This weekend's GAA previews
A look ahead to the weekend's matches
AIB All-Ireland club SFC semi-finals: Dr Crokes (Kerry) v Ballymun Kickhams (Dublin), Semple Stadium, (TG4), 4pm
Like St Brigid’s in the first AIB football semi-final, Crokes are attempting to learn from the lessons of last year.
Opponents Ballymun are more the winning prototype: a club with its first title in over 20 years and further momentum built in the province, gathering pace as they close in on the All-Ireland. But aside from generalities this promises to be a fascinating match.
A year ago Crokes were very disappointed with their semi-final against Crossmaglen. Having started very positively and opened a big (seven-point) lead, they fell away. There’s a strong belief in Killarney that the team has improved since then: Johnny Buckley has matured at centrefield and Colm Cooper is getting more support up front.
Ballymun will pack the defence and rely on their fast- breaking counter-attack to do the damage. The outcome is probably going to depend on which side makes the most of their chances; it’s hard to imagine either team will get away with the sort of start Crossmaglen made 12 months ago.
It’s a classic contest between one team experienced and tempered by disappointment and the other with youthful enthusiasm, athleticism and momentum. Crokes have better options in attack and can make that count.
Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) v St Brigid’s (Roscommon), (TG4) 2pm – Do the two defeats Brigid’s have suffered against the champions make them psychologically vulnerable or does the relatively competitive nature of the losses create realistic motivation? There are signs – media ban, poor challenge performances – that Cross might be getting a bit jumpy about the growing pressures of their favouritism to accomplish the first club three-in-a-row in GAA history; are the Roscommon team in a position to exploit that?
They have the ability and the experience to exert that sort of pressure but can they cope with what comes next?
Crossmaglen’s season has been patchier than their opponents’ but another reading of that is whenever they have felt threatened they have had the appropriate response. Errigal Ciaráin got an early run on them but were silenced in the second half, whereas Kilcoo were all but buried early in the Ulster final only to recover and require the champions to win the match twice.
Brigid’s have been more even in their provincial performances but also less tested. The frustration of losing to Garrycastle at this stage last year can drive them on but this championship isn’t terribly kind to teams trying to fashion a first title from the lessons of defeat. This will be there for both teams but Cross are a more reliable bet to close it out.
AIB All-Ireland club SHC semi-final replay: Loughgiel Shamrocks (Antrim) v St Thomas’s (Galway), Parnell Park, (TG4) 5.45 – The better surface in Clones may suit the younger, faster outfit, St Thomas. The problem for them is they looked vulnerable whenever Loughgiel attacked – their full-forward line helped themselves to 2-7 – and did well to limit the potential damage by dominating centrefield by breaking and hoovering up ball to keep it out the field.
Loughgiel will be well warned about Conor Cooney’s capabilities after his 0-12 in the drawn match and the extent to which they can restrict him will be significant as will Liam Watson’s capacity this week to raise his game in open play.
The Galway champions need to address the concession of silly frees. If this is half as exciting as the drawn encounter, it will be good value. St Thomas have been hugely impressive as an inexperienced young team but the champions might well have learned more from the first match and have the experience to put those lessons to good use.
Interprovincial SFC semi-finals: Leinster v Connacht, Pearse Park, 2pm – “I’d love to get my hands on a provincial medal,” Bernard Brogan said this week, reminding us too that he’d yet to even play in an interprovincial final, and while not all counties (Kildare, for one, it appears), share the enthusiasm of the Dublin forward, his commitment seems absolute.
With the final set for Croke Park next week, and all the proceeds now going to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, there may well be an extra bite to the competition this year.
Former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy takes charge of Leinster and, with several of his former players on board, they look to have a little more quality than Connacht.
Ulster v Munster, Athletic Grounds, 2.15 – Some people might need reminding that Ulster are the reigning interprovincial football champions, this in fact being a repeat of last year’s final, and manager Joe Kernan is back with another all-star panel, including Michael Murphy, Seán Cavanagh and Benny Coulter, with all nine Ulster counties represented.
Munster, however, mean business too, long-serving manager Ger O’Sullivan – the former Cork selector – assembling an equally strong panel, including Cork’s Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan, and Kerry’s Marc Ó Sé. Still, Ulster, at home, to swing it, just about.
Interprovincial SHC semi-finals: Leinster v Connacht, Tullamore, 2pm – There’ll be no shortage of rivalry here, for lots of reasons, including the fact that Leinster beat Connacht in last year’s final. Offaly’s Joe Dooley is back with another talented Leinster squad, featuring 13 Kilkenny players, and six from Dublin, and his own son, Shane Dooley, and that looks like a winning combination.
Connacht, however, under the eyes of Galway manager Anthony Cunningham, will be well up for this, not least because his squad is effectively Galway in disguise. They will thus relish the showdown against so many of their now Leinster rivals, and yet may just lack the depth to actually win.
Ulster v Munster, Athletic Grounds, 12.30 – This should prove perfectly straightforward for Munster, despite what Loughgiel Shamrocks are demonstrating on the club stage, although the hope is playing on home turf makes Ulster competitive.
Yet Munster have the far greater abundance of talent, with Liam Sheedy, Tipperary’s former All-Ireland winning manager, getting to call on seven of his own former players, plus six from Cork, and the likes of Waterford’s Michael Walsh.
Victory here will set up an attractive final, against Leinster or Connacht on March 3rd.