Wednesday 24 January 2018

Who will stop Kerry from taking care of 'unfinished business'?

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

KERRY'S impressive return to the fast lane last Saturday will leave the four provincial champions hoping that the fates spare them an All-Ireland quarter-final clash with the Kingdom on the weekend after next.

Kerry have to beat Clare next Saturday to book a quarter-final place but that looks a formality following their excellent performance against Tyrone.

The only restriction in the quarter-final draw is that there can be no repeat of provincial finals. However, there can be re-runs of earlier championship meetings, so Cork and Kerry could meet, as their June match was in the Munster semi-final.

Here's how the markets are shaping up for the 12 remaining contenders for Sam Maguire.

Cork 11/4

Still the All-Ireland favourites but by the time they arrive for the quarter-finals, they will have gone eight weeks (v Kerry on June 10) without a real challenge. They beat Clare easily in the Munster final, a game that will have done little to sharpen Cork for a quarter-final test against opponents who will have been busy over the previous month.

Dublin 3/1

They have the best provincial record of any county in recent times, having won Leinster for the seventh time in eight years. As with the Wexford game, there were aspects of their performance against Meath which will give rise for concern among supporters on the basis that the room for error will reduce dramatically from here on.

Still, Dublin averaged 2-15 in their three Leinster wins, an impressive strike rate that will always win more games than it loses.

Kerry 3/1

Bar a major shock against Clare, they are heading into the quarter-finals for a 12th successive year. Jack O'Connor spoke last Saturday evening of how Kerry felt they had left last year's All-Ireland final behind them, so clearly 'unfinished business' is going to be the theme from now on.

None of the provincial winners will want to be paired with them in the quarter-finals.

Donegal 4/1

Their 2-18 return last Sunday was the highest in an Ulster final since Armagh matched it with 3-15 against Donegal in 2004. Prior to that, nobody had scored as much in the final since Down kicked 2-19 against Cavan in 1978.

Donegal beat Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final off a 0-12 scoreline, which shows that they have the scope to win games by a variety of means. It's some achievement to retain the Ulster title, having been drawn in the preliminary round in both seasons. Donegal are very serious contenders for the All-Ireland.

Kildare 14/1

Now very much the qualifier specialists, they are within one win of advancing to the quarter-finals for a fifth successive year.

They lived dangerously against Limerick but it's all about survival and, in fairness to Kildare, they have mastered that art in the qualifiers in recent years. Still, Sligo have beaten Kildare twice in the qualifiers so the Round 4 tie holds real risk for the Lilywhites, but if they come through, provincial winners will be hoping to avoid them in the quarter-finals.

Mayo 14/1

It's a sign of how the stature of Connacht football has declined that its champions are priced much longer than their counterparts from elsewhere. This, despite the fact that Mayo were Division 1 runners-up in April.

Indeed, Mayo will be the first-choice opposition in the minds of the four qualifiers who survive Round 4 next weekend. Mind you, it was the same last year and Mayo stunned Cork in the quarter-finals.

Meath 33/1

Seamus McEnaney was in bullish form after the defeat by Dublin, promising that the bad experiences of previous beaten provincial finalists in qualifiers six days later won't be allowed to hinder Meath's preparations.

It's the right attitude but the fact still remains that beaten provincial finalists have a dismal record when forced back into action so quickly.

Down 66/1

They had a bad experience as beaten Ulster finalists in 2003, losing a Round 4 qualifier heavily to Donegal six days after falling to Tyrone in a replay.

Last Sunday's defeat will have been extremely dispiriting because while Donegal are a powerful force, Down would never have expected to lose the second half by 1-13 to 0-6. They will need to be very careful against Tipperary.

Sligo 100/1

Unlike two years ago when they were hammered by Down six days after losing the Connacht final, they have two weeks to recover this time.

Kerry and Kildare were the two opponents that beaten provincial finalists wanted to avoid but Sligo have good memories of previous qualifier clashes with the Lilywhites, twice winning by a point, in Croke Park in 2001 and in Markievicz Park in 2005.

Laois 125/1

Good draws in the qualifiers were most accommodating in getting them this far. Laois beat Carlow, Monaghan and Leitrim in successive rounds, opposition which a Division 1 side, albeit one that was relegated, would have fancied.

Laois will now be hoping that they can exploit Meath's quick turnaround and book a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2006.

Tipperary 175/1

They have turned the season around in spectacular style since being relegated to Division 4 and are now seeking that rarest of prizes for Tipperary football -- a fourth successive championship win.

And since they are paired with a Down team which was taken apart by Donegal, they will fancy their chances of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.

Clare 1000/1

Of all the lousy draws! Clare could have been paired with Kildare, Tipperary or Laois but instead they got Kerry, so often their tormentors in Munster.

Still, Clare will bring as much grit as possible to the challenge as they enjoy the unusual experience of playing championship football in late July.

Irish Independent

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