‘It’s time for Kerry to finally start delivering’ – Pat Spillane’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals predictions
Galway v Armagh, Croke Park, 1.45, Live RTE 2
I’m not sure how the four-week lay-off will impact on Galway.
In the Connacht Championship there was a lot to admire about their performances.
They were very well-organised defensively while their key players – Shane Walsh, Sean Kelly, Paul Conroy and Damien Comer – all delivered the goods.
They are blessed with pace, and transition the ball quickly out of defence.
In the Connacht final against Roscommon, all but 0-3 of Galway’s 2-19 total came from play.
Their winning margins of one and three points respectively against Mayo and Roscommon are not accurate reflections of the games.
They were seven points up, with five minutes to go, against Roscommon. And five up, with seven minutes left, against Mayo.
Yet I’m not totally convinced about the Maroons.
Remember, they played in Division 2 of the league – Mayo are the only Division 1 side they have faced this season.
Their long kick-out strategy is a gamble which could backfire, and they still have defensive issues.
They conceded 2-16 against Roscommon, while in the league Offaly and Cork chalked up 3-10 and 2-17 against them respectively.
Their late fade-outs against Mayo and Roscommon would worry me.
If their star players – particularly Walsh and to a lesser extent Comer – are neutralised, they will struggle.
So, I’m tipping Armagh.
Granted, they are inconsistent: after making a brilliant start to the league they faded – and were woeful when hammered by Donegal in the Ulster Championship in Ballybofey.
But they are coming into this tie with huge momentum and form after dumping the defending All-Ireland champions Tyrone out of the race, and then avenging that Ulster loss to Donegal in the qualifiers.
Armagh have issues with injuries and, because of that, their substitute bench is weak. However, I really like the variety they bring to their attacks.
Significantly they learned well from their defeat against Donegal which enabled them to turn the tables so dramatically in the rematch.
In Ballybofey they had a melt-down off their own kick-outs and when trying to win Donegal’s.
But aside from a brief period in the first half, they certainly addressed those weaknesses second time around in Clones.
No more than Galway are over-reliant on Shane Walsh; Armagh are very dependent on big Rian O’Neill for inspiration.
When on his game, O’Neill is virtually unmarkable.
He was subdued in the latter stages of the league and held scoreless in Ballybofey in the Championship, and Armagh’s performances dipped.
In the last two matches he has rediscovered his mojo – and if he hits form in the Croke Park spaces, I believe Armagh will advance to the last four.
Kerry v Mayo, Croke Park, 4.0, Live RTE 2
I encountered two species of Kerry GAA fans last week – one with the glass-half-full attitude, the other the glass-half-empty syndrome.
The glass-half-full fan thinks the Mayo game is ideal as James Horan’s side will provide the Kingdom with a real test before the semi-final.
Meanwhile the glass-half-empty lad is worried about Mayo; they can never be written off – and there is a danger they could have a kick in them.
I’m conflicted about which theory is closer to the truth.
It is undeniable that Mayo haven’t played well in the 2022 Championship. They have been badly hit by injuries with Tommy Conroy out for the season and All-Star Ryan O’Donoghue doubtful for today, having missed the last two games.
They haven’t tweaked their one-dimensional running game, and the conundrum over the role of Aidan O’Shea remains unresolved. Does he play at midfield or full-forward - or would he be more useful as an impact substitute?
Then there is their perennial Achilles heel – a dysfunctional forward division.
Against Kerry in the league final, against Galway in the Connacht Championship and against Monaghan in round one of the qualifiers their starting forwards got fewer than four points in each game.
They improved against Kildare – the six starting forwards got six points. But they are not reassuring statistics from a Mayo perspective.
But I do accept the argument that writing off Mayo is fraught with danger. This team is at its most dangerous with its collective back against the wall.
Every season since 2011 – bar 2018 – they have produced one barnstorming performance somewhere along the line. Last year it came against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.
We haven’t witnessed it so far this year - but who knows, it could come this afternoon?
I would caution those who argue that it was a positive sign that Mayo beat both Monaghan and Kildare though playing poorly.
What if that is the level they’re stuck at?
Kerry are concerned about the four-week break, given what happened to them against Tyrone last year. Aside from the Covid-19 issues, which caused the semi-final to be rescheduled, Kerry were just undercooked in that semi-final.
Secondly, they have had no test so far in the championship, winning by 12 and 23 points respectively against Cork – who barely survived in Division 2 – and Limerick, who were promoted from Division 3.
The Kingdom are raging-hot favourites though they are facing a Division 1 team for the first time in the 2022 Championship.
Given how one-sided their games have been it is difficult to be critical about their performance, but scoring just a single goal in the Munster Championship is a concern.
They struggle to break down blanket defences; they were just one point up against Cork after 38 minutes and two up against Limerick after 20 minutes.
On the plus side, they are close to full strength; have conceded only one goal from open play in their last 13 games; have a strong bench and huge potential for scores from their attack, particularly if David Clifford is fully fit and on form.
Still, it shouldn’t be forgotten they only beat Mayo at the death when they clashed in the league in Tralee.
It is best to disregard what happened in the league final, because Mayo took zero interest in that match.
All the pressure is on Kerry. However, this is the day for a group of talented footballers to finally start delivering on their potential.
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