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Race For Sam: The four teams bidding for All-Ireland football glory

A huge weekend awaits Galway, Derry, Kerry and Dublin.

O'Connor, Joyce, Gallagher and Farrell are the last four managers involved.
O'Connor, Joyce, Gallagher and Farrell are the last four managers involved.
Image: INPHO

Updated Jul 7th 2022, 5:56 PM

JUST FOUR CONTENDERS left in the hunt to grasp the Sam Maguire for 2022.

Dublin, winners of eight All-Ireland senior titles since 2011. Kerry, the 2014 champions that last featured the final in 2019.

Galway and Derry must go back further to their most recent final appearances, 2001 and 1993 respectively, both triumphing in those deciders.

But ahead of a huge weekend of football showdowns in Croke Park, how are they shaping up?

Galway

Back in the semi-finals after a four-year absence, Galway’s setup has undergone a major overhaul since Kevin Walsh steered them to that stage against Dublin in 2018, a route via the Super 8s. Only five players from that Galway squad (Damien Comer, Shane Walsh, Sean Kelly, Johnny Heaney and Kieran Molloy) are still involved.

Padraic Joyce has shaken up the starting pack. The return of Paul Conroy from a horrific leg injury has boosted their midfield prospects, while Cillian McDaid, Matthew Tierney and Robert Finnerty have emerged to add panache and class to their team.

shane-walsh Galway's Shane Walsh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

After a couple of dispiriting losses in the last two championships at the hands of Mayo, this year has felt like a breakthrough for Galway under Joyce. Commanding in Connacht, then involved in that epic with Armagh. The late normal time collapse was a concern, the latest example of a growing trend, yet the flipside was the resilience underpinning the McDaid-inspired comeback to deliver the penalty shootout.

Mayo have been the modern Connacht standard-bearers, Galway’s group will be aware what a huge opportunity this is.

Derry

The biggest emerging force in 2022. There were signs in 2021 with their league form and how they pushed Donegal to the brink, but it’s still worth noting Derry contested the Division 4 league final in 2019 in Croke Park and are now on the cusp of an All-Ireland final place. Rory Gallagher has masterminded a remarkable swing in the side’s fortunes. Their Ulster title was cherished and it was so hard-earned as they clipped the wings of Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal.

shane-mcguigan-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-fifth-goal Derry's Shane McGuigan. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Moving into Croke Park, Derry prospered at the quarter-final stage as they ripped Clare apart. Conor McCluskey and Gareth McKinless power forward from deep, Conor Glass has transformed the team with his midfield displays, while Shane McGuigan is their marquee figure in attack. The standard of opposition now steps up and they lost to Galway, just over three months ago, by 4-11 to 0-12. Similar to the Tribesmen, they know how precious a chance this is, after spending years watching Ulster neighbours feature on this platform.

Kerry

Three years after they were hit with the disappointment of that All-Ireland final replay defeat to Dublin, Kerry renew acquaintances with their conquerors. In different ways, they were hit with huge setbacks in 2020 against Cork and in 2021 against Tyrone. After sweeping to a league win, crushing everyone in Munster and eventually pulling clear with comfort from Mayo, this is the time to deliver.

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david-clifford-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Kerry's David Clifford. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

There are plus points in the Kerry camp – Tadhg Morley’s defensive organisation, Tom O’Sullivan’s excellence, Diarmuid O’Connor’s consistency and the attacking brilliance of the Cliffords, Sean O’Shea and Paul Geaney. Mixed together it’s a formidable force, with the assumption that all is right with the fitness of their star man Clifford. But this group have suffered a lot at the hands of Dublin and the county have not overcome the capital outfit since 2009 in the championship arena. An examination that will inform us about where Kerry stand.

Dublin

After the six-in-a-row confirmed the greatness, the slide began last year. The exit at the hands of Mayo raised question marks, their league form this spring sparked concerns. Yet it all seems to have represented a blip in the Dublin form guide, such is the familiar control they exerted in the Leinster campaign. The five-goal first-half tally when facing Kildare was highly impressive, Con O’Callaghan spearheading a devastating attacking showing.

That leads to a pertinent question though. Will O’Callaghan be in action and at full speed on Sunday? His absence didn’t matter against Cork, the likes of youngster Lee Gannon, Johnny Cooper and Brian Fenton dictating the patterns of that game to produce an 11-point win. But as Dublin climb higher, O’Callaghan will be needed to supplement the attacking inputs of Costello, Kilkenny and Rock. James McCarthy’s absence would also be keenly felt.

con-ocallaghan-scores-the-fifth-goal Dublin's Con O'Callaghan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There are similar themes to those facing Kerry – the fitness of an attacking great and a difficulty in gauging their form to date. In a clash dripping with potential, Dublin will aim to demonstrate last year’s semi-final was a brief interruption to their flow.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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