Weekend championship previews: Ulster and Leinster finals top the bill
By Kevin Egan
After stumbling through their first qualifier tie against Laois, Waterford finally found their rhythm in the first half of their clash with Galway at Semple Stadium last week, and now go into tomorrow’s contest against Tipperary with real momentum behind them.
How much of a factor physical exhaustion will be remains to be seen, and no amount of recovery will completely replenish the reserves of energy that the Déise expended in the second half of that fixture, playing with 14 men against a Galway side fighting for their championship lives.
However Tipperary too have been listening to criticism about their stamina and staying power, perhaps harshly, given the game plan they brought to their contest with Limerick. Liam Sheedy’s plan clearly involved building an early lead and forcing the All-Ireland champions to chase the game in the second half, which was pretty much how it played out.
Yet the concern for Sheedy and Tipperary is that Waterford also finished strongly in the league contest between the two counties, and while league form looks less and less reliable the deeper we go into championship, until Tipperary finish a game with the same vim and vigour that they bring to the opening exchanges, those doubts will remain.
Goal threat is a real trump card for Tipperary here, as they’ve threatened and finished a lot more goals in their games so far. Six in two games against Clare and Limerick looks a lot healthier than five in three against Clare, Laois and Galway, while Tipp outscored Waterford eight to six in league goals as well. Now allow for the fact that Tipp didn’t raise a green flag in their first two outings, and they’re averaging just under three per game since then. That might be significant tomorrow.
Form is a lot harder to read in the contest between Cork and Dublin. This is in no small part because not alone were Dublin stripped of four players due to Covid contact on the morning of the Leinster final, but they were key players, whose absence completely changed the game. Add back in Ronan Hayes and Cian O’Callaghan alone, and they are a lot better equipped to take on the challenge of Cork than they were last time out.
Eoghan O’Donnell’s fitness (or lack thereof) will be a huge factor, and even if the Whitehall Colmcille man makes the starting 15, then it’s only when he’s first forced to break into a sprint and to change direction that Mattie Kenny will be able to depend on him finishing out the game.
A full strength Dublin would certainly cause Cork a lot of problems here. The Rebels found a big performance against Clare and certainly addressed some of the concerns that existed around their attacking play in that contest, but the other side of the equation is that they struggled to shake off a Clare team that has put a lot of miles on the clock in 2021, and who still shot 18 wides over the course of the contest.
Using one sub in the first hour of that game (almost, Conor Cahalane was the 17th man and he came on with 58 minutes gone) would also hint at a lack of a sufficient number of impact subs in the Rebel camp. The subs came on a bit earlier against Limerick, but again only Shane Barrett (0-2) impacted the game. Both these teams have a lot to prove in Thurles.
For the second week in a row, a provincial final outside of Leinster will take place in Croke Park, with Tyrone and Monaghan set to square off in Dublin 3. Tyrone are beginning to show the type of evolution that Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan would have hoped for, and 0-13 from play for the starting forward line against a team of Donegal’s calibre last time out would suggest that this group is getting better from game to game.
Cathal McShane made a brief cameo appearance off the bench and Tiernan McCann’s three points after coming on as a sub would suggest that picking the team for the game won’t have been simple for Doohan and Logan, but in the best possible way.
All football activity in Monaghan at the moment takes place in the shadow of the tragic death of Brendan Óg Duffy, and the unique atmosphere of the county’s incredible win over Armagh in the Ulster semi-final was a testament to that. Sustaining that energy as time goes on won’t be easy, but Monaghan’s continued presence in the top tier of the gaelic football world is a testament to the county’s incredible resilience. That alone gives them a good chance of turning over Tyrone in a fixture that historically has favoured the Red Hand county.
Finally on Saturday there is the battle between two counties that pulled off momentous upsets in their provincial championships in the Eirgrid U-20 championship, Cork and Offaly. On paper, Cork’s win over Kerry looks the more significant, given the iron grip that the Kingdom have held on minor football competition in recent years. The Rebels have also had a game against Tipperary to come down from the emotional high of that win, and the early exchanges in that Munster final would suggest that they needed it.
Offaly’s form in the lead up to their Leinster final gave no indication that they were ready to put in such a remarkable performance against Dublin. Away championship wins to Wexford and Westmeath, two counties that both came from the preliminary round and so had an extra game behind them, wasn’t to be sniffed at, but in both cases Offaly narrowly scraped over the line. Against Dublin, they were simply irresistible, bouncing back from one setback after another before prevailing. Anything less than that should see Cork advance, but another Faithful whirlwind will lead to a fascinating contest at MW Hire O’Moore Park.
Finally we turn to Sunday, and to Kildare’s bid to upset Dublin and break the Dubs’ run of ten Leinster titles in succession. Wexford and Meath both caused Dublin plenty of problems in this championship so far, so there is a perception out there that Dessie Farrell’s side are coming back to meet the pack a little bit, even though there was never a time in either of those contests where Dublin fans would have had cause to feel genuine concern at the prospect of their season coming to a premature end.
Equally, the graph is clearly moving in the right direction for Kildare, who have welcomed back Daniel Flynn to the setup, and who have Allianz League Division One football to look forward to in 2022. Neil Flynn is playing at an elite level while there is plenty of scores in the Kildare attack, but around the middle third, injuries have not been kind. Eoin Doyle is named to start but will be watched closely after he tweaked a hamstring against Westmeath, while Kevin Feely is ruled out completely and will be replaced by Luke Flynn. Paul Cribbin continues to be ruled out with a long term injury, and Kildare supporters might feel that in order to pull off a momentous upset, they needed to have all hands on deck at Croke Park.
Cork (U-20 v Offaly): Gavin Creedon; Colm O’Donovan, Diarmaid Phelan, Conor McGoldrick; Adam Walsh-Murphy, Tommy Walsh, Darragh Cashman; Brian Hayes, Ciarán O’Sullivan; Michael O’Neill, Jack Cahalane, Niall Hartnett; Dara Dorgan, Colin Walsh, David Buckley.
Kildare (v Dublin): Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O'Grady, Eoin Doyle; Ryan Houlihan, David Hyland cpt., Kevin Flynn; Luke Flynn, Aaron Masterson; Alex Beirne, Fergal Conway, Neil Flynn; Ben McCormack, Daniel Flynn, Jimmy Hyland.
Saturday, July 31
All-Ireland senior hurling championship quarter-finals
Waterford v Tipperary, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 1.30pm, RTE
Dublin v Cork, Semple Stadium, 7pm, Sky Sports
Ulster senior football championship final
Monaghan v Tyrone, Croke Park, 4pm, RTE/BBC
All-Ireland U-20 football championship semi-final
Cork v Offaly, MW Hire O’Moore Park, 5.15pm, TG4
Sunday August 1
Leinster senior football championship final
Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, 4pm. RTE