The four teams contesting today's league semi-finals are from counties that I'd expect to be in the mix at the business end of the championship.
Down and Mayo have been there or thereabouts in recent years and Kerry and Cork are always going to challenge for the Sam Maguire. Looking at the teams that Jack O'Connor and Conor Counihan have chosen for today, it seems that they are taking shape for championship.
Kerry now have put a lot of faith in newcomers Peter Crowley, Brian McGuire and Shane Enright and rightly so. They are all well able for the challenge and have came through the league so far unscathed.
Playing against Mayo in a National League semi-final at Croke Park will be a good test for them -- it's not championship football but the stakes are high all the same. Mayo laid down a marker for 2012 by beating the All-Ireland champions Dublin and they will want to win today but I don't think Kerry will be beaten. However, I'm not writing off a good display from Mayo, they will be up for it in a big way and have a point to prove at headquarters.
Obviously Aidan O'Shea is going to be a loss to them. I made a comment last year that I thought he was carrying a bit of puppy fat and that he needed to lose it. From seeing him this year I think he is after hardening up a good bit and that will stand to him when the going gets tough.
A lot of people down here in Kerry have made reference to the transformation this Mayo team have undergone since James Horan took over. A lot of them have hardened up considerably and there is a bit of bite and manliness in their game that wasn't there before. By all accounts, Dr Cian O'Neill, Mayo's football coach, has played a role in this too. He worked with the Tipperary hurlers alongside Liam Sheedy when they won the All-Ireland and he did a fine job. He's putting his expertise to good use.
Again I'm heartened when I see Kerry's midfield pairing of Bryan Sheehan and Anthony Maher; it's great that I don't have to look twice at it. They are a well established and consistent duo at this stage, they have proven what they are capable of several times over and deserve to be in the side.
It's also become evident in the league that the Kerry management are adapting their style of play. They've realised that everyone can predict that they are going to play Kieran Donaghy on the edge of the square so they seem to be changing their game plan by having a pacy player like Declan or Darran O'Sullivan in around the square. Having Donaghy out the field is also beneficial. His height gives an added aerial advantage to the midfield sector, he can win his own ball and link well with the inside players. It gives Kerry extra options.
Cork are going for three league titles in a row and they too have a solid team named for today, with their big-name players like Noel O'Leary, Paudie Kissane and Graham Canty out in force. Unfortunately for Down, Dan Gordon and Danny Hughes are sidelined through injury. Both players will be hard to replace and Cork will know just how to exploit their absence.
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I was saddened last Sunday when I heard of the sudden loss of John Egan. We soldiered together on the football field for many years but I must admit I'm glad I played with him rather than against him.
I hated marking John. No matter how hard I tried I could never get the ball off of him, he could
shield it like no other player. But the worst thing was if he got out ahead of me I was in trouble, there was no hope of dispossessing him or getting around him.
John was an explosive player, he ran in straight lines but had a fierce turn of speed; he was built very close the ground but very seldom was he ever be seen there, he was too strong to be turned over. The best I ever saw him play was in the late 1970s, he was on fire back then. Looking back at all the games we played during that time, he stands out as being one of the main men.
I never got to go know John well personally until we started travelling together to America. We played for Carlow and Cavan in New York and had great times. I suppose an awful lot of people associate John with his quiet manner. He did keep to himself but was also very willing to express his opinions. He was a very intelligent guy, well spoken and tuned into everything that was happening around him. It was an honour and a pleasure to wear the Kerry jersey alongside him.
Sunday Indo Sport