Championship 2009 Part 1

Note – I copied this here from http://marklawrensonmustbestopped.blogspot.ie/ which I now dedicate to soccer.  All my GAA and Donegal posts now go on here.

Well all provincial champions are now decided, with no major surprises.
Tyrone and Dublin were favourites for their respective provinces at the start of the season, and Cork and Mayo’s wins are hardly that surprising. There was actually real drama in 3 of the 4 finals, with the Connacht final providing high drama in injury time at Pearse Stadium on Sunday. So what do we know now that we didn’t know at the start of May?

While Kildare put them up to it, Dublin proved they are still the team to beat in Leinster. I’m not one to give kudos to Dublin lightly, but getting the win after going a man down in the middle of the first half and an outstanding performance from Bernard Brogan were worthy of praise. However, I felt that Kildare did as much to lose the game as Dublin did to win it-Johnny Doyle’s missed free kicks and a propensity to play ‘suicide’ type passes that were hoovered up by the Dublin backs were 2 of the main reasons for Dublin’s victory. It was the type of game Brian Cullen was bound to thrive in-a lot of broken play and not much organised attacking-he was a weak link in the Dublin defence last year, and if he remains a starter (which I presume he will after Ger Brennan’s rush of blood), he will be a weakness again this year. Still, there are few teams left in this year’s championship that I would pick to beat Dublin at Croke Park, and so they are rightfully counted among the favourites-nothing much new there however.

My opinion of Cork has shifted dramatically given the events of the Munster Final, and Kerry’s games in the Qualifiers. I was mightily impressed with Cork’s displays against Kerry-they reminded me in no small way of Tyrone-attacking in waves as a team, huge commitment to the tackle and 50:50 ball and generally smart football. But, their struggles in the Munster Final against Limerick, and Kerry’s narrow and highly unimpressive wins over Longford and Sligo, have made me reconsider my opinion-we won’t really know if Cork are for real until they beat another ‘top’ team, and win a game in Croke Park-a ground that they haven’t fared so well on in recent years. The longish lay-off between the Munster Final and the All-Ireland Quarter Final may not be in their best interests either. Still, on their day, you have to like the look of their backs and midfielders-whether they have enough class or aggression in the forwards remains to be seen.

Tyrone won the Ulster title last Sunday at a canter-Antrim were beaten after about 20 minutes, and although they greatly improved over the course of the 2nd half, Tyrone were well able to trade points with them throughout and you never felt they were in any danger of succumbing to an upset. Since they allowed Armagh to come back at them in the first round, Tyrone have looked extremely focused and they have a fine squad of fit players-which looks ominous for the rest of the contenders. They have managed this without really ever getting out of 3rd gear-players like Stephen O’Neill and Brian Dooher have yet to fire on all cylinders and Enda McGinley has been carrying an injury. Still, they have so many players who are capable of contributing-witness the revival of Kevin Hughes and the re-invention of Owen Mulligan as a playmaker. Yes, Tyrone are well worth the favourites tag at this point, and it is really hard to see past them lifting the Sam Maguire again in September unless complacency and/or injuries get the better of them-and in saying that it appears that they may have the squad to weather the latter this year.

While last Sunday’s Connacht Final was not settled until Peader Gardiner’s coolly taken score deep in injury time, the reality was that it should have been over long before that moment. However, as ever with Mayo, you can take nothing for granted. I felt that they should have been favourites from the start, given Galway’s unimpressive performance against Sligo and Mayo’s demolition of Roscommon in their respective semi-finals. Galwayhave many fine forwards, but they never seem to hit form simultaneously-both Joyces (especially Nicky) gave fine performances last weekend, but Michael Meehan (his injury-time goal aside) and Sean Armtrong were relatively anonymous/ineffective for most of the contest. Add to that the fact that their defence should scare nobody bar their own supporters and see a team that doesn’t really look like All-Ireland material. With Mayo, impressive as they were at times on Sunday, like Cork, I feel we need to see more of them before we can say for sure whether they are the real deal-but even at this stage I would fancy them to beat any teams who didn’t win their provincial championships.

So there you have the provincial champions for 2009-and my 4 favourites for the title. Tyrone are clearly the pick of the bunch-I can’t really separate the other 3, and so I won’t bother doing so at this stage. If they win their forthcoming quarter-finals (opponents to be determined) we may know more-for now they still have a lot to prove.

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