Destiny Calls The Big Picture

Destiny Calls

It’s set to be a special weekend of sport, a time of destiny where reputations are made and legends cast forever. Croke Park hosts two tantalising All-Ireland SFC semi-finals, while Kingspan Park in Belfast is the venue for the meeting of England and New Zealand in the Women’s Rugby World Cup final (eir sport 1, Sat 19.00). But who is made of the right stuff to rise to the occasion, to seize the moment and, with it, the glory?

We’re in for two mouth-watering heavyweight challenges this weekend as the football championship heads towards its climax. Kerry and Mayo couldn’t be separated after an absorbing semi-final encounter last weekend and must do it all again at Croke Park on Saturday. That is followed by Dublin and Tyrone in the other semi-final on Sunday. The four best footballing counties in the land right now going head to head on one weekend – not bad!

Mayo and Kerry served up a classic in the drawn game last weekend. Both sides still have hopes of making the final, but there is a sneaking suspicion that Mayo might just have missed their chance. They were very quick out of the blocks last Sunday as Kerry struggled to find their rhythm and perhaps should have registered a few more scores early on. That would have made it much more difficult for the Munster champions to get back into the game.

Kerry were very poor in the opening quarter – they won’t be that bad again on Sunday. Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side have won the league and eased their way to the championship semi-final without being truly tested. They haven’t had to play that well. There should be plenty more in the tank. The question is whether or not they can reach it when they need it.

Mayo, by contrast, have already required one replay and two sets of extra time to make it this far. What has it done to their legs? Can they go to the well once more and produce another big performance? We know the desire is there, but these are not professional athletes and fitness or comparative lack of it does play a role.

Another important consideration for Saturday is how Mayo deploy Aidan O’Shea. Their most potent attacking threat found himself in the full-back line doing a man-to-man job on Kieran Donaghy last Saturday. It worked, but only to a point as Donaghy was able to drop deeper and influence proceedings with some sublime link-up play. The man is a superb footballer with far more to his game than his unquestionable ability under the high ball. Can Mayo afford to try the same tactic again this weekend? I think not.

Sunday’s semi-final sees Dublin take on Tyrone. Mickey Harte’s men seem to have found a new lease of life this summer and have played with an authority and accuracy that has been absent for the past few seasons. They have destroyed everything in their path in the championship, but it is worth remembering that their quarter-final opposition in Armagh was a team that, despite enjoying a superb campaign, had already far exceeded the expectations of a tier three county. Dublin will provide a much sterner test.

Dublin, for their part, have not played with their customary swagger in this year’s championship. Perhaps the unexpected league final defeat to Kerry back in April has undermined their confidence? The controversy surrounding Diarmuid Connolly’s ban for pushing a linesman in the Leinster SFC encounter against Carlow probably hasn’t helped either. However, the St Vincent’s man is available for this game and his return to the ranks will provide a welcome boost for Jim Gavin’s side.

Dublin will need a big performance to get past a resurgent Tyrone. Can they find it to make it to make their fifth final in seven years as they aim for a hat-trick of All-Ireland titles for the first time since 1923?

Premier League

The Premier League is well and truly up and running after the second series of games last weekend. Manchester United continued their fine start to the season, following up their opening day 4-0 win over West Ham at Old Trafford with another four goals against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium.

Their title odds have shortened considerably in the past fortnight, but there is a long way to go and the prospect of a Champions League campaign to negotiate as well. We will only get a true idea of how far Jose Mourinho’s side have come when the pressure is on and they have to deal with a couple of results not going their way. That said, the signs look very good so far and they have already shown themselves to be a better side than they were last season. It is good to have them back in the mix and challenging for top honours. They entertain Leicester on Saturday in our live game (BT Sport 1, Sat, 17.00).

The only other teams with full points after two games are Huddersfield and West Brom. The Baggies secured an impressive 1-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor, while Huddersfield are still living the dream after following up their opening day thrashing of Crystal Palace with a 1-0 victory over fellow promotion winners Newcastle on Sunday. Aaron Mooy scored the only goal of the game with a fine strike early in the second half to send Terriers fans into raptures and deepen the sense of gloom already descending on St James’s Park as Newcastle suffered their second defeat of the season.

Rumours that manager Rafa Benitez has had a falling out with owner Mike Ashley won’t help matters either. Next up for ‘Toon is a home game against fellow strugglers West Ham who are also still searching for their first point of the campaign after going down to a late Charlie Austin penalty against Southampton at St Mary’s. Huddersfield, meanwhile, can return to the top of the table for a few hours at least if they get something from their home game against Southampton on Saturday afternoon, with Manchester United playing in the late kick-off and West Brom hosting Stoke on Sunday.

Arsenal critics are already crying ‘same old, same old’ following the Gunners 1-0 defeat to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday evening. The boost they received from their opening day win over Leicester didn’t last long after a rather unsteady performance in the Potteries with the local constabulary joining in the fun with an appeal for the whereabouts of ‘missing person’ Mesut Ozil after the game. Arsene Wenger’s side travel to Liverpool on Sunday knowing that they must get something from the game or the critics will be sharpening their quills already.

Liverpool, Leicester and Chelsea all secured their first wins of the season last weekend, most notable of which was the reigning champions 2-1 victory over Tottenham at Wembley courtesy of two Marcos Alonso strikes and one very poor attempted save from Hugo Lloris. It was a huge result for Antonio Conte and Chelsea following their shambolic display at home to Burnley on the opening day, while tales of a Wembley hoodoo will persist for Tottenham as they lost a game late on that they should have gotten at least a point from. Mind you, perhaps the result was inevitable given the fact that Tottenham have won just one of their last 28 meetings with Chelsea. Next up for the champions are Everton at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, while Tottenham host Burnley.

The Monday night game saw Manchester City and Everton play out an entertaining 1-1 draw, with Danny Rose and Morgan Schneiderlin both the victims of dubious red card decisions. Wayne Rooney was on the scoresheet once again for the visitors, but the Toffees were unable to make it two wins from two as Raheem Sterling’s late strike salvaged a point for Pep Guardiola’s men who travel to pointless Bournemouth on Saturday.

Women’s RWC

Ireland’s World Cup campaign hit another roadblock this week as they went down 36-24 to a rampant Australian side at Kingspan Park on Thursday in the fifth-place play-off semi-final. That leaves them playing for seventh place against Wales on Saturday (eir Sport 2, 13:30). It’s not the finale they dreamed of at the beginning of the tournament, but they will be the first to admit that they have played well within themselves over the past fortnight.

Despite Ireland’s disappointing campaign, all in all it’s been a superb tournament which has been very well supported by the Irish public. The quality of the two semi-finals on Tuesday showed us all, including the many begrudgers out there, that women’s rugby is a force to be reckoned with. There was no shortage of skill, technique, pace, power and commitment on show. No quarter was asked and none given.

The final between holders England and New Zealand on Saturday (eir sport 1, 19.00) will be quite a spectacle of rugby, particularly if the weather stays dry. There is no doubt that the two best teams in the world right now have made it to the final and it is difficult to pick a winner from the two. Both have simply overrun all opposition in their path to date. New Zealand are the coming team, but England have seen and done it all before. Something will have to give on Saturday. There can be only one……

Images: INPHO/Getty

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