Allianz League talking points
Last weekend's four Allianz Football League Quarter-Final produced plenty of drama. Here are five of the top talking points.
Beating Dublin was a major milestone for this Kerry team
Beating Dublin in yesterday’s Allianz Football League Final was a monkey off this Kerry team’s back, something Donnchadh Walsh didn’t mind admitting at a press conference today in Croke Park.
It’s a huge psychological boost for a team going through something of a period of transition, and sets them up perfectly for a major assault on the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice and his team can take so many positives from the manner of their victory over Dublin.
Top of the list was the attitude they showed. They played without any fear and attacked Dublin at all opportunities, which is a testament to their mentality and self-confidence considering how much they’ve suffered at the hands of this Dublin team in recent years.
You would have expected experienced players like David Moran, Donnchadh Walsh, Paul Geaney, and Peter Crowley to display the leadership they did yesterday, but what should encourage Kerry fans is that many of their younger players displayed the same qualities.
Tadhg Morley excelled again at centre-back and has really established himself as the lynch-pin of the Kerry defence this year.
Jack Barry was immense in the middle of the park and his partnership with Moran is now surely set in stone. Only a county like Kerry could produce such a complete looking talent like Barry seemingly from nowhere.
Other greenhorns like Ronan Shanahan, Kevin McCarthy, and Jack Savage also stepped up to the plate impressively, and there’s going to be serious competition for places in this Kerry panel now for the championship.
Experienced players like Shane Enright, Killian Young, Kieran Donaghy, and Johnny Buckley will come back into the mix, as will U-21 players like Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Jason Foley, and Tom O’Sullivan once their campaign runs its course.
He might have lost an irreplaceable talent like Colm Cooper to retirement last week, but Fitzmaurice has never dealt from a stronger hand than he does now as Kerry manager.
Stick or twist for Dublin?
Dublin’s long unbeaten run had to come to an end something, and it was perhaps no surprise they looked a little bit jaded yesterday considering all they have achieved in the past couple of years.
They displayed tremendous character by almost completing another Houdini escape act in a match that really should never have come down to the last kick of the game.
The sting of defeat will only serve to spur them on for the championship and you would still make them favourites to lift the Sam Maguire Cup, but yesterday’s loss did expose some fault-lines.
What should worry Dublin fans most is that some of the players who have been most crucial to the team’s success in recent years were ineffective.
Bernard Brogan was held scoreless and substituted. Paul Flynn scored a glorious point early in the game but was relatively anonymous thereafter, and Paddy Andrews made little impact either.
Cian O’Sullivan was also substituted, raising questions as to whether he was struggling with the sort of hamstring complaint that is increasingly becoming an issue for him.
The ever-present Brian Fenton looked like a player who could do with a rest as he struggled to cope with dynamism of opposite number Jack Barry, while James McCarthy struggled to hit his usual heights too.
There’s every chance that the break between now and the Championship will refuel Dublin’s tank, but don’t be surprised if Jim Gavin decides it’s time to freshen up the team by making a few changes, especially in attack.
Paul Mannion will surely be a starter after his inspirational display as a substitute yesterday and it might be time as well to finally give Cormac Costello an extended run in the team.
But if anyone is going to supply Dublin with a new X-Factor this summer, here’s betting that man will be U-21 star Con O’Callaghan.
Galway make their mark
The Allianz Football League Division 2 Final between Galway and Kildare was very much a game of two halves.
The first was poor fare, but the second was considerably more entertaining.
Galway ultimately showed more imagination and cohesion as an attacking force than Kildare did, and this was partly thanks to their success in exploiting the new ‘mark’ rule.
They had three very capable fielders of the ball in the middle third of the pitch in the shape of Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Paul Conroy, and Tom Flynn, and they played to that strength.
Goalkeeper Ruairi Lavelle successfully went long to the trio on many occasions in their second-half, and their ability to win clean marks gave Galway a great attacking platform.
Not many teams successfully use the mark as regular part of their game-plan, but Galway have consistently proven this year it can be an effective tactic.
Tipperary are still on an upward curve
By gaining promotion to Division Two and beating Louth in Saturday’s Allianz Football League Division 3 Final in some style, Tipperary showed they’re capable of building on last year’s All-Ireland semi-final appearance.
Despite the considerable loss of the inspirational Peter Acheson to emigration, their panel is a good deal stronger now than it was last year.
It will be strengthened further again by the return from injury of key players like Ciaran McDonald, Shane O’Connell, Jimmy Feehan, Jason Lonergan, and Ian Fahey.
Last year’s victory over Cork in the Munster Championship was regarded as a shock, but you wouldn’t be surprised now were Tipperary to repeat the dose in the likely event that the two counties meet again in this year’s Munster Semi-Final.
They’re bursting with confidence and playing a high-octane brand of football that is difficult to resist, especially when they have the luxury of two ball-winning inside-forwards with the rare combination of physicality, skill, and finishing power that Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan possess.
Westmeath should never have been a Division 4 team.
Watching Westmeath cut through Wexford in Saturday’s Allianz Football League Division 4 Final, you really had to wonder how they managed to allow themselves to drop into the bottom tier of League Football in the first place.
The likes of John Heslin, Kieran Martin, Paul Sharry, and Tommy McDaniel all tortured the Wexford defence, while substitutes like Denis Glennon, Shane Dempsey, and John Connellan made big impressions too.
That’s a serious arsenal of attacking weapons, the likes of which would make most counties green with envy.
Westmeath looked like a very confident team on Saturday and will bring serious momentum into the Championship now.
If they can supply that forward line with enough bullets, they’re good enough to shoot holes in most teams.