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Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland football final group games preview

14 Jun | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland football final group games preview
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Shane Stapleton looks ahead to a big weekend of action in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, including Derry v Westmeath and Dublin v Mayo.

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The message for Mickey Harte is very simple: win or go home.

If Dublin could be knocked out of the equation, the Oak Leafers had looked like the heirs apparent after a stellar number of seasons under Rory Gallagher and then, after off-the-field drama forced a change, Ciaran Meenagh.

Since taking over, a powerful-looking Derry team seems to have fallen asunder under Harte.

Recruiting a manager from the old enemy of Tyrone was always going to be a risky move — think Liverpool legend Rafa Benitez going to Everton that time — because so many people wanted him to fail from the get-go.

The league title has written cheques that their summer form up to now has been unable to cash, and quite suddenly they look like a bit of a joke.

He has lost his opening three championship games with Derry, and last season was beaten in his final four All-Ireland series outings with Louth. The game before that, a Leinster semi-final clash with Offaly, was only decided after extra time.

So the truth is that the Tyrone legend is now in a fight for both survival in this competition, but also for vindication as a modern-day manager.

His Oak Leafers have conceded nine goals in three defeats against Donegal, Galway and Armagh, within that their defence and goalkeeper have been made to look a sham, and at the other end they are yet to raise a green flag.

Gareth McKinless and Ciaran McFaul were red-carded in recent games, while Conor Glass seemed to throw out his hands in frustration at the substitution of his midfielder partner Emmett Bradley. 

Luckily for Harte, his side need only to beat Westmeath to be back into the All-Ireland SFC knockout stages.

Since a shock opening-day defeat to Wicklow, Dessie Dolan’s men have also come up short against two teams that took out Derry: Armagh and Galway.

The difference for the Leinster side is that they pushed both rivals much closer, and so we might suggest they will nudge their rivals all the way here.

Last year, John Heslin had a late free to knock Tyrone out at the same stage of the competition but it leaked just wide, meaning they will feel they can match another one of Ulster’s big dogs. Westmeath +4 is 13/10, while Derry winning by 1-3 points is 7/2. 

Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh have in the past felt pain against the Tribesmen, and a thrilling draw in the 2022 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final — with a big brawl along the way — led us to penalties.

The stadium rose to a crescendo as the players stepped up for their spot-kicks, and ultimately Galway showed more class to win 4-1. A draw was not enough for the Orchard men that day, but it would be sufficient this weekend to top their group.

With Sean Kelly and Damien Comer laid up through injury just now, Armagh must be fancied to get the job done, and they will be further emboldened by a one-point win over their rivals last year.

Conor Turbitt has banged in two goals for the Ulster men during this year’s championship, including a brilliantly-composed mickey-taking finish against Derry when he embarrassed both a defender and goalkeeper, and is 8/1 to be first to hit the net here.

Reigning Tailteann Cup champions Meath need a win over Monaghan at Breffni Park to progress to the knockout stages, whereas a draw will be enough for the Farney men.

Not only that, but Vinny Corey’s men can leapfrog Louth into second place if Kerry beat the Wee County, provided there is also a dramatic swing in score difference.

Whenever Monaghan next come up short, it will almost certainly mark the end of Conor McManus’ glittering inter-county career. His side to come out on top by between 1-3 points is 3/1, and our lack of trust in Colm O’Rourke’s charges makes it an appealing bet.

Ger Brennan has plenty of Kerry experience from his days at the heart of the Dublin defence, and was on teams that frustrated the Munster men on more than one championship occasion.

The St Vincent’s man has impressed since taking over the Wee County in his maiden inter-county job, and a win over the Kingdom would see them top their group and secure a valuable week off.

While that feels unlikely at O’Moore Park this weekend, coming inside the spread of +9 at 5/4 is doable considering that Jack O’Connor’s men have hit the net in just one of four outings, and that David Clifford just doesn’t quite look himself right now.

Tom O’Sullivan has hit 0-9 from play this championship and is 8/1 for anytime goalscorer. For a player who gets forward so often, it is worth considering.

Both Dublin and Mayo are already through so there is a sense of a phony war when they meet at Dr Hyde Park, a venue that has been a happy hunting ground for the men from the west.

Given that Dublin will win this game no matter what Mayo bring, Kevin McStay could be forgiven if he played a shadow outfit here in order to have his men at full strength for a preliminary quarter-final the following weekend.

No matter, we expect Dublin to lead from the front, hit the first point from play at 13/8, and win by more than the handicap of five points (evens).


Saturday: Derry v Westmeath, Pairc Esler, Newry (19:00)

Sunday: Armagh v Galway, Markievicz Park (13:45)


Saturday: Roscommon v Cavan, Pearse Park (17:00)

Sunday: Dublin v Mayo, Dr. Hyde Park (15:45)


Saturday: Donegal v Clare, MacHale Park (15:00), Tyrone v Cork, O’Connor Park (15:00)


Sunday: Kerry v Louth, O’Moore Park (15:00), Monaghan v Meath, Breffni Park (15:00)


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.