We're down to the last four in the hunt for Sam and I'm down to perhaps my last little bit of time to bash something out about Sunday's first semi-final, due to work pressures and travelling over and back across the country pressures and what-not. (I'm writing this holed up in a hotel room in Limerick. Here's a good Limerick one I heard today: The Mayor of Limerick is asked about the county's chances of lifting this year's hurling All-Ireland and he says he's not sure how it will go but reckons that Limerick will have good stab at it.) Okay, where was I?
The semi-final line-up isn't all that odd, I suppose, given that three of the quartet made it to this stage last year, while our place (yes, OUR place!) is taken this year by the resurgent Royals. It's even less odd when you factor in that Kerry and Cork have chuff all to do any year to get to the quarter-final stage, though Kerry have been made to work a little bit harder than usual this time around to reach the penultimate round. So too have the Dubs, though once they got past Meath they found the going much easier.
Although Meath are the new fresh-faced kids on the block this year, they're clear favourites with the bookies to beat Cork (or at least I'm nearly sure they are but I can't link to Paddy Power because they've installed a Nanny-knows-best blocking filter on their bloody in-house broadband service here at the hotel. I am over 18, guys, FFS). Cork certainly appear to have gone off the boil over the course of the Summer and it's now difficult to rate them as serious All-Ireland contenders (which probably means they'll paste Meath on Sunday). James Masters is a huge loss to them and while the young lad Goulding is a good replacement, Masters is the top scoring player to date in the whole championship so Cork will definitely miss him on Sunday.
With their strong backline and their formidable midfield, Cork should be difficult to beat but it's going forward where they've had their problems and unless they figure out some kind of coherent attacking plan, they're going to struggle. Cork don't seem to have figured out any kind of coherent tactics on this front, in particular how they play Michael Cussen and, more specifically, what kind of ball they put into him. With Donaghy - last year's original target man - being kept scoreless by Monaghan last Sunday, perhaps it's time for everyone to forget about creating Donaghy clones and Cork would, I think, do well to do so. Their best game - as exemplified in the Munster final - is a running one and while this kind of approach is difficult to execute in the wide open spaces at Croker, it's a tactic they need to employ more than they've done in the last two matches.
As I said the other week, Meath have, in the recent past, had the hex on Cork and with their good qualifier run topped off by that excellent quarter-final win over Tyrone, they'll go into Sunday's semi-final brimming with confidence. However, they have their own worries in attack because although Bray, Farrell, Byrne and Geraghty got some great scores the last day against Tyrone, they kicked some howlers too and they can't afford as large a wide account the next day against Cork.
I think this one could be very close but Meath's greater momentum might be enough to get them over the wire. If so, they'll be in the happy position of being able to sit back and smirk at the Dubs for a whole week before seeing whether or not they'll get to have a third round with their great rivals in September. I'm not sure it'll all work out like that but this is one for another day.