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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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Race For Sam: The 8 teams left in the hunt for September glory

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

CAVAN

They have been here before and… this is actually unchartered territory for Cavan. Since the inception of the qualifiers in 2001, Cavan have never reached this stage of the championship.

Last Saturday’s tie against London was the first time a Cavan senior football side had appeared in Croke Park on the championship stage since 1997.

The player they cannot do without is… Cian Mackey. Cavan’s prolonged run this year has been based around an organized defensive structure but they have also needed attacking inspiration to chisel out wins.

Martin Dunne and Eugene Keating may have fired in scores but Mackey’s lung-bursting runs and creativity have helped supply the bullets. Mackey has also shown an eye for a score himself from the moment he crashed home that splendid goal against Armagh in the preliminary round.

They will be happy because… they are still in the championship. For a success-starved county, it a huge boost to be still involved in the championship in August. Cavan are getting set for their seventh championship game this summer and it’s been a wonderful run for their young and emerging outfit.

They will be worried because… they have reached a stage in the summer when the stakes are high and the opposition possess genuine quality. Are Kerry going to be a class above what Cavan have met so far?

Cavan’s Martin Dunne and Eugene Keating
Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

CORK

They have been here before and…consistently succeeded. This is Cork’s tenth All-Ireland senior football quarter-final and their ninth in succession. The 2011 loss to Mayo is their solitary defeat at the last eight stage while they thumped Kildare at this juncture last year by 13 points.

The player they cannot do without is… Patrick Kelly. Possesses the guile and craft to unlock opposition defenses from the half-forward line for Cork.

His importance was emphasized in the change in Cork’s fortunes when he came on as a second-half substitute against Galway last week. The flip side is that he was on the bench in the first place due to a hip injury that continues to hamper him and robs Cork of a key figure.

They will be happy because… they showed battling qualities last week to dig out a win and showed the stomach for a fight when a game was slipping away from them. The impact of their substitutes also proved the comfort they have in possessing a panel of real depth.

They will be worried because… their form has been frustratingly inconsistent in the last two games. And while having a big panel may be a plus, a struggle to find their best starting fifteen in personnel and positioning is a negative.

Cork manager Conor Counihan
Pic: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

DONEGAL

They have been here before and… had mixed results. In their six All-Ireland quarter-final appearances Donegal have three wins and three defeats to their name. There’s been some bad beatings, by ten points against Dublin in 2002 and by 14 points against Cork in 2009.

But under the watch of Jim McGuinness, quarter-finals have been a happy hunting ground for Donegal. Kevin Cassidy hit the match winner in an epic success against Kildare in 2011 and last year they signaled their credentials with a two-point win over Kerry.

The player they cannot do without is… Mark McHugh. The Kilcar player was fundamental to Donegal’s success last year with his super football intelligence ensuring he was perfect for the role of sweeper.

His importance was highlighted with how Donegal struggled when he was forced off after a heavy collision against Monaghan in the Ulster final. The potential unavailability of McHugh damages Donegal’s chances of retaining their title.

They will be happy because… they are back in Croke Park and still have a live interest in the 2013 championship despite all the turmoil of late. Recent events could steel them for the future challenges as well.

They will be worried because… their form graph has travelled in a downward curve ever since they beat Tyrone in May. Donegal were outstanding in that game but they have not reached those heights since.

And they also appear to be discovering that the pursuit of fitness and hunger in a squad can be detrimental to the ambitions of All-Ireland champions in retaining their title.

Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

DUBLIN

They have been here before and… been inconsistent. Apart from 2003, Dublin have contested the last eight every year since their inception of the quarter-final stage.

Six victories have been supplemented by five defeats but it’s worth pointing out that in the last three seasons, they have won at this stage against Tyrone (twice) and Laois.

The player they cannot do without is… Ciaran Kilkenny. Has delivered on the giddy expectations that were created when he returned from life in the AFL with Hawthorn.

More significantly, Kilkenny’s play at centre-forward has alleviated the pressure on Bernard Brogan to be the talisman up front and helped ensure the loss of Alan Brogan is not as keenly felt.

They will be happy because… they have ticked every box to date in 2013. The Division 1 league title was claimed, the Leinster crown was acquired and they have bedded young players successfully into their team.

They will be worried because… there were signs that pressure points exist in their team when they faced Meath in the provincial decider. Question marks hover over their full-back line and midfield who will both face greater challenges from hereon in.

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara
Pic: Sportsfile

KERRY

They have been here before and… been unbeatable until recent clashes with Ulster teams. Kerry are the only ever-present force in the All-Ireland quarter-finals over the past 12 seasons.

Yet they have faltered twice in the last three years against Down in 2010 and against Donegal in 2012.

The player they cannot do without is… Colm Cooper. Whether he is employed at number 11 to pull the strings of their attack or at number 13 to wreak havoc close to goal, Cooper is the player of sheer quality that elevates Kerry’s standing.

They will be happy because… improving steadily after a difficult 2012 campaign and a torrid start to the 2013 season. Getting the big guns back in harness has certainly improved them.

They are well primed through the sideline work of Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Cian O’Neill, and the scintillating performance for the first 50 minutes of the Munster decider proved they still have lethal weapons in their arsenal.

They will be worried because… of their late collapse against Cork in the Munster final. Perhaps they had taken their foot off the pedal and perhaps the game was already won but the ease at which they were prised apart and their difficulty in stemming the tide was disconcerting.

Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice
Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

MAYO

They have been here before and… enjoyed contrasting days at the office. Their seven quarter-final ties have seen awful days like 2009 against Meath but they have found them to their liking of late as they claimed the scalps of Cork in 2011 and Down in 2012.

The player they cannot do without is… Cillian O’Connor. He has endured a difficult time of late with shoulder injuries but O’Connor’s return in the Connacht final was a major boost.

Has a more clinical edge than some of his teammates as he showed with the rapid-fire hat-trick he registered and for a player who is still U21 this year, he is blessed with a brilliant temperament when it comes to landing pressure frees.

They will be happy because… their form has been exemplary this summer. The opposition may not have posed the strongest threat but they were supremely dominant in Connacht and looked a powerful force when they got up and running.

Their resolute defence and furious tackling also displays the fingerprints of Donie Buckley’s astute coaching.

They will be worried because… there is the obvious nagging worry that the lack of quality out west could hurt them. Triumphing their three games to date by an average winning margin of 15 points is testament to that.

They reach Croke Park knowing they will not have carefree strolls to success.

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor
Pic: Sportsfile

MONAGHAN

They have been here before and… fell short. In Monaghan’s only previous All-Ireland quarter-final meeting, they were pipped at the line by Kerry by 1-12 to 1-11.

Banty McEnaney’s post-match declaration that he felt like his ‘heart had been ripped out without an anesthetic’ was a good insight into how tough a loss it was for Monaghan.

The player they cannot do without is… Darren Hughes. His younger brother Kieran has valid claims after his stunning full-forward display against Donegal but Darren’s midfield drive has been integral to their development.

The Scotstown player is a powerful runner whose dynamism makes him perfectly suited to operating at midfield in the modern game. He has thrived since being switched from his established defensive role.

They will be happy because… this season has already been a marvellous one as they landed their first Ulster senior title since 1988.

It was a feat Monaghan’s older crew had craved but looked to had eluded them until they delivered in style a fortnight ago. They are in a buoyant mood as they enter bonus territory in Croke Park.

They will be worried because… the question must be has their appetite been dulled by that provincial glory? Do they have the wherewithal to kick on and build on that success over Donegal? They must also deal with a Tyrone team that they have struggled to get past in recent times.

Monaghan’s Eoin Lennon
Pic: Sportsfile

TYRONE

They have been here before and… gained plenty of experience. With ten quarter-final appearances to their name (including the 2005 draw with Dublin), Tyrone are well-versed in All-Ireland quarter-final battles.

They have won four games, suffered five defeats and met Dublin on five occasions (winning twice and losing twice to the capital outfit).

The player they cannot do without is… Sean Cavanagh. A survivor of the golden age of All-Ireland title wins, the three-time Sam Maguire winner has not seen his influence diminish.

Mickey Harte reckoned last Saturday his performance contained flashes of Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan and Peter Canavan. That was a fair summation as Cavanagh struck 0-8 and was simply magnificent.

They will be happy because… they have rehabilitated on the qualifier stage. The toxins from the defeat to Donegal look to have been flushed out of their system.

And apart from the thrashing they handed out to Offaly in the opening round, Tyrone have been resilient since then in eking out two-point victories over Roscommon, Kildare and Meath.

They will be worried because… they have not progressed past the last eight stage since 2009. This is the time for their new wave of players to prove themselves but twice this year they have succumbed in big games when facing Dublin in the league final and Donegal in the Ulster opener.

Tyrone’s Peter Harte
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Credit: Ebow.ie

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Poll: Who do you think will win the All-Ireland football championship?

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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