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Talking points: 6 things to look out for in the Connacht and Ulster finals

Can Monaghan stun Donegal and what can we expect from Mayo against London.

Donegal star Michael Murphy.
Donegal star Michael Murphy.
Image: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Mayo minds

Since bringing a calm consistency to Mayo James Horan’s brief has been a case of strengthening minds as much as bodies. The evidence suggests that Mayo’s focus is sharp, realistic ambitions have been set, the hype isn’t as crushing as in previous eras.

Walking the streets of the central footballing towns in Mayo this week the usual green and red jerseys were to be seen. Still it is a peculiar Connacht final week, Mayo are expected to win and to do it well.

September is precisely the month Mayo crave to be playing in again. At a recent training camp in Galway the Mayo panel pondered plenty in meetings. To many involved they were as relevant as what they did technically at Rahoon/Newcastle’s GAA complex. Horan’s modern management style is deeply respected by his players and they remain anxious to impress as the Championship rolls on.

Green and Red going for three in a row out west

A calculator is nearly needed to tot up Mayo’s summer winning margins so far. Galway (4-16 to 0-11) and Roscommon (0-21 to 0-9) were obliterated and Mayo’s traditional western foes could have been beaten by more. That must be a little bit scary for London, who enter fortress Castlebar on Sunday.

Mayo are unbackable favourites. Once upon a time that might have Mayo worried and agitated, but since shading last year’s provincial decider with Sligo the fortunes of those two teams have veered dramatically. What a difference a day makes. Mayo took heart and confidence from the manner that Dr Hyde Park triumph was eked out and they journeyed on until September.

Now they have recaptured such drive and desire. A loud statement was made in the Salthill sun when Galway were torched. Roscommon then went to McHale Park and suffered a similar mauling so Mayo’s status as the best in the west is undeniable. That won’t be sufficient to satisfy their appetite, they want to dine out on a more substantial feast. Mayo have destroyed what has been put in front of them.

London — the story of the summer

Paul Coggins has guided London into unchartered territory with ice cool conviction. Regardless of what occurs in McHale Park London have been the undisputed success story of the summer. Taking Sligo’s scalp was notable. Drawing with Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon hinted at London’s steely resolve. Then the replay in the Hyde was initially about London’s skill as they blitzed Leitrim. When the Leitrim revival happened it became a tale of London’s spirit. Coggins’ charges didn’t disappoint and they got over the line; just about.

Following those two Leitrim tussles there was a freak mixture of beauty and brutality. Families spilled on to the grass in Carrick and Roscommon and the players conversed freely for up to an hour after both matches. Watching from the stands in one way it was both a gorgeous and grim sight. It was so nice to see an unheralded football team bring such joy and pleasure, but it was a terrible pity that they would have to leave those close to them to go across the pond so soon.

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How Coggins has stitched a highly competitive side together will be fondly spoken about for decades by the brave and daring GAA folk keeping the games alive and well in London. Coggins is simply seeking a London performance in Castlebar. They will strain every sinew to do that.

Driven Donegal

Being a champion outfit means class and confidence aren’t usually issues. Donegal’s smooth progress through a fairly awkward looking Ulster draw has merely confirmed their crafty ability to embrace a challenge. Monaghan’s grit is sure to supply another exacting examination, but Donegal will head for the Hill in Clones polished and prepared.

Nothing will be left to chance and it will be physical and feisty. It is rarely any other way when a snappy underdog wants to disturb a dynamic standard bearer. Essentially that is what Donegal have been thus far. Those who whisper about a weakening Ulster Championship might be quitened when considering there is a distinct chance that five teams from the province could advance to the All Ireland quarter finals. It mightn’t necessarily happen, but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility either. Donegal will need to use their brains and brawn in Clones because Monaghan will relish the opportunity to turn it into a slow burner.

Is it set up for an ambush?

Previously Monaghan have gone into Ulster finals carrying the burden of weighty expectations on their shoulders. On this occasion it feels a little different, nobody is losing the run of themselves. Donegal have Sam Maguire for company, they are the ones going for a three in a row of Anglo Celts. Are Monaghan just there to be the Washington Generals to Donegal’s Harlem Globetrotters? Absolutely not.

Malachy O’Rourke has planned and plotted for this. Monaghan had enough to outfox Antrim in Casement Park. A poor match all that truly counted was the final scoreline, Monaghan got that and then took Cavan in Clones. A late June Saturday night for the purists it most certainly was not, but does that actually matter? Monaghan are where they want to be: in an Ulster final on familiar turf waiting and willing to pounce if Donegal aren’t ready.

Monaghan have a strike forward to fear in Conor McManus, he has kicked 0-10 out of an aggregate total of 1-21. Paul Finlay’s sweet left peg can nail the distance frees too so Monaghan are far from no hopers. While Monaghan haven’t kicked the lights out yet they have negotiated their way into the last 12 in the country. Donegal will respect that.

Donegal’s defence

Trace through the figures and statistics: Donegal don’t give up many cheap scores. It is remarkable to look at how little they have leaked since the start of last summer: Cavan (1-10), Derry (0-9), Tyrone (0-10), Down (0-13), Kerry (1-10), Cork (1-11), Mayo (0-13), Tyrone (0-10), Down (0-9). Miserly stuff.

Paul Durcan has only let in three goals in nine matches: wow. Cork posted the best total in this sequence with 1-11. Can Monaghan better that? Perhaps if McManus is in top form and they were opportunistic converting whatever goal openings they can muster, but ifs, buts, and maybes are pinned to Monaghan’s hopes because Donegal are so adept at denying opponents space and forcing those swift turnovers when defence is turned into attack instantly.

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