Our GAA experts answer the 10 big questions ahead of Gaelic football semi finals
If the football Championship has yet to properly bubble, a sensational night under Croke Park’s Saturday night lights brought it simmering toward boiling point.
Aidan O’Shea delivered a highlight reel moment to announce Mayo’s voracious intent; at the other end of the scale, Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann flopped to the ground to reignite the heated debate about how to properly punish diving.
Meanwhile, the Old Firm of Dublin and Kerry lurk in the long grass ready to present their All-Ireland credentials; as the last men standing prepare for the final four, our writers give their opinions on the summer’s 10 major talking points.
1. What was your view on Tiernan McCann’s dive and what – if any – should be his punishment?
2. Has Mayo’s time arrived at last?
3. Aidan O’Shea’s goal has been hailed as a great moment of the Championship. What is your favourite memory of the Championship summer so far?
4. What will Dublin do to counter the threat of Aidan O’Shea?
5. Who do you now fancy to win the All-Ireland?
6. Who would you like to see win it?
7. Is it the end for Donegal as a serious force?
8. Who have been the top three players of the summer so far?
9. Are Kerry as good as they looked against Kildare?
10. Who is the key man for the four semi-finalists?
1. Throw the heaviest book you can find in his direction. It has been amusing to hear the more pedantic commentators falling over themselves with faux outrage, arguing that the mooted eight-week ban is unconstitutional. So what? Cheating is cheating is cheating, whether injecting a banned substance into the bloodstream or diving to gain advantage. Who cares if there is no precedent? Set one now. McCann’s pathetic attempt to have Darren Hughes sent off was a sickening form of cultural vandalism. Eight weeks – missing a semi-final and potentially a final – certainly gets the zero tolerance message across.
2. Mayo are good enough to win an All-Ireland, but the road to paradise is laden with landmines. If they can beat both Dublin and Kerry and sate the Great Thirst, it would be the greatest GAA story ever told. Should the 64-year chasm be bridged, then Rio can step to one side: Mardi Gras is coming to Mayo.
3. O’Shea’s goal. His reinvention at full-forward might yet acquire seismic significance, up there as a game-changer with Alex Ferguson snatching Eric Cantona from Leeds.
4. Pray! Seriously, Rory O’Carroll – a mark-from-the-front full-back with a powerful aerial presence – is the perfect fit to shadow the Breaffy Hercules; he will likely have support from a roving Cian O’Sullivan and possibly Johnny Cooper. Dublin will concentrate on minimising the supply. A resurgent Michael Darragh Macauley and Paul Flynn are essential to unplug the Seamus O’Shea/Tom Parsons conveyor belt.
5. Kerry, Mayo and Dublin can make a legitimate case. Mayo have momentum and a ravenous hunger; an already impressive, David Moran-powered Kerry have drawn the Colm Cooper bonus ball. I still fancy Dublin, however. The lack of a serious challenge is a concern, as is the form of Flynn and MDMA, but the Messi-like Diarmuid Connolly is poised to seize the title deeds to summer.
6. Tempted to say anybody but the footballing black death that is Tyrone. The outpouring of emotion that’d follow a Mayo success would match anything ever seen at Croke Park; who could not be smitten by the timeless elegance Gooch brings to the arena? But, the GAA is all about place. I’m from Dublin, and the Sky Blue flag forever flutters from a mast above my heart.
7. Yes. True, there is an underage supply line, but the gradient to senior is huge. After five years players simply have no more to give. Michael Murphy (inset) remains a force of nature, but as last Saturday exhibited, even he cannot carry an entire county.
8. Diarmuid Connolly, David Moran, Aidan O’Shea.
9. The current All-Ireland champions remain a green and gold powerhouse. Kildare were abject,
dying with their boots off. But Kerry ooze class. James O’Donoghue’s shoulder issues represent a major setback, but their forward depth ensures it need not be a fatal one.
10. Peter Harte (Tyrone), Michael Darragh Macauley (Dublin), Kieran Donaghy (Kerry), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo).
1. It was a shocking act. Unfortunately this type of behaviour is not new but it seems to be the ‘straw that has broken the camel’s back’. McCann’s dive was bad enough but equally as bad in my opinion were his actions in the closing minutes when he committed a black card offence and then proceeded to goad a couple of Monaghan players. However to single out McCann for an eight-week ban is a worrying beginning. Who determines what is worthy of scrutiny? If the Sunday Game are the only forum responsible for highlighting which incidents are worthy of examination then we are in trouble. Over the past few years they have chosen to ignore incidents which were much more serious than McCann’s theatrics.
2. Unfortunately for Mayo we won’t be able to say their time has arrived until it does. Mayo have performed to these heights before but have not been able to put in three consecutive big performances. To win Sam they must do this. Last year they were very unlucky and only some serious refereeing errors stopped them from contesting the final. Everyone would like Mayo to finally win an All Ireland but they still have some ghosts to exorcise before that happens.
3. Team-wise It would have to be Fermanagh’s courageous second-half efforts against the Dubs or Antrim’s qualifier win away to Laois. From an individual’s perspective, the point-taking of Conor McManus in the Ulster final were worth the admission fee alone.
4. There is no doubting the ability of Aidan but if he hasn’t got the ball he can’t score. Dublin will try to dominate between the two 45s and stop the supply. Dublin are better than Donegal and the jury is still out whether O’Shea can handle a white-hot environment.
5. At the beginning of the year I plumped for Dublin but as time creeps closer, I’m leaning towards the Kingdom.
6. I don’t mind really but as an eternal romantic I’d love to see the players and supporters of Mayo enjoy the ‘madness’.
7. Yes. Unfortunately, like all dominant teams, a time comes along when the miles make it too hard to stay sharp.
8. The three provincial winners left didn’t have any real opposition to date so they haven’t needed outstanding performances but I suppose Aidan O’Shea has grabbed the headlines for some good old fashioned full-forward play. Mattie Donnelly from Tyrone has been superb and I think Conor McManus (inset) deserves a special mention as he always carries the hopes of a whole county on his shoulders and consistently delivers.
9. Of course they are but against better opposition, they’ll neither get the time or space to perform those silky skills as often. They’ll have to show more of their tougher side, which I believe they will.
10. Bryan Sheehan (Kerry), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo) and for Dublin... whoever picks up Aidan O’Shea.
1. Yes, he should be punished, eight weeks is extreme, but this sort of carry-on has to be dealt with.
2. Their performance against Donegal was excellent and they are well set up for the game with Dublin. But there are still two tough mountains to be crossed.
3. Donegal’s great team goal against Galway was the best moment so far.
4. Kidnapping him would be a start! But Rory O’Carroll (below) has always played target men very well.
5. At the moment the only one of the four left that won’t win it are Tyrone.
6. That’s easy, Dublin.
7. It’s easy to come to that conclusion. But I would be reluctant to write them off completely.
8. Diarmuid Connolly, Aidan O’Shea and a surprise choice, Stephen O’Brien of Kerry, a very under-rated player for the Green and Gold.
9. No, but Cork aren’t as bad as they looked against Kildare either. A seven-day turnaround for non-professionals, whether you have won or lost the previous match, is a massive handicap.
10. Colm Cooper (Kerry), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin).
1. Diving is a scourge and the GAA has a chance to act now and send out a message. McCann should banned for the Kerry game. But it would be fairer still if Aidan O’Mahony could be banned too. The Kerryman got away with an exaggerated fall in the 2008 semi-final against Cork, and played in the All-Ireland final.
2. No, their full-back line will be exposed by Dublin – or Kerry or even an excellent Tyrone full-forward line.
3. No, it’s a goal scored at the same end of Croke Park, the brilliant Donegal team goal slotted home by Ryan McHugh against Galway.
4. They will go man on man with him unless Mayo decide to use a sweeper themselves. Then Dublin will station the spare defender at O’Shea’s shoulder.
6. Any person with a love of football in their blood would want Mayo to win at last.
7. As an All-Ireland-winning force yes, as a serious force no. If Donegal got a decent draw, unlike 2015’s horror draw, the Ulster Championship is a possibility for them.
8. Of the summer, Aidan O’Shea, Michael Murphy and Darren McCurry.
9. Of course not. You could have driven a coach and four horses through that Kildare defence in the second half. The Kingdom might win the All-Ireland, but not while scoring seven goals.
10. David Moran (Kerry), Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo) and Rory O’Carroll (Dublin).
1. While McCann deserves some kind of punishment, the proposed eight-week ban is completely over the top. It’s a knee-jerk reaction by somebody in the GAA corridors of power.
2. For the first time ever I could see this team winning an All-Ireland. But the reality is that we don’t know how good either Mayo or Dublin are because they haven’t been tested.
3. Ryan McHugh’s goal against Galway! It featured a wonderful kicked pass from Colm McFadden, a touch of genius from Michael Murphy and a beautiful finish from McHugh.
4. Dublin now deploy a zonal defence, so I expect the D area in front of O’Shea to be packed with Dublin bodies.
5. Kerry. Mind you, at this stage last year I would have been putting my house on Dublin with Kerry my fourth choice.
6. Even as a Kerryman I would love to see Mayo bringing Sam back to the west. No county has endured so many heart-breaking defeats since their last win in 1951. I like the fact that they have never abandoned their core principles.
7. They will remain a top-six team but they won’t win another title in the foreseeable future.
8. Aidan O’Shea (Mayo); David Moran (Kerry, below); Conor McManus (Monaghan).
9. Yes! They’re focused, hungry and motivated. I’m basing that view on their performance in the Munster final replay. It’s best to disregard what happened in the second half against Kildare. I’d have scored that day if I had togged out!
10. Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Aidan O’Shea (Mayo), Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin) and David Moran (Kerry).
1. We all saw the incident and the player didn’t do himself any favours in the way he fell to the gound but I don’t think an eight-week ban is merited. How many times even this year have we seen it happen, maybe not in such an obvious manner but still with no punishment either during or after the incident.
The ref has questions to answer here also because he is the one who supposedly saw the incident and sent the wrong man off. Should have been black card on the day and no retrospective punishment.
2. Now how many times have I heard that question! Well last year is in the past and this time represents the best ever opportunity that they will have – especially with the new dimension that Holmes and Connelly bring to the set-up.
3. All the negatives that people go on about can sometimes overshadow all that is good about the GAA. Fermanagh and the sheer reflection of enjoyment in the way the played and approached their games was great to see.Individually, Lee Keegan’s goal (inset) – no matter what others say – was a class act by a class act.
4. Let’s get this straight, one way or another this game won’t depend on whether Aidan O’Shea is marked or not. Will Mayo have the ball to give the supply to the big full-forward? This will be Dublin’s No 1 objective. Simple answer is do exactly what Mayo did with Donegal and Murphy. The man I would put back as the sweeper is Ciaran Kilkenny, especially with his athleticism and strength. If O’Shea wins the ball this is only half the job done and facing Kilkenny rather than Mark McHugh is a different prospect as it’s essential to have a physical presence there when he comes down with the ball. Now don’t forget about Denis Bastick either. I’ve seen him in a very defensive mood on many occasions this year, which would be suitable to counteract the O’Shea threat.
5. If you go back to these pages last January, I said Mayo and I still think that!
6. Silly question, who do you think I want to win it?
7. We all thought they were finished when they were defeated by 16 points in 2013 but that same team still got to last year’s final. But Rory Gallagher will have a tough job regrouping.
8. Diarmuid Connolly, Aidan O’Shea and David Moran...the year of the big men!
9. Yes they are and they have the capabilities within their squad to get better. There’s more to come from Gooch (below) and James O’Donoghue, combine that with the form of David Moran and the possibility of Tommy Walsh coming into the team. It’s a daunting prospect – but I can’t help thinking that there’s no better team than Tyrone to ruffle Kerry’s feathers!
10. Sean Kavanagh (Tyrone), David Moran (Kerry), Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin), Cillian O’Connor (Mayo).
1. The GAA had to act and unfortunately McCann is the sacrificial lamb! He deserves to be punished, though an eight-week ban at this time of the season is excessive. The chances are, of course, that the proposed ban won’t stick.
2. Time will tell! They look a more rounded team than at any stage since they made their breakthrough in 2011. But it’s a tall order to beat Donegal, Dublin and either Kerry or Tyrone in order to secure Sam.
3. Westmeath’s second-half comeback and victory over Meath in the Leinster semi-final.
4. Disrupt the supply and quality of ball to the full-forward and instruct Rory O’Carroll to forget about out-fielding him – just stop him catching high balls.
5. I stand by the prediction I made at the start of the summer – Kerry.
6. Nobody deserves to win an All-Ireland more than Mayo. But sport doesn’t do deserving causes.
7. Unless they apply to join the Connacht Championship they will struggle to win silverware but, with players of the calibre of Michael Murphy, Odhran McNiallais, the McHugh brothers and Paddy McBrearty (below) in their ranks, they won’t disappear off the radar immediately.
8. Aidan O’Shea (Mayo); David Moran (Kerry); Conor McManus (Monaghan).
9. Safer to discount what happened in the second half, as Kildare had raised the white flag by then. Still, Kerry’s ruthlessness was in stark contrast to Mayo’s second-half sloppiness last weekend.
10. David Moran (Kerry); Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone), Seamus O’Shea (Mayo), Stephen Cluxton (Dublin).