Championship talking points
By John Harrington
It was a red-letter weekend for the All-Ireland SFC as both Dublin and Tyrone won their provincial titles in seriously impressive style.
Monaghan and Armagh are still standing too after they survived stiff tests against Carlow and Tipperary in Round 3B of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
Here are five of the main talking points from an entertaining weekend of football.
Tyrone’s multiple attacking threats
When the rule was being run over the possible contenders for the Sam Maguire Cup this year, many analysts professed the same doubts about Tyrone – not enough scoring forwards.
But while it’s true they don’t have a marquee predator of the calibre of someone like Paul Geaney, Conor McManus, or Bernard Brogan, it’s starting to look like that doesn’t matter.
They scored an impressive 2-17 against Down in yesterday’s Ulster Final, which brings their cumulative score from the three matches it took to win the province to a whopping 3-60.
11 players got on the scoresheet yesterday against Down which is now par for the course as far as Tyrone are concerned because that’s the same number of scorers they had against Derry in the quarter-final, while they bettered it in the semi-final win over Donegal with 12 players contributing to the winning score.
So while Tyrone’s inside-forwards may not be as prolific as Kerry’s or Dublin’s, it’s clear they’re compensating for this by posing a scoring threat from all areas of the park.
What’s stood out most in this regard is just how potent their half-backs are when they get into the opposition half.
Yesterday the trio of Padraig Hampsey, Tiernan McCann, and Peter Harte scored a combined five points from play, and in total have hit 1-12 from play over the three matches in Ulster.
The energy that trio bring as ball carriers and off-the-shoulder runners is immense, and something anyone who plays Tyrone in the knock-out rounds is going to have to be very wary of.
They’ll also have to be ready to deal with a talented Tyrone bench which has also been a consistent source of scores thus far in the Championship.
Ronan O’Neill scored two classy goals yesterday while fellow sub Lee Brennan chipped in with a point. It total, the Tyrone bench averaged five points per game in Ulster.
So when you take a really close look at the Tyrone team, it makes you think it might be time to reassess the theory that they don’t have the firepower to win an All-Ireland title this year.
Dublin’s King Con
A star was born in Croke Park yesterday when Con O’Callaghan turned in a man of the match display for Dublin in their Leinster SFC Final victory over Kildare.
O’Callaghan’s talent has long been touted, but this was the day when proved he’s not just a player with potential or one for the future, he’s already good enough to spearhead a third All-Ireland title in a row for Dublin.
It was always probably going to take the emergence of someone like O’Callaghan to keep Dublin ahead of the chasing pack this year.
For all the talent they already possessed, it would have been a serious ask for Jim Gavin to wring another All-Ireland out of the group unless he could find a player or two good enough to improve them even more.
And, in O’Callaghan, he certainly now has that. The Cuala man has no apparent weakness – he’s an explosive athlete, two-footed, hugely skilful, a ruthless finisher, and comes across as a down to earth sort who’s unfazed by playing on the big stage.
He didn’t blink when he was given the task of taking over the free-taking duties from the black-carded Dean Rock yesterday, and finished the match with an incredible haul of 12 points, six of them from play.
What makes O’Callaghan such a nightmare for defenders is that his first instinct is to take them on.
He doesn’t try to create space for himself by moving laterally, he goes straight for the jugular and has the strength and footwork to destroy defenders in one-on-one situations.
He’s still only 21 and should continue to improve with every game he plays, which should be a very scary thought for those teams hoping to knock Dublin from their perch this year.
Carlow go out with heads held high
It must have been some feeling to be a Carlow supporter in Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday when Gary Kelly blasted the ball to the back of the back of the Monaghan net.
That second-half goal gave the home team a two-point lead and they were playing so well it suddenly seemed possible they might pull off an almighty shock.
In the end they seemed to run out of legs as Monaghan came with a powerful surge late in the game to take the win, but there was so much honour in defeat for Carlow.
They rose their came to an incredible level for a Division Four side, and it just goes to show how much room for improvement there is for any team given a sustained run of matches at the height of the summer.
Many will be tempted to write off Monaghan now because they struggled to win the game, but that would be doing a disservice to Carlow.
In fact, Monaghan deserve praise for having the bottle to come back from two points down in the second-half in such hostile territory and win with something to spare.
They’ll now relish the chance of taking on their Ulster Championship conquerors Down in Round 4B of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers.
Twinkle-toed Jamie Clarke
Jamie Clarke’s brilliant 70th minute goal was befitting of one to win a match as competitive as Armagh’s Round 3B Qualifier against Tipperary on Saturday.
There are very few players skilful enough in the game to have even thought about finishing the ball to the back of the net in the manner he did, never mind successfully execute it.
First he dummied to shoot with his left foot, but when Tipperary goalkeeper Ciaran Kenrick didn’t buy it Clarke was forced to improvise.
So, he dropped the ball to the ground, dribbled it deftly left-footed to his right beyond Kenrick’s reach, and then finished it right-footed to the net. Pure genius.
Daniel Flynn’s wonder-point
Daniel Flynn will have nightmares about the goal chance he missed against Dublin in the second-half, but watching a replay of his first-half wonder-point should make him feel a bit better about himself.
Taking the ball on this own ’65 yard line he somehow flipped the ball over the head of Con O’Callaghan who had raced in to make a tackle.
He then soloed down the right touch-line at incredible speed, leaving both Cian O’Sullivan and Brian Fenton in his wake.
Just when it looked like he was running down a dead-end, he looked up, and arced an absolute beauty of a shot over the bar from a tight angle with the outside of his right-boot.
If there’s a better point scored all year, it’ll be something seriously special.