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Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland SFC Quarter Finals Preview

28 Jun | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland SFC Quarter Finals Preview

Shane Stapleton looks ahead to this weekend’s quarter-final clashes in the All-Ireland Football Championship


Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has studied these Louth players in the past.

During Covid, as the “Jocks” of Naomh Mairtin were chasing a first-ever county title, the man from Tir Chonaill was involved in an advisory capacity.

Based three hours away in the Glenties, and with travel restrictions a feature of the time, McGuinness was at a distance. 

He watched on via live-stream as Naomh Mairtin chased the holy grail, connecting with the Monasterboice club’s management team at certain intervals to give his insights.

It helped county star Sam Mulroy and Co in their quest as they hoisted the Joe Ward Cup for the first time in September 2020.

Now, almost four years on, McGuinness and some of the men he helped get over the line are pitted against each other.

“Sam Mulroy, I know well, as I coached him there for a couple of years at club level,” the Donegal boss said last week, ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final.

“He’d make any team in the country. There’s no doubt about that.”

Ger Brennan is the first member of Dublin’s 2011 All-Ireland winning side to manage a senior inter-county football team, and is one game away from bridging a gap to 1957 when last Louth reached a semi-final.

Just under a year ago, had you been told that these two would be fighting it out for a place in the final four, you would have been forgiven for splitting your side.

Donegal were a bedraggled bunch, while the Wee County had finished up their championship with four consecutive losses to a combined tune of minus-52 points.

Then manager Mickey Harte left for greener pastures — which we will get to — while Brennan and McGuinness imbued their teams with the belief to get to this stage in 2024.

From being beaten by Dublin in last year’s Leinster final by 21 to a narrow four-point reversal last month, Louth will feel they can now match the big boys.

Draw or Louth at 15/4, or the Wee County +3 at 9/4, has its merits, while the prospect of Mulroy hitting the net first to make McGuinness sweat is a generous 10/1.

However, the extra game played against Cork could well take some of the sting out of the Leinster men, so Donegal are rightly installed as favourites.

What of Harte and his merry band of Derry men? They were sensational during the league, almost slapstick in how they have defended during the championship, but found a way past Mayo even if it took penalties.

It takes just a spark to light a flame and from here the Oak Leafers could take off. They have big-game experience, the confidence that comes from beating the Dubs in a national final, and the talent to punish Kerry.

The Kingdom are bidding to reach the semi-final for a fourth successive year and, of course, they won the Sam Maguire Cup just two seasons ago.

Jack O’Connor’s men have won all five of their championship outings this year but they have been against teams outside the chasing peloton.

Cork, Clare, Monaghan, Meath and Louth would all be underdogs against any side with realistic hopes of winning the big one, meaning we are in something of an information vacuum when judging the Munster champions.

Three of the four preliminary quarter-final winners went on to lose their quarter-final last year and, for that reason, it is difficult to back a Derry team that needed extra-time and spot-kicks to see off Mayo.

For Derry to make a huge burst in the first half and lead at half-time before Kerry win at full-time is 11/2.

History weighs heavily on the side of Dublin ahead of their clash with Galway. They have prevailed in eight of the ten championship clashes between these counties, with the last Tribal victory coming way back in the All-Ireland final of 1934.

Last year, in the Dublin county championship, Kilmacud Crokes saw off Ballymun Kickhams by four points en route to a three-in-a-row of titles.

During that clash, Galway star Shane Walsh wheeled away after a scoring attempt in the final minutes when he was bashed into late by Paddy Small.

Your columnist questioned — on social media platform X — the necessity for the hit being made and whether the Ballymun forward could have avoided the contact, leading his brother John and former county player Philly McMahon passionately jumping to their man’s defence.

Walsh had to wear a protective mask due to a broken nose in the subsequent couple of games, but still found a way to help his side across the line.

This Saturday at Croke Park, Walsh comes up against the Smalls and a Dublin team that has had an extra week’s rest, as Padraic Joyce’s charges had to take care of Monaghan in a preliminary clash.

Walsh suffered a knock during the game which puts his potential contributions into jeopardy here, Damien Comer cannot be at 100% after only recently returning to action, while Rob Finnerty’s knee brace hardly inspires confidence.

All of which means that a potential shootout between Walsh and Dublin’s big guns is diluted by Galway’s injury profile heading into the game.

Theirs is a team that relies on its big names, who cannot be at top gear, making it nigh-on impossible to imagine a highly-talented Galway outfit can come through this.

Dublin -4 at 10/11 could be worth a shot while Cormac Costello for an anytime goal is worth a nibble at 15/8.

Armagh v Roscommon is a battle of counties who have not reached All-Ireland semi-finals since 2005 and 1991 respectively.

Both will feel this is a massive opportunity, although The Orchard’s experience of losing a quarter-final shootout to Galway a couple of seasons ago may prepare them for the challenge.

On the huge Croke Park surface, they have a big decision over whether they should press the Rossies’ restarts or not. 

It has been a source of joy for Davy Burke’s outfit, and while Armagh may well back their defence to sit back and hold out against extended periods of possession, they showed against The Tribe that they have an eye for turning over kickouts.

Last time out against Tyrone was the first time this championship season that Roscommon kept a clean sheet, while Armagh have hit four across their last couple of outings. Conor Turbitt has twice found the net this year, and he is 6/1 to do so first here.



Armagh v Roscommon, Croke Park 4.00

Dublin v Galway, Croke Park, 6.15



Donegal v Louth, Croke Park, 1.15

Derry v Kerry, Croke Park, 3.15


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.