Weekend GAA previews: football league and club hurling fixtures

All-Ireland club SHC semi-finals and a full slate of National Football League games up for decision

Meath manager Mick O’Dowd watching his side against Galway in their NFL Division Two match at Navan last week. The Royals racked up 3-18 in coming from behind to beat the Tribesmen and O’Dowd sticks with the same team for tomorrow’s game against Monaghan in Clones. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Meath manager Mick O’Dowd watching his side against Galway in their NFL Division Two match at Navan last week. The Royals racked up 3-18 in coming from behind to beat the Tribesmen and O’Dowd sticks with the same team for tomorrow’s game against Monaghan in Clones. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 01:00

Today
AIB CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS
[Extra-time if needed]
All-Ireland SHC semi-finals

Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Portumna (Galway), Thurles, 5pm – Portumna have three All-Irelands won in the past nine years whereas this is Na Piarsaigh’s second semi-final in three years. Thurles will suit the Limerick club’s youth and movement but the weather may take the sting out of that. Neither have they been lucky with injury and Adrian Breen misses out after breaking a collarbone in a challenge match. The likely inclusion of highly-rated minor Ronan Lynch will be a plus but the bench impact will suffer. Portumna are experienced and rested after a couple of years away from the All-Ireland circuit and Tipperary were privately impressed after a recent challenge by how fresh the Galway champions looked. Joe Canning is playing around centrefield but will pick and choose when to move farther up the pitch. Damien Hayes is pulling the strings at centre forward. There are misgivings about the Portumna defence and Na Piarsaigh, Shane Dowling and Kevin Downes prominent, razed Sixmilebridge in the Munster final, but Ollie Canning’s recent deployment in attack caters for those anxieties by providing a built-in sweeper or auxiliary defender. The cold (and) wet realities of February suggest the veteran westerners might have the answers.


Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) v Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow), Newry, 3pm – Of the two sides irked by serial outsider status, Loughgiel have more cause for grievance, having been at the top of the club game for the past couple of years. It’s been a great season for MLR but a couple of considerations, their inexperience of handling the break since the provincial championship, and the appetite of the Ulster champions’ forwards make this the toughest challenge to date for the Carlow side. They showed calm – and Denis Murphy, marksmanship – in dismantling Oulart’s lead in the Leinster final second half but Loughgiel won’t leave as much behind as previous opponents.


AIB CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS
IHC: Kilnadeema-Leitrim (Galway) v Rower Inistioge (Kilkenny), 5.30 – The great record of Kilkenny clubs – this is their sixth final in 10 years – in this championship is its own commentary on the strength of the intermediate grade in the county. Kilnadeema did well to upset Youghal in the semi-final and are well led by David Tierney and in Brian Molloy have a supremely talented young forward but Kilkenny senior Kieran Joyce’s club look too accomplished.
JHC: Ballysaggart (Waterford) v Creggan Kickhams (Antrim), 3.30 – From a tiny parish, Ballysaggart would be a great story and it’s likely to be written.


ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Division Three

Fermanagh v Sligo, Brewster Park, 7pm – Restored to something closer to full strength, Peter McGrath’s team will need to pick up points in their first home fixture but Sligo did what was required in their opening fixture without shooting the lights out but former All Star defender Charlie Harrison was excellent and Pat Flanagan’s shrewd management can take them through.

Sunday

ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE
[2pm unless stated]
Division One

Kerry v Derry, Fitzgerald Stadium [NB change of venue], 1.30 – Kerry manager Eamon Fitzmaurice makes two changes to the team that lost to Dublin last week in Croke Park. Brian Kelly of the Legion club takes over in goal from Brendan Kealy and Conor Cox replaces Michael Geaney in the attack, with Stephen O’Brien moving to centre forward. Kelly’s inclusion is explained as part of a rotation policy for the goalkeeping position although Kealy had experienced difficulties with his kick-outs last week.

Last week Kerry lost a match they should have won but there were some positives for Fitzmaurice. The same could be said for Derry in only drawing against Tyrone despite exerting good pressure up front, where Enda Lynn was prominent. Niall Holly comes in at centrefield where Kerry were inconsistent in Croke Park but on paper have the winning of the duel. James O’Donoghue was the pick of the home side’s forwards but they will need more composure in setting up attacks. This would be a huge win for the visitors and a corresponding disaster for Kerry but their defence showed good application against Dublin and they can avert an unpleasant outcome.
KERRY: B Kelly; P Murphy, M Griffin, S Enright; P Crowley, B McGuire, J Sherwood; A Maher, D Moran; J Lyne, S O’Brien, D Walsh (capt); BJ Keane, J O’Donoghue, C Cox.


Tyrone v Mayo, Healy Park, [DEFERRED, TG4]– The weather isn’t Tyrone’s friend, clogging up the possibilities of their promising new forwards and militating against tidy football. Mayo got burned in the last minute against Kildare but for which they would also have a draw under their belt. Losing Tom Parsons to medium-term injury was a blow for James Horan but there were some promising cameos elsewhere, even if some of the experiments – Colm Boyle at corner back– didn’t take. Mayo have a good record against Tyrone but find themselves slightly under pressure after losing the first match. Mickey Harte will want better overall work rate from the team and Colm Cavanagh starts at centrefield to supply industry and a bit of presence in the middle. They looked vulnerable at the back against Derry but can regroup and take the points.


Cork v Kildare, Páirc Uí Rinn – They played on this weekend last year and Kildare won. Jason Ryan’s team also have a bit of momentum after last week’s roller-coaster win. Cork tidied up their first points but didn’t set the field alight. They are weakened by the first clear impact of the decision to go dual by Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan, both of whom miss this to prepare for next week’s hurling league start. Brian Cuthbert has been given plenty of opportunity to trial new players and that’s no harm but this is a match that could get away from them given Kildare’s buoyancy and mobility. Cork have named Colm O’Neill on the bench and getting him back on to the field after the latest of his serious injuries would be a significant boost. Otherwise Kildare’s high spirits and scoring form gives them the edge.

Westmeath v Dublin, Cusack Park, [LIVE, TG4]– Last week summed up the challenge for Westmeath. They exceeded expectations for a long while against Cork but lost out in the end. Now they’ve an anxious wait on John Heslin, who’s an injury concern, and the imminent arrival of the All-Ireland champions who without ceremony trimmed them in last summer’s championship. It was tighter when the sides met in the O’Byrne Cup and Dublin looked like a side travelling within themselves last week. Jim Gavin’s team were still able to produce a characteristic flourish off the bench to get home in the end despite being reduced to 14 men. Centrefield still needed Michael Macauley’s dynamism to shift gears and the impact made by Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion was significant. Paul Bealin’s team will be fired up but like Cork, Dublin are equipped to outlast even a big performance.

DIVISION TWO
[All games 2pm unless stated]


Monaghan v Meath, Clones –
They may have missed more scoring chances than they took, yet it hardly mattered as Meath racked up 3-18 at home to Galway last Sunday. Considering they trailed Galway by five points early in the second half there’s no denying Mick O’Dowd’s team boast considerable pace and scoring potential – underlined by the fact 14 different players contributed a score. No wonder O’Down has stuck with the same team, retaining Andrew Tormey at midfield.

Monaghan will present a greater physical challenge, especially around midfield, and having let slip a seven-point lead over Down last Sunday, ending all square, the Ulster champions won’t be as kind to Meath, possibly bold enough now to just hold them out.


Galway v Donegal, Pearse Stadium
– A record league score of 2-19 for manager Jim McGuinness wasn’t a bad way for Donegal to kick-start their campaign to get back into Division One, even if Laois were poor last Sunday. With the likes Christy Toye and Paddy McBrearty and others also easing their way the force may well be with them again, although it’s too early to say for sure.

Galway typically reserve their best football for Pearse Stadium, and while they played impressively well in patches last week, the absence of Michael Meehan up front still leaves them short of scoring power, or rather over-reliant on Seán Armstrong, but that winning artillery is something which Donegal clearly have in greater abundance right now.

Louth v Laois, Gaelic Grounds
Tomás Ó Flatharta didn’t disguise the fact his new Laois team have a lot more developing to do, the meagre 1-9 they managed against Donegal at home last Sunday suggesting switching back to attacking football is easier said than done. It’s not like new stars are shining yet either.

Louth had no such problems scoring against Armagh, hitting 16 points, before surrendering 1-5 without reply, and in the end were lucky to escape with a share of the points. With home advantage again and the sting of last Sunday still sore enough Louth can take full points this time.


Division Three


Limerick v Longford, Gaelic Grounds – Limerick were probably a little unlucky – having enough of the match to win – against Sligo and will fancy their chances of getting back on track here. Longford looked lively in the first half last week against Roscommon, with Francis McGee causing problems at centre forward but fell away. Only half of the Limerick team well beaten by Longford in last summer’s qualifiers survive but with Ian Ryan back they can turn the tables.
Offaly v Cavan, O’Connor Park – Cavan didn’t exactly storm home as anticipated in last week’s opening fixture against Fermanagh and can’t afford to nod off again, as Offaly stayed in the game against a superior Wexford side. The visitors, however, can prove last week an aberration and an improved showing will suffice for the points.


Roscommon v Wexford, Kiltoom – Two good winners last week, these counties will expect to be in the promotion race by the end of the campaign. Wexford’s forward display was impressive, with PJ Banville supplementing it in a productive cameo off the bench. Roscommon were ultimately comfortable in Longford last week and home advantage can help an improved performance and maintain their winning start.

DIVISION FOUR

Antrim v Wicklow, Ahoghill – No one was sure how quickly Leighton Glynn could rediscover his mojo after missing nearly two years with an ankle injury, before he hit 3-3 against London last Sunday. Just as well, and Glynn made the difference in an otherwise tight game. With Antrim coming off a heavy defeat to Leitrim, and ending up with 13 men too, this is the chance for Wicklow to consolidate their claim for a promotional spot, particularly if Glynn can retain that mojo.

Clare v Leitrim, Cusack Park
Perhaps winning is a habit after all, and another victory here would set up Leitrim for a real shot at promotion. But they meet a Clare team with big ambitions of their own, under new manager Colm Collins, and sons Seán and Podge among his leaders. This promises to be a real dogfight for points, home advantage possibly enough to swing them Clare’s way.


Tipperary v Waterford, Clonmel –
Scoring 2-24 against Carlow - including 1-8 for forward Conor Sweeney - wasn’t a bad way for Tipperary to open their season, considering they sat out the McGrath Cup. Waterford, however, looked stale against Clare, having also missed the pre-season games, and while they should improve here, the momentum is already behind Peter Creedon’s Tipperary. They have a range of capable scorers too – including Barry Grogan – that Waterford will find hard to handle.


London v Carlow, Ruislip: Postponed.



AIB CLUB CHAMPIONSHIPS
[All-Ireland finals at Croke Park - Extra-time if needed]


IFC: Kiltane (Mayo) v Truagh (Monaghan), 4pm – Two teams on the rebound, having reclaimed senior status after one year in intermediate, which they hope to crown tomorrow afternoon. There’s Croke Park experience on both sides, as Kiltane’s Tony Gaughan was the London centre back in last summer’s qualifier defeat by Cavan. Truagh’s Adam Treanor came on a sub for the Monaghan minors in a previous All-Ireland tilt against a Mayo team, in the semi-final last August. Kiltane looked more impressive in the semi-final win over Clyda Rovers and can win.

JFC: Fuerty (Roscommon) v Two Mile House (Kildare), 2pm - Both teams were unexpected winners in the semi-finals and although Fuerty sprang the bigger surprise in beating Keel Two Mile House showed tremendous resolve to get past Emyvale and get the vote here.


Interprovincial SHC semi-finals
[Extra-time if needed]
Leinster v Ulster, Trim, 2pm – Joe Dooley has named a strong Leinster selection, with a lot of players from Dublin together with critical back-up from Kilkenny. Against an Ulster side short any Loughgiel hurlers, they should be too strong.


Connacht v Munster, Ballinasloe, 2pm –The weekend’s GAA Liam Sheedy takes charge of Munster and faces a Connacht side, like Ulster, more hampered by the club semi-finals than their opponents. That can make the difference.