After a lot of shadow boxing and phoney wars, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship finally enters into knockout mode this weekend.
Across Saturday and Sunday there are four Preliminary Quarter-Finals taking place to cut the field down to eight remaining contenders.
The revamped series has drawn plenty of ire over recent weeks but the critics will do well to argue against the four compelling ties scheduled this weekend – two of which are mouth-watering provincial showdowns that would grace any Ulster or Connacht final.
- Cork to beat Roscommon – 27/20
- Monaghan to beat Kildare – 17/25
- Donegal to beat Tyrone – 17/10
- Galway and Mayo to draw – 7/1
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Rebels with a cause can down Rossies
– Live GAAGO
Contrasting emotions may have teed up Cork for a surprise appearance in the quarter-finals if they can overcome Roscommon with home advantage in the first of Saturday’s triple header.
Roscommon were full of the joys of spring during the league and more so when they dumped Mayo out in their Connacht opener. Galway had their measure next time, however, and the most talked-about aspect of the Rossies’ summer so far was that six-minute spell of possession football against Dublin in Croke Park during their round robin loss.
They had a home tie in this stage in their grasp but contrived to lose by a point against Kildare last week.
Cork, somehow, secured this home tie after a landmark victory over Mayo, blitzing them for 1-6 without reply during the second half to achieve the three-point victory they needed to edge out their opponents on points scored (2-48 to 2-44) as they finished second behind Kerry.
Previous to that, only a debatable second half penalty had denied Cork the chance to claim a win over the All-Ireland and Munster champions Kerry.
Cork’s season is gathering some momentum, while Roscommon’s may be grinding to a halt on Leeside after promising plenty.
Monaghan can take care of Kildare
– Live GAAGO
With Newbridge under redevelopment, Kildare have had to make their home at O’Connor Park and so it is there that Monaghan will be the visitors on Saturday.
Kildare upstaged Roscommon last weekend, while Monaghan were caught out by a rejuvenated Donegal. The damage was done in the first half as the Tir Conaill men led by nine, although Monaghan reduced that deficit and were within one score at the finish only to find Donegal’s rearguard too strong.
Conor McManus was sprung from the bench in that game and his fitness and ability to contribute in a more meaningful way could be key to the Farney Army prevailing in this one.
With their Division 1 status again secured this spring, Monaghan are the slightly more reliable conveyance and they should do enough to get by Kildare.
Donegal can secure local bragging rights
– Live GAAGO
A trip to the cauldron of Ballybofey wouldn’t have been high on Tyrone’s wish-list for this stage but considering Westmeath had a late opportunity to dump them out last weekend in their drawn game at Breffni Park, the Red Hands can count themselves somewhat fortunate to still be in the hunt.
That added to a defeat against Galway and a fairly uninspiring win over Armagh in the round robin stage and Tyrone will be worried after Mattie Donnelly failed to make much of an impact last weekend.
Donegal, for their part, are threatening to rise from the ashes of a season that saw Paddy Carr dispensed as manager midway through the league, only months after taking over.
Aidan O’Rourke inherited the job and belatedly this Donegal squad are beginning to show form. Their round robin defeat to Derry had promise in it, specifically from Man of the Match Oisin Gallen, who is really coming of age this season.
In Shaun Patton, they have a goalkeeper whose laser-like kickouts are causing problems – he’s surely a more potent weapon now than opposite number Niall Morgan, who has come unstuck before in Ballybofey.
Victory over Monaghan last weekend granted Donegal what looked an unlikely home advantage and while Derry won here earlier in the month, this Tyrone side are nothing like as clinical, and home defeats on this ground don’t often come back-to-back. With a Saturday primetime slot, it should be a packed house for this north-west derby and Donegal may upset the odds.
War in the West may take time to resolve
– Live on RTE2
If Tyrone would rather have avoided an away day in Ballybofey, then it’s beyond doubt that both Galway and Mayo will be pondering just how they’ve managed to end up in bed together at this juncture.
Mayo inflicted a rare defeat on Kerry in Killarney to start their round robin journey four weeks ago but have come down to earth since. They edged Louth by a single point in their second game (Kerry beat the Wee County by a whopping 28 points last weekend for context!) and then somehow contrived to allow a six-point lead midway through the second half flitter away as Cork beat them and, worse still, got second spot by way of points scored.
It was entirely inevitable when the draw for these Preliminary Quarter-Finals was made that Mayo’s fate would consign them to facing arch-rivals Galway.
It was the worst draw imaginable, but the same goes for a stuttering Galway outfit. For one of these two, Sunday will be the final jeopardy in a season that will have to go down as very disappointing for whichever team exits here.
Galway have not kicked on from last season. The dynamic running of All-Star Cillian McDaid has been curtailed as he’s routinely been asked to man-mark instead. Ace marksman Damien Comer is a fitness doubt for this game, while Shane Walsh’s missed free with the final kick against Armagh last Sunday – when a conversion would have saved his team from this unwanted task – won’t have done his confidence any good.
Mayo, too, had last gasp drama against Cork. Trailing be three, Aidan O’Shea opted to drop a late free into the mixer as they hunted a goal and top spot in the group. A point would have ensured they and not Cork took home advantage for this stage, but it appears nobody in the Mayo camp had done the sums on that equation.
Galway at times this season have been too negative, and yet Mayo’s problem is a lack of pragmatism when games are in the melting pot.
Both counties will be regretting allowing themselves drift into this do-or-die tie. For the neutrals, it should offer lots of drama. Back in January at MacHale Park these sides were inseparable in a 1-11 to 2-08 draw. There’s likely going to be little in it again on Sunday and it might take more than 70 minutes for one of them to cave in.