THE way the third round qualifier draw worked out, I’m sure there was some counties starting to dream that bit more of reaching the Super 8s.
Offaly are in complete bonus territory considering the season they have had, while I am sure there was an extra tinge of excitement in Westmeath, Laois, and Clare camps. It’s only human nature to briefly look to what may lie ahead once the draw was confirmed.
Clare have been solid in Division 2 for the last few seasons while previously making the All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2016. Having held their own and beaten many Division 2 sides, Clare would have no fear of any other possible qualifier opponents.
Westmeath will be difficult opposition for Clare especially in Mullingar. Having worked with Colm Collins and knowing the leaders he has at his disposal, there will be no chance of any player getting complacent for the Westmeath game. Life in Division 2 would have revealed some harsh lessons also, subpar performance can result in heavy defeats.
Westmeath under new manager Joe Cooney won the O’Byrne Cup and Division 3 League but then surprisingly underperformed versus Laois in the Leinster championship.
Winning your first qualifier game can always be the most difficult for many teams after a really disappointing provincial loss. Just getting a win any way possible in the next round and everyone’s mindset and performance can change. Tyrone, for example, struggled past Meath in Navan last year but then went all the way to the final.
Westmeath got their championship back up and running defeating Limerick last Saturday. One more win against a Division 2 side in Clare would make it a very successful season for Westmeath.
Reaching this stage of the season you need your star players on the field. John Heslin only came on late versus Limerick due to a hamstring injury but he will be needed from the start versus Clare.
Limerick’s Dara Treacy ran through half the Westmeath team to score a goal, If they defend like this versus Clare, many goals may be conceded as Clare have excellent direct runners in Sean O’Donoghue, Gary Brennan, and Jamie Malone.
This year inter-county defences are been split open very easily in many games through pace and direct running. Many teams have set up different forms of sweeper systems in recent years to protect the full-back line.
Now it’s like teams need to spend more time on re-setting their defence once they lose possession and improving players decision-making and communication once the play becomes open and chaotic.
Laois grounded out a win up in Derry last weekend. Never easy to win up north but still I feel next Saturday is where they could be caught. Laois will be expected to win but Offaly are building their own momentum slightly under the radar.
Offaly are in bonus territory right now and after comfortable wins versus London and Sligo. The team is in a good place under John Maughan’s stewardship. Laois defeated them by three points in the league so the mindset will be right to gain revenge but with no pressure.
Kildare are going to need a similar performance to the famous defeat of Mayo last year if they are to get the better of Tyrone. The Round 2 fixture versus Antrim was just what Kildare team required to get the ship moving forward again.
Malachy O’Rourke mentioned this week that the spark was missing from his Monaghan team this year with injuries contributing to this. It seems similar in Kildare.
The absence of key players like Daniel Flynn and Niall Kelly are a loss and Kildare have struggled to reach the heights of last year. In the Super 8s last year Klidare weren’t too far behind Galway and Monaghan, who progressed to the All-Ireland semi-finals. To their credit, 21 points were hit in the defeat of Mayo. A clean sheet plus another high points total will be required to defeat Tyrone.
Irrespective of attacking options you need variety to keep the opposition guessing. Tyrone had this unpredictability last year but came unstuck versus Donegal this year when Donegal prevented the long ball option. This led to the energy draining from all parts of their game.
Last weekend versus Longford, Tyrone had the long option in Cathal McShane but this was mixed with their more common running game. Kildare will have the athleticism to stay with Tyrone and Newbridge is a tighter pitch.
Therefore Tyrone will also need to be converting some long-range shots or else it could be another famous home win in Newbridge.
The Mayo versus Armagh match has the makings to be a cracker. Mayo looked vulnerable defensively early on against Down and Armagh will have taken note of this.
Armagh full forward Rian O’Neill has provided a different impetus to the Armagh attack alongside Jamie Clarke. I first saw him play this year in the league game versus Tipperary where he displayed his undoubted potential. Big, athletic and can kick off both feet.
Diarmuid O’Connor is out with a broken wrist and he is a big loss as with his massive engine he was a suitable partner to Aidan O’Shea particularly after Matthew Ruane’s shoulder injury a few weeks previous.
Possession will be vital here as both teams have the ability to rack up big scores. The pressure is on Mayo but still feel they have enough experience to get over the line. Armagh’s form is just too unreliable.