Monday, June 17, 2024

4 key talking points from the weekend’s All-Ireland football group stage action

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1. The new goal method

After the last few years and the marvelling at the influence of goalkeeper’s increased involvement in outfield action, there has been an explosion of a reaction this summer.

The idea that Donegal invented this against Derry has gained much currency, but it was already happening in patches across the leagues, not least by Louth.

The concept came full circle on Saturday at Pairc Ui Rinn when Ryan McHugh was carrying the ball forward for Donegal when he was dispossessed. A quick handpass to the electric Matty Taylor, an 85-yard sprint with McHugh not quite getting back, and a slammed goal for Cork.

Now, Ryan McHugh is one of the most comfortable ball carriers in the game. But the idea of ‘building an attack’ in the modern game means players lining themselves up into various attacking positions, while those who would traditionally be seen as least comfortable on the ball – ie goalkeepers and the full-back line – play around with the ball until the opportunity is right.

Forwards aren’t playing by those rules any more. Shane Walsh didn’t. Conor Turbitt didn’t.

Few will be saddened to see that this torturous tactical ploy has a massive in-built glitch.

2. Last chance saloon

Step forward Derry, Cavan, Clare and Meath.

Before the group stages commenced, there’s a good chance you would have predicted three of these four going to the last game of the group stages with one final chance to progress. But you wouldn’t have said Derry. Not a chance.

Here we are, however. Mickey Harte used to always finish an assessment of a Tyrone exit from the Ulster championship by expressing his gratitude that they had another chance in the qualifiers. Now they have Westmeath in a do-or-die game. If they lose, it would seem a strong possibility that Derry will have new management next year.

Cavan have been subject to a couple of hosings so far in the group stages, nine points to Mayo in Casetlebar followed by a 17-point loss in front of their own people at Kingspan Breffni.

Thankfully for them, Roscommon are running on empty with zero points themselves.

For Clare, the task is beautifully simple; beat Donegal to keep their dream alive. If Cork beat Tyrone though, it would leave three teams on two points, in which case scoring difference would apply.

Meath have to beat Monaghan, and therefore leapfrog them on the table of Group 4.

Those complaining about a lack of jeopardy up to this point, will have their fill of it the weekend after next 

3. Energy surge from O’Hare

It has been said about Tyrone this year that they are lacking a certain energy. They had Cavan beaten twice in the first game before eventually falling over the lone in extra time.

Shea O’Hare. John McVitty / INPHO

John McVitty / INPHO / INPHO

In the Ulster semi-final, they were ahead of Donegal in normal time but couldn’t help being dragged into extra-time and a defeat, while their performance in Ballybofey was pancake-flat.

Unleash the victorious U20 team, fresh from conquering Kerry, then so.

Call it the power of a good quality mullet, but it appeared on Sunday that the new addition, Shea O’Hare added a good bit of dash in the closing stages after he came on for Kieran McGeary.

Tyrone owed much of their victory to Coalisland Fianna corner-back Niall Devlin, who accounted for 2-2 of their 2-3 first-half tally.

It’s a season where Tyrone continue to baffle, mixing the good with the indifferent and patchy. A game against Cork now in a neutral ground, after what they did to Donegal on Saturday, will be a good gauge of their abilities. 

4. Meath muddling through

As a pundit, Colm O’Rourke demanded much from teams at the sharp end of the season.

Many associate O’Rourke as part of the Big Three along with Joe Brolly and Pat Spillane.

Given the tendency to story-top within that gathering, the criticism of teams and managers grew coarser as the years went on.

But what would a suited and booted Colm O’Rourke think of Colm O’Rourke, the manager?

Meath manager Colm O’Rourke shares a laugh with Kerry manager Jack O’Conner before their loss. James Lawlor / INPHO

James Lawlor / INPHO / INPHO

Meath’s meek compliance in getting beat by Kerry had all the hallmarks of a side who were out to enjoy the sunshine. 

Serious footballing counties don’t do that stuff. Somewhere along the past two decades, Meath stopped being a serious football county.

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