Lonesharkoy previews the Ulster and Leinster semi final clashes and he tips Monaghan to beat Donegal and Kildare & Westmeath to be under the points line.
As is by now customary in the GAA, analysts and pundits have been quick to bemoan the slow start to the season and the absence of big contests between potential All Ireland winners, and while in this writer’s view that criticism is nonsensical and missed the point of intercounty GAA entirely, it’s certainly not applicable this weekend, with Donegal set to face off against Monaghan at Clones tonight.
Everything about this contest looks incredibly appealing. These counties have developed a wonderful rivalry in recent years, some of the best players in the country will be on show, and the calibre of football will be top class. It might not be open and free-flowing, but the precision and ruthlessness with which these two sides will counter attack will be a joy to behold and a lesson to everyone out there who thinks that modern football is about little more than getting men behind the ball.
After Monaghan laid waste to Down in the first round, most of the talk was about the decline in the fortunes of the Mourne County, which was understandable to a considerable degree. Since gaining promotion to Division one of the NFL fifteen months ago, several top quality footballers have made themselves unavailable to manager Eamon Burns and there has been a consequent collapse in general standards up there – though as this column has pointed out previously, a run in the qualifiers could change things immeasurably and that should start this weekend against Longford.
However on the other side of the coin, Monaghan don’t get nearly enough credit for what they’ve achieved under Malachy O’Rourke. They are now one of the top five teams in Ireland and while they get criticised for their dependence on Conor McManus for scores, right now the Clontibret man is pretty much the leading forward in the country, if not the best player in the game. There is no county that wouldn’t lean heavily on a player of his calibre and criticism of O’Rourke for building his game plan around a scorer of McManus’ ability seems odd.
Donegal are doing a lot right this year and they remain incredibly adept at breaking up the field at pace while still maintaining their defensive integrity. Odhrán Mac Niallais, Martin O’Reilly and Eoin McHugh are three players that missed the real glory days under Jim McGuinness and so have a real hunger about their play; however the loss of Neil McGee to suspension will be a huge one, all the more on account of the presence of the aforementioned Conor McManus.
The only reason that Donegal are slightly more likely to win the All Ireland is that they have a far better track record in Croke Park – but that’s not going to be an issue this week and in the far more familiar surroundings of Cavan town, Monaghan at 11/10 with a variety of different firms looks like the value play.
Elsewhere this week, Bet365 have taken a quite high line on total points between Westmeath and Kildare, all the more when we consider that these two counties scored just 0-22 between them in the Leinster quarter finals. Croke Park should in theory encourage slightly higher scoring, but that didn’t work out for Kildare against Wexford and in the case of both these teams, scoring forwards in form aren’t plentiful. Cathal McNally comes into the Kildare team and he’s definitely capable of rattling off a few points, or even hitting twine if the chance arises, but from 1 to 12 on the names side there are no players that you’d back at even money to score over 1.5pts. Niall Kelly will score and Neil Flynn knows how to raise flags too, but after that it falls off a cliff.
Westmeath too are short on natural scoring power, with only John Heslin and John Connellan showing any kind of threat against Offaly. Tom Cribbin was quoted in Westmeath papers this week saying that he expects sixteen points to be good enough to win this game and if it is, then a bet on under 31.5 points at 9/4 with Bet365 is guaranteed to come in.
Monaghan to beat Donegal at 11/10 with Stan James and Boylesports
Kildare v Westmeath - Under 31.5 points at 9/4 with Bet365