This weekend's GAA previews
A guide to all this weekend's action
AIB All-Ireland club SHC semi-finals:Kilcormac-Killoughey (Offaly) v Thurles Sarsfields (Tipperary), O’Moore Park, 2.0 (Live on TG4) – Like last year Offaly send out unexpected Leinster champions. Kilcormac gave their best display in the provincial final albeit that Oulart’s nerves got the better of them. A combination of physique, doggedness leavened by some good hurlers, Kilcormac won’t leave anything behind but Sarsfields have high-wattage star quality even if they struggle to turn it on all the time. They should, however, shine sufficiently this afternoon.
Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) v St Thomas (Galway), Parnell Park, 4.0 ( Live on TG4) – The champions have stormed back to within one match of the final and have confidence and experience but Galway clubs have a good track record of not letting inexperience derail them (except, tellingly or not, against Antrim teams). David Burke’s form at centrefield and a good attack mean St Thomas pose plenty of threat but the chances of their subduing Liam Watson and company at the other end are more open to debate.
IFC final: Finuge (Kerry) v Cookstown (Tyrone), Croke Park, 7.15 – Owen Mulligan’s Cookstown are looking for a second All-Ireland in four years at the grade whereas Finuge, with Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice aboard, look to emulate Ardfert as winners of both junior and intermediate titles. Tyrone titles generally come against Kerry sides but not this one.
JFC semi-final second replay: Castleknock (Dublin) v Kenmare (Kerry), Croke Park, 5.30 – Long-running saga featuring comebacks, extra-time and two bright young talents in Ciarán Kilkenny and Paul O’Connor. Kenmare to seal the deal.
Allianz Football League, Division One: Cork v Kildare, Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.0 (Live on Setanta Sports 1) – Cork’s lack of urgency in Croke Park last week saw them run ragged by Dublin. Place kicking was shared around and sloppily executed with seven missed. Presumably things will be more dynamic this evening because a similarly listless display will ensure the same outcome.
Kildare have strung together some good performances since the year began, outlasting Dublin in extra-time and pulling away from Donegal last week. John Doyle’s is optimally deployed in the full forward line whereas the young newcomers Daniel Flynn and Niall Kelly have added greatly to the energy levels in the forwards.
They may struggle at centrefield given Cork’s options but with their momentum and the strong motivation of avenging last year’s championship humiliation, at 5 to 2, they’re good value.
Donegal v Down, Ballybofey, 7.0 (Live on Setanta Ireland) – As the first All-Ireland winners in 10 years not to have first impacted on the league, Donegal probably won’t be too concerned at dropping their first fixture of the season, especially to a fitter team.
This however is an important fixture, as Down will be anxious for points have lost their first outing at home, albeit after a decent enough performance against Tyrone when some loose defending undid the creative work up front. Donegal were impressive for a team that hadn’t done much together since September but there were signs that the panel strength isn’t particularly profound and with a couple of injuries entering the system the campaign may be a struggle. Nonetheless muscle memory can get them through this.
Division Three: Fermanagh v Roscommon, Brewster Park, 7.00 – Consensus has it that Roscommon were slightly flattered by the three-point win over Sligo last week. Still, there were encouraging signs from some new players with Conor Daly and Donie Smith making an impact.
For all that, Fermanagh were far more fluid and coherent than anyone expected in their opener, a win over Wicklow was the least they needed if they’re going to stay up. They will find this a much tougher test and will likely come up short.
Cavan v Monaghan, Breffni Park, 7.00 – If we take league form at any sort of face value, there appears to be a gap between these two already. Monaghan hockeyed Meath last Sunday while Cavan tripped up against Antrim.
Malachy O’Rourke’s side are in fine early-season nick and have been running up hefty scores with Conor McManus looking untouchable at times. They’re as short as 8 to 15 in some places for this one, though away from home . Cavan lost their shape quite alarmingly last week and it’s hard to imagine they’ve rectified that in seven days.
Division Four: Waterford v Tipperary, Dungarvan, 7.0 – Great start for Niall Carew last week and hopes will be high that the county can build on the successes of John Owens’s tenure. Tipperary’s minds will be concentrated by letting a six-point lead slip against Carlow last week and they can bounce back.
(Matches at 2.0 unless stated)
Division One: Kerry v Dublin, Fitzgerald Stadium (Live on TG4) – An interesting fixture, which three years ago marked the first steps in the team-building that took Dublin ultimately to an All-Ireland. Jim Gavin will be happy with the points last week but aware that this will be a more demanding match physically.
Last week’s attack looked good with Bernard Brogan playing well within himself and Paddy Andrews maintaining his impressive January form. But the defence, although eye-catching on the break,was opened up for a couple of goal chances, which required good reactions from new captain Stephen Cluxton.
Understrength in Castlebar a week ago, Kerry blacked out in the second half but have stepped it up for tomorrow with Tomás Ó Sé and Bryan Sheehan both back in the team but the attack is still light on heft and experience. Dublin waited nearly three decades for their last league win in Kerry. They can make it two on the spin.
Mayo v Tyrone, Castlebar (Deferred on TG4) – Mayo were in full command against Kerry in the first round, riding out the early wind disadvantage so comprehensively that they led at half-time and with Kerry down to 14 in the second half, they put them away. Tyrone trialled a number of newcomers in their successful opening match in Newry but they can expect to find exchanges harder going here. Mayo will probably have the edge around the middle, where Tyrone bring in Conor Clarke, and if so this will complicate things for the visitor’s fluid style. Mayo’s defensive application will keep it tighter for the Tyrone attack than Down managed and overall the points should stay in Castlebar.
Division Two: Longford v Westmeath, Pearse Park – Westmeath had a genuine pulled-out-of-the-fire win against Louth last week while Longford coughed up a nine-point lead in Wexford. Without both Bardens and Brian Kavanagh, Glenn Ryan’s side is a little short on scoring power, which should count against them here as they face a Westmeath side that racked up 16 points despite playing for 50 minutes with only 14 men. Dessie Dolan’s return for his first league start in almost two years could well tip the balance their way.
Armagh v Wexford, Athletic Grounds – Not to panic unduly but Paul Grimley could do with pinning a win up on the noticeboard to quell some of the grumbling in Armagh. They’ve been conceding heavily – no team raised more flags than Laois last Sunday, a side not usually the most prolific in the land. They host a Wexford team that is full of experience – their scorers last week were Red Barry, PJ Banville, Ben Brosnan, Adrian Flynn and Shane Roche. Aidan O’Brien hasn’t needed a new broom and the team he has is good enough to go to Armagh and win.
Derry v Laois, Celtic Park – On a day of gales all across Ireland last weekend, Derry managed the neat trick of significantly outscoring themselves playing into the wind against Galway than with it. The rocket they received at half-time in Salthill from Brian McIver presumably had plenty to do with it and they will need to have bucked up considerably for the visit of a very settled Laois side. Justin McNulty is playing more or less his championship team for the second week in a row and they could win here.
Louth v Galway, Drogheda – Having spilled a five-point second-half lead against Westmeath last Sunday, Louth have turned to experience here with Paddy Keenan and Darren Clarke in from the beginning. If Keenan is pitted against rising Galway midfielder Fiontán Ó Curraoin, it could be a sight to see. Alan Mulholland’s side has a hungry enough look about it – all four of their subs last Sunday got on the scoresheet – and with Michael Meehan in terrific form, chances are they’ll be four or five points the better side.
Division Three: Sligo v Antrim, Markievicz Park – Antrim’s comfortable handling of Cavan last Sunday said only good things about Frank Dawson’s tenure, especially since the bulk of their scores came from a completely new full-forward line. Additionally, they have Paddy Cunningham, Tomás McCann and Michael Magill all back and ready to be sprung from the bench.
Sligo haven’t started the year well and it will be interesting to see what difference the recruiting of Mayo midfielder James Kilcullen will make as the league goes on.
They can’t afford a second defeat, and shouldn’t see one.
Wicklow v Meath, Aughrim – If Wicklow weren’t prepared for the smooth running of the Fermanagh machine that came down to hand them a beating last week, while Meath surely had no indication that a 12-point hiding was awaiting them up in Clones.
The news got no better during the week for Mick O’Dowd when Damien Carroll broke his ankle in training. O’Dowd has changed a third of his team, dropping Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell among others, for a game they can’t countenance losing.
Division Four: Leitrim v Clare, Carrick-on-Shannon – Disappointment for Leitrim with the defeat in Limerick spoiling the mood after their FBD victory but this is a more attainable task with Mick O’Dwyer’s Clare hoping to recover from the opening defeat by Waterford. This can see the home side bounce back.
Offaly v Limerick, Tullamore – Likely to have a significant influence on how promotion pans out in two months, this could hinge on Limerick’s ability to bring back key forwards Ian Ryan and Ger Collins whereas Niall McNamee is still out for Offaly.
AIB All-Ireland club finals IHC:St Gabriel’s (London) v Clara (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 3.45 – On a big day for the English clubs St Gabriel’s have a fighting chance against Clara but the Kilkenny club should still win this one.
Fullen Gaels (Warwickshire) v Thomastown (Kilkenny), Croke Park, 2.0 – On a weekend of big England-Ireland clashes, the talented Thomastown team are the shortest odds to take the prize here.