Weekend Gaelic games previews: Mayo return to familiar stomping ground

Football’s last qualifier matches take place and McDonagh Cup finalists get their shot

SATURDAY

All-Ireland SFQ round 2

Clare v Roscommon, Croke Park, 3.45 [Live Sky Sports Arena]

After a disappointing Munster championship, Colm Collins will be pleased that Clare are now officially a top 12 team in this year’s All-Ireland. The win over Meath last week was hard earned but gets them a Croke Park date and renewed acquaintance with the county they beat to reach their to date only All-Ireland quarter-final, six years ago. There are good reasons to believe Roscommon will do better on this occasion. Although beaten more comprehensively by Galway than the scoreboard indicated in the Connacht final, Anthony Cunningham was pleased with his team’s resilience and late run of scores. Ultan Harney played as well as he ever has in championship and their useful forwards will get more latitude here.

Verdict: Roscommon

Kildare v Mayo, 6.0 [Live Sky Sports Arena]

Mayo are still in search of that qualifier momentum that has turned around their seasons in the past. Last week’s win in Castlebar looked more about Monaghan’s inconsistency this year than a ringing endorsement of the Mayo revival. Having lost Tommy Conroy for the year early in the season, their All Star Ryan O’Donoghue is now out for a while. In the circumstances their attack is as good as it can be but not exactly a fearful proposition even though Kildare capsized all their high hopes by kamikaze defending against Dublin. Their virtues of hard work and some lively forward play courtesy of Daniel Flynn and Jimmy Hyland is undiminished by the Leinster final freeze and a good response would make a real contest of this. It is however Croke Park and Mayo will enjoy getting back to the track where their athleticism gets full rein. Experience will also count but Kildare are better than we saw two weeks ago.

Verdict: Mayo

All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-finals

Antrim v Cork, Corrigan Park, 2.0 [Live, GAAGO]

Cork are well warned not just by the long trip to Belfast but by the experience of Dublin three years ago facing McDonagh Cup winners a week later. Antrim won their second McDonagh in three championships and showed a ruthless scoring streak even if their performance at the other end didn’t strike fear into the Cork forwards where the bullet has been bitten and Tim O’Mahony brought in from the start in place of record championship scorer Patrick Horgan. Kieran Kingston’s team have good momentum coming into this. Their pace and appetite for the jugular improved out of all recognition in the second half of the Munster campaign. They’ll be challenged here for a while but will get the job done.

Verdict: Cork

Kerry v Wexford, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 2.0 [Live, GAAGO]

Poor old Kerry, losing a third successive McDonagh Cup final, will hardly be in the best of spirits for this although Stephen Molumphy was very upbeat afterwards. He knows the opposition, having been one of David Fitzgerald’s selectors. They showed great spirit in coming back from 10 down and Jordan Conway was lethal off the bench but Wexford are fuelled by the high of beating Leinster champions Kilkenny in Nowlan Park last time out.

Verdict: Wexford

SUNDAY

All-Ireland SFQ round 2

Armagh v Donegal, Clones, 4.0 [Live, RTÉ 2]

The dynamic in this has switched considerably since Donegal defeated Armagh in the Ulster championship. Fuelled by the suspensions debacle, Declan Bonner’s men were too good on the day, their practised championship play too much for the opposition. Since then, they slumped to a terrible Ulster final defeat in which all the old failings of aimlessness and lack of urgency in possession came back to haunt them whereas Armagh were evicting the All-Ireland champions from the summer in an ambitious showing, complete with scoring goalkeeper and the adaptable Rian O’Neill kicking scores but also dropping back leaving Stefan Campbell to pull strings up front. It’s very hard for a team that’s won a championship match to return and repeat the dose when well matched with the opposition. Armagh will also have noted how Derry effectively neutralised Michael Murphy.

Verdict: Armagh

Cork v Limerick, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 1.30 [Live, RTÉ 2]

Cork coped quite well with Louth’s blanket defence last weekend and won comfortably. John Cleary also has the experience of competing with Kerry until the final quarter and if they lost by 12, Limerick lost by nearly twice as much in the final. That form line doesn’t augur well although Billy Lee’s team will have a bounce in them after freezing so solidly in the provincial decider, especially in attack. Cork are improving and the form of Sean Powter and Brian Hurley last day out caught the eye.

Verdict: Cork

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times