While all eyes were on Ballybofey at the weekend, the real twist of the Super 8s came in Salthill where Monaghan beat Galway to top Group 2 and move up in our weekly power rankings.
It was business as usual for the Dubs as they brushed aside Roscommon in Croke Park. What will please Jim Gavin more than the 14 point win however, is the return of Bernard Brogan who made a short cameo as a blood substitution six months after an ACL reconstruction.
In a much changed line-up, Eoghan O’Gara (2), Paul Flynn and Michael Dara McAuley supplied the goals. It was also a good day at the office for Cormac Costello who notched up nine points with 0-6 from play. Although Roscommon gave a good account of themselves, they were severely out-gunned by a superior team.
Dublin now face into a ninth successive semi-final with Galway as their opponents this weekend in a repeat of the league final. They probably weren’t expecting to meet Kevin Walsh’s side at this stage but will fancy their chances.
Monaghan have been the surprise outfit of the inaugural tournament besting Galway for the top spot in Group 1. They will have been disappointed with their result against Kerry, a huge number of wides meaning they had to settle for a draw but they made up for it in Salthill. They dominated from the first minute but were unable to gain a significant lead, only two points up at half-time in a low-scoring first 35 minutes.
But with Ryan McAnespie producing one of his best ever performances and an assured full-back line, they soon extended their lead and eventually won by double figures. They did have two men sent off late in the game, Drew Wylie and Colin Walshe both picking up a second yellow so they will have to improve their discipline before Sunday.
They’re now into their first semi-final since 1988 and will Tyrone, a team they have much experience with. They do have an extra day to prepare and will need every advantage they can get against a team desperate to make another All Ireland final.
It looked as though it would be Donegal’s day. In their fortress of Ballybofey, a goal from Michael Murphy put the three up at half-time and they maintained control of the game for the opening period of the second half. But this is an experienced, hungry and driven Tyrone team and Mickey Harte knew just what to do to swing momentum back in their favour.
It was their bench that really made the difference with a number of key substitutions making immediate impact. Not to mention the leadership of their seasoned players such as Peter Harte and Niall Sludden who just urged the players around them to keep calm and composed.
Harry Loughren levelled the game with a goal and Tyrone pushed ahead but it was not until Declan McClure scored another goal in additional time that their fans could really let out a sigh of relief. Their first win in Ballybofey since 1973 and a well deserved place in the semi-final secured.
Galway will look back on Saturday’s game with a huge amount of frustration and wonder how they lost a game at home when so much was at stake. They only managed six points from play, Damien Comer was sent off for a second yellow and now they must pick themselves up and go again against Dublin in the semi-final, a team they would have preferred to avoid.
They have been underwhelming in the Super 8s competition but Dublin will be well aware of their potential having met them in the league final. Losing Paul Conroy to injury is a big blow for the Connacht champions but they have a decent squad who on any given year, have talent to make it to the latter end of the competition.
It is a huge ask to overcome the All Ireland champions who are in cruise control mode. They won’t fear the Dubs but have they enough in the tank? It’s hard to imagine so.
It was a heartbreaking end for Donegal who came so close to a semi-final place. They will be happy with their overall season, an Ulster title is nothing to be sniffed out but they will be so disappointed that they didn’t take that one step closer to the Sam Maguire cup. Still look at their progression since they were relegated from Division 1.
It’s difficult to guess what 2019 will hold for them. Declan Bonner and the young players he brought in will be more settled while they’ll also have Patrick McBrearty back from his cruciate knee ligament injury but they’ll also begin the year playing in the second tier of the league and how different will their squad look? It was a decent outing in the Super 8s for them in 2018 but a county of their standing will be looking to be more than just participants.
Where do you begin with Kerry? They flew through Munster, easing their way to the provincial title but they were not at all at the races in the Super 8s. And with Eamonn Fitzmaurice gone, it’s hard to know where they’ll go from here. They did demolish Kildare, despite a slow start and they also drew with Monaghan so on paper you might think that they were unlucky to make the cut but in reality, their performances were far below the standard of what they should have been.
These are unsure times for Kerry football but what is guaranteed is that the new manager will have a bundle of talent to work with they are appointed. Just look at David Clifford and what he achieved in his first season in the senior championship. He is one of a number of young players with bright futures ahead of them and that is what the new management must focus on.
What began in dismal fashion turned out to be one of the best seasons Kildare have enjoyed in a long time. From #NewbridgeOrNowhere, to beating Mayo, to qualifying for the Super 8s, GAA fans all over Ireland loved following Kildare’s summer story.
They have brilliant players at their disposal like Neil Flynn, Daniel Flynn, who was suspended for Saturday’s match, and Keith Cribbin and it will be interesting to see what they can produce in 2019.
Qualifying for the Super 8s was an achievement for Kevin McStay’s team but they failed to make the impact that they would have liked. Given that last year they were crowned Connacht champions and then forced a replay against Mayo in the quarter-final, 2018 was a big come down.
However, like Kildare they have a talented squad and will be looking to make the Connacht final once again in 2019.