All Ireland quarter-finals: Ulster champions Derry face Banner test with Armagh in Galway tussle

By Matt GaultBBC Sport NI
Rian O'Neill and Kieran McGeeney embrace after Armagh's win over Donegal
Led by Rian O'Neill's 1-7, Armagh hammered Donegal at Clones to set up an All-Ireland quarter-final with Galway on Sunday
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals: Derry v Clare (Sat) and Galway v Armagh (Sun)
Venue: Croke Park, Dublin Dates: Sat 25 June & Sun 26 June Throw-ins: 15:45 BST & 13:45
Coverage: Derry v Clare on Radio Foyle from 1530 and Galway v Armagh on Radio Foyle from 1330; Live text commentary and audio stream of both games on the BBC Sport website.

And then there were eight.

With the provincial championships and All-Ireland qualifiers in the rear-view mirror, the race for Sam has been whittled down to eight contenders.

After the Super 8s experiment and the Covid-affected championship campaigns of 2020 and 2021, it is a return to straight knockout quarter-finals in the All-Ireland series for the first time since 2017.

The two rounds of qualifiers produced drama and talking points aplenty and it leaves us looking forward to a two-day footballing festival at headquarters with double-headers at Croke Park on Saturday and Sunday.

The last 11 All-Ireland finals have been contested by a quintet of the code's heavyweights - Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Donegal - but this year one of Derry, Clare, Armagh or Galway will reach the decider, adding further intrigue to the championship's latter stages.

Here, BBC Sport NI delves into the storylines in the four games ahead of an unmissable weekend of action in Dublin.

Banner test for Ulster champs

Highlights: Derry edge out Donegal in Ulster Final extra-time

Unquestionably one of the stories of the championship, Derry sent shockwaves through Ulster and beyond during a thrilling run to their first provincial title since 1998.

Having shown signs of their upward trajectory during the first two years of Rory Gallagher's reign, the Oak Leafers came of age in devastating fashion as they took out Ulster's 'Big Three' of Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal to get their hands on the Anglo-Celt at Clones at the end of May.

Now Derry find themselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time since 2007. That last-eight appearance ended in a three-point defeat by Dublin, but Gallagher's side will be quietly confident of getting past Division Two rivals Clare in Saturday's curtain-raiser having bested three top-tier sides in their triumphant provincial campaign.

Derry are favourites to end Clare's involvement in the race for Sam, but writing off Colm Collins' side would be imprudent given how they bounced back from provincial agony to reach this stage.

The Banner's Munster campaign was ended by Limerick in the senior football championship's first-ever penalty shootout after a titanic tussle in Ennis ended all square after 90 minutes.

That failed to sate Clare's appetite, though, as they regrouped in time for the qualifiers to beat Meath before stunning Leinster finalists Roscommon in a Croke Park epic, hitting an unanswered 1-3 in the final five minutes to overturn a five-point deficit and reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2016.

Derry's full-back line reduced star forwards like Donegal's Paddy McBrearty, Monaghan's Conor McManus and Tyrone's Darren McCurry to just four scores from play in Ulster, but they will need to produce another man-marking clinic to quell Clare's Keelan Sexton, who hit 2-6 against Roscommon.

When the counties met in Division Two in February, Derry ran out nine-point winners in Ennis, but Saturday's reacquaintance is likely to be a much tighter affair with a place in the last four up for grabs.

Rejuvenated Dubs strong favourites against Cork

Con O'Callaghan
Fit-again Con O'Callaghan was instrumental in Dublin's successful Leinster campaign

It's been a strange year for Dublin. Relegated to the second rung of the National League ladder for the first time since 1995 after a string of out-of-sorts displays in Division One, Dessie Farrell's men hit 6-68 in three games to emphatically retain their status as Leinster's top dogs.

Watching the Dubs crash out of Division One, it was tempting to consider them a spent force, and while they have certainly lost the air of invincibility that characterised Jim Gavin's all-conquering reign, they seem determined to prove that reports of their demise have been premature.

Con O'Callaghan has been key to their resurgence. The three-time All-Star missed the entire league campaign through injury, but regained his fitness to notch 2-13 against Wexford, Meath and Kildare, his scoring power and creativity instantly re-establishing the Cuala clubman as one of football's most electric forwards.

The neutrals can only hope that Cork provide a more robust examination of Dublin's championship pedigree than Kildare, who shipped 5-17 in a shockingly one-sided Leinster final.

The Rebels endured a disappointing Division Two campaign, winning two of seven games, and were outclassed by Kerry in the Munster semi-final in their first game since boss Keith Ricken stepped down from the role due to health reasons.

However, they came out on top in a tight first-round qualifier tussle with Mickey Harte's Louth at Pairc Ui Chaoimh before a 2-10 haul from their full-forward line helped them see off Limerick.

Cork have been here before, of course, having come through the qualifiers to claim All-Ireland glory in 2010, but repeating that feat appears a tall order.

Their last championship encounter saw a rampant Dublin winning 5-18 to 1-17 in the 2019 Super 8s. Interim Cork boss John Cleary has said his side will leave "no stone unturned" in their quest to reach the semi-finals, but even that may not be enough against the improving Leinster kingpins.

Armagh and Galway could go down to the wire

Armagh fans have been waiting on that for a long time - Burns

Even the most ardent Armagh supporter would have struggled to see an All-Ireland quarter-final on the horizon after being ushered out of Ulster exit door with a minimum of fuss by Donegal.

Following that feeble display in Ballybofey, Armagh were written off by those who had run out of patience waiting for the current Orchard crop to realise their considerable potential.

The post-mortem threw up a particularly damning statistic; in eight years under Kieran McGeeney, Armagh have won just three Ulster Championship games.

So it is to their immense credit that they pulled off arguably their two biggest wins under the 2002 All-Ireland-winning captain in the qualifiers, ending Tyrone's hopes of defending the title for the first time in the county's history before exacting revenge on Donegal with a devastating 3-17 t 0-16 win at Clones.

McGeeney will be especially relieved that Rian O'Neill rediscovered his golden touch in front of the posts against Donegal. Held scoreless in the Ballybofey game, the Crossmaglen ace hit 1-7 and created numerous other scoring opportunities in a virtuoso display to end Armagh's five-year wait for a return to the quarter-finals.

And while O'Neill spearheaded the defeat of Donegal, Stefan Campbell was exceptional against Tyrone with Aidan Nugent, Jarly Og Burns and Stephen Sheridan also having upped their respective games for the qualifiers.

Standing in the way of a semi-final against Derry or Clare are Galway, who have enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying year.

Having secured promotion back to the top flight, the Tribesmen missed out on the Division Two title in agonising fashion with a one-point defeat by Roscommon in the final, only to avenge that loss in the Connacht final with a 2-19 to 2-16 success over the Rossies having beaten Mayo and Leitrim to reach the provincial decider.

Galway's Shane Walsh
Stopping in-form Shane Walsh will be key to Armagh's chances on Sunday

That Salthill triumph moved Galway level with Mayo on 48 Connacht titles but boss Padraic Joyce knows that only a big win at headquarters will attract national recognition.

And whereas Armagh can look to O'Neill to lead their scoring charge, Galway can draw upon Shane Walsh, who hit 1-6 in the Connacht showpiece and who has the wizardry to dash the Ulster team's hopes.

Galway as a footballing county do, however, carry plenty of scar tissue having failed to win any of their last seven knockout quarter-finals since 2001 (when they went on to win the whole thing), while their difficulty in closing out the wins over Mayo and Roscommon - letting both teams back into the game after building sizeable leads - will not have gone unnoticed by McGeeney and co.

This one could go right down to the wire.

Mayo and Kerry lock horns for third time in 2022

Sunday's later throw-in is a meeting of two old adversaries as 2021 beaten finalists Mayo and 37-time champions Kerry clash for the third time in 2022.

Kerry held the upper-hand in the other two, claiming a one-point win in the Division One meeting in Tralee before sauntering to a 3-19 to 0-13 success in the anti-climactic Croke Park final.

And while the Kingdom's 83rd Munster crown booked them a place in Sunday's quarter-final, Mayo have their tails up after performing an Armagh-esque revival with qualifier wins over Monaghan and Kildare to keep alive their hopes of going one step further than last year.

For the likes of seasoned Mayo campaigners like Rob Hennelly, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O'Connor, Jason Doherty, Lee Keegan and Aidan O'Shea, time is running out in their quest to finally end The Westerners' 71-year wait for Sam.

Clifford and O'Hora in action during the Division One final
Clifford got the better of O'Hora in the Division One final in April

But Kerry - for many the team to beat - are not lacking incentive either. While there is no doubting David Clifford's standing as one of the most gifted players of his generation, an All-Ireland medal is the one thing separating him from the pantheon of greats although, at 23, the Fossa sharpshooter is sure to have several more opportunities in the years ahead.

When the counties locked horns in the Division One decider in early April, Clifford scored 1-6 despite his shadow at Croke Park taking the form of pony-tailed Mayo defender Padraig O'Hora, whose tortured attempts to stop the three-time All-Star became the game's standout feature.

We may witness the sequel to that match-up at headquarters on Sunday. But even if we don't, Mayo-Kerry is sure to be captivating championship fare.

All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park (all times BST)

Saturday

Derry v Clare, 15:45

Dublin v Cork, 18:00

Sunday

Galway v Armagh, 13:45

Kerry v Mayo, 16:00

Top Stories

Elsewhere on the BBC

Featured