Colm O'Rourke: 'Donegal in need of bite to match their bark in order to overcome Mayo'
This weekend is a time to draw breath after a hectic few weeks.
The Super 8 has thrown up one really good game and the possibility of two more - Donegal v Mayo and Dublin v Tyrone - that's out of a total of 12 games. It's a moot point as to whether the traditional quarter-finals would have been any better, but this year has provoked any amount of debate on ways of improving the Super 8.
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The bottom line is that there aren't eight teams capable of playing at this level and it would have been better to put the chaff out of their misery in knock-out games. The outcome for the semi-finals would be no different.
Perhaps it is all elementary, as Sherlock Holmes used to say to his assistant Mr Watson. If you start with a flawed system, things like venues and who plays who first and last are incidental considerations. The architects of this series wanted more action between the top teams. I do not believe that money was behind the concept, even if the cynics always feel the GAA's decisions are made for financial reasons.
The idea of having more big games is laudable but for the fact that there aren't eight teams up to anything like the same standard. With three already out - Cork, Meath and Roscommon - the last round is for one semi-final place: Mayo or Donegal. The dubious honour for the victors is likely to be a semi-final in neutral Croke Park against Dublin.
The real downside for the Super 8 is highlighted by what is supposed to be taking place in Cork next Sunday afternoon. Aren't Cork and Roscommon lucky that Páirc Uí Chaoimh couldn't host this game due to the pitch being replaced? The supporters would not fill one row of seats. This dead rubber should not be taking place. The GAA should announce that this farce is not going ahead - both county boards and all the players would welcome it.
Last year it was revealed that Roscommon were spending in the region of €15,000 per week on the preparation of their county side. If they have continued training since the Dublin mauling then another €30,000 will disappear down the hole while the expenses of going to Cork and playing this charade will surely top €10,000. What a waste of money. Even if it's actually only a fraction of that cost, it's still a waste of money.
The players would be better off training with their clubs and the club fixtures programme could get up and running. Instead, 95 per cent of footballers in Roscommon and Cork, who could be involved in club games, are being left idle by a fixture nobody wants. It is a good time for the CCCC to show some uncommon sense and abandon the game, or else the Roscommon County Board could be brave and say to Cork, "we are not travelling lads, you can have the points".
There will be two real games next weekend. Dublin will want to win in Omagh as they would then meet either Mayo or Donegal in the semi-final the following Saturday. You can chalk Dublin down for the All-Ireland final unless a hurricane, a plague of locusts and a monsoon arrives. Global warming is also helping the Dubs - pitches are dry, the weather is warm and it suits their fluid style which has all opponents out on their feet with 10 minutes to go.
Jim Gavin has it all sorted. He is much too modest but he could easily copy what the Greek poet Horace wrote about himself: Exegi monumentum aere perennius, (I have built up a monument more lasting than bronze). He continued, "higher than the Pyramid's regal structures, that no consuming rain, nor wild North wind can destroy". This was to describe how his own written words would last forever.
Now Mr Gavin is set upon the last part of a journey and a record that could also last forever. Only next year it will be six. So the debate on where games in the Super 8 are played is missing the point altogether. That is not the big issue. The real debate is on the future of Dublin. That is not going to be resolved in the short term. I hope this domination continues until the elephant in the room tramples all over the rest to such an extent that they all wake up. There will be no smelling of roses.
Tyrone have a powerful incentive next week because the weaker of the two semi-finals await the winner. Bringing in the sidelines did not work last year. Maybe Mickey Harte might shorten the pitch as well so the Dubs have no room. Whatever tricks are played seem a minor irritant to Dublin players, they just get on with the job. Calm, reserved, ruthless. Some day they might be five points behind with 10 minutes to go and we will see if they panic a little like ordinary players would. Hardly this time though.
Kerry are in the best position of all. They will travel in strength to play Meath and cannot afford anything other than a big win which will make the possibility of score difference elementary, so to speak. The form of Sean O'Shea and David Clifford gives hope of better days ahead, even if they did not shake off close attention too often last week. It's all part of their education. A big plus for Kerry is that Paul Geaney looks mean and hungry.
Castlebar, meanwhile, will be humming for the meeting of Mayo and Donegal. It's the place to be next Saturday evening. We should have a system where this happens regularly during the summer rather than the cold and wet of early spring.
This will be full-blooded proper entertainment. Mayo did not need to win in Killarney, and even if they had, this match would still need to be won. A draw will do Donegal but that is hardly likely to be even spoken about.
Mayo are not All-Ireland contenders but they have a powerful spirit which resonates with their people. It is a sort of a spiritual experience and the bond is absolute. Yet in speaking about spiritual matters, the man above had a career which did not end well and there are a good few players on the Mayo team who won't see any more active service if they do not win this one. And they are still the most important players.
When they needed a head of steam last week against Meath it was Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Seamus O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor and sub Andy Moran who poured on more coal. Ironically, the oldest were the freshest, even if Fionn McDonagh and another sub, James Carr, paid their fare for the long trip home.
Mayo will probably have done nothing this week. The most important thing is mental recuperation and getting away from each other. Plenty of rest and a change of routine is all important after weeks of sleep, eat, play. Now everything looks a lot clearer. The route to the semi-final depends on one big performance and Mayo will be better than they were in Croke Park last Sunday when they were barely hanging on. If Keith Higgins and Paddy Durcan are back it will be a big help, maybe Tom Parsons or Matthew Ruane are ready for a cameo. The fortune tellers are seeing powerful tea leaves appearing.
On the other hand, the gods have not been good to Donegal. Losing Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee and more importantly Eoghan Bán Gallagher last week were not mortal blows, but without Gallagher it is hard to see a silver lining. The three wise men - Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty - were magnificent against Kerry and they will need to be at their best again as some vulnerabilities started to appear.
Donegal certainly won't be happy with a defence which conceded 1-20. Mayo have picked themselves off the floor on a road with many bends. They won't fear Donegal on their own dung heap. Again the Romans put it better: Lupus non timet canem lantrantem. A wolf is not afraid of a barking dog. If the wolf is Mayo then Donegal will have to bark loud and bite hard to win this one.
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