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Kieran Hughes, Monaghan, celebrates at the end of the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 4B, Kildare v Monaghan, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile.

Kieran Hughes, Monaghan, celebrates at the end of the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 4B, Kildare v Monaghan, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile.

Kieran Hughes, Monaghan, celebrates at the end of the game. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship, Round 4B, Kildare v Monaghan, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile.

AFTER the final two qualifying games and the first two quarter-final matches, the football championship is now left with just six teams battling it out for the biggest prize.

On Saturday it was a very good day for Ulster as Armagh and Monaghan accounted for Meath and Kildare, and both northern teams have built up some momentum before next weekend's games.

Armagh have moved quietly into a quarter-final without much fuss and will be difficult opponents for Donegal when the two teams meet. It is a game Armagh won't fear and will be confident that they can make it into the semi-finals for the first time in over a decade.

Donegal, of course, won't be easy to beat and they too will be happy with the draw and will also fancy their chances against their Ulster rivals.

They have practically owned the province over the last four years but one feels that another All-Ireland title is ultimately the end goal for Jim McGuiness and his players.

The winner of this game will probably have to face the Dubs in the last four but it would be foolish for any team to look beyond its next challenge as any drop in standards would probably see them exit the competition.

POOR ENOUGH

The standard of football on Saturday was poor enough but the weather conditions were atrocious and this meant that both games were littered with errors and poor decision-making.

It is always the teams that make the least amount of errors that usually come through in these circumstances so Armagh and Monaghan deserved their victories. Armagh have certainly got to the next level in terms of their fitness levels and their tackling is exceptional at times.

Meath, however, are a poor enough team at the moment and their traditional kicking game needs to be looked at and changed because they no longer have the quality inside forwards to win their own ball and take on their men.

They game has moved on and Meath will need to look at how they do things going forward if they are to become serious contenders again. It won't happen overnight.

They are a step or two below Dublin and that is unlikely to change for a long time to come. The next up for the Dubs is Monaghan and this game will be an interesting one for both sides.

It will be the closest thing to an All-Ireland final for the Monaghan players. Playing the best team in the country in front of a huge crowd in Croke Park can be as good as it gets for most players and the Monaghan boys will not have experienced anything like this before.

There is the possibility that they could freeze on the day and if that happens the Dubs will run riot. That of course might not happen as this Monaghan team have played in some big games over the last two seasons.

The team has progressed under Malachy O'Rourke and have a system of play that they are comfortable playing but at times they become ultra-defensive as they did in the Ulster final against Donegal and we all know what happened on that occasion.

Last Saturday against Kildare they were far more attack-minded and the final tally of scores was impressive, albeit with an extra 20 minutes played. There are fine scoring forwards in this Monaghan team and the Dublin defenders will need to be on their toes from the throw-in.

QUIET GAME

Conor McManus had a relatively quite game from open play by his standards but he still chipped in with some very important scores. If he gets enough supply and more support from his fellow forwards he can certainly do a lot of damage.

Kieran Hughes is another big-game player and well capable of hurting a full back. He is physically strong and his battle with Rory O'Carroll will be worth keeping an eye on.

Both players love a battle and O'Carroll is having a really great season this year and should be well able to neutralise Hughes' influence on the game. The real battle will take place around the middle of the field and Monaghan have two very gamey midfielders who will scrap for every ball.

The two are traditional midfielders who like to contest kick-outs but Dublin don't generally kick the ball into this area, preferring to kick to the spaces on the wing which will mean more running for the Monaghan eight and nine.

I am not sure that Dick Clerkin has the legs anymore to get around the field but Saturday will surely be his biggest test in this regard. Michael Dara Macauley and Cian O'Sullivan will cover every blade of grass and their mobility could be the difference on the day.

Dublin have other match winners and unfortunately for the Monaghan defence, they are all in the forward line. I would argue that all six have yet to really fire on all cylinders but are getting closer with each game.

There is more in Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn and Paul Mannion but the quality of the players in the squad gives Jim Gavin plenty of options when picking his team and more importantly making the changes during games.

It is hard to see how the Monaghan defence can cope with the Dublin forwards but the likes of Dessie Mone, Drew Wylie and Vinny Corey are all experienced players who are at the top of their game. This is their biggest challenge to date but they will need a lot of help from their team-mates and the "system" will need to be watertight to keep the Dubs out.

I expect a performance from Monaghan but Dublin are operating at a different level altogether at present and one expects the march towards another title wont be stopped this Saturday.

Last Friday evening the Thomas Davis team who won the clubs very first senior championship in 1989 met up in Cassidy's to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of that great win against a formidable Ballymun Kickhams team. It was great to catch up with the lads who I haven't seen in years and time it seems has been to kind to most of the them.


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