Kevin McStay: Fermanagh have been superb, but he fairytale ends against the Dubs
Dublin versus Fermanagh is indeed an unexpected pairing and as a result, the main game this Sunday looks like being the curtain-raiser for buzz and excitement.
Fermanagh have been superb and while we remarked at the time of their defeat to Monaghan that the winning margin flattered the eventual Ulster champions, I did not expect them to march all the way to August. But in fairness their supremo Pete McGrath boldly predicted in the interview after their Ulster championship defeat that he expected to reach this stage and fair play to all concerned.
Alas, the fairy tale ends right here and Fermanagh can expect a torrid afternoon. How come teams that can present a real challenge in a provincial ground melt away on a big day in Croke Park?
There are many reasons why and chief among them is the reality that this type of game is a million miles removed from a claustrophobic Ulster opener against the likes of Antrim or Cavan. In Croke Park, everything happens quicker.
The pitch is cut perfectly and plays fast; the stop nets behind each goal lead to quicker restarts; there is more space to be found and generally the crowds and atmosphere are different and so tension levels rise too. It means players react differently in Dublin than they do in their provincial surroundings.
And of course, as you get into August and the Last Eight, the standard of opposition is rising all the time. Dublin will be a level of team Fermanagh has not encountered for some time. I often argue that Dublin are no more athletic and well-conditioned than many other top teams but where they score heavily is in terms of sheer pace.
Dublin simply has too many flyers and this constant movement and pace allied to their power and skill overwhelms poorer opposition. And very often, very quickly.
The curtain-raiser will be that bit closer I expect and again, hats off to Kildare and the recovery they made from a summer encounter with the Dubs. That particular day they were battered, but I did argue, not broken and the likes of Eoghan O'Flaherty, Emmet Bolton and their young guns have led the charge to a recovery and season's summary they could not have countenanced a few months ago.
Of course Kerry will win but they will get a few early scares before they come through. In fairness to the All-Ireland champions, the one thing you must constantly admire them for is their ability to take on underdogs, rarely allowing complacency to set in.
There was one however, and you have to go back all the way to 2010. I was co-commentator that afternoon when Down came to HQ and tore into a lethargic and perhaps complacent Kerry. It was some shock and allowed Cork win their elusive All Ireland. Can Kildare repeat that sensational result? Nah. Don't think so.
Usually the August Bank Holiday marks the start of the business end of the championship but this year it looks very much like the quarters will be straight-forward enough and we will have to wait for the semis for the cut-throat action.
But there is a caveat to that likelihood: the history of the quarter finals has nearly always provided for one big shock out of the four games. Will there be one this or next weekend? Nah. Don't think so.
Limp Cork exit simply not on
July exits from the All-Ireland SFC are simply not on for such a proud and well-resourced county as Cork.
A team tipped to reach the Final Four before a ball was thrown in back in May, was thrashed by Kildare last weekend and the confidence, based on yet another excellent league programme, counted for nought as the Cork lads headed for home.
I have to suggest that Cork surely thought about the eventuality of losing the Munster final to Kerry. After all, playing away in Killarney has meant only one thing in the last 20-years or so: defeat.
For sure, Cork were extremely unlucky on three fronts: (1) the penalty awarded by the referee in the drawn game was never a foul (2) the last second equaliser from Fionn Fitzgerald may well have been a Hail Mary and (3) having had to accept the draw, Cork were unable to avail of their home venue in Páirc Uí Chaoimh due to redevelopment work.
A question arises: why did Cork agree to a fortnight between the draw and the replay? And not play the game in Semple Stadium? The pendulum swung dramatically in favour of the home team after the draw and Cork should have insisted on the replay six days later, in Thurles.
That way, if they were to lose, they had a fortnight to recover.
I understand that dates were not fixed in advance for the replay and so the arrangements were up for grabs. Were Cork outmanoeuvred? Again? Perhaps their legendary secretary Frank Murphy is losing his edge!
Ultimately, I have a lot of sympathy for Brian Cuthbert and his squad. No home venue, a quick turnaround after losing the final to Kerry (the only losing team to face such a challenge) and when you add those challenges to the three listed above, you have to feel it was just not their year.
The down side from the Cork perspective is that this management and older team members may well bow out on this note and the new management will have to soldier on without a home venue when next they meet Kerry again.
Timing is everything, especially in sport.