Allianz Football League previews: D-Day looms

Monaghan, Donegal and Tyrone are Dublin’s main rivals to take campaign to its last day

Jim Gavin’s Dublin side will face Monaghan who have run them to the tightest of finishes in their last two Croke Park meetings. Photograph: Inpho

Jim Gavin’s Dublin side will face Monaghan who have run them to the tightest of finishes in their last two Croke Park meetings. Photograph: Inpho

 

SATURDAY 

Division Four

Leitrim v Waterford, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada – Leitrim have a decent selection of good young players and have been competitive against all comers apart from Westmeath. Waterford have beaten the (two) teams below them but won’t overturn the outcome of last summer’s qualifier when they lost here. Verdict: Leitrim

Connacht Under-21 final

Sligo v Galway, Markievicz Park 6.0 [Live streamed, www.tg4.ie) – Galway won the semi-final against Mayo quite convincingly and are after dismissing the All-Ireland champions are hot favourites to take the provincial title. On the evidence of the semi-finals however the clash between the two centrefielders Peter Cooke of Galway and Sligo’s Darragh Cummins will be an interesting sub-plot. Verdict: Galway

Hogan Cup final

St Brendan’s, Killarney v St Peter’s Wexford, Croke Park, 4.0 – The Kerry monopoly at under-18 continues apace. If Brendan’s – in their first back-to-back finals – retain the title it will be four-in-a-row for schools from the county to go with the last three All-Ireland minors. St Peter’s come from a different side of the tracks altogether: a traditional hurling school with four All-Ireland titles, this is a first football final for them. The team reflects the heritage with star centrefielder Rory O’Connor a son of 1996 Wexford defender John. The Kerry side are formidable though and feature four of the county’s All-Ireland winning minors from last year. Verdict: St Brendan’s

SUNDAY [All fixtures at 2.0]

Division One

  Kerry v Tyrone, Fitzgerald Stadium – Tyrone have slipped at exactly the wrong time and defeats by Donegal and Mayo leave them in real danger of not reaching the final, something that they looked likely to do when leading the table before those matches. Killarney isn’t the best place to be heading when you desperately need a result even if the home side were disappointed to drop a point themselves in Cavan. In the light of their under-21s crushing of Cork in the last Munster final at the grade the future looks bright for Kerry but in the more immediate frame, they’ll find this hard going. Tyrone under-performed in both recent defeats but the attacking shortcomings will have been a particular concern with just two points from play against Donegal and 15 wides against Mayo. Mattie Donnelly’s suspension won’t help either. Verdict: Kerry

Mayo v Donegal, Elvery’s MacHale Park – In a way the win in Omagh was almost a replica of last August’s let-off for Mayo. The good news for Stephen Rochford was the nerve demonstrated to be ahead at the end of a game that inched forward in one-point increments in the second half. Donegal for their part were frustrated by Monaghan’s late penalty, which meant that instead of sharing top spot with Dublin, Rory Gallagher’s are a point adrift. They have the odd record of doing better on the road where they have an100 per cent record while winning just one of their four home matches. None the less the home side may finally have the bit between their teeth and need something to make sure of avoiding relegation. Verdict: Mayo

Monaghan v Dublin, Clones – Monaghan’s miracles of husbandry continued with a classically finessed result in Ballyshannon. Conor McManus may have had a subdued afternoon but he didn’t need a second invitation when the late penalty was awarded. Malachy O’Rourke’s team will in all likelihood need to take something out of this to reach the final but the visitors’ demolition of Roscommon last week should take into account the opposition’s lack of confidence after a grim campaign. Monaghan haven’t always escaped trimmings against Dublin – most recently in this exact fixture two years ago –but they have also run them to the tightest of finishes in their last two Croke Park meetings. Then there is the further context of the champions’ patchy displays in other matches despite their now record unbeaten run. Perhaps though the most obvious context is Dublin’s accelerating form in the spring – just one defeat after St Patrick’s Day in Jim Gavin’s five years in charge. Verdict: Dublin

Roscommon v Cavan, Dr Hyde Park – Roscommon’s problem here is exacerbated by the contrasting motivations. The home side – the only county in the league with no points – are facing into a whitewash season and whereas this match had all the hall marks of a relegation head-to-head the fact is only Cavan have a chance of survival. Their form has been impressive in recent matches and exemplified by Gearóid McKiernan and Dara McVeety, scorer of the goal in the drawn match with Kerry. Hidden in Roscommon’s travails under the Croke Park lights was the surprising number of goal chances created but – perhaps unsurprisingly – not taken. The fact of their difficulties is now becoming as big an issue as performances, not all of which have been bad. Verdict: Cavan

Division Two

Clare v Meath, Cusack Park – After scaling the heights of joint-second place in the division and last week pushing already promoted Kildare hard, Clare can now feel however faintly the cold breath of relegation on their necks. This will be difficult, as the visitors have put aside the infuriating mood swings of the early fixtures to finish strongly and are positioned to take advantage of any Galway slip-up. Verdict: Meath

Cork v Down, Páirc Uí Rinn – A spectral trace of the counties that contested the All-Ireland seven years ago, this sees the home side – apparent shoo-ins for promotion at the start of the season – becalmed whereas their Ulster opponents although they have put to bed their dire run of nearly two years without a win in league or championship, are in the relegation frame. Cork’s morale – further buffeted by their under-21s annihilation by Kerry this week – isn’t great but they can handle this. Verdict: Cork

Fermanagh v Derry, Brewster Park – Fermanagh really need to win this if they are to survive in the division; Derry don’t even have that reassurance. The home side have Tomás Corrigan as an injury concern and his loss would be severe, as they take on a Derry team strengthened by the Slaughtneil pair Chris McKaigue and Brendan Rogers whose return coincided with the defence’s first goal-free afternoon of the league. Verdict: Fermanagh

Galway v Kildare, Pearse Stadium – If there’s one thing worse than a dead rubber it is – as Wexford indicated last week – a half-dead rubber. Kildare are promoted but Galway need to avoid defeat. Cian O’Neill’s second successive promotion has been achieved in some style and this is a similar finale to five years ago when it took a 74th-minute penalty by John Doyle to give Kildare a draw and promotion except on this occasion the visitors don’t need anything. Verdict: Galway

Division Three

Antrim v Longford, Corrigan Park – One of two effective relegation play-offs in the division. Antrim’s feisty display against Armagh only came up short because of a good penalty save. Longford have blown hot and cold and home advantage can swing this. Verdict: Antrim

Armagh v Tipperary, Athletic Grounds – A winner-takes-all promotion between the division’s top scorers. This was brought about by Tipp’s very disappointing home defeat against Louth and the team’s postponement-enforced schedule – this is their fourth match in successive weeks – may be catching up. Armagh have looked good enough to go up for most of the campaign and should do so. Verdict: Armagh

Louth v Sligo, Gaelic Grounds Drogheda – Sligo have begun to tread water but their status is safe whereas Louth are already promoted. In the circumstances of nothing being on the line it’s hard to predict but Louth have impressed except in the Armagh match. Verdict: Louth

Offaly v Laois, O’Connor Park – Straitened times for the midland neighbours, one of whom will be taking a tumble. That wouldn’t be new territory for Offaly but it would be a dismal outcome for Laois, a Division One county just five years ago. Offaly have revived a bit in recent matches but the visitors can save their season. Verdict: Laois

Division Four

Carlow v Wexford, Netwatch Cullen Park, NB 1.0 – Already promoted, Wexford went with a shadow team for the Westmeath match and got hammered. That is unlikely to be repeated here even against a Carlow side currently third in the table. Verdict: Wexford

Limerick v Wicklow, Newcastle West, NB 3.0 – The second-half wipe-out by Carlow last week emphasises the gloom in Wicklow whereas the home team are finishing the season well with three successive wins and a likely fourth here. Verdict: Limerick

Westmeath v London, TEG Cusack Park, NB 1.0 – Westmeath sealed a quick exit from the division, which makes it all of five years – two promotions and three relegations – since they’ve stayed in the same place after a league season. Bottom placed London won’t stop the home side topping the table. Verdict: Westmeath

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