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GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.
GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.

Column: Rory Kavanagh on Football


By Rory Kavanagh

Emotion. Down’s Ulster Semi-Final win over Monaghan was just one of those games. There was simply something about Down.

There was so much emotion, so much was invested into the 70 minutes that it is very hard to get to that sort of performance again having used so much energy.

Despite a worrying start when Monaghan really should have punished them further, Down’s sheer will and passion kept them afloat. It was all about reaching the right tone and tempo. Eamonn Burns’ players did that in the Athletic Grounds.

Now a tough test awaits Tyrone because they are a team on a serious mission. It still promises to be an intriguing encounter.

Absolutely Down have a free shot. Nobody expected their triumph over Monaghan, a result that in many ways has lit up the Championship, certainly in Ulster.

I was impressed by the way they just tore into them from the start showing them no respect whatsover. They were hurting in many ways with a lot of people giving them no chance in the media.

Kevin McKernan said that afterwards, they felt they had been disrespected slightly. That can be a powerful thing when you bring that sort of sheer emotion to a match.

Impressive Down full forward Connaire Harrison.
Impressive Down full forward Connaire Harrison.

I found it interesting because Galway produced the same sort of defiant display against Mayo and then they fell flat last weekend. Now I'm wondering whether Down can reach the same pitch and level as what they did against Monaghan.

I think they are coming up against a different animal against Tyrone in terms of their defensive set-up and how rigid they are. Tyrone are well drilled, they look so powerful too. That is one thing that really struck me in the Donegal match, the way Tyrone made tackles and forced turnovers.

Tyrone are coming for the last three to four years, but now they are beginning to peak. I can see huge similarities between them and the way we were in Donegal in our All Ireland winning season in 2012.

We were successful in Ulster in 2011 and we lost an All Ireland Semi-Final against Dublin. We always felt that the next year that there was more to come from us in terms of our attacking principles.

We felt that we had let ourselves down a little bit, but there was a sense of unfinished business heading into 2012. That is almost carbon coby of what Tyrone are at this year.

They will look back at their All Ireland Quarter Final defeat to Mayo. Tyrone were really disappointed with that so they will be intent on winning another Ulster, to get back into Croke Park, to put in a big performance there.

Without a doubt this is a vital campaign for Tyrone. Recalling our training sessions in 2012, they were ferocious, just in terms in how we couldn't wait to get back in again after 2011.

This is the year when Tyrone might make a big step forward. Overall, I feel they will put back to back Ulster victories together and that they will be really targeting that All Ireland Quarter Final.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.

Improving Kildare can test Dublin

For the first time in a long time in a Leinster Final you can look forward to it because you want to see where Kildare are at.

Kildare mightn’t be good enough yet to get over the Dublin challenge, but I really expect them to challenge the champions.

Kildare will be competitive. I'm looking forward to seeing to how far this Kildare team has really developed.

I watched Meath beat Louth and I was taken by their performance. I thought they had a bit of power and I felt it was a tricky one to call between Kildare and Meath.

But Kildare went out and blew them away. Everybody is commenting on how physically well developed they are, a serious amount of work has been done under Cian O'Neill, who is a shrewd enough operator. Looking at their physique all over the park, they are mobile, but they include strong men similar to how Tyrone looked in the Ulster Semi-Final against Donegal.

Tyrone were physically much bigger than Donegal and overpowered them. Kildare did the exact same thing to Meath.

Kildare's midfield is good. Kickouts went long quite a lot of the time against Meath with Tommy Moolick and Kevin Feely dominating at midfield. These boys could give Brian Fenton and whoever he lines up with, maybe James McCarthy, a good test.

Daniel Flynn at full forward was very effective, they have size, but they also have serious running power. Signs of progression are there, getting up into Division One, Cian O'Neill is doing a good job.

A revealing afternoon beckons for them at GAA headquarters. Trying to better Dublin is the most demanding assignment in Gaelic Football presently.

Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton.

Stephen Cluxton is a hugely important piece in the whole Dublin jigsaw. If Cluxton wasn't playing I don't think Dublin would be winning All Irelands; he is just unbelievable. The accuracy of his kickouts and the retention of ball is just phenomenal.

Should Kildare try to squeeze up on Dublin's kickouts? The best team in the country at doing it is Kerry, who play a zonal approach after their own kickout.

In last year's Semi-Final Kerry scored 1-3 by really squeezing and punishing any bad kickouts. That is the way to go. Cian O'Neill will know it, I think he will have to adopt that sort of approach, to see if they can take the game to Dublin.

Giving Dublin the kickout means you are dealing with wave after wave of attack. You are asking for trouble if you adopt that sort of approach. This is one aspect worth monitoring closely.

Round 3B Qualifiers

Tipperary versus Armagh should be a really interesting affair at Semple Stadium on Saturday. I fancied Cavan to overcome Tipperary, but that was a seriously impressive victory away from home.

They met in the last Division Three game when Michael Quinlivan scored a hat-trick. There has been a lot of talk about Armagh being rejuvenated, but they fell badly in Ulster against Down.

A couple of wins in the Qualifiers, though, over Fermananagh and Westmeath offered a boost. Inevitably Jamie Clarke's role will be vital. This will be very, very close, I expect it to go down to the wire. The fact that Tipperary are playing at home might swing it, but I don't expect there to be more than a point or two in it either way.

Having cruised to victory over Wexford, Monaghan should have too much for Carlow. Monaghan will be hurting from the shock loss against Down. I expect Monaghan to reach the last eight, there is too much quality for them to be heading out. The Qualifiers are all about momentum, whichever two teams advance following Saturday’s contests will enter Round 4B optimistic.

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