With the semi-final matches in the All-Ireland series taking place, we look at the most noteworthy player battles that will draw fans in to this Sunday’s game.
Chrissy McKaigue v David Clifford
Chrissy McKaigue has been Derry’s most consistent defender for a decade, though the full-back’s form has slipped this season when compared to his incredible run last year.
After failing to score from play against Tipperary Clifford has become more influential as the campaign has progressed and perhaps already has his fifth All-Star nailed down for the 2023 year.
The Fossa man will bring back some tough memories for the people of Derry when he netted 4-4 in the All-Ireland minor final in 2017, a day he came up against two current Oak Leaf stars, Conor McCluskey and Pádraig McGrogan.
On Sunday it’ll be a reunion of two of the most intellectual footballers in the country.
Clifford has already mastered a total 5-30 this championship campaign, with 2-15 of it coming from dead ball.
What will work in Derry’s favour is their ultra-defensive system when out of possession.
This will prevent a large supply of ball being delivered into Clifford.
The only worry is, as we saw against Tyrone in the quarter-final, the current Player of the Year is as comfortable, coming out the field and getting on possession to feed his other attacking teammates.
No doubt McKaigue will follow him all day while the likes of Paul Cassidy will remain as a permanent sweeper covering the space inside if Clifford goes outfield.
This will be the Fossa man’s greatest defensive challenge yet. Let’s see how he deals with it.
Conor Glass v Diarmuid O’Connor
A real worry clouded over the Kerry team earlier this year; who is going to replace David Moran at midfield?
In steps Diarmuid O’Connor!
With his early-season ankle issues fully behind him, O’Connor was outstanding against Tyrone and is coming into form at the perfect time alongside his Na Gaeil club-mate Jack Barry in midfield.
A fortnight ago, the Na Gaeil pair could have fell to the notion that Conn Kilpatrick and Brian Kennedy were untouchable among the engine room class of 2023.
O’Connor however instead delivered a display of voracious work-rate and supreme finishing, delivering a handsome return for those who had invested in his Man of the Match credentials at pre-match odds of 28/1.
His job now is to burst through the ceiling that is Conor Glass.
Along with McKaigue, Glass ended Derry’s 19-year wait for an All-Star last year.
With Brendan Rogers in midfield, both men are a magnet for possession, with Glass a consistent scorer.
He has quickly ascended to the midfield A-list, the territory where the likes of Aidan O’Shea, James McCarthy, Brian Fenton, and Conn Kilpatrick have been for the last number of years.
With O’Connor bound to bomb forward from the middle, it seems that Glass – who has played a more defensive role this year than Rogers, despite him being a natural full-back – will play the defending game.
This will allow his Maghera teammate to add to his championship tally of 1-8 in this season’s championship.
Despite us praising Brian Kennedy and Kilpatrick this season for Tyrone, this is the true midfield battle to watch.
Shane McGuigan v Tom O’Sullivan
It’s fair to say that nobody in corner-back has ever delivered scores for an inter-county team at the rate Tom O’Sullivan has.
In 28 championship games since the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo in 2017 when he debuted, O’Sullivan has scored 1-26, an average of just over one point per game.
In this championship, the Dingle man has scored 0-9 from six starts. That includes 0-3 against Tipperary but also 0-2 each against Louth and Mayo.
But O’Sullivan’s other attributes as a defender are sometimes shadowed by his scoring ability.
Alongside his free role, he is routinely tasked with marking some of the most dangerous attacking opponents in the game.
Names include Con O’Callaghan, Darren McCurry and James Carr among others.
Now in championship, it’s time to add Shane McGuigan to the list.
Though a dangerous individual inside, especially when given space, the Derry full-forward only landed five points against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final, all of which came from dead balls.
So, there are questions as to what level he is at at the minute.
Derry plays a system by dropping their bodies back but on the counter, they have three inside forwards playing deep and running into open space.
This forces the opposition to foul the oncoming runners which has worked well for the likes of McGuigan in the past.
If these holes are closed off by Kerry, alongside Jason Foley marking Niall Loughlin and perhaps Paul Murphy tagging Ethan Doherty, we can expect some heated affairs on the inside line.
📮 Sign up to the OurGame newsletter — a daily email reminder of our latest videos, articles, quizzes and more.