Weekend Gaelic Games previews

Croke Park hosts the last two football qualifiers and the first two quarter-finals

Armagh midfielder Niall Grimley has been one of the finds of the championship. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Armagh midfielder Niall Grimley has been one of the finds of the championship. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

SATURDAY 

All-Ireland SFC Qualifier round 4B
Monaghan v Down
Croke Park, 5pm Live on Sky Sports Main Event

Given Monaghan’s wretched record in Croke Park, their status as such heavy favourites here seems presumptuous. The county has won precisely one championship game at headquarters since 1930 – and even then, they needed extra-time against Kildare in 2014. On top of which, they’ve had a decidedly shaky summer. Unconvincing against Fermanagh and Cavan, half-speed against Down, unruffled against Wexford and rattled by Carlow.

True, you would expect them to come with a better-focused game plan here. Under Malachy O’Rourke, they haven’t yet lost twice on the bounce to the same team in championship. Jerome Johnstone surely won’t get the same room to dash around the middle third as he did in the game a month ago and Drew Wylie obviously owes Connaire Harrison a schooling.

Down were outclassed in the Ulster final but looked cowed that day in a way they never were against Monaghan. If Caolán Mooney and Kevin McKernan can wet-nurse some of the younger players through their first Croke Park appearance, they’re a far better prospect than the 3-1 available would suggest. Monaghan need a performance to take something out of the year. We’ll give them the nod to find it but it’s hard to be dogmatic about it.

Verdict: Monaghan

DOWN: Michael Cunningham; Niall McParland, Gerard McGovern, Darren O’Hagan; Darragh O’Hanlon, Conaill McGovern, Caolan Mooney; Peter Turley, Niall Donnelly; Kevin McKernan, Conor Maginn, Shay Millar; Jerome Johnston, Connaire Harrison, Ryan Johnston.

MONAGHAN: Rory Beggan; Fintan Kelly, Drew Wylie, Ryan Wylie; Colin Walshe, Neil McAdam, Karl O’Connell; Kieran Hughes, Darren Hughes; Gavin Doogan, Dermot Malone, Shane Carey; Owen Duffy, Jack McCarron, Conor McManus.

Armagh v Kildare
Croke Park, 7.00 Live, Sky Sports Main event

Billed as a shootout, you just wonder will one of these managers decide not to give the other what he wants. Cian O’Neill has admitted he came away from the league final against Galway a little wrong-footed by the defensive set-up Kevin Walsh had chosen for the day and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he considered applying a little of that medicine here to put the brakes on Armagh. Kildare have lost their last six games in a row in Croke Park, to Meath, Westmeath, Clare, Galway and, of course, Dublin. O’Neill won’t be hung for trying something that ends the sequence.

For Armagh, this could be a landmark game. They look for all the world like a coming side in Ulster, albeit with a style of play more likely to prosper outside the province. Midfielder Niall Grimley has been one of the finds of the championship and if he and Kevin Feely go at it face-to-face, we could be in for a treat. Admirably, they don’t rely on Jamie Clarke to do all the scoring and if they manage to come through here, Kieran McGeeney must have a team on his hands for the coming seasons.

Kildare look to be a bit further along the road right now, though.

Verdict: Kildare

ARMAGH: Blaine Hughes; James Morgan, Charlie Vernon, Paul Hughes; Mark Shields, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker; Stephen Sheridan, Niall Grimley; Ethan Rafferty, Anthony Duffy, Rory Grugan (capt); Jamie Clarke, Andrew Murnin, Gavin McParland.

KILDARE: Mark Donnellan; Mick O’Grady, David Hyland, Ollie Lyons; Peter Kelly, Johnny Byrne, Keith Cribbin; Kevin Feely, Tommy Moolick; Fergal Conway, Niall Kelly, David Slattery; Paddy Brophy, Daniel Flynn, Cathal McNally.

SUNDAY

All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals
Galway v Kerry
Croke Park, 2pm –Live on RTÉ 2

There’s the allure of old-world glamour about this fixture but it has been a green and gold story since 1965 and Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s team are ominously heavy favourites to advance. That’s exactly what makes it intriguing.

Since Cork’s troubles deepened, Kerry have habitually found themselves in the last eight without fully knowing where they are at. The in-house training games are their best barometer of their readiness. The Munster final suggests their forward division are operating at a lethal level of economy and speed. Paul Geaney has been winning the plaudits but his brother Michael is full of running while the Donaghy-O’Donoghue partnership is a huge threat to any full back line. But Galway come to Croke Park with significant write ups about their own joy division. It is difficult for Kerry to accurately assess what Galway did against Donegal. It was a wonderful attacking performance, characterised by imagination and boldness on the ball. But to what extent was that facilitated by Donegal’s inadequacies? And can Galway follow that up with another big performance?

The big problem for Galway was the huge spaces evident in front of their full back line. Those spaces will be magnified in Croke Park and past masters like Donaghy know how to exploit them. Providing more cover for their last line without compromising their attacking game is critical for Galway. Kerry have been repeatedly troubled by teams who run at them with pace. Galway’s ball carriers like Paul Conroy, Damien Comer, Gareth Bradshaw and Gary O’Donnell have the power to break through the heavy line of pressing, aggressive defence that Kerry exert along their own 50-yard line. How to navigate that is key for any team aiming to beat Kerry. Galway have the potential to do that but will have to convert everything if they are to live with the Kingdom.
Last meeting: 2014 All-Ireland quarter final, Croke Park. Kerry 1-20, Galway 2-10.
Odds: Kerry 1-5. Draw 12-1. Galway 9-2.
Just the ticket: Stand tickets €35. Terrace €25. Family tickets Cusack and Davin stands only. Students and OAP purchase full price ticket and get €10 rebate.
Verdict: Kerry.

GALWAY: TBA

KERRY: Brian Kelly; Fionn Fitzgerald, Mark Griffin, Shane Enright; Peter Crowley, Tadhg Morley, Paul Murphy; David Moran, Jack Barry; Michael Geaney, Johnny Buckley(capt), Donnchadh Walsh; Paul Geaney, Kieran Donaghy, James O’Donoghue.

Mayo v Roscommon
Croke Park, 4pm – Live on RTÉ 2

Mayo’s latest mission, should they choose to accept it. They hold no secrets for anyone. Their strengths and weaknesses have been stress-tested so often in recent years. Against Cork, the often-maligned forward line played a faultless game in highly testing conditions. But the defence had a few calamities. Roscommon’s game plan is predicated on running and intelligent running rather than the high ball which has troubled Mayo in their qualifier run but it will be a surprise if the Connacht champions don’t test the Mayo square with direct ball every so often.

Aidan O’Shea had shown the way for Mayo since coming in to rescue the day against Derry (In fact, since coming in to rescue the day in the league against Donegal). Mayo need the other boys of summer – Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan – to switch into high-championship tempo here.

Enda Smyth had an exceptional Connacht final for Roscommon and they need another big outing for him but Tulsk midfielder Tadhg O’Rourke had a brilliant game also and is one to watch here. With Niall Kilroy dropping back, Roscommon’s defence is energetic and well organised and they have vowed to match Mayo in the physical stakes. They blew Galway away despite posting nine wides in the first half alone in the Connacht final; they simply must be more judicious with their shot selection here. This is a perfect quarter-final for them: a marquee Croke Park day against an opposition they know well. It is teed up for one of those out-of-the-ordinary days. Roscommon have every right to believe. But they are playing a team and county whose self-belief and faith has no melting point.

Last meeting: Connacht semi-final 2014, Dr Hyde Park. Mayo 0-13, Roscommon 1-09.
Odds: Mayo 4-11. Draw 8-1. Roscommon 3-1.
Just the ticket: Stand tickets €35. Terrace €25. Family tickets Cusack and Davin stands only. Students and OAP purchase full price ticket and get €10 rebate.
Verdict: Mayo.

MAYO: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins; Lee Keegan, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle; Séamus O’Shea, Tom Parsons; Kevin McLoughlin, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Conor Loftus (Crossmolina), Cillian O’Connor, Andy Moran.

ROSCOMMON: Colm Lavin; Sean McDermott, John McManus, David Murray; Niall McInerney, Seán Mullooly, Brian Stack; Fintan Cregg, Enda Smith; Tadgh O’Rourke, Cian Connolly, Conor Devaney; Ciaráin Murtagh (capt), Diarmuid Murtagh, Niall Kilroy.

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