Steven McDonnell: Winning all that at matters in semi-final showdowns
WHEN you get to play in an All-Ireland semi-final, the only thing that matters is winning the match.
We heard it at the weekend when Henry Shefflin demanded to get a performance from his team in their match against Limerick, but the reality is, when you play against a well-oiled machine-like Limerick, the performance level has got to be so high that every opportunity presented in front of the posts must be taken.
There is no doubt that Henry had his team in a great place and for some wayward shooting, they may well have beaten Limerick, but sometimes your opponents are just that bit better so their level of performance and the standards they reach are just a bit higher.
Henry is no different to most managers when demanding a high level of performance.
With that, you expect to get a high work-rate, your players playing cohesively for the team, making the right decisions at critical stages, an intensity in your play, making blocks and taking your scoring opportunities.
All of this can accumulate into a team performing way and above expectations and if you get that, then you are hitting the right notes.
More often than not, a team reaches these levels more in a semi-final than they do so in a final. It’s hard to nail the exact reason for this but it can only come down to the prize at stake at the end of a final that can keep a team on edge.
This weekend the two football semi-finals take place and both games on paper look fairly evenly matched.
As a football fan, this is exactly the scenario you want to see. There is no chance we can be guaranteed of two tight games though but it’s the hope that this may be the case that keeps us excited and interested.
All four teams left are provincial champions so confidence going into the weekend will be high. They all recorded impressive victories in their quarter-final games.
Learning to win the hard way can be a good thing for a team and Galway had to dig deep the last day out against Armagh as did Derry in their Ulster final victory over Donegal. Being battle hardened before a semi-final is exactly what both sets of players and management teams could have hoped for.
Derry go into the game as slight favorites and rightly so as they have been extremely impressive throughout this Championship campaign, but they are more predictable than Galway are and this could potentially play into Padraic Joyce’s hands.
Galway have been more adaptable to change and seem to be able to mix up how they play more often. Derry plays more to their system with players behind the ball and support en masse so it will be intriguing to see how both teams adapt to one another’s style.
The Derry players have really bought into Rory Gallagher and what he has brought to the table and you can now see a togetherness about Derry football that has been missing for the best part of 20 years. Derry have never been short of talented footballers, but that is now being rewarded with a single-mindedness and a vision of where they want Derry football to be.
Kerry and Dublin have thrown up some cracking contests in the last decade and this one will be no different.
Kerry are many people's favorite to lift the All-Ireland, my own included but write Dublin off at your peril.
The fitness of Con O’Callaghan is critical and for Dublin to win, they will need him on the field.
It doesn’t matter what you have won in the past and what experiences you have been through; come semi-final time you need to have all your top players playing and fit. Both teams are full of top-class performers and this contest will be seen by many as the All-Ireland final.
This should be a shoot-out with both teams really going for it and when you have attacking quality on the field like Sean O’Shea, David Cliifford, Dean Rock, Con O’Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny, then a high-scoring game will generally be the outcome.
Kerry have always been known for their cute hoorism, and taking Jack O’Connor back into the fold as a proven All-Ireland winning manager could be the grain of rice that tips the scales back into their favour in this epic battle.