GAA preview: Shock needed to shake predictable football championship 

After last winter's stunning upsets from Tipp and Cavan, the 2021 inter-county campaign has been dull and lifeless
GAA preview: Shock needed to shake predictable football championship 

Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty celebrates his winning point against Derry alongside Odhran Mac Niallais. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

ONLY 11 matches remain in the 2021 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, meaning the competition is really going to ramp up in the next few weeks.

As expected, Ulster has given the championship much needed oxygen while the other three provinces have flattered to deceive.

Derry had shown in their impressive Division 3 campaign that they were a banana skin in waiting for one of Ulster’s big guns, and that almost became reality last weekend, with Donegal were pushed right to the limit, until an injury time Patrick McBrearty wonder score secured a 0-16 to 0-15 victory in Ballybofey.

The other three quarter-finals went as expected with Tyrone dethroning surprise 2020 provincial champs Cavan, while Monaghan and Armagh easily despatched Fermanagh and Antrim. That leaves us with the four big hitters in Ulster, meaning that we can expect three genuine arm wrestles to see which of Tyrone, Donegal, Monaghan or Armagh reaches Croke Park come mid-August.

You would expect that the health of Donegal’s main forward and leader Michael Murphy will have a major bearing on who that will be.

Awaiting the Ulster champions in the All-Ireland semi-final this year will be the Munster kingpins, with that being the winner of the Kerry and Cork clash in Killarney.

When the championship draw was made we expected a traditional Munster final in Fitzgerald Stadium in July, and that is exactly what we have got, as last year’s vintage renewal looks like a once-off.

Kerry will undoubtedly be strong favourites for the encounter, and despite the fact that Ronan McCarthy’s side beat the Kingdom only eight months ago, it is extremely difficult to come up with enough reasons that would suggest history will repeat on Sunday week.

Cork’s injury woes certainly are not helping, but apart from that, Kerry look to be playing at a different level right now. They might have been ambushed on a dirty wintry night down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last November, but it will be much harder to repeat that feat in July.

To beat them Cork will have to out-football them, they will have to run at them, attack them, they will have to exploit any weaknesses at the back and they will have to score goals against them.

But possibly most important of all, they will have to win the kick-out battle in midfield, and all the evidence available to us from this year’s league campaigns and last weekend’s provincial semi-finals suggest that Cork will have their work cut out to pilfer enough ball from David Moran, Diarmuid O’Connor and Jack Barry to really dominate them.

Diarmuid O’Connor of Kerry rises for a kick-out. PIcture: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile
Diarmuid O’Connor of Kerry rises for a kick-out. PIcture: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

In the Connacht championship it was always going to be a case if which of Roscommon and Galway will face reigning champions Mayo in the Connacht final, as the 8-43 that Mayo put up in the two wins over Sligo and Leitrim was expected.

Ultimately, the answer ended up being Galway, as goals from Matthew Tierney and Paul Kelly got them over the line in their tight semi-final against the Rossies by 2-11 to 0-12.

Paul Kelly of Galway shoots to score his side's first goal against Roscommon. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Paul Kelly of Galway shoots to score his side's first goal against Roscommon. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

At the moment Mayo barely seem to be missing the considerable absence of key forward Cillian O’Connor, hence they will start as favourites in the final. The fact that the game is being held in Castlebar should help also, but surely it is only a matter of time before O’Connor’s absence is truly felt.

Should they see off the challenge of their dear neighbours in the provincial final then their nemesis Dublin will be awaiting them in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park in a month’s time.

We say this in confidence, as despite the positive showings in the league and championship this year from both Meath and Kildare you just cannot make a case for either of them preventing Dublin winning an 11th provincial crown on the trot.

It has been a boringly predictable championship to date, with little sign of that changing soon. The campaign is crying out for a shock. Let’s hope for the sake of the championship that it gets it.

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