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Mayo V Kerry All Ireland Football Semi Final Preview

21 Aug

By Paul Walsh
GAA Correspondent
Follow him on twitter @walshpots

This was not the way it was supposed to be. The pundits, the bookies and everybody with even a passing interest in GAA, had this down as a Kerry V Cork semi final. The Mayo players and management however, did not read the script. Their second half performance in the quarter finals left the All Ireland champions frustrated and as they floundered, Mayo prospered and booked their appearance at Croke Park today. Despite Mayo’s impressive performance against Cork, they still enter this game as massive underdogs. Are we about to see another upset, or have the experts got it right this time?

Jack O’Connor in the lead up to this game has played down the favourites tag. In his opinion and as long as he has been involved with Kerry, they have always had to deal with expectation. They were expected to progress against Down last year, when their campaign came to a shuddering halt. Despite the history, tradition and the presence of a number of All Ireland winners in Kerry’s team today, they are not unbeatable. Mayo needs to believe, they are a first division team and provincial champions, and they should not fear this Kerry team.

Mayo teams of course have come to Croke Park before and froze like a rabbit in headlights, at the sight of a Kerry jersey. Nobody from the West recounts the 2004 and 2006 All Ireland finals with any fondness. Both days were massacres as Kerry had Mayo beaten by half time on both occasions. Mayo need to contain Kerry early on and continue their excellent defensive play, that has got them this far. Players like Donal Vaughan of Mayo, who stood on Hill 16 at the 2006 All Ireland final, need to use that hurt to erase the impression of Mayo being a team with a soft underbelly.

The Kerry team’s strength lies in the All Star forward line. Mayo did contain Cork, but that was a Cork forward line decimated by injury. Mayo has to plan how they contain Kieran Donaghy, Colm Cooper and Darran O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan in particular has been in fine form, with his back heel against Limerick a clear indication of the confident mood he is in. Probably no other forward in the country would have attempted his audacious flick and it’s this ability to improvise that makes the Kerry forward line son dangerous. For Mayo, centrefield as it was against Cork is a key battleground. The Mayo O’Shea brothers had question marks hanging over them coming in to the Cork game, concerning their mobility. However, they came out on top in their match up with Aidan Walsh and Alan O’Connor. Today they face Anthony Maher and Bryan Sheehan and this Kerry midfield pair, should not strike fear at the heart of Mayo. If Mayo could dominate here, it could go a long way towards a shock victory.

With all due respect to the teams that Kerry has played thus far, they have not been tested apart from the Munster final against Cork. Today will be a real test of their title credentials. All Ireland Championships are not given out based on reputations and there are three really hungry teams that want to deprive The Kingdom of another title. I expect Mayo to be competitive and it will certainly not be a repeat of the 2004 and 2006 All Ireland finals. In the end despite some misgivings I have to plump for Kerry. Their forward line should just give them the edge but by a gap of just 3 points or less.


Daly’s Dublin day of destiny

1 Jul

By Paul Walsh
GAA Correspondent
Follow him on twitter @Walshpots

Dublin and Kilkenny have played three times this season and from these encounters the Dubs have won twice, collected a Walsh Cup and won their first League title since 1939. However, this Sunday sees the return of Henry Shefflin to the Cats and King Henry is sure to inspire those around him when they line up against Dublin for the Leinster final.

The success of the Dublin hurlers has been the story of the GAA season so far. This progress has been achieved by an excellent coach aided by a group of exciting and talented players. Tipperary native Ryan Dywer, Conal Keaney, Paul Ryan and Dotsy O’Callaghan form a lethal attacking threat. Elsewhere in midfield or defence Liam Rushe looks like an amazing young talent already on his way to an All Star.

It is not only Henry Shefflin that returns for Kilkenny, Tommy Walsh, Riche Power, Michael Fennelly and P J Ryan also strengthens the team that lost to Dublin in the league final. Kilkenny showed in the last round with an 11 point win over Wexford that they are not a team on the decline and there is no doubt they will want to lay down a marker on Sunday for these young upstarts from the Capital.

Dublin laboured to a win over Offaly but impressed against a Galway team packed with talent. A lot was made of how poorly Galway played but the fact is that they were not allowed play by a rampant Dublin team.

Dublin need to match Kilkenny for intensity first on Sunday then they need to unleash the talent they obviously have. Kilkenny are still hurting from last years defeat to Tipperary which spoiled their drive for five. Both teams will be hungry on Sunday but I expect to see Dublin fall just short as Kilkenny progress on their way to redemption in September.

Dub Hub wets the appetite for Sunday’s big game

25 Jun

By Paul Walsh
GAA Correspondent
Follow him on twitter @Walshpots

Last night in The Big Tree, a pub synonymous with trips to Croke Park, the Vodafone Dub Hub had its second outing of the championship. Vodafone and FM104 have put these events together to give Dublin fans the chance to hear from an expert GAA panel. Last night the panel consisted of ex Dublin footballers and All Ireland winners Jason Sherlock and Paul Curran, ex Kildare player and former All Star Brian Lacey and GAA journalist Cian Murphy. The analysis was insightful and with plenty of food available and a drink in my hand it is not a bad way to spend a Friday night. Before the show started which was broadcast live on FM104 for the first half an hour, the panel took the time to speak to me for an exclusive Kellco Sports interview.

Paul Walsh: Obviously the game this Sunday is Dublin V Kildare. Their last meeting was a bit of an epic, I am just wondering do you think it will be a close game again?

Brain Lacey: Yeah I think so, I think if you go back to two years ago, Kildare I think scored 18 points and Dublin got 17 scores which was 2-15. So there was only one score in it but Dublin got the goal and I think it has always been that way between the two teams. Back in 2002 and 2000 it was the same. You got the goal in 2002 and we got the goal in 2000. So I think its going to be a close game.

PW: What do you think of both teams’ performances so far in the championship? Dublin I suppose did not have to get out of second gear against Laois and Kildare probably more impressive in the second half against Meath. How do you think the two teams are going judging on championship performances?

Cian Murphy: I think if you think about it, it would have been fascinating if the Geraghty goal which was a perfectly legal goal had of been allowed stand, because momentum was with them, they were only a point down. But the lads from Kildare moved up a gear and pulled away. I think if you look at what McGeeney has done, he has improved them as an attacking team. They were only scoring 13 points a game in his first season and he has really enhanced that. I think once they got over a decent team like Meath because they haven’t actually beaten that may good teams. For all the progress they have made, scalps are thin on the ground for them. That’s why this game on Sunday is much bigger for them than it is for Dublin.

PW: The Dublin team has been announced, three changes with one enforced due to Philly McMahon’s injury and then Bastick and O’Gara in for Cahill and McManamon. Paul, do you think the right decisions were made with these changes?

Paul Curran: I think Paul Conlon in a corner back for Philly McMahon was no surprise. The other two changes are baffling. Although, according to reports in training O’Gara is absolutely flying and Denis Bastick has played a lot of football this year. He is a big physical player and maybe that’s what Pat Gilroy is thinking, somebody around the middle to break things up and win the dirty stuff. Whereas, Cahill would be on his bike a little bit like Johnnie Doyle and maybe that’s a gap he wants to fill. I was just saying to Jason earlier, I was surprised with the announcement but I do think it gives our bench more to come in. I mean Kevin McManamon must be very disappointed he is not starting, he had a brilliant league. The same with Barry Cahill, but they are two good lads and if they game is tight in the last ten minutes we could look to those two guys.

PW: Paul mentioned Johnnie Doyle, how important do you think he is. In their last game he started in midfield but moved to the forwards, this time he has been named at 13. How important is he to Kildare and how important is it for Dublin to stop him?

Jason Sherlock: I think with Dermot Earley not around, Johnnie Doyle is effectively the talisman of that team. He is the heartbeat of that Kildare team. He has shown that not only is he an accomplished forward but his performances in midfield in the last two games has been unbelievable as well. I think he is a crucial part of that Kildare team; Dublin will have to contain him. By the way the team has been announced it doesn’t look like they are doing anything deliberately but I do know there is a good chance of Declan Lally coming on if he stays around the midfield area. I think from a Dublin point of view I would rather see Johnnie Doyle in midfield because he is out there, there is no hiding place and you have to do an awful lot of work. I think he would be a lot more dangerous if he was inside were he could connect and try and get involved. I think he is going to be a big factor in the winning and losing of the game on Sunday.

PW: Brian, Johnnie is obviously important but Kildare over the years have had a reputation of being too dependant on him. Do you think there is a good enough spread of score among the Kildare forwards?

BL: Of course the one thing about Johnnie Doyle is, he knows his strengths. The way Dublin play with Stephen Cluxton’s kicks not being launched down the middle, so it probably suits Kildare that Johnnie is out there because he is able to get to the pitch of the short kick outs to the wing a little easier. If you are a defender with Kildare I would prefer to see Johnnie in midfield, being selfish he is an extra defender. But you are right that’s the one thing about Kildare they haven’t seemed to score many goals or create many goal chances. They are going to need to score a goal to kill this Dublin team off.

PW: Cian, you spoke earlier about the scalps that Kildare haven’t claimed yet. They were semi finalist last year and quarter finalists the two years previously, what is progress for Kildare this year?

CM: Leinster title, it has to be. Johnnie Doyle is on record as saying that this is the fourth year and they have won nothing. For all the talk, its paper talk really about the progress. Yeah they have got to three quarter finals and one semi final but they have no medals, they have nothing to show for it. I think a Leinster medal would mean more to the Kildare fella’s then the Dublin fella’s

PW: Paul, the two managers Gilroy and McGeeney they have had a couple of years with their respective teams, do you think both managers are under pressure to achieve and show progress?

PC: Yeah I think they are both in similar positions. They have both built their own kind of team and style. Its McGenney’s fourth year in charge and his team have not won anything although they have got close. You know they look back at last year and still feel a bit aggrieved that they did not get to the final, they feel a bit robbed. Dublin is in the same boat, semi final last year and should have really beaten Cork. They are under pressure there is no doubt. Kieran McGeeney needs to win something with the team and Pat Gilroy probably needs to win an All Ireland this year, that’s the pressure of the job he is in.

PW: Talking about pressure Jason, you have played for Dublin and understand the pressure of being a Dublin player. The Dublin hurlers this year have won the league and are in the final of the Leinster hurling championship, do you think that puts any extra pressure on the footballers?

JS: I don’t, I think it actually helps them and is an added bonus. Normally the focus is on the Dublin football team but now people are asking about the hurlers. It is deflecting a lot of the attention from the footballers. Also, there is no doubt the footballers are watching the hurlers and want to match their success. It’s great to see that they have won the national league and it’s great to see them in a Leinster hurling final. I have no doubt that the footballers won’t want the hurlers to get all the plaudits this year.

PW: So it might even inspire them?

JS: Exactly.

BL: It will help them when there is a double header in the quarter finals.

PW: Well hopefully so. Brian, before last weeks hurling game between Dublin and Galway some ex Galway players came out with some comments that upset the current Galway players. As an ex player do you have to be careful about what you say or do you think that being honest is the best policy?

BL: Yeah I think you are better off being honest. If you played with some of the players you will always be loyal to a certain extent. You feel they have gone through the hard work with and have been there. But you have to be honest because the people who watch the games know what’s going on.

PW: Okay just to finish up because I know you have to go and do the show; can I get a prediction of each of you?

CM: Dublin by two points.

PC: I am the same; I wrote in the Herald on Monday that I think it will be a tight game. It will come down to a couple of things. If Kildare can create as many chances as they did in the previous game but take them chances and if they can stop Dublin from scoring goals they have a great chance. The other thing is if they are in it with ten minutes to go, Kildare have paced games very well over the last four years and they keep going to the end. But I think the Dublin full forward line will get the one or two goals that they need.

BL: I will go with a draw; the last game was a real free for all between them. I go with a draw and Kildare to win the replay.

Hughton appointed as new Birmingham manager

22 Jun

By Paul Walsh
Who says nice guys always finish last? After his disgraceful sacking by Newcastle last season, despite gaining them promotion to the Premiership, Chris Hughton has not had to wait long for a chance of redemption. Birmingham City start life next season in the Championship but they are a big club and one expected to make a swift return to the Premier league. Given the right backing the former Irish international has the chance to establish a real reputation as a top class manager.

Hughton had spells as coach and assistant-manager at Spurs between 1993 and 2007. He also served as assistant manager to Brian Kerr for Ireland from 2003 to 2005. He was appointed first team coach at Newcastle in 2008 and was then made manager October 2009. He guided the club to promotion but was cruelly sacked last season. He was sacked in December 2010 with the club sitting in 11th position. Mike Ashley had other plans he needed a bigger name, someone more ambitious, someone with a glistening CV littered with trophies and achievements. Step forward Alan Pardew the former manager of Reading, West Ham, Charlton and Southampton. Not only is Alan Pardew not one of the big names in world football his main claim to fame is winning the Football League trophy with Southampton. Not exactly a big name. His revolution at Newcastle saw then finish 12th. Well that’s what you get when you do your interviews for a mangers job while gambling in a casino.

Chris Hughton is better than the circus that is Newcastle Football Club and he has high hopes that he can be successful with Birmingham next season. “I am absolutely delighted. To be joining a club of the stature of Birmingham City, with the history it has, is a pleasure. I’m really looking forward to getting to work.”

He added: “We are going into an extremely competitive Championship and with the players set to return for pre-season training very soon I need to get into the job straight away, and I’m really relishing the opportunity to do exactly that and to meet everyone at the club.”

As one of the good guys in the “Hello” wedding, twitter suing, pink hummer driving crazy world of Premier League football, he has the best wishes of all genuine football fans.

Offaly manager blasts treatment at O’Connor Park

15 Jun

By Paul Walsh
GAA Correspondent
Follow him on twitter at @Walshpots

A letter written by Offaly hurling manager Joe Dooley containing strong criticism of the county’s home ground O’Connor Park has become public.

According to newspaper reports, Dooley wrote to County Secretary Martin Boland over the treatment the Offaly hurling squad received at a recent training session at the refurbished Tullamore stadium.

Dooley claimed that when the squad arrived, gates were locked inside the stadium and also they were asked to stay off the pitch. Even more bizarrely they were informed that cars would be taken away from outside the ground.

He commented that: ‘It is very clear to all involved that we are not wanted in O’Connor Park. Every reason seems to be used to keep us out of the pitch or off the pitch during training sessions’.

The letter was also signed by selectors, the coach, the team secretary and team captain Shane Dooley and vice-captain Joe Bergin.

The letter finished by saying that no further requests should be made of Offaly hurlers to use O’Connor Park, that serious consideration should be given to staging some league games in Birr, and that the board should ask clubs in Offaly to make their facilities available for Offaly training sessions.

According to Offaly sources, the letter of grievances will be dealt with in-house.

This letter brings to a head numerous issues that Offaly hurlers have encountered with O’Connor Park in recent times. There is a general feeling within Offaly Gaelic circles that cost cutting is at the centre of the county board actions. According to sources in Offaly the county board is under pressure to use the refurbished stadium and cut costs so that repayments on bank debt can be met. The refurbishment of the stadium was a huge financial commitment and the suggestion is that now the teams are suffering at its expense.

FAI Cup fourth round draw.

15 Jun

By Paul Walsh

The draw for the FAI Cup fourth round draw took place this evening and it is fair to say there are no mouth watering encounters to look forward to.
The draw produced just two all Airtricity Premier League encounters, as league champions Shamrock Rovers were drawn at home to UCD, and Louth rivals Drogheda and Dundalk were paired together. Given the fact that Rovers recently hammered U.C.D in Tallaght, they will fancy their chances to progress against the Students.
Current cup holders Sligo Rovers were handed a home draw against First Division side Monaghan which means the Roddy Collins circus will be coming to town. Bohemians have been handed an away tie against Longford. Given Bohemians poor form at Dalymout this season, Pat Fenlon may not be too unhappy with having to travel to Flancare Park.
Sheriff YC, the only non-league club left in the competition face a local derby after they were drawn at home to Shelbourne. The draw in full is detailed below.
Shamrock Rovers V U.C.D
Waterford United V St. Patricks Athletic
Bray Wanderers V Limerick
Longford Town V Bohemians
Wexford Youths V Cork City
Sligo Rovers V Monaghan United
Sheriff YC V Shelbourne
Drogehda United V Dundalk

Cox surprise inclusion in Irish line-up

3 Jun

By Paul Walsh
Follow him on twitter @Walshpots

Robbie Keane is fit to start for the Republic of Ireland’s vital Euro 2012 qualifier clash against Macedonia tomorrow. This is despite an injury scare for the Irish record goal scorer yesterday.

The striker suffered a groin injury at training in Malahide on Thursday but passed a fitness test today.

The big surprise contained in Giovanni Trapattoni’s team announcement is that after two friendly starts Robbie Keane’s strike partner will be Simon Cox. The West Brom man is rewarded for his impressive performances in the Carling Nations Cup at the expense of Shane Long, who has scored 25 goals with Reading this season.

Sean St Ledger misses the game through injury so Darren O’Dea is named at centre-half, where he will partner John O’Shea. Stephen Kelly and Kevin Kilbane are the full backs, while Shay Given makes his 113th appearance in goal for Ireland in Skopje.

In midfield there are no surprises, Aiden McGeady and Stephen Hunt are named on the wings and Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are in the centre. Andrew’s was another player that impressed in the Carling Nations Cup but again it’s a midfield that seems on paper to lack creativity.

Some doubt still surrounds Robbie Keane but he seemed supremely confident at today’s press conference that he will play. If he can’t start or is unable to complete a full 90 minutes, Ireland have Shane Long with something to prove to Trapattoni in reserve. The game kicks off tomorrow night at 8.30pm.

Full Irish team below.
Shay Given, Stephen Kelly, Darren O’Dea, John O’Shea, Kevin Kilbane; Aidan McGeady, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt; Robbie Keane, Simon Cox