Tuesday 17 September 2019

James Horan has a crucial call to make for Dubs clash - and eight other Super 8s talking points

Horan has first big decision to make after Super 8s throw up some interesting themes

Mayo got their match-ups right by detailing Lee Keegan on Donegal’s Michael Murphy. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Mayo got their match-ups right by detailing Lee Keegan on Donegal’s Michael Murphy. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The much-maligned All-Ireland quarter-final series is done and dusted for another season. Here, we look at some of the key themes and trends to emerge from the last three weeks and their potential impact in the weeks and months ahead.

Mayo match-ups - where next for Lee Keegan?

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Mayo got their match-ups right by detailing Lee Keegan on Michael Murphy and Paddy Durcan on Ryan McHugh, Donegal's chief playmakers, on Saturday night.

Murphy still had a strong influence but Keegan's persistence and mental strength in these situations makes him one of the most valuable commodities in the game. Where to this weekend for him, the bete noire of Dublin forwards?

He tracked Ciarán Kilkenny successfully in the 2017 All-Ireland final, having outscored Diarmuid Connolly in three previous finals. Kilkenny is still Dublin's chief architect and his most likely target but Paul Mannion and Con O'Callaghan are problems that the Mayo full-back line may not be able to solve. Does Keegan provide a solution there with Durcan picking up Kilkenny? So many crucial calls for James Horan in the coming days.

Corner Mayo at your peril

Luke Connolly scoring a penalty. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Luke Connolly scoring a penalty. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The ability of this Mayo team to produce a performance when it matters most has been one of their enduring hallmarks. With championship exits dangling in front of them, they have almost always responded and Saturday was of those days, reminiscent of their All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone in 2016 and the Kerry replay in 2017.

That same capacity has been evident on the home straight in successive leagues when they went to Omagh and Ballybofey needing results to survive and got them. Form, as we saw on Saturday, doesn't work in straight lines when they're involved.

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Dubs keep goals from play at bay

For the first time in Jim Gavin's seven-year reign as manager, Dublin have reached an All-Ireland semi-final without conceding a goal from play. Luke Connolly's goal for Cork came from a penalty. Otherwise, they haven't been pierced. So much for vulnerability in the full-back line, though Stephen Cluxton and Evan Comerford have been forced to make saves.

Stephen Cluxton ensured no goals were scored from play. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton ensured no goals were scored from play. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Irony of Donegal Croker pressure

Pressure applied from Donegal in advance of last year's All-Ireland quarter-final series effectively led to the change whereby provincial champions got their home game first in 2019.

It wasn't what Donegal were originally seeking as their subsequent motion to Congress asking that no team can use Croke Park as a home venue in the series identified.

Still, it was seen as fairer on provincial champions. It could have been Donegal's downfall however this year. Had the 2018 system applied, Donegal would have been in Navan for the second round to play Meath and at home in Ballybofey for their final game, a venue where they don't lose too often.

That's not to say they would have won but going to Castlebar certainly made it harder for them.

More structure revision

Plenty has been said already about dead rubbers and second-string teams without revisiting it. The best reason to dispense with it is to hand back two more weekends to clubs, rather than retain players for an extra two-three weeks in a competition that they have no future in.

If it is to stay then playing the second and third rounds on back-to-back weekends would be preferable, though that would compromise exclusive All-Ireland hurling semi-final weekends. The solution may be to push the All-Ireland hurling final out by a week, leaving just seven days between All-Ireland finals.

There's a market in the provinces

Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney was quite an atmosphere, even if Kerry/Mayo didn't live up to it, Castlebar on Saturday night too delivered drama. The idea of bringing these games to the provinces hasn't fallen down.

Roscommon recover

After their mauling last year, Roscommon will certainly feel they've taken something from this series with a first win and a decent home performance against Tyrone. Just unlucky the way the draw went for them but, with all their players potentially back next year, they can keep pressing.

Meath get job three-quarters done

Donegal 1-12, Meath 1-12

Kerry 2-12, Meath 1-12

Mayo 0-13, Meath 0-12

The above are the scorelines in Meath's three quarter-finals around the 58th-minute mark. Cumulatively, they were behind by just four points at that stage yet their aggregate losses clocked up to 26 points in the last quarter, a 22-point rise. Seeing out games at this level is clearly an issue that needs addressing.

Cork's vulnerability to goals

Shipping an average of almost four goals per game (five, two and four) gives Cork an obvious starting point when they resume next season but having already resolved to play off the front foot after a poor start to the league that might take a bit of fixing.

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