Friday 19 July 2019

Donegal and Mayo are the top threats to Dubs - Kernan

Joe Kernan. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Kernan. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Mayo and Donegal, plus the danger of the unknown, pose the biggest threats to Dublin's ambitions to become the first county in either football or hurling to complete the All-Ireland five-in-a-row, according to Joe Kernan.

The former Crossmaglen, Armagh, Ulster and Ireland International Rules manager makes an interesting case on why resurgent Mayo and improving Donegal are better equipped to trouble Dublin than Kerry or last year's beaten finalists Tyrone.

He's backing Mayo and Donegal to reach the semi-finals from Group 1, which also features Kerry and Meath, with Dublin and Tyrone emerging from Group 2 ahead of Roscommon and Cork.

"I would rank it Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Tyrone in terms of the All-Ireland. If Kerry lose to Mayo next Sunday, they're in trouble. It's a huge game for them. They got an eye-opener against Cork, who caused their defence all sorts of problems in the Munster final. Can they fix it so quickly? You'd have your doubts," he said.

The importance of taking full points from the first game in the Super 8s was underlined last year when the four winners - Dublin, Tyrone, Galway and Monaghan - all reached the semi-finals.

Kernan has been impressed by Donegal's rate of development and Mayo's recovery talents, which, once again, have steered them to the business end of the Championship despite losing in Connacht.

"The Mayo defence is always pretty solid and they have a few new forwards, who are showing well. Cillian O'Connor's return is a big boost and Darren Coen has been excellent. He's strong and direct and prepared to shoot on sight.

"Obviously they need Lee Keegan at full fitness, but it they get everyone right, they'll take beating. They would love another shot at the Dubs and they might well get it," said Kernan.

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Donegal powered to the Ulster title without being unduly troubled, beating Fermanagh, Tyrone and Cavan by a combined total of 15 points.

"There's a lovely balance about them. They have strength, pace and mobility throughout the team, as well as a lot of brilliant individuals. Jamie Brennan has been excellent in attack. They're the sort of team to really test Dublin.

"I'd leave Michael Murphy in the full-forward line all the time. Defenders can't push up when you have him in there because he's capable of winning ball, even with two men on him.

"We saw him do it against the Australians in the International Rules two years ago. They tried to jam all the space around him, but still couldn't manage him.

"Declan Bonner has a good set-up there. The word is that Stephen Rochford is doing a great coaching job - it was a smart call by Declan to bring him in," added Kernan.

He regards Tyrone, who play Roscommon on Saturday, as an enigma whose prospects depend on their approach.

"It will be interesting to see what tactics they use against Dublin, in particular. If they move the ball quickly - as they did in the league earlier in the year - they will cause problems, but if they revert to a defensive style, they will come up short.

"If you are to have a chance against Dublin, you have to take them on. There's no other way. Tyrone did that in the early stages of the All-Ireland final last year and were going well, but once Dublin came back at them, they reverted to their old style and that was that.

"When you have a big, strong guy like Cathal McShane in front of the opposition goal, you've got to get quick ball into him. He'll win a lot of it, even with two men on him.

"A good ball-winner and a good finisher (he has scored 2-15 from play so far in the Championship) like him is a huge asset, but there's no point having him in there if the build-up is slow and the opposition get time to set up defensive banks around him," said Kernan.

His prediction that Mayo and Donegal will emerge from Group 1 may surprise Kerry fans, but he argues that defensive issues could undermine the Kingdom.

"They were there against Mayo in the league final and again against Cork in the Munster final. Sunday's game against Mayo will tell us a lot. They will be geared to the hilt for this one and if they win, their confidence will soar. I'd still have a slight fancy for Mayo - their scoring rate has been good," he said.

It's a tough group for Meath, but Kernan believes they will acquit themselves well.

"They are a lot better than they looked against Dublin. That was a bad day for them, but they're making progress and will benefit from three games at the highest level. The same goes for Cork. They have good forwards," he said.

Roscommon gained experience, albeit of the painful variety, in last year's Super 8s which will be helpful this year.

"Anthony Cunningham has done a fine job with them. There's a bit more steel and composure about them. They're hard to break down defensively and Conor Cox has been a revelation in attack," he said.

As for Dublin and the five-in-a-row, Kernan suspects that factors as yet unknown could play a part.

"At face value it's theirs to lose, but things can change. They haven't had injury issues with key players in previous years. It might be the same again, but you never know. Kilkenny lost Henry Shefflin when they were going for five in a row and look at the difference that made.

"Kerry were odds-on to beat Offaly in 1982, but were caught on the day. It could happen to Dublin too. There's still a long way to go in this Championship," he said.

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