'Super 8' lessons: Home truths, classy Clifford, black-card lull, Farney depth and goal-shy Galway
The first All-Ireland quarter-final series has been a hit for some and a miss for others, but with pitch invasions to acclaim winners in Salthill and Ballybofey over the weekend, and Newbridge two weeks earlier when Galway booked their place, reaching an All-Ireland semi-final the hard way felt like an even more rewarding experience. We look at some of the issues that arose over the last month.
Symmetry of semi-finals and league placings
So the last four remaining teams - Galway, Dublin, Monaghan and Tyrone - in the All-Ireland football championship correlates directly with the top four placings in Division One of the Allianz football league.
The new format clearly reduces the element of surprise but if its design is to ensure that the best teams make it through to the penultimate stage, which should ultimately be the aim of a championship in any sport, then it has achieved that.
Clifford lives up to billing
There may be despair in Kerry this week after only their third failure in the qualifier era to make an All-Ireland semi-final but it will be short-lived with David Clifford around.
His performances during the three-weekend series were sublime, amassing 4-14 (1-2 from placed balls), despite some very close 'attention' from defenders.
His speed of thought and the speed with which he whips shots away is tailor-made for survival, and prosperity against heavy defensive orientation. He absorbed the pressure of having his name in lights all season impressively.
But there's a real contest for the Young Footballer of the Year gong.
Up to now, this award has generally produced a stand-out candidate - Con O'Callaghan last year and Diarmuid and Cillian O'Connor twice each in the previous five years, with Ryan McHugh in between. But if it remains a contest open to U-21s and does not follow the lowering of the grade to U-20, then Clifford and Dublin's Brian Howard (in his 21st year), who has been so efficient and energetic for Dublin between half-back and half-forward and has potentially two more games to frank his credentials, will be a great head-to-head, with Kildare's free-scoring U-20 star Jimmy Hyland sure to come into consideration too.
Home advantage provides little comfort
Maybe it was the scheduling or just the way other results went but from eight home games in the 'Super 8s' just two were won (by Dublin and Kerry) against teams (Roscommon and Kildare) with nothing to play for, while another was drawn (Monaghan v Kerry). Donegal, Tyrone and Kildare lost at home when it really mattered to them.
Monaghan's spread of scorers
Much is made of Monaghan's dependency on Conor McManus for scores but when Dermot Malone struck a point on Saturday night against Galway he became the 21st Farney player to score in their eight championship games.
Every one of their regular defenders has scored at least once in their campaign.
Like-for-like, the Croke Park element of the All-Ireland quarter-finals was well down, as expected, but overall 217,864 watched the 12 games in comparison to 148,746 taking in the four games at headquarters over the same August Bank Holiday weekend last year.
Galway's goal dearth
Galway's goal-prevention mechanism has worked impressively all year but in the three Super 8 games they scored just one goal, Patrick Sweeney's late effort against Kerry.
Monaghan have shown similar reticence with just McManus's early strike against Kerry.
Can they be as reliant on goal prevention rather than creation in Croke Park against free-wheeling Dublin and Tyrone teams?
Roscommon, Croke Park and four-goal concessions
Roscommon have much to ponder over the winter months but defending better has to be a priority.
Remarkably, they conceded the same score, 4-24, in both Croke Park games, against Tyrone and Dublin. But that ties into an uncanny trend which has seen them concede four goals in their last four Croke Park games, having shipped the same amount against Cavan in the Division Two league final, which they won, and the All-Ireland quarter-final replay defeat against Mayo last year.
There'll be an off-season clamour to give the provincial champions a home game first time out but Kerry will be pushing for a different change, whereby the losers in the first game will have home advantage in their second game to reduce the chances of dead-rubbers in the final round.
Red cards have infuriated Kildare, especially how the removal of Daniel and Neil Flynn impacted their last two games, but black cards have elicited a much lesser reaction over the last three weekends with just seven from the 12 games.
Has the penny dropped with players? Are referees turning a blind eye or is it just that all concerned have finally got accustomed to what's at stake?
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