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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 13 May 2021

Race For Sam: The 4 teams bidding for All-Ireland football glory

Dublin, Mayo, Kerry and Tyrone are all chasing Sam Maguire.

THE PROVINCES, QUALIFIERS and Super 8s are all completed, now the football focus shifts to Croke Park and a pair of All-Ireland semi-final battles loaded with potential.

Mayo, Dublin, Tyrone and Kerry comprise the final four entering this weekend’s ties, bidding to reach the 2019 decider on 1 September.

pjimage Aidan O'Shea, James McCarthy, Cathal McShane and Paul Murphy will all be key in Croke Park this weekend. Source: INPHO

Dublin are the pace-setters as they aim to complete five-in-a-row this year with Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone the trio that they have defeated over the course of the last four finals. But how are that quartet shaping up ahead of this key juncture in the season?


Their recent semi-final history…Dublin have been a constant presence in the last four over this decade. Their record stands at seven wins, one draw (Mayo 2015) and two losses but since Donegal turned them over in 2014, it’s been a string of victories for Jim Gavin’s side. Twelve months ago they comfortably swept past Galway by 12 points at this stage.

Their main man…Jack McCaffrey. In a team packed with stars, the Clontarf man has been in irrepressible form of late. One of the front-runners for the Footballer of the Year accolade, his blend of pace and power on the right flank is at the heart of so many of Dublin’s attacks.

Jack McCaffrey Jack McCaffrey in action for Dublin against Roscommon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

They will be happy because…their key figures are motoring well, they have won their outings this summer by an average of 15 points to prove their form is sound and injuries have not cropped up to derail their hopes. It all adds up to a glorious chance to claim a fabled feat in the GAA.

They will be concerned because…perhaps their inside defence is still susceptible to potent forwards and perhaps they are under-cooked from the lack of a strenuous exam this year. But we’re reaching and ultimately it’s hard to pore over this current Dublin setup to find a major flaw.


Their recent semi-final history…Eight years ago saw the start of the modern Mayo renaissance when they contested the last four against Kerry and it was only last year that semi-final run was interrupted. They’re back at that stage on Saturday when they face Dublin and have packed plenty drama into a semi-final record since 2011 that reads four wins, three draws and three defeats. 

Their main man…Aidan O’Shea. Terrific in the spring in helping Mayo sweep to the league title and has hit the heights as well over the last few weeks, a colossal presence last Saturday in Castlebar against Donegal.

They will be happy because…their reserves of resilience show no sign of being drained. They suffered a Connacht setback, an afternoon of real difficulty in Killarney and yet have stood tall when the need was greatest to get back into the All-Ireland reckoning. Long-serving stalwarts have built up good momentum and James Horan has introduced a variety of new options.

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James Horan celebrates at the full time whistle James Horan celebrates at the full-time whistle of their win over Donegal. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They will be worried because…a week is a short turnaround from that gruelling test against Donegal and they suffered a major casualty with the loss of Jason Doherty. There is also the considerable task of facing the best side in the country on Saturday.


Their recent semi-final history…Mickey Harte pointed out recently that Tyrone had reached a milestone in 2019 by reaching a third successive semi-final. They have tapped into some consistency with the victory last August against Monaghan a signal of progress after losses against Mayo (2013), Kerry (2015) and Dublin (2017).

Their main man…Cathal McShane. Has become central to Tyrone’s prospects, essential to their attacking performance with his clever movement and prolific scoring. McShane has hit 3-43 in eight games, was top scorer for Tyrone in seven of them and stuck 2-2 in the other match against Longford.

They will be happy because…they have journeyed back to Croke Park in mid August, an achievement after the hollow feeling they were left with when Donegal shunted them out of Ulster. Mickey Harte has masterminded another recovery operation with McShane joining Peter Harte and Matthew Donnelly in the bracket of players who are flying high.

Liam O'Donovan and Matthew Donnelly Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They will be worried because…the debate continues over what tactical approach is best for them to adopt and Kerry pack a fearsome attacking punch which they will have to withstand.


Their recent semi-final history involves…Kerry have been another reliable presence in the last four with 2010, 2012 and 2018 the only seasons they were marked absent this decade. They have had a mixed bag of results with three wins, one draw, and three losses while 2015 against Tyrone represented their last semi-final win.

Their main man…David Clifford. Only in his second season in the senior ranks but his influence continues to grow in this Kerry side. Has become their attacking totem, the clash with Mayo his standout showing as his blistering display yielded 0-7.

Kerry celebrate winning Kerry players celebrate their Munster final win over Cork. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They will be happy because…they have returned to participate in the semi-final after the slump that saw them head for the Super 8s exit door. Their form may have been viewed as patchy in Munster but Clare and Cork’s games since have painted that in a different light while Kerry hit the ground running in the last eight to demonstrate perfectly the attacking threat they possess.

They will be worried because…their recent results in Croke Park have been poor and defending is an area of concern with the manner in which Cork, Donegal and Meath have opened them up. Tyrone will be a step up for their band of emerging players.

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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