It’s August, and we are back to a familiar scene. Our opponents were confirmed on Saturday evening after Sligo were parked up by Cork.
When Cork emerged under the leadership of Brian Cuthbert, they looked to have prowess. They had a steady league performance, and with Kerry looking at sixes and sevens in the league, it looked from early on like they were the Munster team to watch. That theory was quickly demolished after the Kingdom destroyed them in the Munster Final by 12 points. And in a flash, Cork were banished to the dreaded qualifiers. They arrived in Tullamore on Saturday for a date with Sligo. Cuthbert made six changes from their Kerry hiding and unveiled a significantly revised game plan. A game plan that is now the new wave of vogue in Gaelic Football: overpopulate the opposition’s defence and stay there. This new wave was originally designed by Jim McGuinness and now, just like tight jerseys, it’s pretty much the new black!
At times on Saturday Cork played with only one player in the opposing half of the field. This style of defensive football was used on Sligo but in reality it was being introduced for their quarter final meeting with Mayo. But they have a lot of work to do before they perfect this style. On Saturday it worked for a while, then they drifted off course and looked unsure of themselves. Colm O Neill and Paul Kerrigan, seasoned players, were their star attractions; they looked sharp and up for the challenge. O’Neill finished with 10 points and will inevitably be a handful for the Mayo full-back line on Sunday, but with Keith Higgins now firmly back there, he’ll have the measure of the rebel. With the way the game is going now, it’ll be an interesting competition for Mayo, to see how they cope with the defensive approach. Fintan Goold started from the bench but replaced debutant, 20 year old, Ian Maguire and would look to have made enough of an impression to start on Sunday. Cork are jittery though, and tend to fall away when pressure is applied.
Mayo have never had a great record against Cork in championship. Horan’s men have looked slow to get going so far, maybe they are just warming up to this stage or maybe they are beginning to tire. Sunday will tell a tale. Big performances will be needed by every Mayo player. Will Mayo counteract the defensive trap? Will they need to?
James Horan’s men have shown heart and determination when needed in their Connacht Championship, let’s hope this continues through on Sunday.
We made it. It’s semi final time. And both semis should serve up two tasty treats.
Cork having beaten Dublin already this season in Croke Park will be hoping to emulate the same result. But I’m sure the current league Champions will have something to say about that.Our big focus will throw in at 2, and after last weekend’s encounter I cannot wait. Derry come to the party with an impressive league campaign under their belt. They have evolved this season, and some will say they have become more united since the departure of Eoin Bradley. The younger brother of Paddy has opted to play soccer with Colerine FC for the spring.
I watched Derry’s first league game against Tyrone on TV and they were very impressive; they drew, but were unfortunate in the end not to win having come from eight points down to draw level. It was, of course their first Div 1 game in four years. Monday mornings I usually chat to two male work colleagues and we review the weekend’s sporting events, casually of course! After the opening round of the league we discussed the games and I mentioned that I thought Derry were a team to watch this season (I still do), and one of the lads, dismissed me with a laugh. I haven’t spoken to him about the games since and no, not because I took the huff!
We’ve come to the business end of the season now. Derry proved a poor opposition for Mayo last weekend, but it was clever from Brian McIver. He knew they were through and figured Mayo were going to meet them again this weekend. So his starting 15 got a week off to prepare and got an up close look at Mayo for free. They play passionately and very much as a unit. They have a number of standout players on the team this year, Mark Lynch at centre forward continues to flourish, he scored 1-6 from play last weekend against Kildare, he’s hard marked and attacks right through the middle so it’ll be interesting to see how Donal Vaughan, who also likes to attack, will cope with that. This season they look to operate with a two man full forward line consisting of 6 foot 4 Keelan O’Boyle, a UUJ student, and Emmet McGuckin, who scored a cracking goal in Castlebar, is small but good in the air and very powerful. How the Mayo defenders will cope with these two will be something to keep an eye on.
Last weekend James Horan gave Aidan O Shea and Jason Gibbons a rest day so a big performance will be needed from them to take on the might of Fergal Doherty and Patsy Bradley. Mayo are the highest scorers in the league so far followed closely by Derry who are playing quite a similar type of football to James Horan’s men. Their centre back adapts the same attacking role as Vaughan, so this may allow Keith Higgins and the Mayo half forward line some space to get scores. They have relied on outscoring their opponents throughout the league so this one should keep the scoreboard operator busy. Mayo will have to improve on their scoring as they are racking up quite a lot of wides this season, an area they will have to sharpen up in as they proceed towards the Connacht Championship and beyond. Cillian O’Connor has slotted back into his role as chief free-taker after his break through injury, and top scorer of the league for the county, Kevin McLoughlin (1-24) will hope to continue on from where he left off against Dublin.
This one will be hard to call. It’ll be a cracker, full of scores and open honest football from both sides. Because of their experience at this stage, I think Mayo will edge this one.
In her first post for Club ’51, our very own Knockmore correspondent Laurita Blewitt previews Sunday’s game, and casts her eye forward to what might lie ahead …..
I’ll be honest, when I saw the Derry team on Twitter last night, I checked it twice. 14 changes from last weekends win over Kildare. I know they are through to the semi finals, but I was looking forward to seeing these two sides meet. They both have been the scoring kingpins of the Division 1.
Mayo’s Mikey Sweeney in action against Derry, James Stephen’s Park Ballina, NFL February 2009. (pic: Sportsfile)
I tweeted that either Derry have a squad as big as Dublin, or this one will be a cakewalk for Horan’s men. But Brian McIver has proved his shrewdness this season so far. He’s been building this squad up since he took over in 2012 and having secured their first trip to Croke Park this year, he’s now just looking for options. The only player to get the nod from last weekend is Emmet McGuckin, who moves from full forward to midfield to partner Niall Holly.
It’s fair to say Mayo should win this handy enough – sure 99% of this Derry team have had little or no run out this season yet. And if they do, they will probably face the Northerners again next weekend. But this is where the challenge arrives. It will suit Derry to just fulfill the fixture, while Mayo show their full hand and only meet the opposing side’s reserves.
In four weeks time, the Mayo squad, along with a cargo of Mayo supporters will hit for the Bronx. So James Horan and Co. will want to get into the semi finals to increase game time for the likes of Cillian O’Connor, Donal Vaughan and Jason Gibbons. Not so much in preparation for New York, but more so beyond that.
It’s show time now and shaky league openers and FBD games are a distant memory. It’s all about one thing, and from Sunday on it starts. A Division 1 league semi, a possibility of reaching the final and a trip to New York is the perfect precursor to what, we all hope, will be a long, and dare I say it, a sparkling silver summer season.
Remember to bring plenty of colour and flags on Sunday!