Wednesday 22 November 2017

All-Ireland SFC Quarter-final previews

Dermot Crowe

KERRY v LIMERICK: Croke Park, 2.0: Limerick were still buzzing, understandably, when the spectre of Kerry re-emerged from last Sunday evening's draw.

The exoticism of Croke Park would be offset by a local foe they've already met and been outclassed by. Kerry won by 11 points but the only jarring aspect from their point of view was some lame defending, resulting in three green flags. Midfield continues to be worked on by a team of scientists so the question remains: will Kerry win an All-Ireland with immaculate forwards alone?

Those questions may not be adequately settled today. Limerick had their season's high point in Portlaoise with a dramatic and controversial win over Wexford. The controversy should have focused more on the shocking award of the 'free' that won it more than the flagging furore that followed once the ball left the boot of Ian Ryan (pictured). Not only was it not a free, it didn't look a close relation of one. That said, Wexford lost it themselves. They were not hungry enough and until they discover that element they will continue to remain a midstream team.

Kerry recall Paul Galvin and Tomás ó Sé which should benefit those two aforementioned sectors of midfield and defence as each is a dynamic and, by now, fresh addition to the side.

Of the four matches this weekend this is the longest shot in terms of an upset. Limerick had a poor league and poor Munster championship under new management but they have rescued a great deal through the qualifiers, helped by generous draws. Still, this is what the qualifiers are about and to see a Limerick team run out on to Croke Park today to face Kerry in the last eight is a significant milestone for the game in the county. They deserve credit for that and one hopes they can find some way of limiting the damage Kerry are almost certain to unleash.

Last year the Kingdom lost at this juncture to a free-scoring Down team. They have spent a long winter lamenting that loss. A Kerry defeat here would be one of the game's all-time sensations; that is the challenge Limerick face.

Kerry: B Kealy; K Young, M Ó Sé, T O'Sullivan; T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, A O'Mahony; A Maher, B Sheehan; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, Darran O'Sullivan.

Limerick (probable): B Scanlon; T Stack, S Gallagher, S Lavin; J Riordan, J McCarthy, P Ranahan; S Buckley, T Lee; S Kelly, J Mullane, M Sheehan; G Collins, S O'Carroll, I Ryan.

Verdict: Kerry


Croke Park, 4.0

THE chance of a severe beating for Mayo today cannot be discounted and the odds reflect that; they are available at 5/1. Mayo went with a sweeper system earlier in the season and may use something similar to counter Cork's running game. But hard work and big hearts are among the fundamentals required to live with Cork. The job being asked of the Mayo midfield and the six players either side of them is especially taxing; essentially they will have to play the equivalent of two matches in one.

Will they relish the rise in standard, the heavy adrenaline and the tremendous physical intensity that Cork will bring? There are times when Mayo enjoy being out of Connacht as if it is an out-of-body experience and produce football they hardly suspected was in them. They will hope that today will be one of those days of bold expression. As for Cork, their performance level against Down was high enough to expect some lowering of the standard. Coming off a Munster final defeat by Kerry, and facing a Down team that ran them to a point in last year's All-Ireland, they were highly motivated. Throw in some incendiary punditry from sceptics and you saw Cork play as if their lives and reputations depended on it.

Do you think that Mayo, without an All-Ireland in 60 years, and frequently in the slough of despond, will inflame them as effortlessly? For Cork the call is to be cold and calculating; to get the job done. But some of the visceral drive may be missing and there is a danger of looking beyond to the semi-final. If Mayo can avoid a bad start and especially the concession of goals, they can drag the contest into the second half and make it interesting.

Cork produced one of their best shows a weekend ago. The athleticism was there and the power but you could add craft and ruthlessness in equal measure. There were traces of wild shooting in the early stages but they remained focused and blew Down off the field. The precision in Donncha O'Connor's game and the way they picked off their goals demonstrated a hardening self-confidence.

There is an obvious danger in disregarding Mayo. The Connacht final was beyond analysis due to the weather except to say that Mayo managed to commit fewer errors than Roscommon and sorted out their free-taking concerns, for that day at least. The other factor in Mayo's favour -- and a not inconsiderable one -- is the absence of expectation. For provincial champions to come in with a price of 5/1 is startling and a powerful incentive for the team to make a statement. They have changed their full-back, with Ger Cafferkey (pictured) restored in placed of Alan Feeney and introduce Enda Varley in attack.

Cork are also soldiering without a number of key players, Daniel Goulding the latest of three first-choice forwards struck down by injury. That has to be worth something to Mayo. For all that it looks like Cork by four or five.

Cork: A Quirke; E Cotter, M Shields, E Cadogan; N O'Leary, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O'Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P Kelly, P O'Neill; D O'Connor, N Murphy, P Kerrigan.

Mayo: R Hennelly; K Higgins, G Cafferkey, T Cunniffe; R Feeney, D Vaughan, T Mortimer; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran; E Varley, A Freeman, C O'Connor.

Verdict: Cork

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