Football

Steven McDonnell: Connacht heavyweights mounting a serious All-Ireland challenge

David Clifford is foiled by the Mayo defence during Saturday's All-Ireland SFC clash in Killarney. Clifford excelled as usual but his eight-point haul wasn't enough as the Westerners showed that their break since the Connacht SFC loss to Roscommon has done them the world of good Picture by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
David Clifford is foiled by the Mayo defence during Saturday's All-Ireland SFC clash in Killarney. Clifford excelled as usual but his eight-point haul wasn't enough as the Westerners showed that their break since the Connacht SFC loss to Roscommon has done them the world of good Picture by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

THE Ulster Championship was once again the stand-out performer on the provincial football stage, with the final ultimately being decided on penalties.

For me, and with my Armagh hat firmly off my head, it’s not the way a team should be losing out, especially when there is silverware at stake but there is a level of excitement about penalties that create such a buzz around the stadium and it certainly gets the adrenaline up.

A replay the following weekend could definitely have worked but it’s the rules that are currently in place and one that I would like to see amended.

If games have to be finished out, then maybe implement a 45-metre free competition to determine the eventual winner. This will create the same atmosphere and is more in line with the skills of our game.

Credit must be given to Derry, though, for how they executed their penalties, especially the last two kicks. Penalties always look a lot better hitting the underside of the crossbar, and for Conor Glass and Ciaran McFaul to go high was a courageous decision from both of them. On the overall balance of play, you could say that they just about deserved their victory.

Were it not for the Ulster football and Munster hurling Championships, the GAA would have a serious dilemma on their hands. Someone must come up with a solution to reinvigorate all provincial championships because the idea of doing away with them should never be entertained.

The group stages commenced last weekend with Kerry experiencing their first defeat in the Championship in Killarney since 1995.

That’s not a bad record at all but it was at the hands of Mayo and they are a team that are among the favourites for the All-Ireland this year.

It was interesting to see that Kevin McStay gave his team a couple of weeks off after the Roscommon defeat to recharge their batteries and come back with a renewed appetite.

Many of the players went on a sun holiday during this time off and it may just have been the tonic that they needed after a tough couple of months of League action.

It’s hard to get a happy medium between training and some time off, but it seemed to work for Mayo judging by their performance in Killarney.

As we all know about Kerry, though, they will bounce back and already, Jack O’Connor is coming out with statements like “maybe we aren’t as good as we think are” and this certainly has a hint of 'cute Kerry hoorism' about it.

As reigning All-Ireland holders, they certainly haven’t become a poor side overnight and they will once again be in the picture come the business end of the Championship.

On the plus side for Kerry, they still have an in-form David Clifford scoring points for fun, with a return of eight on Saturday. Having someone as clinical as him playing inside, your team will always be in the mix. ?

The other big game at the weekend was between Galway and Tyrone and without a doubt, Galway are now a team that have again improved on last year's performances and are going to be another that won't be far away.

There are a lot of inconsistencies about Tyrone’s performances right now and it’s hard to judge exactly where they are at.

My concern about this is that their next game is at home to Armagh and you can be guaranteed that that will be a game that they turn up for.

They would have wanted and expected a winning start in Salthill such is their confidence, but it was a game that they didn’t really get going in.

Darren McCurry and Darragh Canavan are two extremely talented forwards but maybe they are too alike and their play could be better suited to a Cathal McShane-type player in the full-forward line to aim direct ball towards.

For me, Mattie Donnelly is a much better option around the middle of the field or half-forward line, so maybe it could be a case of a slight tweak, and Tyrone could be back to their best again. ?

Armagh are going into this weekend's game with Westmeath on a hiding to nothing.

They are expected to win and to do so comfortably. This is a dangerous place for them to be. It’s a rare occasion when Armagh win any game with ease and this will be no different. Westmeath will pose plenty of challenges but two things that should help Armagh will be home advantage and the big numbers that come out to support them.

That backing will be needed to help them get back going again and a win gears us up for a mouth-watering encounter the following week in Omagh. Plenty to look forward to in that fixture alone.