Saturday, June 30, 2007

What's the likelihood that Kerry will lose tomorrow?

9/4, according to Paddy Power who quote Kerry at 1/2 to prevail over 70 minutes in tomorrow's Munster football final at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. Those are mad odds, IMHO, but another way of looking at it, of course, is that it represents a superb opportunity to fill one's boots with betting slips backing the Leesiders.

I dunno about you (or youse as they are wont to say in these parts, on Dublin's Northside) but I think Cork have, at the very least, a good 50:50 chance of winning tomorrow. They've had two outings so far compared to Kerry's sole appearance and, while they weren't put to the pin of their collar in either, their matches with Limerick and Tipp constituted tougher tests compared to Kerry's stroll in the park against a lamentably poor Waterford side. (By the way, folks, that was the Munster Football Championship - what an annual farce it is. The sooner they put some half-decent hurdles between Cork and Kerry and the All-Ireland series, the better but don't bet on that one happening anytime soon).

I think there are a few reasons why Cork could win tomorrow. First, they have Graham Canty back in the side at full-back and, if there's anyone (apart from David Brady, that is) who can put manners on Donaghy, then it's Graham Canty. His absence through injury in last year's All-Ireland semi-final was the main reason that Cork didn't win - it forced Derek Kavanagh back to deal with Donaghy, fatally weakening the Cork midfield. With Canty back, Donaghy - himself just back from injury and looking out of sorts - should be well shackled, while Kavanagh should, alongside Nicholas Murphy, do well in midfield.

Indeed, the whole spine of the Cork side looks strong and Cork's own Donaghy clone - the monstrous Michael Cussen - could give Kerry's new no.3, Tom O'Sullivan, a tough time. What Cussen does with the ball he gets will be crucial and the likes of U21 star Fintan Goold will have to see to it that all the responsibility for getting scores doesn't rest with James Masters.

This is the first real test for new Kerry manager Pat O'Shea, who has the tough job of trying to steer Kerry to become the first county to win back-to-back All-Irelands since Cork did so back in 1990. Defeat tomorrow wouldn't be a complete disaster for Kerry but it would, in O'Shea's home town, still be a big blow to the new man at the helm in the Kingdom.

Kerry haven't won a Munster final in Killarney since 1986 and if Cork produce the kind of performance I think they're capable of, they could well ensure that this record is extended for another year at least. Cork by two or three, methinks.

Elsewhere, an injury-plagued Laois take on Wexford in the Leinster football semi-final at Croker. Laois have a veritable slew of injuries and this provides Wexford with a genuine chance of reaching their first provincial football decider in over fifty years. Wexford showed Louth a fairly clean pair of heels in the last round, while Laois stuggled for long periods to overcome a game Longford outfit. If Wexford demonstrate the same level of accuracy in their point-taking tomorrow, a shock win for the Model County could be on the cards. However, the weight of history cannot be ignored and so, injuries or not, I think Laois will sneak through to face the Dubs in the provincial decider.

Finally, the Mayo ladies face Galway in the Connacht final at Pearse Stadium tomorrow. I hope they have better luck than their male counterparts had back in May at the same unlovely venue.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday's round-up

Not a lot to report today, so I may as well start with the somewhat less than newsworthy fact that I spent the bulk of the day yesterday behind the wheel, undertaking a Dublin-Limerick-Dublin round trip. Oh, that lovely N7 - someone should write a song about it.

Hogan Stand is reporting that Ronan McGarritty could get called upon to play against Cavan but the quote from Johnno seems to come from the same interview we spoke about the other day. All Johnno says is that "we'll have to see what role he plays" on Saturday week. Depending on how the match is going, a cameo appearance for the last 15-20 minutes is, I would have thought, the likely option.

There's a more definitive quote from The Deputy in the Western concerning Super Mac's hamstring injury and this doesn't sound good, I'm afraid. The injury occurred last week and Johnno says that "he's gone for a few weeks", which could mean that not only is he likely to miss the Cavan match but, if we win, the second round qualifier tie on the following weekend as well. We could all be gone by then, I suppose, and not just for a few weeks either.

If it's downbeat you want, then this quote from Kevin Beirne (who was a selector with the minor team) should do the trick nicely. Kevin speaks about his concerns for the future arising from our failure to win a provincial minor title for the last number of years and reckons we're entering "a state of emergency". An overstatement, perhaps, given our recent national success at U21 level but it certainly is a concern.

Finally, I notice that Dessie Farrell has provided his tuppence worth on the issue of payments to managers, which Jack O'Connor raised in his kiss and tell book about his time as Kerry supremo. (I was going to buy the book until I discovered that it was ghostwritten by Tom Humphries. That's right. The guy. That likes. To pretend. That he's. The new. Con Houlihan. And has. The really. Fucking annoying. Habit of. Writing two. Word sentences. Yeah. That Tom). As regards payments to managers, the words Elephant and Room seem somehow appropriate - it's like being back in the Eighties where everyone knew tax fiddling was going on all around the place but where it was never mentioned officially. Now that this particular hare is up and running (seeing as it relates to Kerry, a coursing analogy is appropriate, I feel) it's difficult to see where it will lead. Not, sadly, to the Kingdom being disqualified from the 2004 and 2006 All-Irelands, as one bright spark on suggests. Nice idea, though.

That's it - more tomorrow on the first provincial football final of the year - where Cork defend their Munster title against those Kerry upstarts - and also that interesting Leinster football semi-final clash on at Croker between Laois and Wexford.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Midweek update

I'm up to my mammaries at the minute so this'll have to be a quick one. Nothing much to report, in any event, apart from the usual comprehensive coverage of recent happenings in the Mayo News. In case you haven't yet perused this wonderful weekly, here's what they're saying on football issues esta semana.

First, there's a piece by Mike Finnerty on the team's preparation for the Cavan match, which includes what we already know about Ronan and Super Mac. There's also a few quotes from Johnno, where he says that "it's not an easy draw but it could have been worse." (He's really warming to this bullshit politics-speak, isn't he? Come off it, Johnno, it's as easy a draw as we could have hoped for!) He goes on: "Getting a home draw was vital". Was it? If the aim is to slither unconvincingly into the quarter-finals (in which case, can we please have the winners of the Limerick/Louth match next followed by Sligo after that?), I can see where he's coming from. If, however, we want to find out at the earliest opportunity if we're any bloody good this year, then, in my view, the School of Hard Knocks is where we want to be. As Four Goal McGee said recently on this humble site, Meath in Navan would have been a nice draw to get and, had this happened, we'd certainly have learned a thing or two about ourselves on July 7th. As things stand, I'm not sure we'll be much the wiser after our joust with Cavan Bucks.

In the same article, it's also confirmed that David Kilcullen, Tom Cunniffe and Mark Ronaldson have all played a part in recent challenge matches. It's beginning to look as if Kilcullen might well line out at CHB against Cavan but the other two are more likely to be on the bench. BJ seems to have been reconverted back into a forward and may even play at full-forward against Cavan. That would make a great table quiz question, wouldn't it - which Mayo player lined out at full-back in one championship match and full-forward the next? (Though not, admittedly, as good as this one: "Q. Who played for Kerry and Dublin in the same All-Ireland? A. The Artane Boys Band. Boom! Boom!")

Kevin McStay reckons that the draw against Cavan was as soft as we could have hoped for (see what I mean, Johnno?) and he's still bubbling with enthusiasm about our prospects for the Summer, saying that "recent results and performances and, more importantly, the enthusiasm levels, indicate that O’Mahony is going to try and repeat his 2001 heroics." But then he goes on to spoil it all by bigging the Dubs - again. Just wait till the likes of Tyrone get their hands on those soft-centred metropolitans, Kev, and watch them kicking their over-hyped holes all round Jones Road.

Kev also talks about the disappointing demise of the minors, where he chillingly (pardon the pun - you'll see why in a minute) notes that, while all is going well for us at U16 and U21 level, at minor we "have hit a long and dangerous patch of ice". Brrr! If you want to read more on the minors, here's Edwin McGreal's match report and here's Ray Dempsey's take on the defeat.

Bugger! I didn't mean to take so long with this one. Now I'm rightly in it . . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ronan's return confirmed

Both this morning's Indo and Hogan Stand have now confirmed yesterday's reports that Ronan McGarritty has, indeed, returned to the fray. He played for about twenty minutes in the challenge match against Cork at the weekend and will be back in the panel for the qualifier tie against Cavan on July 7th. While it's got to be doubtful that he'll start the next day, it would be great to see him back in action at some stage over the seventy minutes.

We've missed Ronan's presence hugely in midfield over the past few months, most notably in Salthill where Joe Bergin was afforded complete freedom in the air around the middle. This was exactly where Ronan dominated the exchanges so comprehensively in last year's Connacht final and his absence on May 20th was one of the reasons (though, admittedly, only one of many) why we failed to compete with Galway that day. Assuming we get past the Cavan Bucks on July 7th, Ronan might welll be ready to start in the next round, which, in turn, would free up the likes of David Brady and David Heaney for duties further back.

It's not all good news, however. The same story in the Indo also carries confirmation that Ciaran McDonald has been sidelined with what they describe as a "muscle injury". No more than Keith Higgins, Super Mac would be a big loss if he's not fit to play against Cavan. However, there's still ten days or so to go (so soon! so soon! Where's my bloody replica shirt?) and so it's possible he might yet be okay for our Saturday night joust with the Cavan Bucks.

Well, at least Mac is still breathing, unlike poor old mob boss, John Abruzzi, who bit the dust at the hands of the Feds last night in Prison Break. And then there were seven . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

Evening throw-in against Cavan

The venues and times for the first round of the qualifiers on the weekend of July 7th/8th were announced today, full details here. We're scheduled to start laying into the Cavan Bucks at McHale Park at seven in the evening on July 7th. I don't get it with these evening throw-ins, I must admit, and it's going to be a bit of a pain in the arse for me to get to this one but such is life.

I don't normally peddle in second-hand news but . . . I was informed earlier on by a reliable source that Mid-West Radio were reporting today that Ronan McGarritty played a part in the challenge match with Cork at the weekend (this has, I notice, also now been mentioned on the Hogan Stand message board) and that Super Mac is nursing a hamstring injury, which could make him a doubt for July 7th. Make of this what you will.

The weekend’s action and the qualifier draw

There was championship action in three provinces again yesterday, with Munster once more the odd one out, although yesterday’s hurling exploits from that quarter more than made up for the absence of any big ball activity. And then, at last, there was the draw for the first round of the qualifiers which means that we finally know who we’ll be up against on July 7th.

Before talking about yesterday’s action, it’s worth having a quick word first about the minors, who went under to All-Ireland champions Roscommon by 1-11 to 1-5 on Saturday evening in the Connacht semi-final. This was a highly-rated Mayo minor team but they were well beaten, for the second year in a row, by the Rossies.

Saturday’s loss means that it’s now six years (and counting) since we last won a provincial title at minor level, which is more than a little bit worrying in terms of future development. I know, we’re doing much better at U21 level but you’d still want to see regular success at minor to be confident that sufficient talent is coming through for future years. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Onto yesterday’s matches and the clash between Galway and Leitrim at Carrick, where Nickey Brennan was in attendance to open the impressive new stand at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada. (Incidentally, it’s only a year since we played Leitrim up there and they hadn’t even started on that stand back then. Now, just twelve months on, the whole job is done. These Leitrim GAA guys are seriously impressive. Maybe they could be given a meatier project to work on, like the Dublin Metro or something. I bet they wouldn’t do as much fannying around as the RPA).

Galway were relieved to emerge from Carrick yesterday with a four-point win after what was a hard-fought and reasonably close game. However, much of Leitrim’s good work in defence and around the middle was undone by an inability to take the many chances they created – Donal Brennan’s goal miss in the second half was the worst example of this profligacy – while Galway were more economical in front of the posts. Nicky Joyce scored five points from play and the kind of clinical finishing that he showed was the main difference between the sides.

From a Mayo perspective, it was interesting – nay, heartening – to see a team tear into Galway and to give them a fair few hits, as well as being able to take whatever belts were coming their way. It was notable that, once Leitrim had signalled their intent in this department, Galway were less keen to dish it out, knowing full well that the compliment would be returned with interest. Mayo players and management would do well to take note.

The other interesting thing from this match was the refereeing. This is not a Mayo whinge but it’s clear that had the Salthill match been refereed like yesterday’s was, Galway would have ended up that game with only three or four players on the pitch. Ja Fallon, for example, was allowed to belt all around him in Salthill with total impunity – committing at least four yellow card offences in the first half alone – but he was booked yesterday for pulling the Leitrim goalie around by the arm. There were plenty of other similar examples where Galway weren’t given any latitude for misbehaviour yesterday, whereas in Salthill they were allowed to do what they liked. I know, the ref we had on May 20th was a complete clown but it was as if the rule book had been completely rewritten between the two games.

Anyway, in the end Galway survived the scare that Leitrim gave them and will now be red-hot favourites to beat Sligo in the Connacht final. Leitrim, like ourselves, meanwhile head for the qualifiers and they pulled a tough one – Donegal - in yesterday’s draw although they do get to play them in Carrick.

Up in Ulster, Monaghan pulled off a minor shock by beating Derry to qualify for their first provincial final in almost twenty years. They should have won far easier than they did – a jammy second half Derry goal kept them in far longer than they deserved. A Northern acquaintance of mine was insisting to me last week that Derry were dark horses for Sam, given the number of naturally talented players they had, as well as the emotional uplift he expected them to get from Eamonn Coleman’s untimely death. However, they looked far from All-Ireland material yesterday and drawing Armagh in the qualifiers more than likely means that their championship season this year will end on July 7th. No wonder Joe Brolly looked crabbier than usual this evening.

Meanwhile, another capacity crowd at Croker saw the Dubs beat Offaly in a dreadful contest to book their place in the Leinster final. Maybe it was because there was no wall of media hoopla surrounding this match – the fans with typewriters were all probably too knackered after their exertions last weekend to bother about this one – that the Dubs’ supporters reverted to type and only began to stream into the ground a few minutes before the scheduled throw-in time of 4pm, which resulted in a 15 minute delay in getting the action going.

Whatever about when it started, this was a contest that couldn’t end soon enough. After Dublin’s predictable whirlwind opening, they faded fast and had they been playing a side with more about them than a woefully inept Offaly, they could well have been beaten. The after-effects of the two-match tussle with Meath were clearly visible but the Dubs will need to shape up and fast if they’re going to be able to live with any half-decent opposition from here on. Assuming they make it to the Leinster final, Laois could well ask Pillock’s men some searching questions.

Eventually, after 6pm for gawdsakes, we had the qualifier draw yesterday evening. We pulled Cavan from the hat, at home too, and you’d have to feel that this was a soft enough draw for us. Cavan made their exit from Ulster at the hands of Down the same day as we were beaten in Salthill, although they have played one more match than us in this year’s championship, having initially drawn with the Mournemen the previous Sunday. We’ve since played each other in a challenge, which Cavan won by a goal, so the two sides will know a thing or two about each other. In addition, it’s not the first time we’ll have met in the qualifiers – we beat them in 2005 on our way to an All-Ireland quarter final defeat to Kerry that year. And we still owe the hoors for that galling single-point defeat in the Big Wind All-Ireland final of 1948, when the ref blew up with a few minutes still on the clock as we were, with the gale at our backs, pressing for the equaliser. See why I mean? Refs were shite back then too.

Just one final thing: are reporting that we beat Cork (minus Nicholas Murphy and James Masters) by three points in a challenge match at the weekend in Ennis. Liam O’Malley reportedly lined out at full-back with David Kilcullen at no.6. Hmmm . . .

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We've just drawn Cavan!

We've just pulled the Cavan Bucks from the hat in the qualifiers, at home as well. It's one we should definitely win, with no excuses if we don't. More on this later plus a review of all the weekend's action (including the defeat for the minors yesterday).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Potential opponents in the qualifiers

With the long-awaited draw for the first round of the qualifiers finally set to take place in Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday evening, it’s an opportune time to look at who we might pull from the hat at the weekend.

There are already thirteen of us in the draw for Sunday. As well as ourselves, this particular sea of souls comprises Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh, Kildare, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Meath, Roscommon and Westmeath. Added to the pot on Sunday will be the losers of the matches between Monaghan and Derry, Laois and Wexford and Galway and Leitrim. In addition, if Dublin lose to Offaly, they get to join in the fun too (if Offaly lose, it’s straight to the Tommy Cooper with them) and, with seventeen teams then in the hat, there would be a need for a preliminary round on June 30th. On the face of it, this seems unlikely to happen.

Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of what kind of opposition we should be looking to get, it’s obvious from the above list that there’s a hierarchy of sorts in terms of potential opponents on July 7th. In order to keep this analysis reasonably neat, I’ve assumed that Dublin, Galway and Laois all win next Sunday, thus tipping Leitrim and Wexford into the pit whereas I think Derry and Monaghan are much of a muchness. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my hierarchy and who fits into it:

Tier 1 (extremely difficult to beat): Armagh.
Tier 2 (tough, particularly if drawn away): Meath, Donegal
Tier 3 (potential banana skins): Fermanagh, Kildare, Monaghan/Derry, Westmeath
Tier 4 (should win, regardless): Cavan, Down, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Roscommon, Wexford.

I think it’s safe to say that, for the first round at least, we want to avoid Armagh. They were extremely unlucky not to get past Donegal in Ulster where they looked to have done enough to win until that square ball goal gave Donegal an undeserved victory. It’s fair to conclude that Armagh wouldn’t have been whipped out the gate by Tyrone last Sunday and, although they’re not as powerful as they were in their heyday, Armagh are still a major force to be reckoned with. If we draw them away from home, it could be the end of our championship for this year.

Meath and Donegal would both be tough customers and, given our previous clashes with both of them, we could expect any tie with either of them to be spiky enough. I’d love us to pull Meath – they’d be a real challenge and I think we’d be fully fired up for it. If we got past them, we wouldn’t care all that much who we drew in the second round.

The likes of Fermanagh, Kildare, Monaghan/Derry and Westmeath could all, on their day, give us plenty of gip. We have, of course, lost to two of them in the qualifiers in the past – Westmeath in 2001 and Fermanagh, in 2003. (Curious aside: that defeat to the Ernesiders four years ago was the last time we lost to anyone except Kerry and Galway in the championship.) If we’re not on our game (you know the crack: over-elaboration coming out of the backs, not assertive enough in midfield and headless chicken-like in attack) we could find ourselves under pressure against any of these. However, if we have made the kind of improvement that Kevin McStay was gushing about the other day, then we should be able to handle any of them.

We should be too good for any of others, regardless of how sluggish we are. If, however, we’re up against maybe Down or perhaps Longford away from home and we’re playing particularly poorly, then we might be in trouble but, really, there’s no way we should fail to get past any of these.

That’s it – only a few days to go till we know who we’re playing on July 7th and then this ridiculously long interregnum (which will have lasted almost half the length of time that elapsed between last year’s All-Ireland final and the start of this year’s NFL) will finally be nearing its end.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The longest day of the year

Yes, folks, we've reached that time of year again. Today marks the Summer solstice, the longest day of the year, with sunrise occurring (in these parts at any rate) at 04.55 and sunset at 21.57. Tomorrow morning, sunrise will have slipped back to 04.56 and the long run all the way to the Winter solstice, with the days shortening all the while, will have begun. Can the 2008 FBD League and NFL be far behind?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tough start for the minors this weekend

The opening assignment in the Connacht championship that our minors face this weekend couldn't really be any tougher: they line out against reigning All-Ireland champions Roscommon at the Hyde on Saturday evening (throw-in 6.30 pm). We've had a lean enough time of it with the minors over the past number of years (although we did make it to the All-Ireland final via the backdoor in 2005, losing to Down in that decider) and Connacht titles at minor level have been fairly thin on the ground of late. Indeed, we've failed to win a Connacht minor title since we completed a provincial three-in-a-row in 2001. And, of course, you have to go all the way back to 1985 for our last All-Ireland title at minor level. That was the team that had in its ranks the likes of Greg Maher, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kevin Beirne and MJ Mullen. I can still recall with fondness the raucous celebrations at the team's victory bash in the Garda Club that night . . .

Fast forward back to 2007 where former senior player Ray Dempsey is now managing the minor team. There's a good in-depth interview with him in this week's Mayo News and the Knockmore man certainly talks a good game. His charges will be up against it to get a result in the Hyde on Saturday evening but, from the sounds of it, it won't be from the want of trying.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Well, at least Kev is happy

There was another piece in the Mayo News that I should have mentioned earlier, viz. Kevin McStay's column. Having seen the headline and concluded that the sometimes stentorial Ballinaman was just sounding off about general issues related to discipline and refereeing, I have to admit that I put off reading it till later in the morning. That was a mistake because he had some intriguing things to say about how the lads are shaping up for the qualifiers.

The first half of his column is, indeed, about discipline and refs but then he goes on to talk about the challenge game against Laois. But only in an obtuse way, mind, as it appears that the game was a fairly covert operation and, as a former army man, Kev knows better than to aid the enemy by blabbing about such matters in public. However, he does enthuse about the performance against Laois in which, sez he, "Mayo played really well and looked hungry and enthusiastic for the road ahead". Then he goes all coy and refuses to tell us much about the side - apart the fact that DB and Heaney lined out together at midfield - but he does assure us that we'll see a "reconstructed" Mayo team taking the field on July 7th.

According to our Kev, the balance achieved in the "refit" of the 2007 Mk II model was "impressive" and he cites, in particular, the "energetic and strong" half-back line. And who might be in that line, pray tell? Kev's no telling but says that, when we see them in action again on July 7th, "chances are that you will be impressed". Remember, this is the man who has tipped the Dubs for the All-Ireland this year that is saying all this, so he deserves a hearing, doesn't he? I hope he's right. No, I mean I hope he's wrong but that he's right on this but not on the other. Know what I mean?

More on those challenge matches

There's a bit more info in the Mayo News today on the two recent challenge matches with Cavan and Laois but it adds little to what we already know, apart, that is, from the fact that both were played in the megapolis of Kiltoom. I was hoping they'd have details of the starting fifteen and scorers for the Laois game but they don't. The report says that both Trevor Howley and Tom Cunniffe had a run-out in defence but they don't specify in which matches. We already know from the report on the Cavan game which I mentioned the other day that Cunniffe came on as a sub against Cavan and scored a point. It would be interesting to know what position Howley was tried in - he's got to be a certain starter on July 7th, I would have thought.

The report suggests that the injury jinx appears to have reappeared. The seriousness of the injury to Keith Higgins is confirmed in no uncertain terms in the report and it really does now look as if Keith's 2007 season could well be over. Kenneth O'Malley and Austie are also under the weather but their injuries don't sound too serious. That's it for now folks, not long until the qualifier draw and, at last, the prospect of some real action again.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another challenge match to report on

This one was apparently played at some point over the weekend, against Laois, where we reportedly came out on top by 3-12 to 0-12. My source for this bit of news is the Mayo football and hurling pages on Those are all the details I have on it but I might have some more tomorrow, once the Mayo News is updated. 3-12 is a decent score - kinda piques the interest a bit, doesn't it?

More on that Cavan game last week

There’s a report in the Cavan Echo on the challenge game we had with the Cavan Bucks last week in Athlone, which I was alerted to by a post on The match report is contained in a pdf download of the paper itself (all 2.5 MB of it - readers on dial-up beware!), which is an odd way to make your content available online but, then again, this is Cavan we’re talking about.

According to the report, we lost by 2-11 to 1-11 (not 1-10) as I reported last week but the scoreline isn’t of huge interest. What is of note is the team we put out and, without further ado, here it is:

David Clarke, Aidan Higgins, Liam O’Malley, Keith Higgins; Peadar Gardiner, Ger Brady, Trevor Mortimor; David Heaney, Barry Moran; Aidan Campbell, Ciaran McDonald, Alan Dillon; Conor Mortimor, BJ Padden, Austin O’Malley.

Where does one start? Okay, how about the half-back line, populated by forwards? Neither Ger nor Trevor strike me as natural half-backs, I have to say, but with Enda Devenney’s apparent collapse in form and the vacancy that appears to be there at no.6, I can see that we have to try out some different options. But what about Trevor Howley or David Heaney? I can’t see Ger Brady fitting in at centre-back and Trevor’s natural aggression would seem to be more of an asset away from our half of the field. It's all a bit odd, I must admit.

Barry Moran back at midfield is a welcome development and I’d say he’ll start there on July 7th, in tandem with either David Heaney or David Brady (who didn’t line out in Athlone). Ideally, we’d want DB at 3 and Heaney at 6 but then you’d have to start someone like James Kilcullen alongside Moran in the middle, which would be a very inexperienced pairing so a Heaney-Moran axis at centre-field is probably our best option at this stage.

Aidan Campbell and Austie were both back in the forwards and both are likely to be in with a shout for a starting place the next day. Johnno rates Campbell and he certainly is an exciting prospect but he hasn’t really delivered at senior level as yet. I’m no Austie groupie but, after Salthill, we have to look at all the options and Austie, if he hits form, can be lethal. The problem is that it’s been two years since he gave any kind of compelling performance in a Mayo jersey and while his recent club form is encouraging, there's no guarantee that this will translate into the kind of performance we'd all love to see him give for the county.

And what of BJ at full forward, completing his return journey from one end of the field to the other and back again? I don’t know, I simply don’t know and I’m not sure Johnno does either. BJ is worth a place on the team (remember, he was one of the very few who didn't buckle against Kerry last September) but, what with all the positional switches he's had to make for the cause, it's difficult to know where he should line out. Personally, I doubt if it's full-forward - where I'd like us to try out someone like Pat Harte - and, with all the problems we have further back, it's likely to be there that we'll need him more.

Apart from DB (who was in any event a sub in Salthill), for the match in Athlone we were missing Kenneth O’Malley, Andy Moran, the suspended Pat Harte, James Nallen, Enda Devenney and Kevin O’Neill from the side that lined out against Galway. I’m not sure if any of them came on as subs last week as the match report only lists the Cavan replacements, although they do say that Tom Cunniffe came on and scored a point.

So, what can one make of all this? Not a lot, I think, apart from the fact that we don’t seem to have a clue who should be lining out where at the back. Moreover, with Keith Higgins – arguably our most influential back – now out of the equation since the match at Athlone, the situation with the backs has deteriorated still further. What chance have we now of fielding any kind of cohesive defence on July 7th? You'd have to admit that it's not looking hectic.

Elsewhere, we’ll at least muddle through at midfield, where Barry Moran’s return from injury is a welcome development. We’ve also got plenty of options in the forwards but, as ever, the problem will be to get the right balance. That’s another conundrum for Johnno and the selectors to sort out over the coming few weeks but their most pressing issue will obviously be to figure out what the hell to do with the backline.

Yesterday's shocking action

What a shocking day’s action that was yesterday. Well, it was for Donegal – getting washed away by a red tide in Clones – and for the Rossies, who were truly awful and fully deserved their defeat at home to Sligo, and for Louth, who could never quite live with an unexpectedly lively Wexford, and, last but not least, for the Dubs, who managed to field a free-taker who actually knew where the posts were and, in doing so, presumably shocked even themselves by discovering how to win a close match for the first time in an absolute age.

Donegal’s capitulation up in Clones was as unexpected as it was complete. I’d said in advance that their sluggish win over Armagh demonstrated that Tyrone had to have a chance but that proved to be one of the understatements of the year. What we witnessed yesterday at St Tiernach’s Park was nothing short of the re-emergence of the 2003/2005 Tyrone Machine and this Mk III version looks as mean and formidable as the two earlier models did. Suffocating in defence, swift and devastating in attack, this was vintage Tyrone and poor old Donegal were simply swept away.

The only comfort Donegal could take from the proceedings was to start lamping a few of the Tyrone lads. Let’s face it, who hasn’t been tempted to land one or two on Brian Dooher at some point but why do it right in front of the ref? So not only did Donegal end up on the wrong side of a nine-point hiding, they also finished the game with only thirteen players on the field.

Donegal’s meltdown puts their league campaign (and, by extension, our own) in context. I remember thinking that Donegal really went a tad overboard in celebrating that league final win: the old cliché of it being their All-Ireland came to mind at the time. Both of us have now had our butts comprehensively kicked since then in our respective provinces and, no more than ourselves, Donegal will be viewing the qualifiers with more than a little trepidation.

So too will Roscommon who were desperately poor in losing to Sligo at Hyde Park, the first victory at the venue for the Yeats County since 1971. Sligo won by just two points in the end but the margin would have been far greater had the Rossies not grabbed two goals against the run of play, one either side of the break, because this was a match that Sligo dominated for virtually the whole 70 minutes.

We all know John Maughan’s limitations on the sideline but he has a good track record of sending out well-drilled teams (albeit ones with Plans A, A and A imprinted on their brains) and he knows a thing or two about what it takes to win Connacht. Well, he used to but yesterday the Sheepstealers looked utterly clueless as Sligo kept taking the game to them and eventually got their reward. Anyone for a Sligo v Leitrim Connacht final? That would put us Connacht football snobs rightly in our place, I have to admit.

Like Roscommon, Louth needed two goals to keep any kind of hold on Wexford’s shirt-tails but, even then, as the Rossies discovered to their chagrin, it wasn’t enough to keep them in the hunt. Like Sligo, Wexford dominated the game and, like Sligo, they got their reward for a consistent supply of eye-catching points. Their Leinster semi-final with Laois could be one to keep an eye on.

And so to the big box office attraction with 82,500 paying punters and a TV audience of squillions more (even if most of us kept hopping over to RTE 2 to follow the enthralling events from Thurles). I know, I know, I did predict that the Dubs would get their holes kicked but how was I to know that the Pillock would spring Mark Vaughan and entrust him with the place-kicking duties? It seems as if the Pillock didn’t know too much about this in advance either, with Vaughan only starting due to an injury suffered by Darren Magee, but, regardless of how it came about, his inclusion was the single most important factor in turning this replayed tie in Dublin’s favour.

Vaughan kicked a total of eight points yesterday, most of them frees, the majority of which Mossie would have landed into Row Z. One was a superb Cian Ward-ish effort from the sideline, another a 45 drilled expertly into the grateful arms of the Hill and he also chipped in with two superb points from play in the second half. Mind you, for all of the Peroxide One’s efforts, the Dubs could still have lost as they nodded off for about 20 minutes in the second half and, had Meath been a bit sharper with their kicking during this period, they could have really put it up to the Dubs.

Instead, when De Bois En Blew finally awoke from their slumbers, the Dastardly Royals were still a point in arrears and the three late points the Dubs shot without reply made the win look more comfortable than it really was. The fact that they did win a tight match should not be ignored, however, given that their inability to do so on several other occasions over the past year or two had almost been diagnosed as some kind of phobia. Arising from yesterday's win, a third Leinster title on the hop now opens up for them and, with it, entry to the business end of the championship. It looks like those GAA bean counters will be smiling for some time yet this Summer.

From our perspective, Meath, Donegal, Roscommon and Louth have all been added to next Sunday’s qualifier draw. Donegal have now, I think, the look of a busted flush about them while the Rossies and Louth would both present a tame enough challenge to any side possessing a modicum of serious intent. Meath, however, won’t be devastated by yesterday’s loss and are clearly a side on the up. If we’re looking for a real challenge on July 7th, we need look no further than the Royals.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Keith Higgins reported to have broken his hand

RTE reported yesterday evening that Keith Higgins had sustained a suspected broken hand earlier in the day while playing hurling for the county, in a Christy Ring match with Kerry (which, incidentally, we lost). The report implies that it’s still not certain if he has broken something and that the results of an x-ray were being awaited. However, no matter how you spin it, it doesn’t sound positive.

If he has broken a bone in his hand, it goes without saying that Keith would be an enormous loss to the squad. While he’s not without his critics (but then again, who on the Mayo team ever is?), Keith is clearly one of the most talented players we have and one we can ill afford to be without over the coming weeks. In light of our disastrous Salthill performance, there were always going to be some changes on the cards for the first round of the qualifiers but it now looks as if some enforced alterations will also be needed for our next outing on July 7th.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The view from Bloomsday

* Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which . . . hang on, that's something else I'm working on at the minute, let's stick to the action tomorrow instead. There are championship semi-finals in Ulster and Connacht, with two quarter-finals in Leinster (in Munster, it's already narrowed down to the two old reliables) and, from our perspective, by close of play tomorrow evening there should be four more names in the first round qualifier draw.

Let's deal with those semi-finals first. In Connacht (Mayo-less Connacht - sniff!), the Rossies square up to Sligo at the Hyde. Sligo have already had one day out - over in New York - whereas this is the first championship outing for the Sheepstealers. The last two times these counties met in the championship - in 1998 and again in 2004 - their ties went to replays but I doubt if tomorrow's will. I don't think it'll even be close. Roscommon were hugely disappointed to lose the Division 2 final to Meath in the manner that they did but Meath's subsequent championship exploits have cast the Rossies' league form in a better light. With Mayo out of the running, John Maughan will know he has a good chance of coming in under the radar to claim a Connacht title with the Rossies and I don't expect his charges to let him down at the first hurdle tomorrow.

Up in Ulster, the match of the day is undoubtedly the clash between Tyrone and Donegal at Clones. When I was up there at our league match with Fermanagh in March, the few hundred of us there were all huddled under the stand on a miserable wet and cold afternoon. Tomorrow, in contrast, St Tiernach's Park will be packed to the rafters and a fascinating clash is in prospect. Tyrone have had the devil's own luck with injuries over the past two Summers and they remain at less than full strength for tomorrow's encounter. Donegal, meanwhile, welcome back the influential Brendan Devenney and Michael Hegarty to the full-forward line and the league champions look a far more settled side than do Mickey Harte's men. You'd have to fancy Donegal for this one but their nervousness against Armagh - when it took a very doubtful late goal to seal the win - suggests that if Tyrone can raise their game anyway close to the levels achieved in 2003 and again in 2005, they might just do it.

Croker plays host to two matches tomorrow. The undercard features Wexford and Louth, two counties capable of open, expansive football and this could be quite an attractive encounter, not least in light of the snarlfest that's expected to follow it. Louth needed three attempts to get past a limited but well-marshalled Wicklow, leaving Wexford to kick their heels waiting for the winner to emerge. Wexford have undoubtedly disimproved over the past two Summers (before the off last year, they were being mentioned as possible Leinster champions) and the match practice that Louth have already enjoyed could well stand to them tomorrow.

And so to the only match that counts for the media tomorrow. They could use the excuse that today is Bloomsday but the typically skewed coverage of tomorrow's action in the Irish Times is just normal service. Dub porn, in other words. The Dublin-Meath match gets all of two whole pages of blah, blah, blah in the sports supplement, while coverage of the other five clashes (three football, two hurling) is squeezed into the following two pages. This is despite the fact that four out of these five games are provincial semi-finals, whereas the 4.15pm match in Croker is but a quarter-final.

So we get the guts of a page of complete piffle from Tom Humphries on the unique pressure that faces Dublin free-takers (the poor dears, having to ply their trade with the Croker crowd all hushed and expectant whereas opposing free-takers have the clear advantage of taking theirs amidst a screeching, caterwauling backdrop), an utterly pointless article about the 1894 clash between the counties and another largely unnecessary piece which uses the extremely annoying David McWilliams' The Pope's Children as its point of departure. And there's a piece of 'analysis' from John O'Keeffe, someone who has never stuck his neck out in predicting who might win any championship clash, going with the bookies by opting for a Dubs win. He's wrong, you know. Just ask Colm Coyle if he'll lead the Royals to victory and what he'll say is something along the lines of yes I said yes I will Yes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Deputy takes his seat

Johnno was there yesterday with his 165 new chums for the first day's fun and games of the 30th Dail. At some point in the evening (it must have been part of the extended news coverage) there was an interview with him that had been recorded, presumably earlier in the week, in Claremorris. It was only a short piece but in it he mentioned his dual mandate, as bainisteoir and TD, and he proclaimed that holding down the two roles would be no problem, given that in the past he was well used to juggling his two positions as manager and teacher. Hmmm . . .

I suppose you can see where he's coming from, in that there are similarities between the respective roles of teacher and TD - long holidays, working in an environment where a high percentage of the individuals are of the immature and boorish variety - but I have to admit that I'm not fully convinced. It was no coincidence, to my mind, that Johnno's political success in the general election was coupled with the abject failure we witnessed in Salthill. It is also surely going to be the case that the ongoing demands which form part of everyday life as a public representative will leave him with far less time - including less head space - for football than he had when he was in the classroom. I hope I'm wrong but I can't help feeling that Fine Gael's gain could well turn out to be our loss.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What have a pregnant cow and Monaghan got in common?

Why, of course, they're both close to cavan (geddit?). And while we're speaking of that part of the country, I understand (as RTE's Tommy Gorman was always wont to say as he prepared to launch himself into yet another monologue on the latest twist and turn in the peace process) that we played the Cavan Bucks in a challenge match in Athlone on Tuesday evening. They beat us too, the hoors, by 2-11 to 1-10. No other details are to hand about what team we put out, though I hear it was a reasonably strong one. My thanks to and that font of veracity, commonly known as the Hogan Stand message board, for the above information.

Does this result mean anything in the scheme of things? Will it sit with the Big Wind Final of 1948 in the pantheon of all-time great clashes between the counties? Of course not but it’ll still be interesting to see what the lineup in Athlone was, as it could give us a hint about possible changes to the team for the first round of the qualifiers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

And just when we were learning to love Meath again!

It did take a long time to get over, make no mistake, but 1996 and all that happened in the All-Ireland final replay against Meath took place a very long time ago (Fine Gael and Labour were in government then for jaysus's sake so it must have been!) and, God knows, we've had plenty more to blubber about since then. Sure, Meath - especially that little git Colm Coyle, not to mention their thick-as-shit supporters - retained a special place on our mental dartboards for a some time afterwards but that's all long forgotten now.

I have to admit that I've always had a sneaking regard for the Royals and the way they never seem to surrender meekly: let's face it, what other county would have come from six points down with 15 minutes to go to snatch a draw in an All-Ireland final, as Meath did against us in '96? As GAA supporters, we've also plenty to thank Meath for in the wider scheme of things, like finally ending Kerry's All-Ireland dominance (and, on the way, Dublin's Leinster hegemony) in the late Eighties and then, in the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final, inflicting the most humiliating defeat on the Kingdom in living memory. It's a case of my enemy's enemy: anyone who can kick the posteriors off Kerry and Dublin can't be all that bad.

So it was good to see Meath proving equal to the Dubs the last day at a packed Croker and, despite what the bookies might say, I think they have more than a fighting (pardon the pun) chance to see off the over-hyped metropolitans in the replay this coming Sunday. If they do, Laois will most likely be their Leinster final opponents and while the O'Moore men would provide a stern test in the final, if Meath can handle the Dubs they'll handle Laois as well.

If they put in another big Croker performance this Sunday, Meath could - for the first time since 2001 - be on their way to a Leinster title and the chance to mix it (those puns just keep coming) once with the big boys in the All-Ireland series. For those of us who are pig sick of swarming Northeners and smug Kerrymen, a Meath resurgence would be a development to be welcomed. Not even the fact that Colm Coyle is bainisteoiring them affects this conclusion.

And then Dudley Fucking Farrell opens his great big gob and starts bitching about Kevin McStay's punditry on the Sunday Game. According to the Dud (as well as being a large balding slob, he's also apparently a Meath selector), the reason that Our Kev mentioned the Graham Geraghty incidents from the drawn match against Dublin (that was when he twice slyly punched Dublin's David Henry in the head when the ref wasn't watching) again last Sunday was because, as a Mayoman, he still has bitter memories of 1996 and that he needs to "get on with his life".

Sorry to disappoint you, Dud, but the reason Kev brought this up last Sunday was because Pett asked him a direct question about it. Moreover, as Kevin was at pains to point out, he was talking about the incidents in the context of the GAA's rule book and was not concentrating per se on the Geraghty incident. If you don't believe me, watch it again, you gobshite. And, when you have done so, why don't you forget about 1996 and get on with your life?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

July 7th could be groundhog day for some

A report in today's Indo confirms that there will be an open draw for the first round of the qualifiers, which throws up the strong possibility that some provincial clashes will be repeated on July 7th. Such rematches are, by virtue of the numbers, most likely to involve Ulster or Leinster counties but, were Leitrim to pull off a shock win over Galway on Sunday week, we might not be immune from getting drawn into such jolly goings-on ourselves. Oh yes, Galway v Mayo back in Salthill on July 7th - wouldn't that just be the mongrel's testicles? What - not to your liking? Me neither: I've no intention of going near there until they get some drinkable water flowing again.

By the way, the same report says that the qualifier draw will take place on Sunday week (June 24th), after the Galway/Leitrim game finishes, so we'll have two weeks to prepare for whoever we get matched with.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Down, down, deeper and down

Let's hear it for the latest entrants to the qualifier waiting room: those vanquished Mourne mountain chaps. Down's inability to live with a resurgent Monaghan yesterday tips them into the same holding pen that we've been languishing in for three weeks now, one that's beginning to fill up nicely at this stage. We already know nine of the sixteen counties that'll be in the hata on June 24th (I'm assuming the draw will take place then, as we should, barring any more drawn games, know all sixteen by then) and the other seven should be revealed over the coming two weekends.

Need a quick recap? Okay, apart from us there's Longford, Westmeath, Kildare, Limerick, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan and the aforementioned Down. The losers of Meath and Dublin (that's the Dubs, mark my words) are set to join the party next weekend along with whoever comes off second best in the face-off between Donegal and Tyrone (the still-full ER situation in Tyrone has to mean that Donegal have a real chance in this one) and the losers of Sligo v Roscommon (which could be a close one, but you'd have to go for the Rossies to win it) and Wexford v Louth (probably the latter). The following weekend, the qualifier draw should be completed with the addition of the losers in the Galway v Leitrim, Louth or Wexford v Laois and Derry v Monaghan provincial semis. (Assuming Offaly lose to Meath or Dublin in the Leinster semi, they drop straight into the Tommy Murphy. If they win, there's a problem as it would mean there were 17 counties in the hat but let's ignore that for the discussion here). I'd reckon that Leitrim, Wexford and, probably, Derry will be the ones to slip up at this point.

Down's fate yesterday illustrates nicely the daftness of the current championship structure. They played Cavan twice before losing to Monaghan yesterday but they're now back at the same point as Cavan are. It gets even better: had they won yesterday and then went on to lose to Derry in the provincial semi, they'd have been tipped back into the same draw with two counties they'd already beaten in the Ulster championship. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by just losing to Cavan at the first time of asking (way back on May 13th) and putting their feet up for a few weeks.