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Brian Fenton of Dublin climbs highest to win a high ball during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Westmeath at Croke Park
Brian Fenton of Dublin climbs highest to win a high ball during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Westmeath at Croke Park.

Championship talking points


By John Harrington & Cian O'Connell

It was another exciting weekend of football championship action as Down produced a big shock in the Ulster semi-final, Dublin reminded everyone why they're so dominant in Leinster, and Armagh, Carlow, Wexford, and Cavan progressed to Round 2 of the Qualifiers. 

Here are four of the weekend's main talking points.

Kick-outs are King

It’s well established by now that a well-drilled and effective kick-out strategy is a must for any serious inter-county team, but rarely has that point been emphasised so definitively as it was in Sunday’s Leinster SFC Semi-Final between Dublin and Westmeath.

The Lake County had many problems on the day against a rampant Dublin team, but possibly their biggest was their inability to retain possession off their own kick-out.

Dublin’s high-press forced Westmeath goalkeeper Darren Quinn to kick the ball long, but whenever he did so Dublin’s greater physical presence in the middle third of the field saw them hoover up kick-out after Westmeath kick-out.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin had clearly identified the fact that Westmeath weren’t blessed with any tall, powerfully built, natural fielders of the ball in the middle third, and he exposed that weakness ruthlessly.

The introduction of the mark this year can be something of an antidote to the high-press, but only if you have a couple of strapping midfielders capable of dominating in the sky.

Kildare have them in the shape of Kevin Feely and Tommy Moolick, so it’ll be interesting to see if Dublin adopt the high-press to the same extent against the Lilywhites as they did against Westmeath.

Certainly, from their own kick-outs, they’re unlikely to take the chance of booting the ball in the direction of Moolick and Feely.

Even against Westmeath on Sunday they eschewed that option, as Stephen Cluxton went short with all bar one of his kick-outs, which is why Dublin had a 100 per cent success rate from the tee.

If Kildare have the intestinal fortitude to push up on the Dublin kick-out in the Leinster Final and force Cluxton to kick long towards Feely and Moolick, then things could get interesting.

Will Kildare be brave enough to push up on Stephen Cluxton's kick-out in the Leinster SFC Final?
Will Kildare be brave enough to push up on Stephen Cluxton's kick-out in the Leinster SFC Final?

That brave ploy comes with a health-warning though. If Dublin win those kick-outs cleanly then Kildare defence will be exposed with their half-forwards pushed high up the field beyond the ball.

Were Kildare manager Cian O’Neill to ask his Westmeath counter-part, Tom Cribbin, for advice ahead of the Leinster Final, then he’d be urged to err on the side of caution rather than ambition.

"I would lock up shop,” said a chastened Cribbin after his team’s 31-point defeat when asked would he have done anything differently with the benefit of hindsight. 

“You would have to play with two sweepers. (Carlow manager) Turlough O'Brien is a good friend of mine and I said they can't be played without two sweepers.

"You might ask why we didn't do that today. It was because the lads wanted to have a go. We felt that we were ready to have a go.

"We didn't go out to lose the game; we wanted to go and see where we are at.

"Our approach was the difference in the score-line compared to the last two years.

"The only way we would handle them - and to be honest I probably knew it in my heart and soul before the game - we needed a minimum of 11 guys back, play the zonal defence and two sweepers.

"But unless you have machines that can get up and down the pitch, you are not going to beat them. You might hold them back and keep the score down."

You’d definitely keep the score down if you played with a double-sweeper, packed your defence, and conceded every Dublin kick-out.

But it’s highly unlikely you’d defeat them because once Dublin start moving forward at pace and with support runners, they’re very difficult to stop no matter how many men you have behind the ball.

Kerry have had some success against Dublin in the past by employing a high-press after kicking a free at goal because that gives them more time to get it in place, but conceding the short-kick out after kicking a wide or a point from play because Cluxton just doesn’t give you the time to implement the high-press effectively in those situations.

Perhaps Kildare would be well-advised to cut their suit to measure in a similar fashion.

Down star Kevin McKernan celebrates the Mourne County's exciting Ulster SFC Semi-Final win over Monaghan.
Down star Kevin McKernan celebrates the Mourne County's exciting Ulster SFC Semi-Final win over Monaghan.

Defiant and dynamic Down

It was a game which captured Down's defiance and dynamism.

Early on in Saturday's Ulster SFC Semi-Final Monaghan were creating chances, but not taking them. Down simply hung on in there before summoning a second quarter brimful of passion.

Quality scores were delivered too during that burst. Kevin McKernan knitted the play together in a calm and sensible manner.

The two Johnstons scampered around seeking to influence the play, while inside Connaire Harrison's bustling aggression was causing Monaghan bother.

With Harrison occupying the inside target man role, Down had an an option which was used smartly. Harrison's three points added an extra layer of satisfaction.

After the restart when the efficient Darragh O'Hanlon netted a penalty, Down edged seven clear.

From then on, though, Monaghan launched a dramatic comeback mission.

Ultimately it wasn't accomplished because Eamonn Burns' team put bodies on the line, making blocks and forcing turnovers as Monaghan trimmed the gap.

Malachy O'Rourke's charges narrowed the margin to the minimum, but Down, admirably, stayed cool.

With one last break substitutes Mark Poland and Donal O'Hare, who replaced the injured Harrison, combined for the insurance score.

A proud and guttural roar greeted the last whistle. Down, without an Ulster title since 1994, were back in a provincial decider.

Tradition and talent will always be available in Down. On Saturday, though, Burns' developing outfit should they had the temperament to survive a thrilling battle too.

Wexford manager Seamus McEnaney.
Wexford manager Seamus McEnaney.

Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney factor

What a curious Monday morning for Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney.

Perhaps the draw was almost inevitable - Wexford will host Monaghan in Round 2B of the Qualifiers.

McEnaney, who helped put Monaghan back on the road to inter-county respectability, faces his native county on Saturday week in the south east.

Last Saturday, McEnaney's Wexford carved out a narrow Round 1B win at the Gaelic Grounds over Limerick.

It was more about grit than glamour, but McEnaney was delighted by the attitude Wexford demonstrated.

Five early Allianz Football League Division Four wins earned promotion, but since then Wexford suffered.

Four losses in a row, including a Leinster SFC defeat to Carlow, were blows, but Wexford did enough to overcome the Limerick challenge.

PJ Banville and Ciaran Lyng's guile in attack mattered deeply, while Michael Furlong and Adrian Flynn contributed handsomely too.

Now Wexford will relish the opportunity to face Monaghan in Round 2B.

Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien.
Carlow manager Turlough O'Brien.

Carlow’s perseverance pays off

In Turlough O’Brien’s first year as Carlow manager in 2015 they were hammered by Laois in the Leinster Championship (3-16 to 0-8) and then fell at the first hurdle in the All-Ireland Qualifiers against Longford (2-15 to 1-8).

Back then things were looking pretty grim for the Barrow-siders, but O’Brien’s faith in Carlow football never wavered.

He and his back-room team continued working hard to improve their panel and persuade the best players in the county to commit to it, and now they’re starting to reap the rewards.

Winning two Championship matches in the one summer is a serious step forward for Carlow football, and a home draw with Leitrim in Round 2B of the Qualifiers gives them a good chance of progressing further again.

It just goes to show what can be achieved if you work hard and put all the right structures in place.

O’Brien has put together a strong management team with the acquisition of Steven Poacher as coach a particularly shrewd appointment, and the players have responded by working extremely hard.

Footballers like Brendan Murphy, Sean Murphy, Daniel St. Ledger, and Paul Broderick are of the very highest calibre, and it’s great to see them have an extended opportunity to show their worth.

***

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