Super 8s whittled down to final four

The super 8s, or Average 8s as a friend from home has labelled them, finished up with a very unsatisfactory spectacle last Sunday.

The “Coma in Omagh” was always likely to unfold given the teams involved had already secured their place in the All-Ireland semis and with that in mind gave panel members a run out rather than risk any of their marquee men.

You couldn’t blame either manager for that. Any sort of knock would be very difficult for a player to recover from in just six or seven days. The integrity of the game is always going to lose out when Sam Maguire is in sight.

When the Super 8s format was being launched the two main selling points were (1) it would showcase the best going head to head over the course of three weeks during the height of the summer and (2) counties who needed financial help in promoting football would reap the benefits of the extra revenue.

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Phase 3, Healy Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone 4/8/2018 Tyrone vs Dublin Tyrone’s Richard Donnelly with goalkeeper Evan Comerford and Rory O’Carroll of Dublin Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

If the football championship was the Pamplona bull run then the Super 8s, in its current guise, would be the part where the heavy hitters took a breather behind the barriers.

They made a few initial bursts to get away from the pointy horns but never really came too close to danger, knowing it was the bullring of the semi finals and finals where the real action started.

The competitors who sprint the whole run, inches away from elimination, and arrive at the bullring gasping for  breath, are the teams who have come through the qualifiers and have fought tooth and nail just to get to the semis.

They have given the onlookers the most to cheer up to that point. But what has gone before will soon be forgotten by the experts if they don’t perform in the main arena.

Just ask Donegal, who’s only blip in an otherwise excellent championship run has seen them miss out on the final four. Another anamoly that needs ironing out.

So onto the semi finals we go with two mouth-watering games on paper at least. Dublin and Mayo meet on Saturday evening and have nearly always been box office.

The Dubs have been imperious on their “Drive for Five” and will come into this game fresh, unlike their battle weary opponents.

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Phase 3, Healy Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone 4/8/2018 Tyrone vs Dublin Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The key battles for me will be who Mayo pick to try and negate Jack McCaffrey and how Rob Hennelly performs against the Dublin press on the Mayo kick out.

Given the brilliant performance Paddy Durcan produced on Ryan McHugh you would think he would again be trusted with that crucial role on McCaffrey.

As for Hennelly, the league final should have helped ease his Croke Park worries, but you really don’t know with him.

Much as I think Clarke is a safer pair of hands, Hennelly’s kick out could be the winning of it. And for me it’s a chance worth taking.

Sunday brings with it the classic grudge match. Kerry vs Tyrone. North vs South. Old Money vs New Money. Total Football vs “Puke Football” (not in my opinion!).

The titanic struggles of the 2003 to 2008 era are gone but not forgotten. Tyrone were, according to Tomás Ó Sé, the “nut we couldn’t crack”, and it hurt Kerry people deeply.

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Phase 3, Pairc Tailteann, Navan 3/8/2019 Meath vs Kerry Kerry’s Brian O’Beaglaoich with Bryan McMahon of Meath Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Something they still carry with them. The key men for me here are David Moran and Mattie Donnelly. When Moran is on song at midfield Kerry are always on the front foot.

He lorded it against Mayo recently but on the flip side his absence was very evident against Donegal.

Mattie Donnelly is Tyrones leader and a player I’ve admired for years for his huge work rate and desire.

This season he has built up a good understanding with Cathal McShane, who will also need a big game if Tyrone are to come out on top.

Come Sunday evening I think we will be left with a Dublin vs Kerry All Ireland to look forward to, but what scenes there would be if the green and red of Mayo played out in Croker on Saturday.

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