UnTitled GAA Newsletter

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It has only taken 53 GAA Football Championship games to get here, but the highly-anticipated Super 8s is finally upon us, with four games at Croke Park this weekend to kick-off the series. In this UnTitled Extra, we’ll get you prepared for the next month’s action by assessing the chances of the eight remaining teams and predicting (in a rather futile fashion) which four counties will emerge to contest the All Ireland semi-finals. What could possibly go wrong?

Group One

Kerry have managed to emerge as the clear number two team in the country in 2018, following a facile Munster championship win. In prior years, the title of “second-best” would not have sat comfortably with many in the Kingdom, but such has been Dublin’s hold on Sam Maguire in recent years – and Kerry’s inability to come close – they will happily assume the role of first understudy. The most notable feature of Kerry football in 2018 has been Eamon Fitzmaurice’s willingness, and success, in gelling so much young talent into his starting fifteen. In any other year, an ambush in the last eight may well have been on the cards, however the Super 8s format has come at the right time for them. They can probably afford a slip-up somewhere along the line, but in reality, the round-robin series will allow this youthful side to play without pressure. That’s a scary thought for their Group One opponents and should see them ease through.
2018 Championship wins: Clare, Cork
Alternative player to watch: Gavin White is a name that hasn’t got the same attention as Clifford and Ó Sé, but he is a rookie half-back with blistering pace that adds a new dimension to Kerry attacks.
Odds to make semi-finals: 1/6

Galway have been a breath of fresh air during the 2018 season, easing their way to a Connacht title, after a key win in Castlebar and finishing runners-up to Dublin in a very competitive NFL. Their forward division has looked awesome at times, and while they truly clicked into gear against a weak Sligo challenge in the Connacht semi, their finest display so far was a dominant second-half to defeat Roscommon in the Connacht Final. The challenges stiffen from here and they will meet three teams averaging 22, 22 and 29.5 points per game in this year’s championship. Galway have clearly attempted to implement a more defensive mindset this season, but their true quality still lies in attack. Therefore all eyes will be on whether they can blend a strong defence – to limit those high-scoring teams – whilst still being productive at the other end. No doubt the potential is there, but they have questions yet to answer.
2018 Championship wins: Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon
Alternative player to watch: Sean Andy Ó Ceallaigh is one of those footballing full-backs who likes to attack the ball and drive forward. His presence will be crucial for a side likely to come under pressure defensively.
Odds to make semi-finals: 4/6

Monaghan had the most impressive win of the whole provincial series, when they defeated Tyrone in Omagh back in May. It was as impressive as their loss to Fermanagh was abject. The qualifier draw has been kind, but Monaghan have been impressive in swatting away the challenges with minimal fuss. The Farneymen’s starting fifteen is a strong one, but question marks persist about the depth of their squad and whether it can cope with such a heavy concentration of high-level games. There is no doubt Malachy O’Rourke’s side have the mental capacity to deal with the Super 8s challenge, but have they the physical capacity? They also carry the burden of having an abysmal record at the All Ireland quarter-final stage. Getting a big win in Croke Park has proved too much for them, so perhaps playing Galway in Salthill and Kerry in Clones will help their cause. Still, the opener against Kildare at headquarters will be pivotal.
2018 Championship wins: Tyrone, Waterford, Leitrim, Laois
Alternative player to watch: Karl O’Connellhas been a virtual ever-present in the Monaghan half-forward line in 2018. Known for his engine, he has chipped in with 10 points this season.
Odds to make semi-finals: 15/8

Kildare have become the story of the footballing summer – usurping early contenders Carlow and Fermanagh – by putting together a qualifier run that just didn’t seem possible six short weeks ago. Their transformation has been propped up to a degree by the infamous #NewbridgeOrNowhere campaign, but they have done their talking on the field of play, securing a high-octane victory against Mayo before demolishing a hitherto frugal Fermanagh outfit last weekend. Their route to this stage has been the toughest of the eight counties remaining, but somewhere along the line they transformed from a mix of decent players into a talented football team, playing with an energy and confidence we rarely see outside the top three or four teams. Can those newfound qualities take them even further? If they beat Monaghan in the opening game they suddenly have a reasonable chance of reaching the last four. On current form they are certainly capable.
2018 Championship wins: Derry, Longford, Mayo, Fermanagh
Alternative player to watch: Chris Healy has gained supersub status this year, coming on late in all four games and scoring goals against both Longford and Fermanagh. Gives Kildare added impetus from the bench.
Odds to make semi-finals: 3/1

Group Two

Dublin are once again the team to beat, and their dominance of the All Ireland Championship shows no sign of letting up. The new Super 8s format suits them well as it mitigates against any potential ambush, and it allows them to fast-track the development of a young side that has already seamlessly transitioned to life without the likes of Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan. There was an idea initially, that the new format might provide a bigger challenge for Jim Gavin’s side who generally sleepwalk their way to the semi-final stage at least. However, playing two games within the comforts of Croke Park, dilutes that particular theory somewhat. Their second game – against Tyrone in Healy Park – will be most interesting, but they are still expected to win that tie, which could see them qualify with a game to spare. They’ll enter the last four with more momentum than usual. Not good news for everyone else.
2018 Championship wins: Wicklow, Longford, Laois
Alternative player to watch: Brian Howard took some criticism for skipping Sigerson duty this year, but he has nailed down the left half-back position and scored in every Championship game in 2018.
Odds to make semi-finals: 1/20

Donegal won the 2018 running of the Ulster Championship with historic levels of style and comfort. They made a mockery of the preliminary round route, playing with a panache that saw them post scorelines of 2-20, 2-16, 2-22, 2-18. How’s that for consistency? At no point in those four games did they ever look in danger… but danger is suddenly lurking around the corner. Their reward for winning Ulster is a Super 8s opener against Dublin in Croke Park, an opponent Declan Bonner would have preferred to face later in the summer. Hampering their ability to get early points on the board is the season-long loss of Paddy McBrearty to injury. Donegal’s squad depth looks to have improved, but McBrearty offered an x-factor that can’t be replicated. A loss to Dublin would leave Donegal on a sticky wicket with a trip to Roscommon on deck, before facing neighbours Tyrone. If they can emerge from all that, they’ll be ready for the next level.
2018 Championship wins: Cavan, Derry, Down, Fermanagh
Alternative player to watch: Shaun Pattonhas only conceded two goals in four games, but it’s his pinpoint kickouts that are a key component of Donegal’s gameplan. A human metronome.
Odds to make semi-finals: 11/10

Tyrone took the long route to get this far, having been knocked out of Ulster by Monaghan in the first round. One or two obituaries were being written about the Red Hands following that loss, with last year’s defeat to Dublin still fresh in the memory. But no coach in Ireland is capable of focusing minds on the task in front of them as Mickey Harte. While some doubts remain about the overall quality of Tyrone’s starting fifteen, it has been their running game and patience in possession that has allowed them to show increased improvement in the last four games. Rarely do they give the ball away cheaply and their composure under pressure is as good as any other team in the country. They will relish the Super 8s format; they will be mentally on point for every minute of each game and they will expect victory in the opener against Roscommon. Achieve that and a top-two finish is well within grasp.
2018 Championship wins: Meath, Carlow, Cavan, Cork
Alternative player to watch: Cathal McShane was the player who scored that ice-cool equaliser versus Meath to keep Tyrone in the Championship. Grown in prominence this season.
Odds to make semi-finals: 6/5

Roscommon probably had the easiest path to the Super 8s, with wins over Leitrim and Armagh. But they now have the toughest path to the last four, grouped with Dublin, Donegal and Tyrone. A huge step up in class. The Rossies have shown steady improvement under Kevin McStay and their performance last Saturday in beating Armagh was impressive in an attacking sense. When they hit full flow they are a joy to watch and Enda Smith has emerged as an elite intercounty player, with power, pace and finishing prowess. It is their inability to show the requisite levels of resistance that gives pause to those analysing Roscommon’s chances of taking the next step. A heavy loss to Mayo in last year’s quarter-final likely still lurks in the memory, whilst a second-half collapse in this year’s Connacht Final is a much fresher wound. Their opposition in the next few weeks will probe deeper again. It’s unlikely they have improved enough to knock two of them out.
2018 Championship wins: Leitrim, Armagh
Alternative player to watch: Conor Devaney is a versatile wing forward capable of supplementing the full-forward line with scores of his own. All-star nominee in 2017.
Odds to make semi-finals: 5/1

The Verdict

Here’s where we put some necks on the line and predict the final outcome of the two groups. Let ridicule commence:

Group One
Kerry
Kildare
Galway
Monaghan

Group Two
Dublin
Tyrone
Donegal
Roscommon

No surprises that Kerry and Dublin are predicted to make it through, but the absence of Galway and Donegal might raise one or two eyebrows. I have outlined above why I think those two sides in particular, are vulnerable. If that vulnerability becomes reality, Donegal will have Tyrone breathing down their necks and the Red Hands are more than capable of producing a couple of steely performances when required. Ditto for the Galway/Kildare axis in Group One. A few weeks ago, you probably wouldn’t have given Kildare a prayer in this company, but their current form, confidence and actual footballing talent cannot be ignored.

That would leave two All-Ireland semi-finals as follows:
Kerry v Tyrone
Dublin v Kildare

You never know!

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