In last week’s column I predicted that Tyrone, Cork, Cavan and Donegal would win the Round 4 qualifiers and then suggested that it could be Mayo in the quarter finals, a round earlier that both teams would have preferred to meet.
Donegal’s defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster final changed the landscape and so this Sunday’s meeting – a re-run of last year’s All-Ireland final comes a few weeks earlier that either James Horan or Jim McGuinness had initially hoped. So what about Mayo is a question I’ve been asked quite often ever since Donegal’s win over Laois last weekend.
They hammered Galway by 17 points in the first round of Connacht and followed that up with a 12 win over Roscommon before beating London by 16 points in the provincial decider. In doing so they scored 9 goals and 48 points and conceded just 30 points – an impressive record. The most obvious question to now ask though is will the margin and manner of those victories stand them in good stead when they arrive in Croke Park for the first time in 2013 to play the reigning All-Ireland champions.
It’s been well documented that Mayo and Croke Park don’t go that well together and they have promised much in the past before faltering on the big day on more than one occasion. But this Mayo team is made of much sterner stuff than many of those who have gone before and we’re told that they’re ready to create history.
The team they’re meeting this Sunday have already done that for their county in each of the past two years and they showed in Carrick on Shannon last Saturday that they’re not just quite ready yet to roll over and die without giving it their best shot. Having fallen to Monaghan in the Ulster final, Donegal became the most dangerous team one could meet in the qualifiers and I’m sure than none of three provincial winners – Dublin, Kerry or Mayo – wanted to draw them in the quarter finals.
Dublin and Kerry got their wish and, perhaps, Mayo have drawn the short straw. Mayo have been quick to let us all know that if they hadn’t conceded those two early goals last September they would have won the All-Ireland. It’s a bit simplistic but if you do take away those two goals Donegal scored Mayo would indeed have won that game by two points.
The problem with that analysis however is that they did indeed concede two early goals and despite reducing to deficit to three points at the interval they never really threatened Donegal’s lead. So the ifs and buts that follow football games are pointless. All that matters is the scoreline when the final whistle blows.
While there’s no doubt that Donegal have failed to reach the heights they scaled in 2012 so far this year the reality is that they’ve won three out of four very tough games and only lost one – the Ulster final when they failed to perform against Monaghan. Last weekend’s win over Laois wasn’t that pretty or impressive but what it did show was a remarkable desire to perform and, more importantly, the commitment within this Donegal squad.
I had a seat near the sidelines and close to the Donegal management team last Saturday night and from the start it was obvious that Jim and Rory were very much up for this game, as were their players. After all, Donegal were vying to become just the third team to negotiate the seven day turnaround and it was encouraging to see them reel off four late points to win by six.
Ryan McHugh acquitted himself well in a role normally occupied by older brother Mark; Neil Gallagher gave us a vital edge in midfield while the two Walsh’s David and Declan did what was asked of them yet again. Hopefully Karl Lacey will be that little bit further down the line in terms of fitness this weekend and wouldn’t it be great if Mark McHugh was fit enough – even for a place on the bench.
This is our third quarter final in as many years and we’ve won the previous two against Kildare and Kerry respectively and we know what it takes. Mayo will also be hoping to make it through to another semi final under James Horan so it’s all set up for an exciting contest. I was interested to hear Horan go public with comments regarding Jim McGuinness and Rory Gallagher the week.
He said that he didn’t expect too much banter on the sideline between the two benches. So what? If they shake hands before and after the game that’s all that matters. We’re not looking for a phoney love in. Davy Fitzgerald shook hands with Anthony Cunningham in the moments after the Clare hurlers beat Galway last weekend before racing down the tunnel.
I didn’t hear too much talk abut his anti social behaviour. I don’t know James Horan personally but, from a distance, he’s never struck me as being someone who’s a bundle of fun to be with. Sure, Jim and Rory will do their best to ensure that Donegal are looking forward to an All-Ireland semi final on Sunday evening and why wouldn’t they? Sunday is about winning, not hugging.
All four of this weekend’s quarter finals are, on paper at least, set up to be real decent games of football. How about a semi final line up of Dublin v Kerry and Donegal v Tyrone?
TAKE THE MONEY
The future of several high profile soccer players, namely Wayne Rooney, Louis Suarez and now Gareth Bale, have been hogging the column inches in recent days.
My advice to their respective clubs is to take the money and run. Rooney, it seems, hasn’t been happy at Manchester United for the past few years and despite new manager David Moyes insisting that he’s not for sale my advice to him is let him go. Despite Liverpool standing solidly behind Suarez when they could so easily have washed their hands of him it would appear that he now wants to speak to Arsenal.
Let him go and buy a new striker or two with the money that you get from The Emirates. It’s been reported that Real Madrid have offered £85 Stg to Tottenham Hotspur for Gareth Bale. Take the money AVB and bring in two or three good players with the proceeds of the Bale deal. He has been magnificent for Spurs but it would appear that his head is now in the white shirt of Real Madrid so let him go.
Finally, it was great to see so many athletes in the North West performing so well in the National Track and Field Championships last weekend. Bravo to Mark English for his brilliant run in London on Friday night. Best wishes to both him and Teresa and indeed Brendan Boyce and Tori Pena as they get ready to head to Moscow in a few weeks time to take part in the World Championships