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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 16 May 2021

5 burning questions ahead of today's All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals

We take a look at the main issues heading into the Tyrone-Armagh and Dublin-Monaghan clashes.

Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

1. How will Armagh use Jamie Clarke?

JAMIE CLARKE’S GAME-winning performance against Kildare on Saturday evening will not have gone unnoticed in Tyrone. Far from it.  He chipped in with 0-4 and contributed at least another four points between assists and frees won.

Clarke particularly impressed in the second-half when he was the furthest Armagh player forward, as his movement and intelligence consistently brought his team-mates into play. If Kieran McGeeney chooses to employ the Crossmaglen ace close to the Tyrone goal again this weekend, he’ll be afforded no such space by the Red Hand defence.

Armagh played against Kildare with Brendan Donaghy as a sweeper, and their two half-forwards, Rory Grugan and Stefan Campbell, dropping deep when they lost possession.

In the first-half they left three forwards up in a central 1-1-1 formation, with space on either flank to kick the ball into. Clarke was far more isolated up front on his in the second-half as Armagh sat deep and hit Kildare on the counter.

McGeeney may well use Clarke in a more withdrawn playmaking role due to the presence of Colm Cavanagh protecting the Red Hand full-back line.

Conor McCarthy Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

2. Will Monaghan start without Jack McCarron and Conor McCarthy again?

When Monaghan went in level with Down at 1-9 apiece in the Round 4B qualifier last Saturday, no Farney forward had yet managed to trouble the scoreboard from play.

The introduction of Jack McCarron (at half-time) and Conor McCarthy (46 mins) sparked the Monaghan attack into life and they hit 0-6 between them in the comfortable victory.

It has been speculated that Malachy O’Rourke will spring at least one of the duo to start against Dublin, but he’s more likely to spring them off the bench once again. O’Rourke will drop bodies behind the ball with Conor McManus probably left up front on his own for the first 50 or 55 minutes.

If Monaghan can keep things relatively tight to that point, they’ll look to bring on McCarron and McCarthy when some space opens up in attack.

Ronan O'Neill celebrates scoring a goal Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

3. Can Tyrone continue to thrive without a marquee forward?

Mickey Harte’s team have blitzed the competition so far in Ulster, but question marks hang over the quality of opposition they faced.

History tells us All-Ireland winners need at least one high-scoring forward who’s guaranteed three or four points per game. Tyrone have gone a different route, relying instead on a spread of scorers.

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The Red Hand’s counter-attacking game means middle third players like Peter Harte, Niall Sludden, Tiernan McCann, Kieran McGeary, David Mulgrew, Mattie Donnelly and Padraig Hampsey and Sean Cavanagh are all capable of finding the target.

Then you have Ronan O’Neill and Darren McCurry arriving off the bench to convert scoring chances late on. It’s a potent mix, but is it enough to deliver a first All-Ireland in nine years?

Jonny Cooper and Paul Flynn celebrate after the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. What tweaks can we expect from Jim Gavin?

Jim Gavin announced on Thursday morning that Jonny Cooper, Paul Flynn and Michael Darragh Macauley are back in the frame to start against Monaghan after recovering from injury.

Cooper is the only one with a realistic chance of forcing his way into the team on Saturday evening, but all three players will most likely have to be content with a place on the bench.

Elsewhere, Bernard Brogan’s excellent showing in the Leinster final makes him the most obvious candidate to win a place in the starting 15.

Niall Sludden with Jack McCaffrey Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

5.  Will the All-Ireland contenders step-up a gear on Saturday?

Kerry rolled into Croke Park for their quarter-final last Sunday and while they had Galway beaten out the gate long before the finish, they impressed only in patches against the Tribesmen.

The Kingdom’s fellow All-Ireland contenders Tyrone and Dublin are expected to advance this weekend and set-up a semi-final showdown on 27 August.

With a potential last four clash fast-approaching, Tyrone and Dublin will look to click through the gears this weekend and bring their performance levels up another notch.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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