Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland SFC Round 2 preview
Shane Stapleton previews a busy weekend of GAA action, with All-Ireland SFC quarter-final places up for grabs.
The talk this week is of how Michael Murphy must be stationed at the edge of the square if Donegal are to get the best out of their talisman.
In a team game with 15 moving parts, suggesting a side caters to one man’s supposed shortcomings could be construed as admitting his time is nigh.
Murphy will deservedly go down as one of the most clutch players in the history of the GAA and could well kick Donegal to victory in this weekend’s clash with Ulster rivals Armagh, with an All-Ireland quarter-final place up for grabs.
The truth of the matter is that the number 14 has struggled in a couple of big games in recent times. He carried an injury into last year’s Ulster clash with Tyrone, was a peripheral figure until missing a penalty, and was then sent off on a second yellow card for a rash tackle.
Murphy gave a strong performance in the win over the Orchard County seven weeks ago, was quieter against Cavan in the semi-final, before being run ragged by Brendan Rodgers in Derry’s provincial final win.
The talk now is that 32-year-old Murphy should operate at full-forward instead of bringing an athletic man-marker out into open country, forcing him to run the other way. That may be true, but the likes of Philly McMahon showed against Colm Cooper and Aidan O’Shea that an inside forward can also be punished if he cannot keep with a raiding defender.
Which begs the question, can Donegal win an All-Ireland if they need to find ways to accommodate a brilliant player who can still score from all angles, but who doesn’t have the legs of yesteryear? It’s a conundrum the Cork hurling management are facing just now with their maestro, Patrick Horgan.
One of the men that Murphy may need to keep tabs on this weekend is a player who made his name as an elegant forward and midfielder: Armagh’s Ethan Rafferty.
Kieran ‘Geezer’ McGeeney has stationed the Grange man in goals, and a generous licence to attack resulted in scoring two monster points in last week’s qualifier win over Tyrone.
After eight seasons managing his native county and no Ulster final to show for it, eliminating the All-Ireland champions in a do-or-die clash amounted to a landmark win for McGeeney.
Backing it up against a side that beat them by seven points in late April is the challenge now, though they have not beaten Donegal since the 2010 championship when Jamie Clarke rattled in two early goals.
After losing to Derry, rival manager Declan Bonner came in for plenty of criticism, so much so that 1992 All-Ireland winning captain Anthony Molloy felt compelled to contact a local media outlet to put on record how “sickening” and “ugly” the reaction by “keyboard warriors” had been.
Bonner’s Donegal will fancy picking up a third win of the season over Armagh, with the first of those coming on the last day of the league where ugly scenes led to multiple suspensions.
Familiarity breeds contempt and, to that end, we can expect fireworks in this win-or-go-home game in the natural bowl that is St Tiernach’s Park in Clones. Can Rian O’Neill fulfil his potential and be the number 14 that drives the Orchard over the top, or will Murphy make fools of us all once more?
Both Murphy and Clare icon David Tubridy made their championship debuts in the second weekend of July in 2007. The latter will hope this weekend to drive his county past Roscommon and into a first All-Ireland SFC quarter-final since 2016, a year when they beat Rossies along the way.
Tubridy missed a penalty in the recent win over Meath, and spot-kicks have been the bane of a Banner side who were knocked out of Munster after a shootout against Limerick.
Roscommon stand in Clare’s way once more, though the form lines are blurred after the sides drew a league clash in February.
Cork will certainly fancy their chances of beating Limerick after pushing Kerry for 40-odd minutes in Munster, before finding an extra gear to see off Louth in the last round of the qualifiers.
You have to go back to 2010 for the Treaty’s most recent championship goal against the Rebels, and 2003 for the last time the men in green prevailed. The game could be closer than history suggests.
Both Mayo and Kildare suffered bruising provincial final defeats, but while the Connacht decider was decided by fine margins, it was an annihilation in the Leinster edition.
The Lilies have great attackers but Dublin exposed both the generous nature of their defence and the standoffish approach of their tackling to put the game to bed within minutes.
Mayo have brilliant defenders who drive forward at pace, but have looked lightweight upfront without Tommy Conroy and Ryan O’Donoghue. As the boxing adage says, styles make fights, so perhaps the contrasting natures of these teams will produce entertainment.
Four years ago, we had the ‘Newbridge Or Nowhere’ clash where Kildare made a public stand to retain home advantage for their qualifier game, and they duly delivered a victory despite Diarmuid O’Connor’s defiant performance.
This time, the game is at Croke Park and that does not augur well for Glenn Ryan’s charges, who have offered up a combined 7-32 in their recent outings against Westmeath and the Dubs.
The curious thing about Mayo is that they only tend to win games when they need to. Having not lifted a Connacht title since 2015, James Horan’s men claimed the crown in both 2020 and 2021 when there was no backdoor.
With the qualifiers returning this year, again they came up short when it was not knockout. Now, they have eked their way past Monaghan and are back on the Croke Park field where they have been involved in some of the most thrilling games we’ve seen in the modern era.
They bring chaos, a feeling that anything can happen, and a disregard for control. Perhaps it’s why they have not gotten over the line to win an All-Ireland, but it is what makes them so compelling.