Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Joe Kernan: We mustn't anoint the Dublin too soon

Donegal's Mark McHugh

There is a theory doing the rounds that Dublin manager Jim Gavin is rubbing his hands in advance of what is suggested as being a trouble-free run-in to the All-Ireland title.

Knowing the wily Jim as I do, I certainly could not subscribe to this line of thinking.

While the odds on the Dubs claiming 'Sam' for the second time in three years might just not be as short as they were a couple of weeks ago, they still look viable candidates to relieve Donegal of their much-cherished booty.

But they are now not the only side in the frame to walk off with the ultimate honour.

Dublin may have looked particularly convincing in overcoming Kildare in the Leinster semi-final and competent rather than spectacular in despatching Meath in the provincial final but they still have to be fully tested.

And this could happen in the All-Ireland quarter-finals the draw for which will be made on Monday.

Dublin will be joined by the other three provincial champions Kerry, Mayo and Monaghan on one side of the draw while the four winners from this week-end's round four qualifier ties will be in the other bowl.

Thus the scene will be set for what could prove to be some fascinating match-ups.

With Cavan expected to beat London on Saturday, Tyrone looking to have a distinct edge over Meath, Donegal perhaps likely to get back on track at the expense of Laois and Cork targeting a big performance against Galway, the ingredients for a tantalising last eight could be in place.

While Dublin remain in pole position, how will they rate with the bookmakers should they be drawn against, say, Tyrone, Cork or Donegal in the quarter-finals?

Now this would surely provide food for thought for the pundits. Even should Dublin progress into the semi-finals, they could possibly find a team from 'their' side of the draw awaiting them.

Up until last week-end, teams like Monaghan and Cavan were not being spoken about in an All-Ireland context.

In fact, it was being confidently predicted that Derry would get the better of Cavan in their Celtic Park All Ireland qualifier and Donegal would make it three Ulster final defeats for Monaghan within the space of six years at Clones.

What occurred was quite the opposite, of course.

Cavan provided further evidence that their rehabilitation under Terry Hyland is not merely of a temporary nature while Monaghan thundered out their own message of defiance by slamming Donegal in the Ulster final.

The upshot of this could be that both teams will be in the All Ireland quarter-finals, albeit on different sides of the draw.

And given the vagaries of fixture-making this season, who is to say that we might not have a re-run of the recent Ulster semi-final between the sides when Monaghan were perhaps fortunate to win by a point even though goalkeeper Rory Beggan clearly over-carried the ball in the last minute?

While Donegal may get past Laois on Saturday, I cannot see manager Jim McGuinness leading them beyond the semi-final stage unless the side enjoys a new lease of life.

There were ominous signs last Sunday that Donegal's mental preparation had not been the best and the fact that Karl Lacey was far from fully fit and Mark McHugh could be out for a few weeks will not help their cause.

And keep an eye on Tyrone in relation to the destination of 'Sam'.

Mickey Harte's team may have diced with danger in their two most recent qualifier games against Roscommon and Kildare but they won both of them and I feel they will carry too much experience, power and craft for Meath on Saturday.

That's not being disrespectful to a Meath side that fully stretched Dublin in the Leinster final, it's just emphasising that Tyrone have been there and done that a few times and could well do it again.

Their experienced corps – Stephen O'Neill, Sean Cavanagh, Conor Gormley, Joe McMahon, Martin Penrose, Pascal McConnell and Dermot Carlin – is setting the tone for their championship campaign with admirable back-up from Peter Harte, Mark Donnelly, Matthew Donnelly and Darren McCurry.

Kerry and Mayo of course have already booked their quarter-final slots and are lurking with intent as they focus on the big prize.

I suspect that the Kingdom might not quite have the legs to run the complete course this time round but Mayo's newly-acquired defensive steel and strength on the bench could sustain their challenge.

Not since 1951 has a Mayo captained lifted the Sam Maguire Cup.

But with Monaghan having established a template for this season at least at both minor and senior level, Mayo I am quite sure would be very happy to buy into this.

My last four in the All Ireland race? I'm going out on a limb here maybe but I will opt for Dublin, Mayo, Tyrone and Monaghan.

It's a leap of faith which I hope will be vindicated.

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