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Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland Football Championship Preview

31 May | news | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland Football Championship Preview
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Shane Stapleton looks ahead to some of the big clashes in this weekend’s football action.

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Never underestimate the impact of a manager and a swell of momentum.

Back in 2012, Donegal were making a second drive at All-Ireland glory, one year on from an ugly 0-8 to 0-6 defeat in a final-four clash with Dublin at Croke Park.

They played an ultra-defensive style, receiving huge criticism for their approach, but Jim McGuinness evolved his team brilliantly throughout season two.

The Cork team they faced in the 2012 semi-final had won the Sam Maguire Cup two seasons previously, and had comprehensively beaten Kerry in Munster en route to Croke Park once again.

Twelve years on, they meet this weekend in a group-stage clash, with the Munster men on a high after beating Clare and the Ulster side buoyed by victory over Tyrone.

But back in 2012, McGuinness’ men were simply sensational in how they sat back, before countering with thrilling abandon. The sight of Mark McHugh and Karl Lacey going from defence to attack became a calling card of their season.

They had achieved the rare feat of coming from the Ulster preliminary stage, which meant four rounds, to win a provincial title without conceding a goal. After that, Kerry were put to the sword, with Kieran Donaghy’s late goal setting up a tense finale.

So feared were McGuinness’ side and their defensive structure that Cork boss Conor Counihan made the revelatory decision to operate with seven forwards for the All-Ireland semi-final clash — with Fintan Goold added to their attack before throw-in.

It was no use as Donegal came out on top by two, with Colm O’Neill’s green flag in the dying embers making the scoreline closer than the game had felt. A few weeks later, Donegal had won it all.

Once more, they are the high kings of Ulster and — along with fellow provincial winners Dublin, Galway and Kerry — have won their opening game of the All-Ireland group stages.

McGuinness’ men saw off Tyrone last time out but a five-hour pre-match journey will surely hand Cork an edge ahead of the clash at Pairc Ui Rinn.

The Rebels +3 at 11/10 has its merits, especially if the midfield pairing of Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan can slow up the Tir Chonaill men, while Conor Corbett is a hugely promising attacker in red.

Let us also not forget about the enduring quality of Brian Hurley, the Castlehaven man is 10/1 for first goal here.

When Dublin last met Cavan in championship action, your columnist was one of the few fortunates afforded a seat at Croke Park due to Covid restrictions in the winter of 2020.

GAA HQ can feel soulless whenever the Dubs are systematically picking apart one of the weaker members of football’s herd, but it was many times that when done in front of empty stands four years ago.

The Breffni men’s last win over the capital in a competitive game was in 1960 when they won a National League semi-final by six points in Navan, and it’s unlikely that will change here. The Dubs to win between 7-9 points is 4/1, though.

Westmeath, who are seeking their first win in the ‘round robin’ series, almost knocked out Tyrone last year when John Heslin’s late free leaked wide.

A Galway team loaded with talent but regularly hampered by injury issues head to Cusack Park in Mullingar high on confidence after disposing of Derry.

The Lake County are evens at +7, while Cein Darcy is 8/1 for first goalscorer — with the Caherlistrane man already netting twice this championship season.

Another man who could hit the onion sack first is Sam Mulroy, an 8/1 shot when his Louth side visit Monaghan in Clones.

The Farney County have had a torrid year since winning a cracking league clash against Dublin at Croke Park in late January.

They were beaten in their remaining six NFL clashes and with a total scoring difference of -46, before losing their two championship matches against Cavan and Kerry by a combined 3-36 to 2-23.

Vinny Corey will want a huge reaction from Monaghan and, in the past, they have produced big results when not fancied to.

But 4/5 on the result to finish as a ‘draw or Louth to win’ looks a decent shout, especially after Ger Brennan’s troops dismantled bitter rivals Meath last time out.

Speaking of the Royals, they welcome David Clifford to Pairc Tailteann, and strangely the Kerry star has just 0-7 from play in three championship games this season.

If any team is going to give him room to build up his confidence, it is surely Colm O’Rourke’s Meath.

They have generously conceded 9-41 across their three outings against Longford, Dublin and Louth, so lumping a Clifford goal at evens into an accumulator could be worth a shot. The star of the game is due to explode at some point, so why not now?

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Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.