Shane Stapleton runs through his picks for the third round of group stage matches in the All-Ireland football championship.
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The sights and sounds during last year’s chaotic All-Ireland SFC quarter-final clash between Armagh and Galway will live long in the memory.
Eye-gouging, brawling, Rian O’Neill powering over the sort of late equaliser that kids play out in their local fields every day, and a penalty shootout finale that drummed the excitement up several more notches.
Sport is a balancing act between pain and glory, the gut-wrenching swing from executed to executioner, and we saw it all in its rawest form last June.
Galway prevailed and plotted a route to the final, where they were beaten by Kerry, and once more they are in the hunt for a Sam Maguire Cup that they have not held since current manager Padraic Joyce hit 10 points against Meath in 2001.
One thing this tribal outfit does not lack is talent: Shane Walsh’s reputation precedes him, Damien Comer is a bull, Ian Burke a lock-picker, while Matthew Tierney and Peter Cooke bring class and power from deep.
Joyce does not have to worry about progression to the All-Ireland knockout phase but he would like to ensure top spot and bypass a preliminary quarter-final spot by getting a result.
Galway by 1-3 points at 3/1 is decent value, and it may leave Kieran McGeeney and his backroom team facing into a nervy wait if Westmeath can overturn Tyrone.
Top-level sport is an unforgiving place. David O’Hanlon started ten games in a row for Dublin and hardly put a foot wrong, yet he has been supplanted by returning 41-year-old Stephen Cluxton and this weekend can’t even get a place on the bench with Evan Comerford wearing 16.
Dublin met Division 4 opposition once this year and came away with a 27-point win over Laois, while Sligo’s two jaunts with top-tier sides resulted in losses by 14 and ten points to Galway and Roscommon respectively.
Betway are offering 11/10 for Sligo to come within 13 points but given the wide expanses of Breffni Park in Cavan, you would be safer betting on Con O’Callaghan and co beating the spread.
Roscommon boss Davy Burke is one of the most enigmatic young managers in the game. The 35-year-old is six years younger than Cluxton but has experience belying his years.
He earned promotion from Division 4 with Wicklow in 2020 and retained their Division 3 status a year later, before stepping down from the position.
Kildare turned their noses up at Lilywhite native Burke in favour of Glenn Ryan, a key man for the county during his playing days.
The latter has cut a bewildered figure in recent times, with his post-match interviews seeming to lay the blame squarely at the door of his players.
“Our problems are within the four walls of the dressing room,” Ryan explained after the defeat to Dublin, which was more comprehensive than the sides’ Leinster meeting weeks beforehand.
“You know, we go to training, we try to correct them, and you think they have them corrected or you try and put stuff in place that makes you a better side and then you get days like today.”
Kildare have won just four of their last 11 games and finished fifth place in Division 2. Their competitive wins this season came against Clare, Limerick and Meath in the NFL, and Wicklow in the championship with The Banner being the only side not in the Tailteann Cup.
There is a feeling that this Kildare management team and its hopes are circling the drain just now, quite the opposite to Burke’s Rossies who finished third in Division 1 and followed that up with wins over Mayo and Sligo, and a draw with the Dubs.
Their sole defeat came against the Tribe but there is no shame in that, and knocking his native county out would put an exclamation point on Kildare’s decision to snub the younger man.
That would require Sligo getting a better result — even on the scoreline in defeat — against the Dubs than Kildare get against Roscommon, and in truth the Lilywhites are far more likely to progress.
Kildare have scored only one goal in four championship games this year, and you wonder if they are maximising their attacking talent.
Burke drove them to Under-20 All-Ireland glory in 2018 when they hit 13 green flags in six games, and only Aaron Masterson and Paddy Woodgate of that dynamic team will start for the seniors this weekend. The Rossies -4 at evens is tempting.
Louth manager Mickey Harte led Tyrone into six championship games against Kerry, winning the 2005 and 2008 All-Ireland finals and the 2003 “puke football” semi-final before losing 2012 (qualifier), 2015 and 2019 (All-Ireland semi-finals) clashes.
Eighteen years ago, Harte met Jack O’Connor in senior championship for the first time and delivered a 1-16 to 2-10 victory, with Peter Canavan scoring the only goal for the Red Hands.
This will be a first championship meeting between Kerry and Louth since the 1953 All-Ireland semi-final — the Kingdom won by 3-6 to 0-10 — when Harte was still in nappies. While the reigning champions are heavy favourites, the Leinster side have tightened things up since the mauling by Dublin.
They lost to Cork and Mayo by a combined three points so the +8 at evens feels like good value, assuming David Clifford is not served up a feast of ball in dangerous areas.
After this weekend, it’s knockout football all the way and from there the drama begins.