Weekend football previews

Divisions 1, 2, 3, and 4

Meath’s Eamonn Wallace has been ruled out for the season due to a cruciate injury. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Meath’s Eamonn Wallace has been ruled out for the season due to a cruciate injury. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

(7.0 unless stated)

Division Two
Armagh v Monaghan, Athletic Grounds – Two sides level on points for whom the season could tilt either way although Armagh’s run-in looks more taxing. Paul Grimley’s team have recovered well despite a poor start and a Biblical plague of injuries. Sheer application and impressive scoring returns from a number of players – Jamie Clarke scored 0-11 a fortnight ago and a point last week with Tony Kernan and Stefan Campbell picking it up against Laois. Monaghan are getting their best team back in harness and Paul Finlay returns this evening. It’s likely to be tight but the visitors are closer to full strength.

Laois v Meath , O’Moore Park – On the league swing-o-meter that appears to govern many performances, Laois were poor last week – loose at the back while playing a sweeper and squandering chances up front – and will be expected to show tangible improvement this evening. Meath, after a disappointing couple of matches, knocked off a collector’s item by taking the campaign’s first point off Donegal and may be vulnerable to an adverse reaction. Manager Mick O’Dowd also is coping with the news of Eamon Wallace’s cruciate-ruined season but in the immediate term, the performance levels in Ballybofey and resilience against the division’s top team gives them a slight edge here.

Division Four
Waterford v Leitrim, Fraher Field, 5.0 – Waterford walked into another ambush last week despite London having only about a third of their historic championship team from last summer. Leitrim’s form promises no relief this evening.

(2.0 unless stated)

Division One
Derry v Dublin, Celtic Park – This will be an interesting test for Dublin, as Jim Gavin’s side have little experience of these difficult league trips to Ulster having played just once in the province – the last-day draw against Donegal 11 months ago – since the manager took over. Derry have been an impressive new presence in Division One although this is now an important indicator for them (having lost to leaders Cork last week) of their chances of finishing in the top four. Fergal Doherty’s return has strengthened centrefield and the team are the highest scorers in the division. But the holders arrive with the meanest defence and a bit of momentum after last week’s comfortable win. A significant encounter with the visitors just about preferred.

Kildare v Kerry, Newbridge, 2.30 – The twist on this relegation tangle is that few would have predicted a week ago that the sides would finish the weekend with a 25-point swing in scoring difference towards Kerry. Drubbing Tyrone to inflict a first defeat of the season on Mickey Harte’s team was partly explained by the opposition’s curious second-half opt-out but it was strong stuff from Kerry, David Moran giving further evidence of the importance of his comeback and James O’Donoghue adding to his growing stature with three goals. He’s down to be marked by Kildare’s Mick O’Grady, who has outshone his more experienced colleagues in the full-back line. Under Jason Ryan Kildare are unlucky to be on only two points but still look too open for a Kerry attack that seems to have found its batteries.

Mayo v Cork, MacHale Park, 2.30 – Panic is over for Mayo, now tucked in on four points but James Horan will be hoping the leakiness of their defence – only Kildare have conceded more – will be addressed by the incremental return of the first-choice defenders. They’ve a good record against Cork in recent leagues but their opponents arrive under first-term management and topping the table with a 100 per cent record. Brian Cuthbert engages in some heavy rotation, eight changes most significantly giving Colm O’Neill his first start of the league after some sparkling cameos off the bench. The sight however of young pretenders heading towards their homestead might be enough of a motivation to get Mayo moving.

Tyrone v Westmeath, Healy Park – It’s not often Mickey Harte is at a loss to figure out why his team has been so poor but his bafflement in Killarney sounded genuine. Some signs had been there during the miraculous win in Newbridge that the team was misfiring but taking a 15-point trimming in the second half last week was still a shock to the system. This is the ideal restorative though because Paul Bealin’s Westmeath have been thrashing around doing their best to compete but you’d imagine growing weary in the process. No side has a worse scoring difference in the league and it’s not going to get any better.

Division Two
Down v Donegal, Newry – Both sides slipped up last week but it’s likely Donegal will respond more vehemently. They’re still unbeaten even if lucky to hold Meath . Down have had a good campaign apart from the Galway match and they had chances to mount a stronger challenge there. Down could go a long way to nailing promotion with a win here but despite the tempo and commitment of performances to date, the visitors look more likely.

Louth v Galway, Drogheda, 2.30 – Whereas Galway pulled out of the downwards plunge last week, Louth continued in freefall. Reduced to 14 men for nearly half the Monaghan match, they were never going to come back. Galway have been so erratic this season – and in recent years in this fixture – they can’t be depended on to deliver. Nonetheless they probably will.

Division Three
Limerick v Fermanagh, Gaelic Grounds – Limerick finessed a good result against Wexford with a late, late intervention and have John Galvin back . Peter McGrath is finding the Quigley issue as difficult as his predecessor and has lost the three brothers, reducing the team’s firepower. In the circumstances it looks like a home win.

Longford v Cavan, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park – Neighbouring rivalry brings together promotion favourites Cavan and Longford who have been – recently, successfully – battling issues at the other end of the table. Good individuals and a vibrant work ethic are making Cavan hard to beat.

Roscommon v Offaly, Dr Hyde Park – Roscommon’s feat in conceding 4-10 and still winning last week demonstrates why they’re top scorers in the division as well as the leaders. Offaly are bottom and those differentials are unlikely to be altered.

Wexford v Sligo, Wexford Park, 12.45 – Wexford’s slump from a respectable football status to having a ticket for the Division Four bus has been startling. How they lost to Limerick is a mystery but they need to make a move and can do so against inconsistent Sligo.

Division Four
Carlow v Wicklow, Dr Cullen Park, 1.0 – A good win for Carlow last week has perked up the team for this old rivalry but although Wicklow have lost any chance of promotion, they can get something here.

Tipperary v Antrim, Semple Stadium – In testing conditions last week Tipp held on more strongly than Clare and a win here will almost deliver promotion. Antrim lost a six-point lead against Carlow and are outsiders for this.

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