Colm O'Rourke: Gilroy's charges finding their stride as race heats up
Tyrone look the team to beat but well-drilled Dublin catch the eye, writes Colm O'Rourke
Published 25/07/2010 | 05:00
The serious end of the championship season is beginning now as more pretenders dropped out of the race for Sam yesterday. And then there were eight.
Yet if things are changing, they are also staying very much the same. Last year, the three top teams were Kerry, Tyrone and Cork. In early spring they were the sides that everyone put up as the shortlist and, as mid-summer approaches, nothing has changed.
The only debate now about Tyrone after their performance last Sunday is what position they are occupying in the top three.
Having given it due consideration, I feel this must go down as the best display by any team so far in this year's championship. The Ulster final was between two teams from the top division of the league, the only provincial final which featured a combination plying their trade at this level. Tyrone, though, have sent out a warning to everyone. They completely dismantled a Monaghan team that had beaten them in the league and had destroyed Armagh en route to the final. Tyrone didn't just beat any team, but one that looked to have a great chance of winning.
Just as important as winning was the way Tyrone went about it. Their hunger and drive squeezed the fight out of Monaghan -- for whom Vinny Corey was a big loss -- and there was that same, almost emotionless approach to getting the job done. And after it was over, it was hard enough to pick out individuals who were brilliant. They looked like men on a mission and the Ulster championship will not satisfy their appetite.
The way things are, Mickey Harte must wish that the All- Ireland was being run off over the next three weekends because on last Sunday's evidence, there is no team in better shape mentally or physically than Tyrone. Knowing the way they think, they would probably prefer to draw Cork now as they would like to put the record straight on last year.
It was obvious at Croke Park yesterday that Monaghan hadn't got over that Ulster final defeat as they allowed Kildare to cruise to victory. Indeed, Monaghan were lucky Johnny Doyle didn't have his shooting boots on or the margin of victory could have been significantly greater.
Kildare are now going to be difficult opponents for whoever gets them in the quarter-finals. They have a team of good, strong, purposeful players with quality forwards, especially James Kavanagh, who can kick long-range points and do it while under pressure. The only downside I could see with Kildare again yesterday was the amount of handpassing they did. I think they don't kick enough and this allows the opposition time to get in position and defend and that's what's going to happen when they meet a better team.
Considering Kildare were beaten by Louth in a game where they looked flat, it's impressive that they have come back so strongly. They have gathered momentum and are on a roll after three good wins, and they look like strong contenders to go all the way. They won't fear anyone.
However, it looks like the end of the line for Monaghan, the much-coveted Ulster title has eluded them. This loss could signal the break-up of the team and Seamus McEneaney may feel he can do no more.
After a lot of chopping and changing, Pat Gilroy now has a very competitive team. I was very impressed with Dublin's work rate and honesty yesterday. Two of their best performers, Bryan Cullen and Kevin Nolan, were not on the team earlier in the season but played a serious part in yesterday's win over Louth. The full-back line have really settled down and defended well.
Eoghan O'Gara is a great find. He is an unselfish player who works hard and is a great targetman. If Dublin could get Alan Brogan to pass the ball they could beat anyone. The current crop of players are not stars but they are improving and improving rapidly.
It was clear from Louth's performance that they had not moved on from what happened in the Leinster final. They had a dreadful first half, and the match was over after 35 minutes. Although they did put up a fight in the second half, it wasn't enough. Paddy Keenan worked hard but his team were outclassed.
Dublin will probably be looking for a rematch with Meath as they are a different side now. It would be an even-money match if they were to meet again. They are a rehabilitated side since the five-goal game against Meath.
I think yesterday's four winners, Dublin, Kildare, Cork and Down, would secretly be happy to draw Roscommon, but they shouldn't underestimate the Connacht champions. Their win last week was the biggest upset so far, in one of the best games of the championship so far.
As a match, it was a stirring contest and there was a great degree of honesty involved from the players, making it a most enjoyable game for neutrals. This has been a really great Connacht championship with Sligo, of course, contributing the most. But after beating the two big counties, they have been left with nothing but regrets. A cruel end to their provincial campaign.
Roscommon were brilliant in their application, daring in their approach and had the confidence and exuberance of youth. Apart from the talent of young men like Donie Shine, tremendous credit must go to Fergal O'Donnell, who looked a broken man last year after the annihilation by Mayo, but has come back to build a side playing with great pride. It would have been very easy for him to walk away, so everyone in Roscommon should thank him for having confidence in the players when, realistically, not too many within the county had.
Now they can look forward to Croke Park but, even more importantly, they look like a team that will be better with time. The next couple of years could be even more interesting.
Sligo didn't sense danger until it was too late and too much fouling cost them dear. Referee Jimmy White continued with his competent performances and was again sensible in his approach, which added to the entertainment; however, the issue of additional time is one that needs tackling.
There should have been at least five minutes of injury time at the end and the same problem has arisen in other games. Referees can't seem to accept that anything more than three minutes should be added on at the end of a game. They need to get this right or else give the role to a sideline official who tells the referee how much more has to be played.
Connacht didn't do themselves any favours either by having their beaten finalists out again yesterday, just six days after the final. The Connacht championship was the first to start so there was no excuse for that. Then again, having the same number of teams in each province would make things fairer. Inconsistencies dominate all sport.