Last week, we spoke about the use of Croke Park and how the venues for the four All-Ireland football quarter-finals could have been chosen differently.
That feeling still prevails – especially with regard to Cork having to play Dublin in Dublin at 6pm on Saturday evening – but the GAA can point to the ticket sales for the double-headers on Saturday and Sunday as proof of the level of interest in the four games. The phoney war is over and it’s down to brass tacks – with the extra element of the way the semi-final draw is composed.
With the winners of Dublin-Cork meeting the Kerry-Mayo victors, it means one of Clare, Derry, Galway or Armagh will be present in Croke Park on All-Ireland final day – the shortest gap being bridged would be that of 19 years (Armagh 2003), the longest 105 years (Clare). Given all the talk of a closed shop, it would give the championship a real shot in the arm.
Kerry V Mayo
Before that, of course, we’ll have the four quarter-finals to enjoy. Naturally, the one that jumps off the page is Kerry v Mayo – the Kingdom have been seen as the heirs to the throne for a few years now without going all the way, while Mayo’s obituary has been written more times than Rasputin but still they are in contention.
Once upon a time, the sight of a Kerry jersey would have gone halfway to beating Mayo, but recent history has shown that James Horan’s men have lost that fear and they will relish going in as underdogs on Sunday.
Saturday’s first game sees Derry – Ulster champions for the first time since 1998 – go head-to-head with Clare in a novel pairing and the Banner are to be written off at the Oak Leafers’ peril. Roscommon looked to have had the job done the last day only for Colm Collins’ men to come with a late flurry and they will see no reason why they can’t compete again.
Dublin are naturally overwhelming favourites against Cork, who have proved some doubters wrong in getting this far. It would be a massive surprise if the Rebels were to cause an upset, but stranger things have happened.
The Galway-Armagh game on Sunday looks finely poised and it represents a great opportunity for both. One would expect that there will be little between the teams at the end, but the momentum Armagh have gained from beating Tyrone and then Donegal could ultimately be decisive.
At Dalymount Park at 3pm this Saturday, there will be a cross-border game with a difference.
Féileacáin, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, was founded in 2009 and an off-shoot is Féileacáin Fathers, a support group for men who, with their partners, have suffered such losses.
They will take on their Northern Ireland counterparts, Sands NI.
The players will wear the name of their son or daughter on their backs. Former Cork hurler Barry Johnson is among those lining out, playing for his daughter Saoirse Mai, and he is looking forward to finally getting on the field.
“The game was originally due to take place in May 2020,” he says, “but obviously it had to be postponed due to COVID.
“Tony Owens has done fierce work organising it all and we’re looking forward to finally making it happen. There are 41 players in our squad with 14 different counties represented. There are three from Cork including myself and one fella travels from Achill Island.
“We roughly meet once a month on the astro pitches in Malahide and there’s a mix of ages and abilities.
“It’s about just meeting up and having a chat – or sitting and listening if that’s what fellas want.
“It’s probably the male Irish attitude to say, ‘My wife lost a child,’ and men can be slow to put themselves forward and say that they’re suffering.
“My avenue for that was always sport, so time spent training or in the gym was helpful but not everybody has that. That fact that everyone here is in the same boat really helps guys, there’s a great understanding.
“Féileacáin do so much work for bereaved parents and fundraising is so important to the organisation, so it’s nice to be able to raise as much as we can for them.”
Entry to the game in Dalymount on Saturday week is free, though those attending can make donations to Féileacáin.
There is also a dedicated iDonate page, where people can contribute online: www.idonate.ie/FeileacainFathersVSands
Last Sunday night provided an exhibition of golf for those up late watching the conclusion of the US Open at Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.
Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick kept his nerve to repeat his US Amateur Championship win at the same venue in 2013 and it was clear to see just what it meant to him. Not a showy character, the Sheffield native carries himself with humility and this was balm to previous major championship disappointments. Equally, it reflected well on Rory McIlroy that he waited at the 18th green to personally congratulate Fitzpatrick – in a world of alpha characters where everyone is out for themselves at the end of the day, such a gesture cannot be taken for granted.
While that denouement was being played out, Leona Maguire was in contention at the Meijer LPGA Classic in Michigan. A closing round of 65 put her tied for the 72-hole lead but she was edged out by Jennifer Kupcho in the play-off.
Play-offs are a crap-shoot, in the sense that they can go for you or against you, but the competition proper was a better reflection of the Cavan woman’s capabilities.
There are three more majors to come this year, beginning with this weekend’s Women’s PGA Championship – hopefully she can build on this performance.