Just because Mayo didn’t burst out of the blocks in 2014 in the same swashbuckling fashion as they did last summer is no reason to suddenly assume that they’ve dropped in standard. It’s always been a near-certainty that they would be involved at this stage of the season and it’s from now on that they will produce their best football. We’ve seen in previous years that their best is pretty good and until something happens to suggest that they are anything other than the second best team in Ireland, they are entitled to be comfortable favourites here.
There are just so many reasons to oppose Cork in this tie. Some of Mayo’s defensive play this year hasn’t been as strong as in previous summers, but Cork have now played three championship games without scoring a goal, while they are also adjusting to a new approach, which is never ideal in the middle of the season. The Rebels’ league form is a distant memory now, but it’s fair to say that teams like Mayo and Kerry have proved that a lot of big names counties were a long way from peaking in the National League.
Mayo may not have scored freely against Roscommon, but they rediscovered their attacking rhythm against Galway and they look far more cohesive up front with Andy Moran starting and Kevin McLoughlin restored to the half forward line. The Connacht county will definitely post up a decent total, so even a moderately successful defensive outing should see them cover the spread.
Armagh’s progression over the course of this summer has been consistent and impressive. Kieran McGeeney’s influence is clearly visible in the manner in which the Orchard County are playing the game this year and their ability to mix up short and long play while always making forward momentum is similar to we saw from Kildare in his first three years of involvement with the Lily Whites.
Meath’s record against Ulster counties in recent seasons is dreadful, their confidence is on the floor after an atypical performance from them in the Leinster final and they have a comparatively poor history in qualifier ties. We know that Armagh are going to play reasonably well, we simply can’t say the same about the Royal County.
- Kildare Minors
Time and again we’ve repeated the mantra that at minor level, long odds on favourites should be avoided at all costs – and 1/6 about a win for Kerry here is an absolutely farcical price. The Kingdom have a very good group of players at this level this year, backboned by the Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne players who performed so well in the All Ireland Colleges championship, but 1/6 is incredibly short against a Kildare team that simply aren’t that bad.
This is a capable group of young Lily White footballers and they above all counties will know that it’s possible to take advantage of a favoured side having one bad day at this level. This time twelve months ago, Kildare were the favourites to win this All Ireland title before they conceded three goals and lost out to Roscommon at O’Connor Park in Tullamore – bad days can happen to the best of teams and at minor level, inconsistency is a constant threat.
Dublin produced a big performance to overwhelm Kildare in the Leinster final, but previous results would suggest that there shouldn’t be that much of a gap between those two sides. The Dubs overhauled their side in the lead up to the Leinster semi-final against Offaly and undoubtedly the changes they made there have enhanced the team, but Kildare have a strong track record with this group at academy and under-16 level and they shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Defensively, Mayo aren’t where they once were and if Galway were as clinical in the Connacht final as they were against Tipperary last week, then retaining the Nestor Cup wouldn’t have been as easily retained. Cork’s attack hasn’t fired on all cylinders in this championship at all, but Colm O’Neill is available to them again and he showed some signs of returning to decent form last time out against Sligo.
More than any half back line in the country, the Mayo trio wearing 5, 6 and 7 will spill forward frequently, which puts the onus on other players to cover back. That responsibility will be particularly big this time out, with Paul Kerrigan back in good form and Aidan Walsh also likely to spill through from midfield with great frequency. These are not players that will be easily covered by tracking runs from players like Kevin McLoughlin or Seamus O’Shea.
Kieran McKeever’s injury is a huge blow on two levels. The big defender is a real leader on this Armagh team and his influence on their general play is impossible to overstate, while it’s also likely to force Paul Grimley to promote Aaron Kernan to the starting team. Kernan is obviously well able to hold his own at this level, but he was a match winner off the bench against Roscommon and combined with the absence of the Raffertys, Armagh’s bench could be a little light here.
Heavy conditions in Dr Hyde Park made it tough for Roscommon to stretch Armagh and to find space in the forward line, but the Croke Park setting and the better underfoot conditions will play into the hands of the young Meath attacking unit, who might be better able to open up the play this evening.
- Kildare Minors
There are a lot of forwards in this Kildare minor team that have yet to prove that they are capable of chipping in heavily on the scoreboard at this level. Corner forward Michael Kelly looks like an excellent player who’s able to kick accurately with both feet, Seán Dempsey is strong from placed balls and as with any Kildare team, you can bank on them scoring two or three points from midfield and half back. However they’ll still need another four or five points from their half forward line to win here and that might be where they fall short.
Minor teams tend to progress as the months pass, as they have more and more time to work with each other. If Jack O’Connor has found any further improvement in this Kerry team from their Munster final outing a month ago, they will be very hard to stop and could justify their short price.
Cork have struggled against defensive systems this year but an open, scoring free-for-all might bring out the best in them.
If Armagh are forced to chase the game at any stage, their need to push men forward and the lack of depth on the bench may restrict them.
Like any of these outsider bets, we’re essentially speculating on the possibility that the favourites will underperform – always a risk at minor level.