Updated Jul 13th 2018, 3:06 PM
THE LILYWHITES MIGHT feel aggrieved to find themselves in eighth place after a run of four successive wins through the qualifiers.
Their last two victories over Fermanagh and Mayo have been extremely impressive, while the likes of Mark Donnellan, Eoin Doyle, Kevin Flynn Kevin Feely, Fergal Conway, Daniel Flynn and Neil Flynn are operating at a very high level.
The big question for Cian O’Neill’s side is how well their squad will cope with the three games over four weeks.
Kevin McStay’s outfit will be reasonably fresh having played just three games so far in the summer.
Their electric attack have posted 4-52 with Cathal Cregg, Ciarain Murtagh, Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith all wonderful talents who combine brilliantly up front.
Defensively, Roscommon may be vulnerable even with Niall Kilroy dropping back as a sweeper. Positive results against Tyrone and Donegal could be enough to secure a route to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
The Farney have had a strange season. They dumped Tyrone out of Ulster before being sucker-punched by a late Fermanagh goal. That sent them into the back door, where they beat three Division 4 sides to reach the Super 8s.
Malachy O’Rourke’s team are regarded as a good league team so the new quarter-final format should suit them. Conor McManus remains one of the game’s elite forwards and they’ve got a strong team built around him.
Monaghan have a poor record in Croke Park during the All-Ireland series – their only win in 21 games came against Kildare arrived back in 1930. They’ve a chance to beat the same opposition at headquarters in the opener tomorrow.
As brilliant as Donegal’s Ulster title victory was, they’ve lost the ace in their pack in injured superstar Paddy McBrearty.
It will heap more pressure on Jamie Brennan to put up big scores, but Donegal have plenty of players capable of causing trouble from deep. Eoin Ban Gallagher, Ryan McHugh, Odhran MacNiallais and Ciaran Thompson are key players, while Declan Bonner will rotate Michael Murphy in and out of the full-forward line.
They face a tricky schedule with away games first up against Dublin and Roscommon. They must avoid defeat to the Rossies in the Hyde to give themselves a chance going into the meeting with Tyrone in Ballybofey.
The Red Hand were lucky to overcome Meath in round 1 of the qualifiers, but since then they’ve reeled off wins over Carlow, Cavan and Cork to reach the last eight.
Tyrone have a well-oiled system with a group of players at the right age to make a mark on this competition. Peter Harte, Mattie Donnelly, Tiernan McCann and Colm Cavanagh are at the height of their games in the middle third, while Frank Burns has been a superb addition at centre-back. Connor McAliskey, Niall Sludden and Ronan O’Neill are all hitting form in attack but much will depend on the fitness of young talent Lee Brennan.
Last year’s semi-final no-show against Dublin still rankles with Mickey Harte, so expect sparks to fly during their 21 July meeting with the Dubs in Omagh. Their final group game against Donegal should determine who progresses to the last four.
The dark horses to lift Sam, Galway went about their business ruthless efficiency in their wins over Mayo and Roscommon in Connacht.
Now it’s time to show they belong at this level. Galway have brilliant forwards in Damien Comer, Shane Walsh and Ian Burke, with a solid defensive structure and pacey counter-attacking game. Barry McHugh’s placed ball shooting is vital to Galway because their running game draws fouls inside the scoring zone.
They’ve got a midfield capable of dominating the airwaves, which is a big plus in the Super 8s where most teams will push up on kick-outs.
The biggest challengers to Dublin’s crown. Eamonn Fitzmaurice has reinvigorated the Kingdom team with an influx of young talent in Shane Murphy, Gavin White, Micheal Burns, Sean O’Shea and David Clifford. Jason Foley, Jack Barry, Brian Ó Beaglaioch are not long on the scene either and Kerry now have athletes capable of competing with the Dubs.
No team in the land boasts a more dangerous full-forward line than the Clifford-Paul Geaney-James O’Donoghue combination. Kerry have the squad and attacking talent to win it all, but their defence has yet to be seriously tested.
As impressive as they are going forward, Kerry must get the balance right at the back if they’re to win the big prize.
What is there left to say about Dublin? The three-in-a-row All-Ireland champions haven’t lost a championship match in almost four years and are the hot favourites to retain the Sam Maguire once again.
The absence of Diarmuid Connolly and injury to Bernard Brogan may have weakened their hand, but Jim Gavin’s unit are still remarkably strong and have integrated Brian Howard into their team this season.
If Paul Flynn and Cormac Costello can stay fit they’ve still got impressive weapons off the bench. Gavin’s on-field leaders Jonny Cooper, James McCarthy, Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny remain the best in the business.
-Compiled by Fintan O’Toole and Kevin O’Brien
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