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

Just four counties are left standing in the quest for September glory.

DUBLIN

Jim Gavin Jim Gavin is chasing a second All-Ireland senior title as Dublin boss. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Their recent form says… that Leinster was another procession but the All-Ireland series, again, will prove a tough nut to crack. Dublin will have to beat Mayo and then either Kerry or Tyrone for the third All-Ireland title in five years. They’re certainly good enough to do it and their forward strikes fear into opposition defences but the jury is still out on whether or not they can finish the job.

Dublin came a cropper in the last four against Donegal last year after marching into the semi-finals with relative ease but they beat semi-final opponents Mayo to lift Sam in 2013.

The player they cannot do without is… Diarmuid Connolly. The St Vincent’s man appears to have taken his game to a whole new level this year, if that was even possible.

That glorious left-footed point he arced in from the left touchline against Fermanagh was simply breathtaking but Connolly, much like Donegal’s Michael Murphy and Mayo star Aidan O’Shea, is the complete package. He’s strong, skilful, brave, powerful and can kick with both feet. On course for the Footballer of the Year award on current form.

Diarmuid Connolly with Marty O'Brien Diarmuid Connolly has been magnificent for Dublin this summer. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

They will be happy because… they’re back in the hunt for Sam again. Leinster silverware was annexed with minimum fuss and Dublin saw off the Fermanagh challenge in the All-Ireland quarter-final with plenty to spare. Dublin haven’t been tested thus far but will feel that their best form is yet to come, when it’s needed most.

They will be worried because… they haven’t been tested against high-class opposition. Dublin ran into the Donegal netting in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final and their championship campaign ran aground. Mayo are also a team that have given Dublin plenty of problems down through the years and the Westerners will feel they can get at a Sky Blue full-back line that hasn’t been exposed to any significant rigours.

 

KERRY

Eamonn Fitzmaurice Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Kerry have their eyes on another All-Ireland title. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their recent form says… that they’re the ones to beat. Kerry showed ominous form against Kildare in their quarter-final and are the reigning All-Ireland champions. It was remarkable that the Kingdom scored more goals than points in the second half against the Lilywhites and the worry for the rest is that they’re capable of cutting loose against any opposition. Munster and All-Ireland kingpins last year, Kerry are hellbent on achieving another provincial-national double.

The player they cannot do without is… David Moran. The 2014 Allstar midfielder has gone up a notch in 2015. His magnificent high-fielding is a key component of Kerry’s arsenal, providing the platform for those devastating attacks. Even with break-even figures in the possession stakes around the middle third, Kerry can wreak havoc with the quality of player inside. And so far this summer, Moran has been one of the main supply channels.

David Moran leads the team out on the pitch High-fielding Kerry star David Moran has been in superb form. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

They will be happy because… they appear to be hitting top form at just the right time, plus they came through a competitive Munster championship. Victory over Tipperary blew, as Páidí O Sé used to say, the ‘dirty petrol’ out of the system before two big clashes with Cork. Kerry didn’t have it all their own way in the province and that’s steeled them for the biggest tests to come. Their bench is packed with talent and experience too, with the likes of Tommy Walsh, Darran O’Sullivan, captain Kieran Donaghy and Paul Galvin in reserve last time out.

They will be worried because… Tyrone are coming down the tracks. Until more recent times, Kerry struggled with Ulster opposition and Tyrone were their nemesis in the noughties. But Kerry are the type of team that will have a look at the opponent for the first 20 minutes and then decide what way to beat them. And there’s a hard edge about this Kerry team too, make no mistake. If Tyrone want to mix it in the physical stakes, Kerry will be ready for them.

 

TYRONE

Mickey Harte Tyrone mastermind Mickey Harte. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Their recent form says… that they’re building up a nice head of steam. Tyrone have improved incrementally as the championship has reached its business end. While they’re still knocking around, the Red Hands are dangerous opposition for anybody and of course, they have plenty of previous against Kerry.

Tyrone weren’t that bad in defeat against Donegal in Ulster and are now the last team standing from the province.

The player they cannot do without is… their captain Sean Cavanagh. The man is simply a colossus for the Red Hands and a beacon of hope in a team that is still evolving. Cavanagh broke the record for Tyrone senior championship appearances in the victory over Tipperary and has kicked on with two solid displays since then. Cavanagh’s drive, fielding ability and scoring touch ensure that he remains one of the very best in the business.

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Connor McAlsikey, Sean Cavanagh and Michael OÕNeill celebrate Captain Sean Cavanagh remains central to Tyrone's cause. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They will be happy because… they’ve managed to reach the last four. There were some calling for Mickey Harte’s head in Tyrone earlier this year but the Red Hands boss is a shrewd campaigner and remained cool throughout. Tyrone could have thrown their hat at it after losing the Ulster championship game against Donegal but they stuck together and have come through a tough qualifier campaign to reach the last four. They remain incredibly difficult to break down, as Monaghan discovered to their cost.

They will be worried because… of the negative publicity coming their way, or maybe not. The criticism levelled at Tyrone will serve to create a siege mentality within their group, an ‘us against the world’ mindset that ensures they are dangerous opposition for Kerry in the last four. But now Tyrone face a scoring machine, a contrast to the teams they have faced to reach this stage of the All-Ireland series. Keeping Kerry out is one thing but finding enough scores at the other end to beat them could prove problematic.

 

MAYO

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly Mayo double act Pat Holmes (left) and Noel Connelly. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Their recent form says… that surely the door has to open for them some time? The ‘Club 51′ flag was flying proudly in Croke Park on Saturday but it also serves as a reminder of Mayo’s All-Ireland senior famine. In two of their last three championship meetings with Donegal, they’ve won but the one that got away was the the All-Ireland final in 2012. Regular contenders at the business end of the season, Mayo have still not managed to crack the code, watching helplessly as the other three members of the recent ‘big four’, namely Donegal, Dublin and Kerry, have proudly paraded Sam.

The player they cannot do without is… Aidan O’Shea. Simply magnificent this summer and scorer of the killer goal before half-time against Donegal on Saturday. This fella is a human wrecking ball and if, Heaven forbid, he picks up an injury, Mayo’s goose could well be cooked. Of course, O’Shea is reliant on the steady flow of ball coming his way on the edge of the square and in this regard, the Tom Parsons renaissance at midfield is another huge positive and for this, joint-bosses Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes deserve huge credit.

Neil McGee is unable to prevent Aidan O’Shea Mayo's man mountain Aidan O'Shea. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They will be happy because… they’ve managed to kick on after losing the services of previous manager James Horan. There was a worry that standards and form might dip but that hasn’t been the case. Mayo have tweaked their game slightly to become even more expansive and much like Tyrone, have hit peak form at the right time. Again, that’s testament to Holmes and Connelly but Barry Solan’s strength and conditioning work behind the scenes is very much evident too.

They will be worried because… of the weight of history, plus the fact that it’s Dublin coming down the tracks. Dublin have the power, pace and physique to match Mayo and their lethal inside line will present a new challenge for the Westerners. In truth, Mayo haven’t been tested defensively but now they’re ready to pit their wits against a rampant Dublin forward line. Getting over the line and winning the All-Ireland title has proven to be an obvious stumbling block for generations but Mayo will hope and pray that their time has finally come.

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