Football Qualifiers promise edge-of-the-seat moments for fans
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Fermanagh v Westmeath, Kingspan Breffni Park, 5.0, Saturday, July 25. ET if required. Live on Sky.
Eleven and nine seasons respectively after Fermanagh and Westmeath last reached the All-Ireland quarter final; the pair are back in the hunt for a place in the last eight.
Fermanagh were the pin-up team of the then relatively new back door system in 2004. Not alone did they reach the last eight they won their quarter final with a memorable one point victory over Armagh, who had contested the previous two All-Ireland finals winning in 2002.
Indeed, they came within touching distance of a first ever appearance in an All-Ireland final before bowing out to Mayo in a replay. Had they won that semi-final they would have faced Kerry in the All-Ireland decider.
A victory over Westmeath will pit them against Kerry in next month’s All-Ireland quarter final unless Kildare beat Cork. It is a tantalising prospect for Pete McGrath’s side. They have already exceeded expectations this season. .
They secured promotion to Division 2 and their defeat to Monaghan in the Ulster series must now be viewed in the context of the Farney County’s triumph in the Ulster championship.
Westmeath reached two All-Ireland quarter finals in the space of three seasons in the mid- nineties. After fashioning their historic win in the Leinster championship in 2004 they failed to produce their best form in the subsequent quarter final and lost to Derry. Two years later they were back in the last eight but suffered a ten point loss to Dublin.
Even though Westmeath were relegated to Division 3 their historic win over Meath in the Leinster semi-final has rendered their season a success. Sure, they were outclassed by Dublin in the provincial final but there was much to admire in their disciplined defensive performance that day.
But their chances of winning this encounter has been significantly diminished by the likely loss of John Heslin with a broken heel. For Westmeath the absence of Heslin is arguably the equivalent of Dublin losing Dean Rock, Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan all at the same time!
Fermanagh are overly dependent on dead ball specialist Sean Quigley who has emerged as one of the unsung heroes of the championship. So far he has scored an impressive 2-26 and if his maintains his scoring rate it ought to see Fermanagh over the line.
Cork v Kildare, Semple Stadium Thurles, 7.0, Saturday, July 25.
ET if required. Live on Sky
This is a fascinating game for a variety of reasons. Even though the Cork hurlers are in action 24 hours later at the same venue, the chances are that not many of the Rebel Army will make the trip to Tipp. It is safe to assume that Kildare will have more fans.
Essentially this is a mental test for Cork. In football terms Brian Cuthbert’s team have a definite edge – they finished top of Division 1 while Kildare was relegated from Division 2. But the key is how much damage was done to the Cork psyche by events in Fitzgerald Stadium during the last three weeks.
The chances are that the Rebels would have ended their championship famine in Killarney were it not for the intervention of referee Padraig Hughes who awarded a particularly dubious penalty to Kerry.
But rather than moaning about that decision Cork ought reflect on what happened at the very end of the drawn match. Had Colm O’Neill driven the last gasp 45 dead the chances are that the referee would have blown the whistle as soon as the subsequent kick out was in the air and the shape of the rest of the All-Ireland series would be entirely different.
What happened in the replay was entirely predictable. Cork had lost their element of surprise and both Eamon Fitzmaurice and his players got their act together in the rain in Killarney.
Mind you, the game was there for the taking in the third quarter and Cork will take some encouragement from their performance in the first 45 minutes.
Kildare has regrouped after their woeful performance against Dublin and fashioned workmanlike wins over Offaly and Longford. Mind you, such is the standard of football in Leinster that they would be foolish to read too much into those performances.
This is only the fifth championship clash between the counties and Kildare and seeking their first win over the Rebels since beating them in the 1928 All-Ireland semi-final.
Victory for the Rebels will set up a fascinating quarter final clash against All-Ireland favourites Dublin and provided they have parked last weekend’s disappointment Brian Cuthbert ought to advance.