Thursday 21 November 2019

Ability to stick to the plan marks out this team as special

All present and correct for Dubs with Diarmuid return

Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's fifth goal during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Cork at Croke Park
Brian Fenton of Dublin celebrates after scoring his side's fifth goal during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Cork at Croke Park

The first game in the Super 8s group stages is a very important match. A win gives you a terrific chance of qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-finals but defeat puts you firmly on the back foot in the group.

I would have had some reservations about the new format but this is the real competition and the games are certainly lived up to the hype.

A little tweak that allowed provincial winners a home tie for their first game was a game-changer in terms of atmosphere and apart from the game at Croker, Hyde Park, Fitzgerald Stadium and Ballybofey were cauldrons at the weekend.

It was a throw-back to the great days of the provincial championships. Packed grounds were the order of the day and the brains behind the new format must have been delighted with what they watched.

Finally the football championship has a competition to stand alongside the Munster Hurling championship and we still have plenty of serious games to look forward to in the coming weeks.


First up last Saturday was the meeting of last year's All-Ireland finalists, Tyrone, and Roscommon in Hyde Park. It was noisy and Roscommon gave it everything but Tyrone are a serious team who are comfortable with the way they play the game and they went about the business of breaking the Roscommon resistance right from the throw-in.

They are systematic in almost everything they do but they are also excellent ball players and are probably the best team on the road.

Saturday was a tricky assignment but they have proven again that are serious contenders and are already favourites, along with Dublin, to get to the last four in the competition again.

There is a lot of Tyrone bashing but Mickey Harte has been able to consistently get his teams to compete over his term in charge and this particular Tyrone team is a team that could go all the way if everything went right for them.

Their game with Dublin in Omagh in a couple of weeks' time will be another huge game and the fact that the teams met on three occasions in 2018 will surely stand to them.

The second game on Saturday in Croker finished with a very comfortable victory for the Dubs but it was far from easy. The score line was unfair on Cork because they came to play ball and gave the champions plenty to think about.

A simply blistering start had them four points to no score ahead after six minutes. Four shots and four scores would have rocked lesser opposition but this is no ordinary Dublin team and they continued to probe with menace.

Con O'Callaghan got them off the mark in the eighth minute and a goal from the magnificent Jack McCaffrey shortly after had Cork reeling. But to be fair to them, they continued to attack with purpose and were still in the game just before the break when trailing by just two points with a couple minutes to play.

Then Dublin did what Dublin do. A Paul Mannion point was followed quickly by a brilliantly worked goal, finished by Michael Darragh Macauley, which pushed the gap to six. It was a little harsh on the Leesiders but that's what happens when you switch off against a truly great team.

Jack McCaffrey would never kick a high ball into the square but he knew that time was against him and a short pass left, right or backwards would have meant no scoring opportunity and David Gough would have surely blown to end the half.

So Jack kicked high and long. O'Callaghan was able to win it and move it onto Costello, who found Macauley for the goal. That five-second cameo speaks volumes about this Dublin group. They are extremely efficient in possession and rarely shoot unless it the score is on.

Their percentages in this area of the game are off the scale and it is one of the main reasons why they have been so successful. Teams will have their purple patches against them but their ability to stick to their game, no matter what's happening, is impressive.

Cork had another one of those purple patches early in the second half and had the margin reduced to just two points ten minutes into the second period.

But that was as close as they got and in the end Dublin were able to score the goals to make the final score very one-sided.

It's Roscommon next up for the Dubs next weekend again at Croke Park, while Cork welcome Tyrone to Leeside. I think it would be fair to say at this stage that Dublin and Tyrone are safely in the driving seats to qualify first and second in the group.

Kerry were impressive in putting a below-par Mayo to the sword in Killarney while Meath put up a very promising display against Donegal before falling to a late surge from the Ulster champions.

So all is panning out largely as expected - apart from the return of Diarmuid Connolly to the Dublin squad yesterday.

Finally . . . all present and correct!

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