath; right there, right then, it was everything you loved about championship. Shame it’s been seriously diluted by their tepid last 15 minutes against Fermanagh, just like all the good from Sligo’s win over Roscommon evaporated in their next game. The drawn Munster final was as good as Cork-Kerry has ever got. Kildare in Thurles was as thrilling as Cork there was tragic, a team and a manager liberated. And Fermanagh. Their scalp list this year may not be as impressive as 2003 (Donegal, Meath, Mayo), 2004 (Meath, Cork, Donegal, Armagh) or even 2008 (Monaghan, Derry) but this run, especially the win over Roscommon, was something the county doubted it would ever experience again.

TQ:

Being in Croke Park watching the last 20 minutes of the Meath v Westmeath game, it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement of the closing stages and then appreciate the joy the Westmeath team and fans were feeling at the final whistle. It wasn’t just they had beaten Meath, I think the manner of the second-half comeback, with the goal in the closing moments to seal it, ensured it was a more memorable occasion for all in the ground.

BO’B:

Its worth as a performance has been diluted by their loss to Monaghan and Armagh’s meek exit, but the way Donegal tore Kieran McGeeney’s lads to shreds at the Athletic Grounds stands out for me. It’s too easy to dismiss it now when put in that overall context, but this was a sublime team performance in the lion’s den against a team that truly believed it’s time had come — and we haven’t seen too many displays like that this year.

CMC:

It was hard not to be impressed with Kildare’s performance against Cork. In particular, the performance of Paul Cribbin at midfield was impressive from the stand. His skill, his movement, option-taking and athleticism were all absolutely top drawer. I had seen him perform well enough in the league but when I realised afterwards that Jack O’Connor had rated him as one of the best young players he had ever seen; it gave an indication that this might not have been just a flash in the pan.

Q.

Whose coaching work have you really liked so far this summer?

Football Championship Q&A: From now to a glorious day in September

TL:

Malachy O’Rourke looked to have Monaghan systematically down to a play-by-play game-plan for the Ulster final, but kudos too to Jason Ryan for his Kildare set-up and possession game against Cork in the qualifiers. They looked a beaten docket in the loss to Dublin, and it’s a bigger job to get things moving forward after a championship blow-out than it is riding the W train like Monaghan. I liked Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s honesty too in admitting Kerry had a poor day on the line in the drawn Munster final. What’s rare is wonderful.

JF:

Malachy O’Rourke appears the stand-out performer but Kevin Walsh has also done well since Galway fell short against Mayo. They no longer look as naive as they had been this past while. For me, Rory Gallagher has done an excellent job in convincing Donegal not to break up their band apart from Rory Kavanagh. Leo McLoone has returned and although they were bettered in the Ulster final they remain contenders. Living in the shadow of Jim McGuinness is no easy thing.

KS:

Jason Ryan for how he’s turned things round since the drubbing from Dublin. Remember, had he lost in Thurles like Cork would, he and not Brian Cuthbert could have been the one walking a managerial plank. Pete McGrath and Malachy O’Rourke have been pulling off miracles all year; Fermanagh’s comeback against Roscommon was flagged in how they doggedly came back from eight down in Armagh on a dark Saturday night while Monaghan tripped up Donegal and plenty of others in the league as well.

CMC:

Taking Jason Ryan’s efforts in context, he had to instil belief in a team who had lost by 19 points to Dublin with two players then voting with their feet by going to the States for the remainder of the summer, a titanic reformation in itself. I’d go along with Brendan’s earlier comments re Donegal. Rory Gallagher’s route thus far has been impressive even without an Ulster title. To take on Tyrone, Armagh, Derry and Monaghan and then only lose out by point is a far greater indicator of potential than, say, Mayo’s Connacht title canter. Ironic to think that they could have to go through Galway, Mayo, Dublin and then Kerry to win it!

TQ:

With a view on today’s games, I think you have to give credit to Niall Carew for getting Sligo to the last 12. I know they shipped a very heavy Connacht final defeat, but if you look at their body of work this year, after a very disappointing season last year, Carew deserves mention. They were the top scoring team over the four divisions in the national leagues and the championship victory over Roscommon showed signs of a team progressing in a new system and set-up.

BO’B:

I really like the job being done by Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes in Mayo. All the talk about how difficult it would be to follow on from the James Horan era is gone for now after their defeats of Galway and Sligo. That’s been no mean feat. Mayo looked ferociously hungry against Sligo, even though the game was dead after 10 minutes. The simple switch of Aidan O’Shea to full-forward may well be the

most important of the summer. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Q.

Has this summer’s action helped or hurt the case for retaining the championship as it is currently structured?

Football Championship Q&A: From now to a glorious day in September

TL:

Does a poor quality championship hurt the cause for retaining the status quo? What perennially helps deflect from the staleness of the format is new stars and storylines, but the core issue of the championship structure remains in their absence. Proposals from ex-GAA president Sean Kelly retain the provincial element, make the league more relevant and give a platform to second tier counties. Must be worth a trial.

JF

: You look at the outburst of emotion in Clones last month and you’d swear Monaghan hadn’t won Ulster in 20 years not two. Provincial titles still mean a heck of an amount and they are within the grasp of approximately half the teams in the championship. Apart from Monaghan, things have been predictable and the call for a second-tier championship is more of a shout now.

KS:

This year convinced me the provincial championships need to stay in some form, but some serious competition restructuring is still required, including a serious review of the time and prominence given to the league. Brian Cuthbert and his Cork side diligently trooped and won all around the country to top the league both years of his tenure. What value has that now?

TQ:

I’ve no issue with the provincial championships being retained as part of any new proposed suggestion but I’d have an issue if the same timeframe was given to them to be completed. We cannot stay in a situation where some county teams have four or five weeks to wait between games. To have any realistic chance of playing off club championships in one calendar year as proposed, county boards will need a 100% guarantee of allocated times when championship games can be run off and not be dependant on intercounty results and replays.

BO’B:

What’s happened on the field this summer won’t make a blind bit of difference to the competition’s structures. We’ve all been hammering on about it for years now and for what? Dozens of suggested alternatives have been floated in the wind, but the appetite just isn’t there at the top level to scrap the whole thing and start anew.

CMC:

Regardless of this season’s fare, the elephant in the room is that a restructure needs to take place.

Q.

What are punters and pundits not talking enough about?

TL:

Granted it’s not sexy, but the disconnect between club and county, between club player and inter-county player, continues to grow. Very soon, inter-county players will be to their clubs what contracted rugby players are to theirs — something in brackets after their names on a team-sheet. Pundits are talking plenty of guff, a lot of them uncooperative smartasses to the media when they played. That problem’s only getting worse — access to players these days comes with a brand sticker and lists of conditions. We all lose then.

JF:

Tony’s preaching to the converted on that one. It’s only those pundits like Oisín McConville, entrenched in their clubs, who are warning that the dividebetween club and county level has become a crevasse the GAA will find hard to bridge. There’s a disassociation, a disenchantment. Jim McGuinness, although his championship plan is more than a tip of a hat to Sean Kelly’s blueprint, spoke before about giving exclusive blocks of the year to clubs as well as counties. That idea should be explored.

KS:

This thing of players grappling with one another and refusing to let go, leading to all kinds of wrestling and rolling around and delays and eyesore flashpoints. It’s definitely become way more commonplace this year that a tweak to the scope of the black card would arrest. On that, I’ve come round that the black card is ultimately causing more good than harm: it’s the fouls we don’t see, that are not committed, that prove its worth. Also, Padraig Hughes’ two wrong calls re: penalties — the infamous one in Killarney, then the one he didn’t give in the Fermanagh-Westmeath game last week — highlights the case for a second referee, or a scenario where umpires can call aggressive fouls like a ref operating the baseline in basketball.

TQ:

I’d like to see the inter-county calendar shortened by at least a month to allow all of September and October be dedicated to club championships. I understand Paraic Duffy’s point about shortening the GAA shop window but great work has gone into promoting the club championships in recent years and I think there is scope to keep increasing that and maintain GAA’s position in mainstream media.

BO’B:

I know the NFL exists on a different planet to the GAA, but the American football season only runs for less than five months of the year and yet it retains a hold on the sporting public’s consciousness all year round. That shows that the loss of a few weeks of inter-county fare in September, as Tomás explains, doesn’t need to be a no-go area. Anyway, the GAA should be thinking about quality not quantity. The league remains ridiculously under-utilised and poorly marketed. The GAA can’t have it every way.

CMC:

The possibility of the GAA at county level going semi-professional. Ciaran Carey mooted it earlier in the summer and looking at the numbers, it doesn’t appear impossible in line with a restructured model. It’s certainly worth discussion at the very least, in the context of the myriad other problem issues that are being talked about. Reduce the number of teams at county level by redesigned boundaries with no transfers. One Champions League style competition with higher standards and less inequity. County players do not play club and so club competitions run in parallel and uninterrupted, with the fun put back into club level football. I can hear graves turning already!

Q.

What could stop Dublin winning it all?

TL:

Kerry looked to have Dublin tagged the last couple of times they’ve met in championship, but on both occasions the Dubs slipped off the hook — in the 2011 final and the 2013 semi-final. The Kingdom look no more ready to be crowned champions this August than they did last year and we know what happened then. Fitzmaurice and co still look the best bet to stop Dublin’s mission of atonement for the Donegal aberration last autumn, but I wouldn’t bet on Kerry doing so. Which leaves Mayo (see next question). And could Monaghan’s ravenous hunger claim a scalp?

JF:

I’d have more faith in Kerry. They will have to get to an All-Ireland final first and Mayo have their own axe to grind against Dublin in what could be a thrilling semi-final. But Kerry have never lost three consecutive championship games to Dublin. You couldn’t put a price on that amount of motivation. After the hurt of 2011 (as Fitzmaurice says, the Seamus Darby moment of his generation) and 2013, he won’t have to say much to his troops. If the league game is anything to go by, a Dublin-Kerry final mightn’t be one for the purists.

KS:

Well, for one I don’t think it’ll be this much touted notion that they won’t been properly tested: had they beaten Cork, Kerry or Mayo by a point in last year’s quarter-final, I still think Donegal’s gameplan would have ambushed them. Should anything happen to Cluxton they won’t go all the way; Connolly and O’Carroll need to be there too. Otherwise it will take the best performance Mayo or Kerry have yet to offer up this decade to trip up the three All-Irelands in five years you’d have expected for a side of this talent.

TQ:

We were asking the same question last year and we saw what happened against Donegal in the semi-final. I expect them to get over Fermanagh tomorrow but with a potential semi-final against Mayo or Donegal and possibly Kerry waiting in a final, there is plenty to potentially stop them. There are also a number of key players they will need to keep fit as losing a Cluxton, O’Carroll, O’Sullivan or Connolly would be a huge obstacle for them.

BO’B:

Was this one asked tongue-in-cheek? Surely last August should have told us that there is no such thing as a guarantee. If nothing else, that Donegal defeat has put paid to the scare-mongering about Dublin dominance. Remember the stuff about them doing a five-in-a-row? I’d still put my few bob on them to win if push came to shove but, as Tony says, no-one saw Kerry doing what they did this time 12 months ago.

CMC:

Kerry DO appear to be the only team likely to beat Dublin at the moment. The advantage Kerry may have is that, provided they get there, they may be able to bring a new dimension to August and September via personnel. Others won’t have options like Tommy Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan, Paul Galvin, who could all have big impacts on this championship yet. We seem to already know what Dublin’s bench offers through the various run-outs they’ve been given.

Q.

Are Mayo geared to go the next, last step?

Football Championship Q&A: From now to a glorious day in September

TL:

Impossible to predict. The portents look positive but against what? They’re looking at a quarter-final, possibly against Donegal, which they’d surmount. Then it’s most likely Dublin in the semi and no-one — not Holmes, Connelly or Buckley — can reliably predict whether the Connacht champions will unify into an unstoppable force or fall again for the want of scores. They won’t lack for desperation, and desperation is normally good. And they owe Dublin and Kerry plenty. Worst moment for them this summer? Sligo eclipsing Roscommon in the provincial semi-final.

JF:

Under Paul Caffrey, Dublin regularly looked undercooked coming out of Leinster. Mayo under James Horan had a couple of tight provincial finals but on those two other occasions they steamrolled Connacht they didn’t look any less battle-hardened come the All-Ireland series. Mayo have had such a low-key summer thus far which, on one hand, may suit given it’s a new management team and hype has hurt them before. But they have faced nothing like Donegal or Tyrone have. You’d hope, for their sake, that their in-house games have been hellish.

KS:

I like how they’re shaping up, especially with Aidan O’Shea at 14 and the ball they’re playing in to him. A quarter-final against either Donegal or Tyrone will be a test of their ability to break down a massed defence and how far they’ve come on since the league when they failed to beat either of them; then a prospective semi-final against Dublin, a measure of what defensive system they have established since their own startled earwigs moment when the counties met in Castlebar. Apparently the big difference with this year is they’ve intensely drilled and simulated both scenarios a lot in training but is it ingrained enough for the severe tests August will pose? If they pass them, I’d fancy them to take anyone, specially— Kerry in September.

TQ:

They are exactly where we expected them to be so this is where the real questions are asked of the players and new management team. Mayo will hope Donegal beat Galway next week as Mayo have Galway’s number at the moment and they know Donegal will be a much better quarter-final test. If they can afford to leave Aidan O’Shea at full-forward, it adds a new dynamic to their inside line and will help take some scoring pressure from Cillian O’Connor.

BO’B:

As I said earlier, I liked the look of them in the Connacht final. It was their mentality during and after the game, more than their dominance against a very naive Sligo side, that made that impression. Maybe the new voices in the management team are what they needed to keep that hunger burning. They’ll need that because they may have to beat Donegal, Dublin and Kerry to do it.

CMC:

If Tomás is right and Mayo are hoping for Donegal to beat Galway, I think would be misplaced faith. If it is true, I think it would see Mayo bowing out in the quarters. And at this stage, I think that’s actually the most likely scenario, Donegal to beat Galway, then beat Mayo in the quarters.

Q.

Who do you think will contest and win the All-Ireland final?

TL:

We’re all banking on a potential Dublin-Mayo semi-final being the battle of the championship. But if Monaghan made it to September, the summer’s narrative gets rewritten anyway. If Kerry discover their Croke Park legs for a semi-final (they tend to stumble through the quarters), it will be because Colm Cooper has regained that razor sharpness that separates him from his counterparts, because James O’Donoghue has settled down just enough to mix a potent cocktail of arrogance and assurance and because Fitzmaurice has a defensive sextet that suits their set-up. Either way, we can only evaluate on available evidence — Mayo to beat Kerry in the final.

JF:

It’s not too difficult to see all the provincial finalists reaching the last four. Should Tyrone and Donegal advance today, we will have two quarter-final pairings from 2013. Monaghan won’t make the same mistake against Tyrone but Donegal mightn’t be fresh enough to make up for the trouncing Mayo gave them that year. Talking of repeat games, Dublin-Mayo and Kerry-Monaghan would be the same semi-final duels as 1985. For me, Dublin and Kerry to advance with Kerry’s adaptability winning out.

KS:

It’s hard not to see Kerry making it to September, as much as a Monaghan would push them. I can’t see Donegal making it all the way through — though they could trip up Mayo. Mayo could trip up Dublin. I’d call it Dublin to trip up Kerry in the final.

TQ:

I agree the four provincial finalists will make the semis. I can see Monaghan pushing Kerry all the way but I think the Kerry experience will see them close it out. Dublin v Mayo could be the game of the year but Dublin’s firepower will set up a repeat of the 2011 final. If that is the case, I expect Kerry to be more defensive than the toe-to-toe game plan of the 2013 semi-final and play a similar style to last year against Donegal. I’ve tipped Dublin to win it since the start of the year and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind.

BO’B:

Kerry will make the final from the bottom side of the draw. I just don’t see Kildare or any of their potential semi-final opponents being able to stay with them for 70 minutes. The far side I’m not sure about.

I’ve obviously made a case for Mayo here already, but Dublin have been there and done it in 2011 and 2013 and their bench is better. I hear flares are on the way back so maybe we’ll have a 70s theme in football, too. Kerry to meet Dublin.

CMC:

Dublin and Kerry. Could go any way in a final.

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