This weekend’s GAA previews
With the teams in Division 1A packed tightly together, even league leaders Waterford face the possibility of relegation
Sunday, March 31st
Allianz NHL, Division 1A
(3.0 unless stated)
Tipperary v Clare , Semple Stadium – Far from the worst fixture to round out either county’s campaign. Clare should be through to the semis already but get a shot at righting last Sunday’s wrong here. The class of Darach Honan’s last score in Ennis was a reminder that for all their progress in the league, there will surely be more to come when he, Conor McGrath and Cian Dillon are all back fit and well. That’s a while off yet, although Honan will see more action today than he has to date.
They’ll peck and pick at any loose seams Tipp show here. Eamon O’Shea looks to have brought equilibrium to the scene and the renewed vigour of Seamus Callanan has been a pleasant boon. The late defeat to Waterford was careless and, with a strong named line-up , it should guard against any narcoleptic tendencies here.
Waterford v Galway, Walsh Park (Deferred coverage on TG4) – We’ll have to go easy on the hosannas for Waterford just yet. Pulling league games out of the fire warms the cockles but the suspicion that they’re pedalling that bit faster than rivals just to keep up won’t go away until they do it on a day like this. Job one for them is to find a way to source more scores from play as an over-reliance on Pauric O’Mahony’s free-taking will only get them so far.
It’s a sign of how little anyone trusts the formlines of this league that Waterford are available at 11/8 despite being at home and despite Galway’s wholly indifferent displays over the past month. Anthony Cunningham’s side could do with a splash of water to the face here. They neither need nor expect to be humming so early in the year but in a league where everybody is taking points off the next man, they haven’t won since the opening game.
They’re inclined to hold the St Thomas’s players back this weekend as they only have a week done with the panel but maybe the threat of their imminent return will inspire some of the players in situ. Could be enough to keep them out of the relegation play-off for the second year in a row.
Kilkenny v Cork , Nowlan Park (Live on TG4) – Yet more chopping and changing in the Cork line-up, the thought process behind which has looked baffling at times. Having stuck with Pa Cronin at centre-back for so long, it seems odd that Jimmy Barry-Murphy would choose to move him to midfield now, especially with William Egan also gone from the half-back line through injury. That said, the named forward line has plenty of vitality about it and their pace will test Kilkenny.
Of all the teams in the division, you get the feeling that Brian Cody’s would be least put out by the idea of coming fourth and not having another game to suit up for. Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly will clearly look to get a lot more involved than they were on their return last week. Kilkenny still beat Clare without either of them exerting any real influence so whatever stamp they can put on this one will make a difference. The nod goes to the proven home team.
Antrim v Offaly , Casement Park – Unlike the top tier, this division has gone more or less to form, with most teams beating who they should be beating and losing in kind. Offaly’s big chance came in their first game against Dublin which they only lost by a point. They should have enough to send Antrim into the relegation play-off against Carlow.
Limerick v Wexford , Gaelic Grounds – Limerick, to their credit, have played their games like they don’t belong in this division. Though they have occasionally conceded early scores, they’ve come through each test comfortably once they’ve found their feet. It’s hard to see how Wexford will keep pace with them here.
Dublin v Carlow , Parnell Park – No great mystery in the result here, with the division’s highest scorers taking on its lowest. The return of Stephen Hiney and Ryan O’Dwyer to the Dublin line-up will add the day some flavour though.
NFL, Division Three
Antrim v Meath , Casement Park, 1.15 – The bunfight for a final spot alongside Fermanagh would be complicated further by a Meath win here. Mick O’Dowd has left Stephen Bray and Cian Ward on the sideline for this and there’s still no sign of Séamus Kenny. Nonetheless, two wins on the trot over Sligo and Roscommon mean they should have enough about them to deal with an Antrim side that hasn’t won since the opening game.
Saturday, March 30th
Hogan Cup semi-finals
St Patrick’s, Maghera v St Gerald’s Castlebar, 3.00, Brewster Park, Enniskillen – MacRory cup winners Maghera’s midfield pairing of James Kearney and Peter Cassidy do a lot of heavy lifting, with Cormac O’Doherty and Stephen O’Hara a cut above most of their age-group. They meet a Castlebar team that pulled out an epic turnaround win in the last five minutes of the Connacht final against St Jarlath’s. James Durcan and James Gannon are very tidy forwards and the battle between full-back Mark McHugh and Bellaghy’s O’Hara will be well worth watching.
St Patrick’s Navan v Pobalscoil Chorca Duibhne , Today, 1.30, McDonagh Park, Nenagh – Eamon Fitzmaurice has had to interrupt Kerry’s training week in Portugal to come home for this, the second year in a row that the team from the Kerry Ghaeltacht has made the semi-finals. Colm O’Rourke’s Navan team deposed the reigning champions from Edenderry with a fair degree of comfort three weeks ago. They’re strong through the middle, with centre-back Niall Kane especially forceful and Niall Lyons a constant threat in the inside forward line.