This weekend’s National Football League previews
Dublin take on Down in HQ while Kerry face old rivals Cork
Dublin v Down, Croke Park, 7.0 (Live on Setanta)
Dublin's first defeat last week, albeit with an under-strength team, helped bring clarity to a number of issues. Firstly, the importance of Bernard Brogan emerged as largely undiminished by the newcomers introduced by Jim Gavin. Secondly, Stephen Cluxton's value, and not just in terms of goalkeeping, was underlined. Thirdly, centrefield still needs work and fourthly, but as significantly as anything, Rory O'Carroll will be difficult to understudy at full back. Needing a win or a draw tonight to make sure of advancement, Dublin are up against one of the counties in the drop zone but Down's recent memories of Croke Park are not positive and their campaign has struggled, apart from some feisty displays in Newry. Suitably focused after Tyrone, Dublin can march on.
(Matches at 2.0 unless stated)
Kerry v Cork, Tralee
Contrasting fortunes in attack for the old rivals. The scarcely believable misfortune of Colm O’Neill injuring his cruciate ligament for the third time in a young career can be set against the return to training of Colm Cooper, who is named on the bench for the home side. The holders have taken a couple of good scalps recently to reignite their campaign. The loss of O'Neill and the shorter-term absence of Ciarán Sheehan, Donncha O'Connor and Patrick Kelly has blunted their forward options against opponents that for all their travails have been in comparative terms defending reasonably well during the campaign to date and who welcome back Tomás Ó Sé after suspension. A win would be a terrific result for Kerry whereas defeat could see them relegated. That should concentrate the mind.
Mayo v Donegal, Elvery's McHale Park, 2.30
The All-Ireland finalists have both passed non-descript campaigns, which probably fits Donegal's plans better than Mayo's. The home side have slipped from some unlucky defeats to disappointing ones. It looks as if the efforts to improve the attack will have to proceed without Aidan O'Shea, whose presence is needed at centrefield, and so far James Horan has yet to uncover a genuine prospective addition to the forwards. Donegal have beaten the two back markers in the division and need some extra points to get clear of relegation. They may have to wait.
Kildare v Tyrone, Newbridge, 2.30
Two of the most impressive teams so far, last season's Division Two finalists meet with a place in the play-offs up for grabs. Each had one poor outing but otherwise have looked sharp. Maybe the missing under-21s, who have added a good deal of vitality to Kildare's attack, undermined the effort against Dublin. Certainly the battling win over Mayo saw four of them, Daniel Flynn, Niall Kelly, Paddy Brophy and Fionn Dowling get on the scoreboard. Tyrone were good value for the win over Dublin, taking charge at centrefield and Stephen O'Neill causing endless problems. With form and a home following, Kildare can do the necessary.
Galway v Wexford, Pearse Stadium, 12.45
It’s been an infuriatingly inconsistent season for the home side and not much better for Wexford, who must have mixed feelings that the Daithí Watters red card, which marked a turning point against Laois, was overturned leaving him free to play tomorrow. This is a crossroads with the winners having a possible shout at promotion. Hesitantly, Galway.
Louth v Derry, Drogheda
This could be a chance for Louth to maintain momentum and get up amongst the promotion spots, as Derry captain Mark Lynch is absent with injury but former All Star Paddy Keenan also misses out for the home team. Louth can still edge it.
Westmeath v Armagh, Cusack Park
The surprise team of the division welcome an Armagh side doing surprisingly poorly. Both sides are unchanged, which means that Dessie Dolan again starts on the bench but is a fair impact sub to have available. Home win.
Longford v Laois, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 2.30
Laois have all of the motivation here with promotion prospects not entirely dead despite a disappointing campaign. Longford’s fate is sealed and surely Laois can capitalise.
Antrim v Meath, Casement Park
Meath's recovery will be under pressure here with Antrim looking stronger for the return of Tony Scullion and others. But the revival can continue
Sligo v Fermanagh, Markievicz Park
Fermanagh are pushing for promotion while Sligo are struggling at the other end. Part of the reason for that is Fermanagh's unbeaten away record, which they can maintain.
Wicklow v Cavan, Aughrim, 2.30
Wicklow's difficult campaign is not likely to improve here.
Roscommon v Monaghan, Dr Hyde Park, 3.30
Roscommon have had a see-saw campaign, which the division leaders can exploit.
Waterford v Offaly, Carriganore, 12.45
Offaly to maintain their challenge for promotion.
Limerick v London, Gaelic Grounds, 1.0 - Limerick sit on top having won all but one match but with a zero scoring difference. That can improve here.
Tipperary v Leitrim, Semple Stadium - Tipperary's recent strong run to keep going.
Carlow v Clare, Dr Cullen Park, 2.30 - With the counties level on points, home advantage can tell.