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Race For Sam: And then there were eight…

The aspirations of the remaining sides competing in the All-Ireland senior football championship are assessed.

Cork's Alan O'Connor, Mayo's Andy Moran, Leo McLoone of Donegal and Paul Flynn of Dublin are all in All-Ireland quarter-final action this weekend
Cork's Alan O'Connor, Mayo's Andy Moran, Leo McLoone of Donegal and Paul Flynn of Dublin are all in All-Ireland quarter-final action this weekend
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

CORK

They have been here before and…largely succeeded. This is Cork’s ninth All-Ireland quarter-final and their eighth in succession. Last year’s loss to Mayo was the only defeat they have suffered at the last eight stage.

The player they cannot do without is… Donncha O’Connor. An attacker who can be a target man at full-forward or come deep to act as a playmaker, a scorer who can launch points over from play or nail them from placed ball situations. Showing signs this year of recapturing his stellar showings of 2010 and was excellent in the Munster semi-final win over Kerry.

They will be happy because… they have no injuries. Ailments afflicting their attackers swept through the squad in 2011 but this year they have a full deck to pick from and that has proved crucial in enabling them to collect silverware in Division 1 of the league and in their own province already this year.

They will be worried because… of their inactivity of late. They have had only two games since their league final win on April 29th, a Munster semi-final test against Kerry on June 10th and a Munster final stroll against Clare on July 8th. Have they coped with the hiatus. The definitive answer to that question will arrive at 2pm on Sunday.

DONEGAL

They have been here before and…under-performed. In their five All-Ireland quarter-final appearances Donegal have only two victories to their name, last year against Kildare and in 2003 against Galway. There’s been some bad beatings as well, by ten points against Dublin in 2002 and by 14 points against Cork in 2009.

The player they cannot do without is…Mark McHugh. The all-action Kilcar player who is nominally a wing-forward but covers great acreage, defends and attacking in equal measure and plays in a style that embodies what Donegal represent under Jimmy McGuinness.

They will be happy because…they have won back-to-back Ulster crowns. It was something the county has never achieved before, and are heading to Croke Park brimming with confidence about the potential of their players and their style of football.

They will be worried because…they are facing Kerry. Donegal have never faced the national aristocrats of the game and will meet a side packed with enough classy operators to overturn them. It will be a defining encounter for the Ulster side.

DOWN

They have been here before and… triumphed. Down have only one All-Ireland quarter-final appearance to their name and passed that test in dazzling fashion in 2010 when they defeated Kerry.

The player they cannot do without is…Ambrose Rogers. A player that has been cursed with injuries over the last few years, the Longstone player has eclipsed midfield opponents this season with a series of dominant displays and was a key factor in influencing Down’s victory over Tipperary in last Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier.


Down’s Ambrose Rogers. Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

They will be happy because…they have reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals. In the aftermath of their crushing Ulster final loss to Donegal, they have bounced back and overcame the obstacle of the infamous six-day turnaround to defeat Tipperary last Saturday.
They will be worried because…they have defensive frailties. Those problems manifested themselves in the league semi-final against Cork in April and the provincial decider against Donegal last month, and it’s not certain that they have been yet eradicated.

DUBLIN

They have been here before and…been inconsistent. Apart from 2003, Dublin have contested the last eight every year since their inception but five victories have been matched by five defeats.

The player they cannot do without is…Alan Brogan. Their superb centre-forward knits together the side’s attacking play and ensures younger brother Bernard is supplied with the bullets to fire in front of goal. Dublin looked lost at times after Alan was forced off through injury during the Leinster final.

They will be happy because…they are unbeaten in the championship in 2012. And that winning record has been achieved without yet scaling notable heights and they enter the August fare wearing the look of a team who have more in the tank.

They will be worried because…their focus seems to be misplaced during matches. It took them a long time to get going in the Leinster semi-final against Wexford while a mid second-half slumber almost allowed Meath to execute an improbable revival in the provincial decider.

KERRY

They have been here before and… been almost unbeatable. Kerry are the only ever-present force in the All-Ireland quarter-finals over the past 11 seasons and only once, in 2010 against Down, have they slipped up.

The player they cannot do without is… Marc Ó Sé. The greatest corner-back currently playing in the game is needed to shore up their defensive challenge as they are issues elsewhere in their rearguard and also to police the best marksmen in the game.

They will be happy because… there are signs of recovery. They were listless against Cork in the Munster semi-final and against Westmeath in their opening All-Ireland qualifier but in their performances, individually and collectively, against Tyrone and Clare over the past two weeks, there has been evidence of a renewed spark in their play.

They will be worried because… Sunday represents an enormous challenge. Donegal are a buoyant force who are playing some explosive attacking football this year and they bring a unique defensive mindset that Kerry have not encountered previously.

KILDARE

They have been here before and… struggled. Their 2010 success over Meath is their only All-Ireland quarter-final win but they have at last given themselves a fighting chance by consistently reaching this stage. Sunday will be their fifth consecutive year in the last eight.

The player they cannot do without is…Emmet Bolton. The dynamic wing-back tore forward for that outstanding point against Limerick that forced the game into extra-time and saved Kildare’s season. It was reflective of a campaign where he excelled and is on course for an Allstar award.

They will be happy because…they have momentum. The qualifiers threw some curve balls at them and they coped successfully in seeing off Limerick in a test of endurance and despatching Sligo with minimum fuss last week in Roscommon.

They will be worried because…it is only five weeks since they faltered badly in Croke Park. Was that Leinster semi-final performance against Meath an aberration and they are equipped for the step up in class that Cork will provide on Sunday?

LAOIS

They have been here before and…failed. Laois have only three All-Ireland quarter-final appearances to their name but suffered defeats on each occasion in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

The player they cannot do without is…Brendan Quigley. The Timahoe player is produced the sort of towering midfield displays of late to remind us why he had a brief stint with AFL outfit Brisbane Lions and flourished in the underage ranks with Laois.

Laois player Brendan Quigley. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

They will be happy because…they are in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. After a season that featured league relegation in April and an early Leinster championship exit to Longford, it has been a fine achievement to string together four qualifier wins on the bounce.

They will be worried because…the draw has not been kind. Dublin represent a greater football and physical challenge than what Laois have experienced to date and it is a daunting task for Justin McNulty’s men.

MAYO

They have been here before and…enjoyed mixed fortunes. Three quarter-final wins and three quarter-final defeats for Mayo with great days like last year against Cork corresponding with awful days like 2009 against Meath.

The player they cannot do without is… Andy Moran. In an attack that is largely filled with players who are trying to develop into inter-county forwards of substance, Moran brings that touch of class and experience in front of goal which Mayo badly need.

They will be happy because…they seem more resilient this year. That victory over Sligo in the Connacht final may not have been the purest of football displays but it was the type of match they would have coughed up a winning advantage in a few years ago.

They will be worried because…they lack another lethal attacker up front to bridge the gap from perennial quarter-finalists and semi-finalists in the All-Ireland series to claiming the September prize that they crave.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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