Championship talking points
It was another action-packed weekend in the provincial football and hurling championships. Here are five of the main talking points from Saturday's and Sunday's matches.
Mayo’s Achilles heel strikes again
Sunday’s Connacht Quarter-Final was a match of fine margins and in the end the most decisive factor was that Galway’s bench made a bigger impact than Mayo’s.
That’s an all-too familiar story as far as this Mayo team is concerned and it’s a weakness that arguably also cost them the last two All-Ireland Finals against Dublin.
Dublin’s substitutes in both of those Finals improved the team after their introduction, but Mayo didn’t get anything like the same sort of bounce from their bench.
On Sunday, Cillian O’Connor was the only Mayo sub who looked capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, whereas the likes of Peter Cooke, Sean Kelly, Ian Burke, and Eamonn Brannigan impressed for Galway.
Those sorts of options from the bench makes Galway a formidable force, especially if they reach the All-Ireland Quarter-Final series where strength in depth will be particularly crucial.
On the flip side, Mayo’s lack of true depth looks like being their greatest impediment as they now try to negotiate the punishing schedule a trip through the qualifiers guarantees.
It’s a weakness that has been compounded by the serious looking knee injury suffered by Tom Parsons against Galway.
Midfield is probably the position in the pitch where Mayo’s resources are shallowest, so the Charlestown clubman’s absence for the foreseeable future is an especially big blow.
Carlow are still rising
In 2016 Carlow lost to Louth by 10 points in the Leinster Championship. Fast forward two years, and they’ve just beaten the same opponents by 12 points.
It’s a vivid illustration of just how far the team has come under manager Turlough O’Brien in a short space of time, and yesterday’s performance suggests they’re still getting better and better.
O’Brien certainly believes they are.
“We're progressing year on year now and we didn't want to be a one-hit wonder last year... We're headed for the Super 8s lads!", he said with a big smile after the match.
You wouldn’t doubt him at this stage. Kildare represent a very high hurdle in the Leinster quarter-final, but Carlow are absolutely flying at the moment and will believe now they can overcome any obstacle in their way.
Mark Jackson’s perfect day
When he kicked a ball around his garden as a kid, chances are that Mark Jackson didn’t even dare to dream of producing deeds as heroic as his match-winning display for Wicklow in their Leinster SFC victory over Offaly yesterday.
The goalkeeper kicked seven points – five frees and two ‘45s – and also saved a penalty for good measure as the Garden County won their first Championship match for four years.
The prize they’ve won is an Leinster Quarter-Final clash against All-Ireland Champions Dublin, which is pretty much the ultimate Goliath versus David contest.
Dublin won Division One of the Allianz Football League this year, whereas Wicklow finished bottom of Division Four.
According to selector Leighton Glynn, though, they’re relishing the prospect of testing themselves against the best in the business rather than feeling overawed by it.
"Chances are you will be beaten being honest, but you go out and those lads will be hopping mad to play Dublin and that's great,” said Glynn. “Whatever the result is they have a bit of belief going into it.
"It's the biggest game of their lives probably, in front of the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of, and sure isn't that what football is all about, it's great."
Glorious opportunity missed by Dublin
Don’t dare suggest to Pat Gilroy that Dublin’s narrow defeat to Kilkenny in yesterday’s thrilling Leinster SHC clash at Parnell Park was in any way a moral victory.
He’s an ambitious man with high standards who will recognise it for what it was – a glorious opportunity missed.
A victory would have been a huge shot in the arm for Dublin hurling and blown the Leinster Championship wide open, but instead they now find themselves mentally and physically drained with a tough trip to Wexford on the horizon this weekend.
Kilkenny obviously deserve great credit for displaying tremendous grit and guile to from five points down with five minutes to play to win it by two.
But Dublin will rightly feel that they let them off the hook. They were guilty of some poor shooting from play, and three missed frees were very costly when you consider that Kilkenny converted all 13 of their frees as well as two ‘65s.
Hopefully this young Dublin team will learn from the experience, but in the short term it will definitely be a tough blow to absorb.
Conor Whelan is a class apart
Watching the powerful Conor Whelan tear the Offaly defence to shreds on Saturday, you had to remind yourself that he’s still just 21.
He’s now playing his fourth Championship campaign and there’s a good argument for suggesting he’s already the best inside forward in the country.
He finished with a personal tally of 1-1 against Offaly, but he also set up two goals on a plate for Joseph Cooney and Brian Concannon and won a huge amount of ball which he always seemed to use intelligently.
He’s very much the complete forward. A powerful ball-winner, a devastating finisher, and a very clever play-maker.
As he continues to go from strength to strength, there’s a good chance that Galway will too.