By Steven Poacher
ON Sunday past we witnessed a wonderful game of football between two teams who were extremely well prepared and well-conditioned. The meeting of Galway and Armagh had everything including the first-ever penalty shoot-out in Croke Park in front of a full house.
The second game was never going to live up to the hype and drama of the first game and Kerry ran out easy winners.
On Saturday there was no surprises in the Dublin v Cork game, the only surprise being it took Dublin so long to put the game fully to bed. Derry meanwhile look the real deal, a team in serious harmony with their game-plan, manager and with each other. The team first and individual second seems to be the mantra they are following closely.
Derry under Rory Gallagher have started with what separates the top teams and the rest, their conditioning. There have been plenty of rumours about the lengths this Derry side have gone to in their pursuit of conditioning, but one this for sure is that they had a serious foundation that they were able to top up when this season began.
The ability to continually make those lung-bursting efforts when a ball is turned over and the repeatability to get numbers forward and numbers back is clearly a huge part of their success.
Post-game, man of the match Shane McGuigan was interviewed and one of his comments surrounded Rory Gallagher’s playing philosophy. He said: “Rory encourages us to defend as a team and attack as a team.”
It’s a simple philosophy and mindset on the game, it’s like making the pitch as big as possible when you win the ball and as small as possible when you lose it. Only it’s not just as simple as that, you need a serious high level of mental and physical toughness.
Galway will not enjoy playing Derry, they simply will not. As much as Armagh were as organised this season as I have ever seen them, the Galway forwards will not get space to operate in and scores could be extremely hard to find while I think going the other way Derry could really hurt Galway.
Conor Gleeson is a big problem in goal for Galway and we saw the way Derry went after the Clare kick-out early doors last weekend, expect something similar and also expect Gallagher to throw a curve ball in as well.
Could we see a period of play where Conor Glass operates at the edge of the square for a long early diagonal ball considering the havoc Armagh caused with their own bombardment at the weekend?
The other semi-final for me hinges on two key forwards, arguably the best two in the country, David Clifford and Con O’Callaghan.
If Con is fully fit and plays, it gives Dublin’s attack such a different dynamic. He is just so influential in how he changes the whole landscape of their offensive play and if he plays and is fully fit, Dublin will win.
We don’t know the full extent of Con’s injury, but I think there was maybe an element the last day of perceivably looking at Cork and thinking they would get by them without him, and maybe get him fully right for two weeks’ time.
Kerry didn’t look overly convincing in their victory over a Mayo team who, truth be told, were poor this year in comparison to the standards they have set over recent years. This was a Mayo team who were blown apart by Kildare for much of their last-12 encounter and beaten in Connacht by Galway, and Kerry still struggled to put them away, even after a brilliant piece of forward play by Stephen O’Brien where he changed the direction of his run and cut back inside, slipped the pass, and ended with a wonderful finish by Clifford.
Three of last weekend’s quarter-finals were damp affairs, but these two semi-finals promise to be crackers with the prospect of two sell-out crowds in Croker again. For me, it’s simple, if Con plays and is fit Dublin win and Derry will edge a closely fought encounter with Galway, setting up a final between Derry and the Dubs. Roll on next weekend.