Wednesday 24 April 2019

Underdogs' shallow squads will be exposed in Super 8

Roscommon's attacking approach is a joy to behold but better teams will exploit their defence

Roscommon’s Diarmuid Murtagh tries to get away from Patrick Burns of Armagh. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Roscommon’s Diarmuid Murtagh tries to get away from Patrick Burns of Armagh. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

After about ten minutes of the Roscommon-Armagh game RTÉ should have flashed up a warning to young people in particular, "do not adjust your sets". This was because there was a game of football that very few under the age of 40 had ever seen before. The ball was being kicked long, there were one-to-one situations when a back had to mark his man without any support and there were brilliant points being kicked from distance.

It resulted in a bit of a shootout in the first half. Andrew Murnin and Rory Grugan were kicking brilliantly for Armagh, with the Murtaghs responding for Roscommon. It made for a very enjoyable game but it would have caused consternation in counties like Tyrone. When the heat and pace took its toll in the second half, the Armagh forwards disappeared, while there were an array of options in the Roscommon front line.

The modern Roscommon approach has been to attack, attack, attack and to go for goals whenever they are on - and a lot of times when they are not on. Enda Smith got two yesterday but there could have been a bagful. Smith had a great game after a quiet opening and was the dominant figure in the second half. After a disappointing Connacht final he responded to the pressure excellently.

Roscommon were certainly aided by Armagh failing to push up on their kickouts in the first half. It meant that the ball was worked easily out of defence and they had strong runners in Conor Devanney and John McManus, who attacked through the middle and sliced Armagh open. It was not hard to open up the Armagh defence; they were leaky all over the place and nobody seemed either willing or able to simply mark their men.

When Armagh forced long kickouts in the second half, Roscommon dominated and should have put this game to bed earlier. Cathal Cregg, who was outstanding, missed a goal chance and referee Joe McQuillan gave Armagh a penalty for a phantom foot-block. The rule is in place to prevent a player putting their boot on another player's foot in the act of shooting; in this case the blocker was yards away. Anyway justice was done as the penalty was missed.

But Armagh would not go away and got the margin down to a point twice in the last ten minutes, although Roscommon were the better team by some margin and the concern is that they took so long to put away a very limited Armagh team. Roscommon will play in Croke Park like they did in Portlaoise: without fear; they will probably score a good bit and give away a lot. It is not a recipe for winning All-Irelands but they are in the last eight and will enjoy these next big games. This is in itself a great achievement and after getting back into the first division of the League it is already a successful season.

However, they will need to unearth a couple of backs now or there is trouble ahead. The problem is that although they have a panel, most of those that could make a difference are from midfield up. Like all counties with a shallow base, the chances are that the panel will be exposed in the Super 8 when injuries in tandem wear and tear take their toll.

If we thought that Cork would bounce back from the humiliation of the Munster final then we were all in for a disappointment. It looks as if they are that bad. Maybe getting worse. All football followers should be very concerned at that. Munster is a one-county provincial championship. A vibrant, competitive Cork team is vital to the game. With one of the biggest selection pools in the country Cork are in a spiral of self-destruction, a problem which can only be solved from within.

Tyrone were their usual functional selves and nobody will get it easy from them in the Super 8. They will feel the natural order has been restored after their slip-up against Monaghan.

In Navan, Kildare got the job done early. When Daniel Flynn scored his goal, the Fermanagh goose was truly cooked. For most of the match they were even poorer than in the Ulster final, their shooting in the first half was appalling, even if they managed 18 points which is more than usual. All they had to offer was the Quigleys and sheer heart. The very basics of the game let them down.

The concern was that Kildare might find it difficult to get down from the high of beating Mayo. The draw was kind. But they have a group of serious footballers. They have power and pace and are all very comfortable on the ball. They are a bit like Donegal, a team with great potential. They should really be a Super 8 team every year such is the talent at their disposal.

Daniel Flynn is a very talented player with more to come. He was taken off late on as Kildare gave their subs a run. Flynn, like all the others replaced, was given a standing ovation as the Lilies took over Navan, and the players were treated like a returning army which had conquered all before them. Is this the same group who were treated as muppets by those same supporters after the Carlow match? The public mood is fickle. In ancient Rome a slave always whispered, "remember you are mortal" in the ear of a general after he came home triumphant from battle and paraded through the streets. Are there any slaves left in Kildare?

This was a performance of pace and power with scores coming from all angles and distances, from a mixture of backs and forwards. The 'No Surrender' over Newbridge has galvanised a group of players and united the county behind them. It is amazing what standing your ground and then producing the goods on the field of play can do for a team. Kildare are transformed. But there are much bigger days ahead and the top sides will punish them more for their mistakes.

One of those was to allow short kickouts. Fermanagh were able to build slowly from the back. Kerry will not be so accommodating if allowed to do the same. Another issue was a bit of show boating. Yet Kildare have a strong squad which will be suited by the next few weeks, and when Chris Healy gets a haircut he will be unstoppable. At the moment he looks like a young Diego Maradona, with the same silky touches. So Kildare have built up a head of steam. It will be hard to keep a lid on the supporters; they are the rebels with a cause.

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