Group 3 : Croke’s, Jude’s, Setanta, Vincent’s
Poor old Setanta! It’s tough enough to hold your own in the senior championship without being drawn with two sides who’ve made up the four of the last six final berths, as well as what you would imagine should be one of the top four or five year in year out.
It’s hard to imagine Setanta are going to have a big say in this group. On the other hand, you could say poor old Vincent’s. Surely one of the top eight, for the second year in a row they’ve found themselves in a group with two of what have been the top four in recent years!
There’s no doubt that this Thursday’s clash between St. Vincent’s and St. Jude’s is the key game which will shape the group, but I wouldn’t concur with a prevailing sentiment that it’s as good as a knock-out game.
Championship is a funny fish, and we have to remember that despite having the name “championship”, from the quarter finals, it’s a cup competition.
Jude’s probably still don’t know how they managed to lose a quarter-final to Lucan last year in which they appeared to be absolutely coasting midway through the second half. And in fairness, had Lucan’s free taker, Kevin O’Reilly, not scored an unlikely 2-3 amongst 2-10 from dead balls, they almost certainly would have coasted.
Don’t let their quarter final loss last year fool you. They were in the 2014 and 2015 finals. They’re still a top four side in my opinion, and Vincent’s will have their work to do to knock them off their perch.
The notion that this is a knock-out game i.e. that neither of these sides could possibly beat Croke’s, is well of the mark for me. Saying that, whoever loses on Thursday night has it all to do.
Croke’s had a tragic opening twenty minutes against Cuala in the final last year. Not alone were they completely tactically out-manoeuvred in that period, they missed a couple of very scoreable frees and shots from play. When they got the tactical upper-hand on the now All-Ireland champions, they ran amok for the guts of twenty minutes in the second half.
Their forward line has an embarrassment of riches with Ross O’Carroll and Fergal Whitley on the wings and Ryan O’Dwyer in the centre, with the ever-present goal threats of Barry and Oisín O’Rorke up front.
When they manage to play the game on their terms, which is usually, the ability of their half back line and midfield to throw the ball around the middle third and create free striking positions is close to being on a par with Cuala’s.
When they face Jude’s, the side who manage to control that middle third, particularly the respective half back lines will most likely come out on top.
Of course, a key question relates to Danny Sutcliff’s availability. Presuming he’s unavailable right now, the misfortune for Judes’ is that they face both Vincent’s and Croke’s before the summer break. If he’s unavailable, they could be out by the time we resume in September/October.
Fionn O’Riain O’Broin provides a top class threat up front, even if Sutcliff isn’t there, but Sutciff’s game conducting and aerial ability was key when Jude’s ran Croke’s close in the 2014 final. If he’s not there, I’d imagine that Croke’s would indeed be a step too far for Jude’s.
For now, however, all eyes will be on this Thursday’s clash of Jude’s and Vincent’s. Without having seen Vincent’s last year, I dare not speculate. The bookies have them at better odds than Jude’s for the championship which seems peculiar based on recent history, though again, I guess that’s on the basis of a presumed absence of Danny Sutcliff.
Vincent’s haven’t beaten what I would regard to be the top four (Cuala, Croke’s, Jude’s Boden) in recent years. For what the league is worth, the two sides drew recently, but Jude’s are otherwise unbeaten while Vincent’s have a win, a draw and a loss. I’m still not entirely sure why Vincent’s are shorter odds than Judes!
It remains to be seen how big an impact last year’s minor championship runner-up side will have for Vincent’s, and it may well be based on this that the bookies have Vincent’s at lower odds than Jude’s. If there are number of these who can fit striaght into the fold, then Vincent’s may tip the scales in their favour. You can expect two year Dublin minor, Conor Burke, to be a significant addition.
For all of that, based on what I’ve seen of the two sides over the last three years, for me, Jude’s are still the one of the top five which Vincent’s have failed to break into in recent years…as yet. This could well be their year.
For now, however, I’d go with the status quo and tip a solid and proven Jude’s side to win this big opener.
By Stephen O’Meara