NFL previews Divisions Three and Four
A look ahead to the weekend's matces in Divisions Three and Four
(2pm unless stated)
Antrim v Cavan Casement Park– If this is the year that Cavan’s much-ballyhooed flock of under-21s are to begin making men of themselves, no better start to make than an away win.
When you consider that Cavan have only managed a total of three such rare gems in the past five years of league football, you might be slow to hold out much hope for them.
Yet their spine of Gearóid McKiernan, Cian Mackey and David Givney – played at full-forward in a recent challenge match win over Dr Crokes – should point the way against an Antrim side missing Thomas McCann and Michael Magill as well as full-back Andy McClean.
Monaghan v Meath Clones –The bookies’ leading candidates for promotion before a ball has been kicked, these two met on this very weekend last year, albeit in the more rarefied heights of Division Two. Meath won by six points on a day when Monaghan kicked 16 wides. Having undergone a relegation and a manager change in the meantime, there’s a new-car smell about both sides.
Monaghan weren’t as hapless as the 10-point defeat to Tyrone last weekend suggested and hauled Tommy Freeman back on-board midweek.
Meath start their campaign without Kevin Reilly, Seamus Kenny, Shane McAnarney and Stephen Bray. Could well make the difference here.
Wicklow v Fermanagh Aughrim– In a vice-squeezed division, most predictions see one or both of this pair falling through the trapdoor. Peter Canavan’s second year as Fermanagh manager will at least see Ryan McCluskey available, a luxury of which he was deprived last year.
Who else he will call on is hard to judge as yet – Canavan reportedly had the guts of 50 players in and around the panel over the winter.
They face a Wicklow side shorn of Leighton Glynn and Seánie Furlong, with Harry Murphy trying out a plethora of fresh faces in an O’Byrne Cup campaign that included a win over a similarly-experimental Dublin.
Fermanagh will probably be the better side in the long run but home patch comforts could swing this Wicklow’s way.
Roscommon v Sligo Dr Hyde Park– Another two sides for whom the revolving door has spun and spun over the winter. Both have jettisoned some established names and freshened up with fairly unknown quantities. On the face of it, John Evans has more viable raw material to build with in Roscommon in a squad populated by two separate generations of underage success. Donie Shine isn’t quite recovered from injury just yet but the two Cathals – Shine and Cregg – will head their challenge here. Having lost to Leitrim in the FBD final Sligo could be in for a long spring, especially without the injured David Kelly.
Tipperary v Carlow Semple Stadium –In a ferocious division, the straightforward encounters will be difficult to locate. For Tipperary, this must count as something close to one. Pound for pound, they boast some of the best players in the division and to a crew that includes the excellent defender Ciaran McDonald and forwards Peter Acheson and Michael Quinlivan (a doubt for tomorrow) is added the return of Barry Grogan after a year abroad.
While Carlow probably have the best player in the division in Brendan Murphy, the pool is fairly shallow beyond him.
Take out London and Kilkenny and they’ve only won twice away from Dr Cullen Park in the last four leagues. Hard to see them turning that around here.
Limerick v Leitrim Gaelic Grounds –Should be the tie of the day. Leitrim find themselves in the unusual position of heading into the league with their tails up, bouncing after lifting the FBD League trophy last weekend.
Cian Reynolds looks like a terrific addition and if they can keep the band together, they could make some noise.
They run into a Limerick side tomorrow that looks the most settled in the division. But without John Galvin (back for the latter stages of the league), Stephen Lucey, Jim O’Donovan and Seanie Buckley, Maurice Horan’s side will find this a tighter squeak than most expect. They could even come out the wrong side of it and the 3 to 1 about a Leitrim win looks big.
Clare v Waterford Cusack Park, Ennis– As the NFL commentators often put it (the other NFL now, not Marty and the boys on League Sunday), it looks like tough sledding over the next few months for these two.
For all the enthusiasm that Micko’s arrival generally brings, it won’t be long before he finds that Davy Fitz’s concurrent reign with the hurlers will grab the limelight away.
He will be left with a group who, despite being Munster finalists last year, haven’t been able to find a way out of the bottom division in an age. They’ll have to pick up points where they can.
Waterford’s squad has had a fairly thorough rinsing under Niall Carew and they are missing their one class attacker Gary Hurney through suspension. Micko to start with a home win.
London v Offaly Ruislip– From the eldest statesman to the youngest. At 33, Emmet O’Donnell is tasked with lifting Offaly football – something that shouldn’t prove too difficult in the short term given the low base he’ll be working from.
Already he has made his mark, running Kildare to three points in the O’Byrne Cup semi-final and then railing afterwards at the uselessness of moral victories. All good stuff.
Chances are he won’t have enough to piece together a promotion campaign but in a tight division, you can certainly see them take points off Clare and Waterford and possibly even one or other of Limerick or Tipp, both of whom they play at home. They’ll clearly have too much for London.
WALSH CUP SEMI-FINALS
Dublin v Galway Blakestown RoadToday, 2pm – Dublin got a walkover into the semi-final after UCD had to pull out due to fixture congestion so this will be a first run-out of the year for Anthony Daly’s side. Galway have already had theirs and Joe Canning was in fine fettle, rattling together 1-8 for himself against Carlow. The extra game should stand to them.
Wexford v Kilkenny Blackwater Tomorrow, 12.30pm– Richie Mulrooney’s Kilkenny team is essentially a development side and although Wexford are short some of their college players – most notably Jack Guiney who starred for UCD during the week – they can at least call on the likes of Ciaran Kenny, Richie Kehoe and Lee Chin here.