GAA: Sky Sports expert Peter Cavanan reviews the weekend's championship action
Last Updated: 16/06/14 4:09pm
I had the privilege of being in Nowlan Park on Saturday night as Sky Sports commenced their live coverage of Gaelic Games.
It was great to watch Rachel, Brian and the whole team in action. It was also a privilege to witness events on the pitch as one of the greatest ever hurling teams put on an exhibition. It was a brilliant display by both Kilkenny and Sky Sports.
Dublin opened their championship campaign with a victory at Croke Park on Sunday, although at half-time a lot of people were getting excited at the prospect of Laois causing a major shock. To be honest, I never bought into that. I always felt that there was another gear in this Dublin team.
As soon as the second half began, Dublin looked a different outfit. The strength of their panel has been well-documented and once again, the substitutes that were introduced looked really confident and keen to impress. Kevin McManamon, Jack McCaffrey, Dean Rock and in particular Cormac Costello were very impressive.
Dublin found Laois goalkeeper Graham Brody in unbeatable form during the first half, while they also lost Bernard Brogan to injury. If Tyrone were to lose Sean Cavanagh against Monaghan on Sunday, we would feel that we’re in real trouble. The same goes for Armagh and Jamie Clarke. It is a major lift to the opposition.
But unlike many others, Dublin have sufficient strength in depth. To be able to bring McManamon and Costello off the bench; those two players would make any other county’s first 15.
Next up for the Dubs is a Leinster semi-final against Wexford and that game may well follow a similar pattern to their win over Laois. Wexford have some quality attackers, most notably Ciaran Lyng and Ben Brosnan, and when they play against Dublin they will get plenty of chances to score. Wexford will have opportunities and space to hurt Dublin, but I feel that Jim Gavin’s side will pull away in the second half.
I expected Kildare to beat Louth in Sunday’s opener at Croke Park. I’ve seen them a few times this year and for certain periods during games, they’ve looked very impressive. They’ve a good physique throughout the side and move the ball very well when they’re on the attack. Some of the scores they got against Louth were out of the top drawer.
"While I do believe Dublin have the best panel of players in the country, I think they will get caught out at some stage this summer. It’s extremely difficult to try and retain the All-Ireland, and I’m speaking from experience here."
Kildare came into the game on the back of a poor National League, but that hinged on two minutes of madness against Tyrone in March. They were leading by five points as the game entered injury time, but conceded two goals through naivety and a lack of concentration.
The Lilywhites' league literally turned in those two minutes and they never recovered from that as they were relegated to Division Two. From a mental point of view it was gut-wrenching for them. They’d put in a superb performance and had totally outplayed Tyrone. Sunday’s victory will possibly give them the lift that they needed. It’ll be a vote of confidence for the players and manager Jason Ryan, who will feel they’re moving in the right direction.
I still think there are question marks over Kildare’s defensive capabilities but should they progress to the Leinster final, they have got the strength and the physique in the middle sector to compete with Dublin. They also have some imposing forwards. On their day, Kildare could be the one team in Leinster that puts it up to the Dubs, but so much hinges on Dublin’s mentality.
While I do believe Dublin have the best panel of players in the country, I think they will get caught out at some stage this summer. It’s extremely difficult to try and retain the All-Ireland, and I’m speaking from experience here.
There are a number of factors, such as the merry-go-round after winning the Sam Maguire. That can go on for a number of months. No matter what anybody says, you don’t have the same edge or desire compared with if you’d lost a few finals. There is a complacency factor; it creeps up on you, especially when everyone is singing your praises. If you read any newspaper or website for the past six months, there is nothing but kind words being said about this Dublin team. That’s not what you need when you’re trying to motivate a team. Subconsciously, a lot of that can sink in, and there might just be a day where they don’t have that edge.
Over in Connacht, hunger and desire nearly won it for Roscommon against Mayo, but James Horan couldn’t have written a better script. He held back Alan Dillon and Andy Moran - two key, experienced players - believing that they would still be good enough to win the game.
Mayo were flying at this stage last year, playing football at a very high intensity, but they found it difficult to maintain that level throughout the championship. You couldn’t say that this year. They were sluggish against Roscommon and appeared off the pace. It was a great way to win a championship match. They found Roscommon hard to break down, but their resolve and hunger was evident in the closing stages.
There were ugly scenes prior to throw-in at the Athletic Grounds for Armagh’s Ulster Championship meeting with Cavan and it has led to people calling for the pre-match parade to be scrapped. I don’t agree with that. The parade adds to the game and the spectators like to see the players walking around the pitch. It was something that I enjoyed taking part in.
A lot of people were wondering how it all kicked off. Well it was plain and simple. There was an Armagh flag and a Cavan flag, and the Armagh players lined up behind the Cavan flag. I imagine that was deliberate, an effort to draw them in and confront them. Cavan fell for it and all of a sudden we had a wrestling match. It was a case of Armagh laying down a marker. It wasn’t something that just started out of nothing. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ulster Council deals with this. I would imagine there will be repercussions.
It’s a pity the shenanigans beforehand are dominating the headlines as Armagh totally outplayed Cavan. Terry Hyland will be very disappointed with his side’s performance. If Armagh had brought their shooting boots the game could have been over by half time. Last year they were so naïve against Cavan, leaving acres of space in front of the full-back line. Yesterday there was at least one sweeper in place. It was a dominant display by Armagh.
Armagh will face the winners of this Sunday’s Ulster semi-final between Monaghan and Tyrone. The mood in the county is good and the players are certainly looking forward to it. Monaghan are Ulster champions but they have struggled against Tyrone in recent years. A number of the Monaghan players would never have beaten Tyrone in a championship game. In last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final, Monaghan had a great chance of beating Tyrone, but they let it slip. They’ll certainly want to redress the situation.
I’m expecting a very physical encounter. There is a big question mark over Conor McManus’ participation, and if he doesn’t feature, neutrals will feel that Tyrone will win. But if McManus doesn’t play I expect the Monaghan players to raise their game.
In the past few years, McManus has been the man that has pulled Monaghan out of some difficult situations. He was fantastic last year. I expect the players will be keen to prove that they’re not a one-man team, and give McManus a chance of playing in the Ulster semi-final.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the Tyrone hurlers on their superb Nicky Rackard Cup win last Saturday. Hopefully it will not be the last trophy we lift at Croke Park this year!