National Football League Division One South – Round Two Preview
By Tom McLoughlin
Round One of the Allianz Division One South delivered, as predicted, victories for the two favourites in the division, Kerry and Dublin. Kerry’s dismantling of Galway provided the main talking point, whilst we are fast running out of superlatives to describe the mercurial David Clifford who was unquestionably the star performer from Round One. Dublin, without ever leaving third gear, commenced their campaign with a comfortable and composed win over Roscommon who can still take plenty of positives from their performance, certainly far more than a demoralised Galway outfit will have retrieved from Tralee.
Round Two sees the victors from last weekend face off in a mouth-watering clash in Thurles on Sunday afternoon. The All Ireland champions were stripped of home advantage for this tie due to a breach of Covid-19 restrictions. The other clash of the weekend sees Connaught rivals Galway and Roscommon go head to head in Pearse Stadium also on Sunday afternoon, the loser of which will almost certainly find themselves in a relegation play-off next month.
Sunday 23rd May
Dublin v Kerry
Venue: Semple Stadium, Thurles
Referee: Seán Hurson (Tyrone)
A peculiarity of this year’s novel league structure is that should Kerry (or Donegal) reach this year’s league decider on the weekend of June 19/20, then they cannot win the league outright. In such a scenario, Kerry would be declared as joint winners along with their “would be opponents” and no final shall take place on the basis that Kerry are in Munster championship action on 26th June and would not be expected to play a league final the weekend before. As such, there is the very real possibility of a shared league title between old rivals Dublin and Kerry in the strangest of years that is 2021.
Kerry looked red hot against a lacklustre and easily demoralised Galway side last Saturday. The Connaught men were unquestionably below par but that said, Kerry roared out of the blocks. They pressed high and were unerringly accurate in their shooting, with the game effectively in the bag by the first water break with Killian Spillane, Seán O’Shea and the Clifford brothers all in imperious form. Paudie, David’s elder brother, could prove to be a pivotal cog for Kerry this summer, who along with Dara Moynihan, provided a nice blend of direct running and precise passing into the full forward line, a feature of play regrettably lacking during last year’s Munster championship exit.
Kerry’s potent attack is undeniably their main strength but for the forwards to flourish, a solid platform of possession is vital. In this regard, Kerry will have been encouraged with the midfield combination of Jack Barry and more prominently David Moran as they lorded the midfield battle over their Galway counterparts. Kerry’s defence largely coped well with the twin threats of Damien Comer and Shane Walsh, with the latter being completely nullified on the day. However, a far bigger test lies ahead in Semple Stadium when they face the likes of Cormac Costello, Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny.
Dessie Farrell and Mick Galvin will have been content with their day’s work in Roscommon last Sunday. They will be happier still that all the focus and plaudits were on Kerry’s rout in Tralee the previous day. It is a testament to Dublin’s strength in depth that three time All-Star O’Callaghan can be held scoreless and Dublin still run out easy nine point winners. Costello was very much the man to step up to the plate, and to the frees, for the Dubs in Dean Rock’s absence. His tally of 1-13 last weekend was only bettered by Clifford and the Whitehall Colmcille man will be hoping for another stellar display against Kerry in his own personal bid not to relinquish his starting jersey for the championship.
Seasoned campaigners such as James McCarthy, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny were all impressive against the Rossies and look to have started their 2021 season in the same vein of form as they finished 2020. The Leinster men also blooded new talent in the form of Michael Shiel in goals along with Tom Lahiff, Seán McMahon and Dara Mullin. It will be interesting to see if the Dublin management team opt for more experience this weekend, particularly in the full back line where Michael Fitzsimons and Jonny Cooper may be required to quell the Kerry attack. Dublin have an abundance of experience of big games and are coolness personified with the knack of almost always making the right decisions when in possession. The Kingdom may have the firepower but their sharpshooters can only do the damage if they have the ball, hence the midfield battle of Fenton and McCarthy against Moran and Barry will be pivotal.
Kerry are the county that have the weapons to most trouble Dublin in 2021 but such weapons are of no use if held in their holster. I expect Peter Keane to throw off the shackles this weekend and see how Dublin cope with Kerry’s high press and lethal full forward line. If so, a high scoring shootout is in store. Dublin may not rattle easily but striking an early psychological blow would inspire confidence in this Kerry side ahead of a potential All Ireland final date later in the year. The last meeting between Dublin and Kerry saw an entertaining draw played out under lights in Croke Park in January 2020. Another draw is a distinct possibility, perhaps as a fitting prelude for these great rivals being crowned joint league champions in June.
Sunday 23rd May
Galway v Roscommon
Venue: Pearse Stadium, Galway
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)
Channel: GAA GO
Pádraic Joyce, two-time All Star and two-time All-Ireland Champion, was a classy and prolific forward, one of the best Galway has ever produced in a county that possess legends such as Purcell, Stockwell, Fallon, Donnellan and Meehan. Joyce owned the most cultured of left feet and was a joy to watch play football, be it at full forward or centre forward, throughout the 1990’s and 2000s. He played football with a purity and passion that was a hallmark of those great John O’Mahony sides. It is easy to see the source of Joyce’s footballing philosophy that he is now trying to instil as manager himself of the current Galway senior footballers.
Under Kevin Walsh, the criticism levelled was that Galway were too defensive under his watch, too stifled by systems. Imagine how good this side could be if they were just let off the leash! Joyce, to his credit, has let them off the leash, He has made changes and adopted a style he believes in, an open and attacking, almost man to man traditional approach. However, Galway have now suffered two drubbings in the past six months at the hands of Mayo and Kerry, whilst also coming up short in the Connaught championship. Joyce’s footballing approach is to be applauded in principle but there is a fine line between being free flowing and just being naïve. Leaving David Clifford one on one with his man and an ocean of space in front of the full back line was always asking for trouble. It is becoming more and more apparent that there were valid reasons for Walsh adopting a more defensive system under his tenure. Quite possibly the solution for Galway and Joyce lies somewhere in between the two styles.
That said, one can often get carried away by a single performance and Galway are not as bad as that showing on Saturday. Heads are bound to drop when facing into a half-time deficit of eleven points. The real litmus test of squad unity and pride for the Tribesmen is how they react this weekend, and a local derby against familiar foes may well stoke the fires to produce a positive performance and result. Galway will need more out of Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Dessie Conneely and it will be interesting to see if Joyce opts to start Johnny Heaney, Gary O’Donnell and Peter Cooke, all of whom were whipped off before the second half last weekend.
Roscommon, the perennial yo-yo side of Divisions One and Two, will be anxious to secure victory in Pearse Stadium to boost their chances of staying in the top division. They can take encouragement from their showing against Dublin, and their full forward line of Donie Smith, Ciaran and Diarmuid Murtagh will cause problems for the Galway defence if supplied with the right kind of quality ball. Roscommon are an experienced and hardened outfit who generally eek every ounce of ability they have out of themselves when they throw on those primrose and blue jerseys. Enda Smith, Niall Daly and Cathal Cregg all stood up to the challenge the Dubs presented and were industrious throughout.
One area Roscommon need to improve on is their discipline at the back. Anthony Cunningham was understandably annoyed with the harsh new rule of a penalty award if a black card offense is committed for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. The rule is overly punitive and subjective. However, Cunningham could have little complaints over the award of the black card for the misdemeanours themselves which resulted in his side playing with fourteen men for 20 minutes of the game. Aside from the black card offences, Roscommon were guilty of conceding unnecessary fouls for Costello to tap over culminating in the concession of 1-9 from placed balls. Such ill-discipline in Pearse Stadium on Sunday could be the difference between making the short journey home with or without two points.
The last league or championship meeting between the two sided was the 2019 Connaught final where Roscommon defeated Galway by four points. I expect a reaction from the Tribesmen and the first quarter of the game will be crucial to see if Galway have reacted to defeat in the right way, both from a tactical and intensity point of view. A tight encounter beckons in Salthill with Roscommon to just about prevail.
Verdict: Roscommon by 1