16:27, 12 Jul 2012
There are plenty of sub-plots ahead of this weekend's games which see a total of 18 teams in action.....
Mayo – Sligo
For the second game in a row Sligo go in as the overwhelming underdogs. They have somehow managed to come back from a desperate year last year and a poor enough league campaign to defeat a team that delivered one of the most-hyped performances of the championship so far.
Sligo stalled somewhat after successive promotions but will be contesting their second Connacht final in three years. They may have felt they left the last one behind them but, in Adrian Marren, they have one of the forwards of the championship so far.
Mayo are making news of their own this week. Conor Mortimer announced his withdrawal from the panel when he was left out of the starting line-up but James Horan’s side have managed well without him before and they will do so again. They have enough going for them in their forward line to make light of the loss.
Horan has also instilled in them a strength of character that will serve them well this weekend. Certainly, there will be no hint of complacency and they will be eager to take the short route back to an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Cavan – Kildare
Okay, we know what and who has dominated the build-up to this one but the story is on hold at the moment with Seanie Johnston left out of the Kildare side that shows a couple of significant changes to the one that bombed against Meath.
Andriu MacLochlainn and Robert Kelly come in with Emmet Bolton dropping back into the half-back line, a position from where he can join the attack with much more devastating effect than when he was given a midfield shackling job by Kieran McGeeney at Croke Park.
Apart from Kerry, Kildare are the shortest odds for the win of any side this weekend. Cavan, though, were competitive against Donegal, especially in the first 30 minutes, and impressively dumped out an improved Fermanagh side in round one. They now possess a serious goal threat and the 5/1 being offered on them may be worth a look.
Given the perfectionist McGeeney is there’s no doubt he’s been working on the worst aspects of their gameplan against Meath, particularly getting support to Tomás O’Connor in the full-forward line. We think they’ll have learned enough from that to squeeze through here.
Antrim – Galway
They told us not to believe the hype but we didn’t listen. Now no team in the championship so far has been reassessed as much as Galway were after defeat to Sligo in the Connacht semi-final. They seemed to have everything going for them when they destroyed Roscommon.
They had massive performances from Gary Sice, Joe Bergin and Paul Conroy and even had the bonus of the return of Michael Meehan. Following their shock exit then, Antrim was a favourable draw for them. They’re still a multitalented side and have the potential be a force well into the summer.
The northern side have shown they can be strong at home but Down went there last year and recorded an impressive win. Galway were complacent against Sligo; they won’t make the same mistake again.
Westmeath – Kerry
Let’s not beat around the bush. Were Westmeath to defeat Kerry it would dwarf the shock of Galway’s win against Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling final last weekend. It is simply inconceivable that it could happen.
Like Offaly and Laois, memories of underage and senior successes of the last decade-and-a-half are receding fast. They struggled to put away a Louth team who had two players sent off and Tommy Carr reckons football in the county should be doing better than it is. To add to their problems, three players played a club match during the week when they should have been at a county training session.
This is all about Kerry but they’ll probably learn as little from the game as Cork did against Clare last weekend.
Tipperary – Wexford
You don’t put the All-Ireland champions in serious trouble if you’re not a class outfit. In Redmond Barry, Ben Brosnan and wing-back Adrian Flynn -- whose scoring this season is nothing short of phenomenal -- Wexford have thee snipers to fell most teams in the country. The hardest part, though, is navigating that last part of the route to be considered challengers for top honours.
If Brosnan’s scope hadn’t been knocked out of kilter during that Leinster semi-final we might be asking if we had rated Dublin too highly all along. But that’s been Wexford’s problem over the last few years: The belief hasn’t been there to clear the final hurdle when the Dubs were there for the taking.
Tipperary have to be commended, not just for defeating Offaly -- the Faithful are, after all, in a terrible trough -- but for coming back from a number of dispiriting defeats over the last four years to win for the first time in the championship since 2009. Their story of heartbreak may not be as familiar as those of the Kildares or Mayos but they’ve been deeply felt nonetheless – think in particular of the one-point defeat to Sligo in round two of the qualifiers in 2009.
Their underage teams have been a shining light in a county where hurling is the overarching cultural preserve. Goodness knows GAA needs as many competitive teams in both codes as it can get so there are more than just Tipp fans hoping the success of the minors is not lost in the nebulous transition through the 21s to the seniors.
For now, though, Wexford are the example to them and it would be a monumental shock if they were to defeat Jason Ryan’s slick side.
Laois – Monaghan
Monaghan were outstanding for about 34 minutes against Down. Then Conor Laverty burst through their defence and was needlessly fouled. Aidan Carr reduced the lead to a more manageable six points and, from then, Eamonn McEneaney’s side were hunted down and ultimately caught with the tape in sight.
Laois overcame Carlow in round one but looked far from impressive in doing so. Battered in Division One of the league, they then fell to a Division Three side in Leinster and are playing a defensive game we don’t associate with them.
If Owen Lennon and Dick Clerkin can take the form from that first half against Down and apply it for the whole game on Sunday then Monaghan have the forwards to pierce Laois’s defence. The bookies can’t separate them but Monaghan need to believe they are more the team that threatened to hammer Down than the one that capitulated in the second half if they are to sneak through.
Roscommon – Tyrone
Roscommon shouldn’t be here. Hammered by Galway, they then had to wait seven weeks for their reintroduction to the championship. We’d like to have been a fly on their dressing wall in the meantime as there must have been some serious introspection before the Armagh game.
So, instead of talking about a clash of two teams who changed the face of Gaelic football in the last decade, we’re wondering if Mickey Harte can rouse his side to avoid the fate that befell his once greatest rivals.
There were plenty of positives against Donegal and, despite the difficulty they had up front and the way Jim McGuinness’s side smothered their forward line, and Eoin Mulligan in particular, they were still only one kick away from a replay. They have been devastated by injury this season but have shown enough fortitude to make you believe they can come out of Hyde Park, if not unscathed, then certainly looking ahead to a third round clash.
Longford – Limerick
Two of the stories of the championship so far. Limerick’s Ian Ryan has scored 10 points in each of his championship games and Glenn Ryan’s ever improving side followed up their impressive league form with a decent Leinster campaign and an evisceration of Derry.
Limerick were miles off the pace in Munster and have been inactive now for five weeks. Longford, and Seán McCormack in particular, are flying. Ryan has them playing an attractive brand of football and they moved to the next level with that win the last day.
If Limerick didn’t know how much improving they need to do then Cork’s easy win over Clare will have told them. They are there for the taking and Longford should continue along their upward curve.
Leitrim – Wicklow
Possibly the most low-key of all the weekend’s fixtures. Leitrim scraped past London and then were easily beaten by Mayo. The sad thing is a heavy defeat was expected and, when it happened, there was at least some spark to a debate about a two-tiered championship.
In truth, it’s needed. Whichever team loses at the weekend will exit the championship without really making a ripple.
Leitrim are in a sad spiral of their own as a result of the recession and other factors that have left them shorn of a large portion of the panel from two years ago. Wicklow are slightly better off but teams like them need games to bring them forward. It’s something they simply don’t get in the current system.
Still, Leinster football is currently at a high watermark and they should make it through to the next round.
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Read Ewan MacKenna's take on Kildare here