National Football League Division One South – Round Three Preview
By Tom McLoughlin
Round Two of the Allianz Division One South delivered arguably the game of the year so far as Dublin and Kerry played out a thrilling tie in Thurles, their third draw in the last four meetings between the sides. Kerry can certainly take positives from their performance. The Kingdom, inspired by David Clifford, notched up an impressive 1-19 suggesting they have the best firepower in the country whilst they also displayed great character to claw back a deficit of seven points in the second half. However, their concession of four goals will give Peter Keane plenty of food for thought on how he can solidify his full back line should a potential rematch in the All Ireland final materialise. Dublin on the other hand, will be pleased with the form of Con O’Callaghan and their creation of goal chances seemingly at will, but will no doubt be irked at uncharacteristically letting a big lead slip and letting their rivals out of jail at the death.
Aside from the main event last weekend, Galway quietly dispatched of Connaught rivals Roscommon in Pearse Stadium. Roscommon, following this defeat, are now guaranteed to be in a relegation playoff against one of the bottom two teams from Division One North. All the talk beforehand focused on how Pádraic Joyce’s side would react to their drubbing in Tralee, and to be fair to the Tribesmen, they responded to their critics in the best possible way; on the pitch itself. Galway gave a strong team performance and their manager will have been pleased with the displays of young players like Rob Finnerty, Finian O’Laoi and Paul Kelly.
In Round Three this weekend, Galway will face All Ireland champions Dublin on Sunday afternoon in Tuam Stadium, widely regarded as the real home of Galway football. A win for Galway in this clash will see them advance to the league semi-finals, while the Dubs only need a draw to progress. In the other fixture, both teams may field more experimental sides as Roscommon are already in a relegation playoff and Kerry are through to the semi-finals on account of their vastly superior scoring difference.
Sunday 30th May
Galway v Dublin
Venue: Tuam Stadium, Tuam
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)
These sides last met just seven months ago in the final round of the 2020 National Football league when two second half goals from Seán Bugler and Con O’Callaghan gave Dublin a six point victory. Galway would exact some slice of revenge in the U-20 final in December where Tomo Culhane and Matthew Tierney, two players who could feature this weekend, were pivotal in Galway’s one point success over a fancied Dublin side.
Galway made a somewhat inauspicious start to the league going down heavily to a rampant Kerry side. However, last week’s home victory over Roscommon saw a much harder working performance and brought about Galway’s first win since March 2020. Joyce will be hoping his side are buoyed by that victory and produce another good performance against Dublin in Tuam. Shane Walsh and Finnerty accounted for 0-12 of Galway’s total of 2-16 against Roscommon whilst O’Laoi and Paul Kelly also impressed.
This Division One South was a tough division for Galway to be drawn in and despite their dismal showing in Kerry and resulting criticism, to their credit the Connaught men have responded and won the one game in their section they were truly expected to win. By doing so, they can now have a crack at the Dubs with the prize of a league semi-final at stake. There should be no pressure on their shoulders as there won’t be too many inside or outside of Galway giving them much hope this weekend. That said, Galway often produce when least expected and players such as Walsh, Damien Comer and Paul Conroy should relish the challenge in front of them.
Dublin’s approach to this fixture will be interesting. Needing at least a draw to progress to the league semi-finals and having relinquished a large lead to Kerry, one would imagine Dessie Farrell’s men will want to bounce back immediately and won’t treat this game lightly. Dublin used the first two games to give useful game time to players such as Tom Lahiff, Dara Mullin and Sean McMahon and there are certainly one or two positions up for grabs for later in the year. A long term partner for Brian Fenton in midfield is yet to be established and John Small’s hamstring injury could see him out of action for an extended period of time, giving other defenders opportunities to stake their claim.
Most of the talking points from last week’s draw seem to have centred around Kerry, both on their comeback but also on their leaking of goal chances. However, Dublin will not have been happy with some aspects of their own display. Their points tally amassed of just 9 points, the concession of 1-19, their high wide count in the first half as well as their poor decision making and shot selection near the end of the game were all very ‘un-Dublin like’.
They will also not panic either and can take many positives. O’Callaghan did not score first day out against Roscommon but certainly hit back last weekend, scoring 2-1 from play and winning a penalty. O’Callaghan seems to have it all as a forward - pace, power, strength, accuracy and is still only 25. Cormac Costello also backed up his excellent performance from Round One with another prominent showing against Kerry, scoring 2-3, of which an impressive 1-3 was from play. That said, you still sense Dublin will call on Dean Rock as free taker when the Ballymun Kickhams man is available for selection.
Dublin are unquestionably the more seasoned and classier outfit between these two teams and you generally know what you are going to get from the Leinster champions. The same cannot be said of Galway. If they perform as they did against Kerry in Round One, or against Mayo in Tuam last October, then it could be another humbling afternoon for Pádraic Joyce. However, if the Connaught men play as they did last weekend and show the same togetherness and willingness to dig in, then a competitive game is in store. I expect the latter version of Galway to show up but Dublin to still have too much.
Verdict: Dublin by 6
Sunday 30th May
Roscommon v Kerry
Venue: Dr. Hyde Park, Roscommon
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
Channel: TG4 Player
If the first game previewed has something at stake in terms of league semi-finals and relegation playoff permutations, then unfortunately the opposite is true for the two sides competing in the other fixture; Roscommon and Galway. By virtue of their two defeats against Dublin and Galway, Roscommon already know they are facing into a relegation playoff on 12th June regardless of the outcome of this Sunday’s game. Kerry, more positively for them, already know that they are facing into a league semi-final on the same weekend on account of their vastly superior scoring difference.
So, what does that mean for Sunday? One would think it gives both managers a chance to experiment. Peter Keane has gone with very strong and consistent line-ups over the first two rounds with the only change in the starting fifteen against Dublin from the previous round against Galway being the late replacement of Jack Barry by Diarmuid O’Connor. Indeed, O’Connor produced a terrific display scoring two points from play. Paul Geaney is a man that looks to be low on confidence at the minute and perhaps a run out in the full forward line for the Dingle man, rather than at number 12, would be just the tonic he needs. Getting on the scoresheet a few times may be all he requires to inspire some self-belief. Tommy Walsh and Stephen O’Brien, substitutes against Dublin, impressed when introduced and it was their interplay that brought about the award of a late penalty for David Clifford to slot home.
As mentioned previously, there are plenty of positives to be gleaned from the Kingdom’s draw with their old rivals. Yet Kerry being Kerry, you get the sense that Peter Keane will have heard more talk about the four goals conceded than the 1-18 scored. The first two goals conceded saw the full back line opened up far too easily with two simple but effective Ciarán Kilkenny threaded fist passes, with Tadhg Morley in particular caught out for the first. The third goal came about from a speculative long high ball from Niall Scully where O’Callaghan outmuscled Paul Murphy with ease and the fourth from the penalty spot, after the Kerry full back line failed to deal with a shot that dropped short. Peter Keane was hammered after their shock Munster championship exit to Cork last year for being too defensive and rightly so. However, you get the sense that Keane knows where his side’s strengths and weaknesses lie and should they meet Dublin later in the year, that full back line will need protection, a luxury not afforded to them last Sunday.
As for Roscommon, their Division One survival lies solely on their meeting in mid-June with one of the Ulster teams who finish in the bottom two places of Division One North. After a spirited display against Dublin in Round One, Roscommon would have had realistic expectations of defeating a Galway side low on confidence last weekend. However, the concession of an early goal meant they were always chasing the game and Roscommon are not a side built to come from behind.
The Rossies relied heavily on the scoring of Ciarán Murtagh and Donie Smith, who between them scored 1-12 of their total of 1-13, with 0-9 of that coming from placed balls. Indeed, Roscommon only had three players who scored in the entire game and Anthony Cunningham will be hoping for a wider breadth of players to trouble the scoreboard this weekend. Given the dead rubber nature of this tie for the Shannon-siders, it may be a good game to introduce a couple of new players to see what they have to offer.
The last league or championship meeting between the two sides was the final round of the 2019 league where Roscommon were defeated by ten points in Dr. Hyde Park. I expect it to more of the same on Sunday with the defending league champion’s vast array of attacking talent to shine through.
Verdict: Kerry by 8