Chomping at the bit again
NOW that the mental security of the qualifiers has been removed, Mayo are on their own. Unlike those beaten in the earlier rounds, there is no second chance ... none for provincial winners. From now on they either win or bow out.
It’s the way the system works. The losers find refuge in the qualifiers, a chance to shake off their disappointment and to try again. The winners pass directly into the quarter-finals without the opportunity to test changes they may find necessary.
Losing provincial finalists Cork and Galway have enjoyed the benefit the extra game bestows. They have had the chance to rebuild, replace, plug gaps, galvanise positions. Both have taken full advantage of the second chance, and now seem better equipped for the quarter-finals than the provincial winners, their opponents.
The ultimate prize has been won five times by qualifiers since the system was established 13 years ago. Galway won the inaugural event in 2001. Tyrone passed through it to success in 2005 and 2008. Kerry avenged their Munster defeat by hammering Mayo in 2006 and they also emerged through the back door three years later.
Cork’s dismissal of Sligo on Saturday exposed the gulf between third and first division league teams, and suggested that the nightmare of their defeat in the Munster final is being avenged.
In their surprisingly easy dismissal of Tipperary at the same venue, Connacht finalists Galway were (despite defensive lapses) sufficiently impressive for most of the game to imply that Kerry face a task next Sunday more daunting than they might have expected.
Cork are difficult to assess, sometimes brilliant, other times bordering on indifference. It’s an unattractive development of the modern game that team positions have for the most part diminished. Everyone plays everywhere, at once a defender and attacker, driving forward in droves and scurrying back when possession is lost.
Cork and Sligo were no different. Both sides pulled all behind the ball. But whereas Sligo ran out of attacking ideas near goal, Cork used their speed, experience and long-range accuracy to breach the Sligo wall.
Paul Kerrigan was their chief tormenter. Playing at centre forward, his accuracy and explosive speed had Sligo reeling. He and Colm O’Neill essentially plotted Cork’s victory. Between them they accounted for 15 points.
James Horan will have noted their manoeuvres and may re-position Donal Vaughan at the centre of the defence to deal with Kerrigan’s power running. On the shoulders of Keith Higgins falls the responsibility of taming O’Neill, an assignment the Ballyhaunis man will not shirk.
Full-forward Brian Hurley was curiously quiet on Saturday. In their league tie in the spring, Hurley scored 1-5 against Mayo, whose control of that game was more emphatic than the four-points result suggests. He’ll fancy his chances against Ger Cafferkey, but the unconventional Mayo full-back will not be overawed.
Sligo severely tested Cork’s midfield pairing of Ian Maguire and dual player Aidan Walsh and to a large degree won that battle until Fintan Goold replaced Maguire halfway through the second half. On that form Goold will retain the berth.
Seamus O’Shea will do the honours for Mayo in this department with his incomparable workhorse technique. And he will be partnered by any one of two or three contenders ... whomever James Horan considers a foil to the high-fielding Goold.
Mayo won that battle in the spring when Jason Gibbons had one of his best games for the county in their league clash at MacHale Park. It’s uncertain though whether the Ballintubber man has regained full fitness since injuring his the ankle a couple of months ago.
As a consequence of their defeat to Kerry, Cork have revamped their defence. But their two centre backs, Eoin Cadogan and Tom Clancy, have held their league positions, while Michael Shields has moved to wing back.
As a unit the defence is, however, vulnerable. Sligo found a flaw when Stephen Coen deftly steered the ball home in the second half, the only goal of the game. It was beautifully fashioned. Under pressure, the corner forward managed to get his fist to the spinning ball guiding it deftly into the corner of the net.
Cork will be watching Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin anxiously and pitting all of their energies into cramping their space. Every opposition is familiar with the quality of this trinity of Mayo stars. Jason Doherty may be less recognizable beside them but has a haul of spectacular goals to command equal respect.
Andy Moran is likely to lead the attack again and James Horan may well decide that Alan Dillon’s best may be extracted in a less than 70-minute performance as proven in Hyde Park when Roscommon threatened.
Sunday’s test is no piece of cake for Mayo. Still smarting from the outcome of the Munster final, Cork need the incense of a semi-final place to banish the fallout affects of their humiliation in Munster. They are outsiders and hurting.
But Mayo are chomping at the bit again. They are beginning to wear the tag of favourites not with any sort of swagger, but with a genuine sense of confidence that they are a side of substance and fully prepared to surmount the stiff opposition the Rebels are certain to mount.
Minors have bounce in their step
THE minors’ supporters (and hopefully that includes every Mayo person making the journey to Croke Park) are in for a long day on Sunday. Enda Gilvarry’s young men take on Armagh in the quarter-final at 12 noon, four hours before the seniors’ throw-in.
The impact of their All-Ireland success did not register in Mayo minds last year as deeply as it might have done after a 28-years-long gap. It failed, it seems, to compensate for the disappointment of the senior side on the same day.
The fact that they are back in a quarter-final reflects not just the quality of minor football in the county, but the ability of manager Gilvarry and his selectors to instill a winning ethos in their young teams.
Coming from Ulster, the quality of the opposition is certain to be impressive, but Mayo have come out of Connacht with a bounce in their step and fully determined to defend their title.
In addition to bridging a 28-year-long gap last season, the minors entered the history books as the last holders of the existing Tom Markham Cup.
A new cup has been commissioned and will be presented in September to the next winners of the All-Ireland minor football final.
Having passed through many a happy hand since Clare won it for the first time in 1929, wear and tear has disfigured some of its features. It is dented and tarnished and not fit for purpose anymore.
Named after a well-known Clare GAA figure, the Tom Markham Cup was won on that occasion for the first and last time by his own county. In the intervening period it has been presented to 18 different counties.
So, who knows, perhaps Mayo will successfully defend their title and create further history as the initial winners of the new trophy.
Just a thought …
IT is difficult to understand why the powers that be decided to leave a gap of four hours between the start Mayo’s minor and senior games on Sunday. Where is the consideration for people travelling long distances?