Joe Kernan: Quartet who have winning recipe for Sam Maguire
Success in virtually any sport has its roots in two main ingredients — skill and character. One quality complements the other and a fusion of both can quite often prove a potent cocktail in bringing any individual or team to their chosen goal.
Of all sports, gaelic football, because of its physical content and inherent self-sacrifices, is perhaps a prime example of a team game that enshrines technical ability and mental strength.
And as the race to the All-Ireland title hots up considerably, there have been a number of striking examples of teams absorbing setbacks, both physical and psychological, and returning re-energised to pursue their title ambitions.
Two of the most recent examples of this were provided just last weekend. All-Ireland champions Cork lost their outstanding marksman Daniel Goulding to an ankle injury in the 19th minute against Down and then suffered a double whammy when his replacement Barry O’Driscoll departed from the action following a heavy collision with a Down defender.
Yet Cork manager Conor Counihan restructured his side, fired in the experienced but still far from fully fit Graham Canty and saw his players subsequently scale a new peak in condemning Down to a 12-point defeat (2-20 to 0-14).
Tyrone, no strangers to major setbacks both on and off the field this year, also gave a significant insight into their psyche when, without Martin Penrose, Brian Dooher, Enda McGinley, Justin McMahon and Owen Mulligan in their line-up, they still proved much too strong for neighbours Armagh (2-13 to |1-13) at Omagh.
Kildare’s rehabilitation following their hugely controversial defeat by Dublin in the Leinster semi-final has been nothing short of remarkable.
It was a point from a contentious free by Bernard Brogan in the dying seconds of that match which consigned Kieran McGeeney’s side to a one-point defeat (1-12 to 1-11).
Such a heartbreaking loss is calculated to test the mettle of any manager and his team.
Kildare’s response was not so much positive as exhilarating. They racked up three splendid qualifier wins over Laois, Meath and Derry scoring 5-46 in the process, an itinerary that has now helped to thrust them firmly into the frame for ‘Sam’.
Indeed, Kildare have played six championship matches so far and they have still only reached the quarter-finals!
Kerry, of course, remain up among the heavyweights despite the absence of David Moran, Tommy Griffen, Paul Galvin and Tomas O Sé from their line-up recently.
It was initially thought that the suspensions imposed on Galvin and O Sé would all but render the side impotent, stripping it, as it did, of an experienced hue.
Instead, Kerry are playing with ominous intent, a driven, focused outfit who have, to all intents and purposes, no intention of allowing the Munster title to become their only honour for 2011.
While Kerry are regular bedfellows with ‘Sam’, Dublin have become totally divorced from what is one of the most coveted prizes in Irish sport as they have not won it since 1995.
The Dubs have not had to dig too deep into their reservoir of courage and character — yet. But manager Pat Gilroy’s biggest challenge right now lies within his own camp rather than outside.
His dilemma centres on just what personnel constitute his best team. Diaramuid Connolly, a gifted forward in my book, has been substituted too often lately and needs the comfort of knowing that his manager actually values him, while Tomas Quinn has almost grown accustomed to being brought off the bench.
There is absolutely no doubt that a Dublin full-forward line of Connolly and the Brogan brothers Bernard and Alan would carry a lethal threat irrespective of the opposition as long as they were supplied with decent possession.
Dublin would appear, though, to be still unsure as to who can comprise their best midfield pairing — you would think by this stage of the year that any manager would know exactly who fits the bill and who does not.
And my last four in the All-Ireland series? I’ll go with Kerry, Cork, Tyrone and Kildare.