It’s a quarter-final weekend to savour in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship after the last-eight draw spat out some mouthwatering pairings.
Reigning champions Kerry face the ghosts of past failings as Tyrone look to throw them off the rails once more, while the best rivalry of this century is rekindled when Dublin and Mayo draw swords.
Meanwhile, Ulster kingpins Derry will fancy their chances against Cork while their provincial rivals Armagh and Monaghan find themselves engaged in battle for a long-overdue semi-final berth that would thrill both counties.
All eyes on Croke Park for what should be a pair of cracking double-headers on Saturday and Sunday.
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Kingdom come to take down Red Hands
– Live GAAGO
A long-standing rivalry resumes. While most in the hat for the quarter-final draw would have been eager to avoid Kerry, those in a Tyrone jersey appear to grow an inch taller when confronted with the southern aristocrats of Gaelic football.
As such, the Red Hands have just the match-up in which they are likely to thrive. They were all business against Donegal last weekend but, in truth, their hosts were fairly toothless.
The inside line of Darren McCurry, Ruairi Canavan and Darragh Canavan has been hugely impressive for Tyrone and they will cause problems for Kerry. Mattie Donnelly kicked three points in Ballybofey after a lacklustre game the week before.
But Tyrone’s worry is that this will be their third weekend in a row and, amid the wide expanses of Croke Park, that might tell as this battle plays out.
Kerry’s defence has not convinced but that will merely lead to the Kingdom having to lean on their own forward line – and what a forward line that is.
David Clifford’s recent record against Tyrone is mixed. He’s picked up red cards and injuries – and been rather unfortunate in both cases – in slender defeats. The Kerry talisman will be crucial here.
Two years ago Tyrone derailed Kerry in the last-four and went on to unlikely All-Ireland glory. The green and gold can serve up some revenge in this mouth-watering start to the weekend.
Orchard to bear fruit for McGeeney
– Live GAAGO
Kieran McGeeney was a manager under intense pressure after Armagh’s Ulster final failure just a few short weeks ago but the Orchard county have responded well and are now within touching distance of a first All-Ireland semi-final since 2005.
McGeeney will have relished the round robin win over Galway that sent Armagh to this stage and granted them a week off to prepare.
Monaghan, meanwhile, needed a major late push to see off Kildare as Conor McCarthy’s stoppage-time score gave them a one-point win. Vinny Corey’s side did well to rescue that low-scoring game as they outscored Kildare by 0-6 to 0-2 in the final 30 minutes.
Star forward Conor McManus came on at half-time last weekend and has been used sparingly of late. His ability to give a more concerted effort in Croke Park will surely be pivotal for Monaghan’s hopes of progress.
This will be a typical Ulster-style arm wrestle. Monaghan are past-masters of getting out of tight situations but, this time, McGeeney’s Armagh side may well force them to tap out.
Derry can march on
– Live RTE2
Perhaps the most clear-cut of the four games on paper. Derry remain a well-oiled machine despite the summer upheaval in their dugout.
They were clinical in dispatching Donegal in Ballybofey in early June, finding the holes in the home defence to score three goals.
These sides played out a draw in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in the spring in a Division Two league game but by that point Derry’s minds had focused elsewhere. They were given a major scare by Armagh in Clones but held onto their Anglo Celt Cup and that appears to have focused those minds again.
Cork have found some momentum of late and they outstayed Roscommon last weekend in a one-point win, although the Rossies will look back on that with plenty of regrets. The Rebels have built themselves a platform from which to go forward but, ultimately, it may be 2024 before we see what they do with it.
Derry’s calculated coolness should see them home with a few points to spare in Sunday’s curtain-raiser.
Dubs may fail latest Mayo test
Dublin vs Mayo, Croke Park, Sunday July 2nd, 4.00pm
– Live RTE2
Dublin and Mayo have served up some of the best games of the last decade. Arguably, neither county is as strong now as they were six or seven years ago, but that only helps to ensure they remain so well matched that this final quarter-final is tough to call.
Mayo enter as underdogs despite last weekend’s game success in Salthill against Galway. Conditions played a part, but boss Kevin McStay will know that a meagre tally of three first half points from that game simply won’t cut it here.
The Dubs haven’t faced any proper road resting this summer. Perhaps the boys in blue are ready to unleash their best selves now, but there is also a major chance this Mayo side can punish them if they are undercooked. In fact, there’s probably not a county in the land better placed to do just that.
Having already inflicted a first Kerry championship loss in Killarney in 28 years, Mayo will fancy another major scalp.
For a myriad of reasons, this looks the most appealing of the last-eight ties and it should be a fascinating finale in Croke Park on Sunday evening.