Sunday 18 February 2018

Five things we learned from the GAA weekend

Mayo progressed to an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Kerry after defeating Cork by a solitary point
Mayo progressed to an All-Ireland semi-final meeting with Kerry after defeating Cork by a solitary point
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

Armagh, Monaghan, Kerry and Mayo progressed in the race for Sam Maguire and here are five things we learned from the weekend.

Mayo have the resolve to win an All-Ireland

During the third quarter of the second All-Ireland quarter-final between Mayo and Cork, a Mexican wave took place. Generally an indicator of interest in the spectacle at hand, James Horan’s side blitzed the Rebels and looked to be coasting until the introduction of Donncha O’Connor sparked the Munster finalists into life. Indeed his goal levelled matters with seven minutes remaining and talk of a ‘fragile’ Mayo looked ready to be filled in the morning’s papers.

Without displaying any panic, Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan tapped over two points to regain the initiative and they weathered the late storm to deny Cork a dramatic win.

Aidan O’Shea’s goal was calmness personified and Mayo’s resistance proved yet again that they possess the fighting qualities to finally win an All-Ireland.

Whether they have the talent to dethrone Dublin is another question entirely.

Marquee forwards soar above peers

Whether in the lashing wind and rain on Saturday or the clear skies that followed the following day, it was a weekend where star forwards shone brightest. Conor McManus was instrumental in Monaghan’s defeat of Meath, engineering the late equalising free and a constant menace throughout. Armagh’s Aidan Forker did his growing reputation no harm in the proceeding match, while yesterday James O’Donoghue, Colm O’Neill, Brian Hurley and Cillian O’Connor gave an exhibition of attacking quality on Jones Road.

Blanket defences and defensive systems and structures dominate pre-match talk, but classy forwards are still the difference between winning and losing in many instances.

On current form O’Donoghue and O’Connor are worth the admission fee on their own.

Meath back to square one?

Meath manager Mick O’Dowd was downbeat following their qualifier defeat at the hands of Armagh and rightly so. Few put much between the teams yet it was the Orchard County that quickly put their stamp on the game with their counter-attacking game plan far superior to what the Royals could muster in response.

After the humbling at the hands of Dublin, it was felt the Royals would regroup and aim for a quarter-final spot, but that redemption fell short and but for the spark created by substitute Graham Reilly, the margin could have been even greater.

If this is a ‘transitional’ Kerry, what will the finished product be like?

Serious question marks were placed on this Kerry team following their indifferent league campaign, with the loudest dissenters coming from within the county bounds. No Gooch, no Tomas O’Se and an inexperienced team pointed towards a team that would be competitive but ultimately fall short in All-Ireland ambitions. They may still be proven correct, but at the moment things look rosy in the Kerry garden.

What we have seen so far is resolve (Clare), sheer class (Cork) and an ability to see off their opponents (Galway) when the game is there to be won.

Yet to come up against a Sam Maguire contender, Eamon Fitzmaurice can do little about who the Kingdom play, but he is maximising the pool of players available. Paul Geaney was immense again in attack and there is an embarrassment of riches to pick from around the middle with David Moran a high-calibre substitute that was called into action earlier than expected following Bryan Sheehan's injury.

It also helps that in James O’Donoghue they have the outstanding player of this year’s championship.

Provincial finalists bite the dust

Only Ulster finalists Monaghan bucked the trend at the weekend as Meath, Galway and Cork signed off their 2014 campaigns following on from disappointing provincial decider defeats.

The six-day rule excuse has now been removed, but it still appears that teams struggle to overcome the loss to continue Sam Maguire ambitions.

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