Ciarán Whelan: Intensity of football championship about to be lifted after uninspiring start
ASIDE from a handful of games, it has been a fairly uninspiring football championship to date but this weekend will see the intensity rise a notch.
Thankfully, the season is beginning to take on a pattern after a less than enthralling series of provincial campaigns that once again left many supporters cold in terms of their current relevance.
Tradition is all well and good but football is evolving all the time and the sense of anticipation as we move towards the Super 8s is palpable.
Granted, the Super 8s are elitist in some respects but I would see them as a step in the right direction towards a two-tier structure that I feel will benefit most counties in the long run.
This weekend, eight counties will be looking to secure one of those coveted four remaining spots and I believe that the teams that have come through a series of qualifying matches enjoy a massive advantage on those that were beaten provincial finalists.
Fermanagh, Laois and Cork all took heavy defeats in their provincial finals and we won’t really know what effect those losses have had in terms of confidence and morale until the action begins tomorrow afternoon.
I would almost give Cork a pass in some respects as they simply weren’t let play against Kerry the last day. There was a fair degree of positivity in the camp prior to that Munster Final loss and I don’t expect that momentum from their win over Tipperary to have fully eroded.
Ronan McCarthy has instilled in his team a strong-running approach that should yield dividends in Portlaoise tomorrow and I feel their ability to run the ball and create overlaps could cause problems for a Tyrone team that can struggle at times with that issue.
Another problem that Mickey Harte may have to solve is their issues at centrefield, and in Aidan Walsh and Ian Maguire, the Rebels certainly have the potential to enjoy a marked dominance in this vital sector.
Tyrone were blitzed by Gearóid McKiernan last Saturday evening. It is a recurring problem for Tyrone, gaining primary possession, especially if Cork place consistent pressure on the kickout.
If Cork can force Tyrone to kick long, then there is the potential for an upset here, especially if Luke Connolly deliver on his potential in attack.
Tyrone have some fine footballers with the required experience to get the job done and the likes of Niall Sludden Mattie Donnelly and Frank Burns are all playing well presently. However, do not rule out a shock result here if some o the breaks fall Cork’s way.
Kildare’s clash with Fermanagh is another match that could well go down the wire and after all the pats on the back that Cian O’Neill received over the past week, Saturdays’s match is probably the biggest test of his managerial career to date.
They talked the talk and managed to walk the walk last week but that win over Mayo won’t matter one iota if they fail to make it into the Super 8s.
It’s not that long ago that we were commenting on Kildare’s inability to with Carlow’s defensive system and Fermanagh will present a similar puzzle them to solve this weekend.
Players like Daniel Flynn, Paul Cribbin (above) and Neil Flynn will not enjoy will not enjoy the same space that Mayo afforded them and Fermanagh’s whole system is built to work against teams of Kildare’s quality.
From my own perspective, I would like to see Kildare advance as they place a greater emphasis on attacking football but in truth, this is a game that is desperately difficult to call, given the prize on offer to both teams.
Kildare should have enough to progress to the last-eight but they will have too adapt and win in a different way this weekend.
While Fermanagh and Kildare could well be a tense and low-scoring affair, I expect the opposite to apply as Roscommon meet Armagh.
I reckon it could well be the most entertaining match of the quartet of fixtures as Roscommon place a heavy emphasis on fast, direct football and have the forwards that suit that game plan.
Armagh have improved incrementally since their sobering loss to Fermanagh in the Ulster Championship and the manner in which they came through last week’s qualifier against Clare reflects well on their confidence and spirit.
The expected open nature of the match should suit both teams and if it turns into a shootout, I feel that Roscommon have the better spread of forward options which should be enough to see them home.
I have talked up this Laois team all year and I’m looking forward to seeing how they fare against a Monaghan team that would have had one eye on the Super 8s since the start of the year.
Laois are an ambitious bunch, that stick to their game-plan and they look like a team that are fully committed to each other and want to play together.
I don’t think the score in the Leinster Final against Dublin was a fair reflection of their efforts and they are an entertaining team to watch in terms of trying to utilise their full-forward line to the best of their ability.
However, Monaghan should enjoy playing against a team set up in the manner that Laois are and in Conor McCarthy and Conor McManus, they have forwards that could well take the game away from a spirited Laois team.