Allianz League finals: Kildare can stifle Galway’s potential
Tipperary should be too strong for Louth while Westmeath have enough for Wexford
Kildare’s Eddie Heavey and Barry McHugh of Galway in the sides’ Allianz league game last Sunday. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho
Division Two final
Galway v Kildare
Sunday, 2.0, Live TG4
The counties met a week ago in one of those slightly false encounters where just one of the teams were fully engaged, Kildare having already been promoted. Cian O’Neill announced 13 changes to the team that did surprisingly well in Salthill, losing by a point.
Some allowances can be made for Galway, who weren’t at full strength and who looked afflicted by anxiety as they strove to avoid defeat and copper-fasten their own return to Division One. That’s done and both teams can focus on the prospect of ticking a long-empty box.
Galway’s winless streak at Croke Park is nearly 16 years old but it pales in comparison with Kildare having to go back 32 years to February 1985 for their last league or championship win over Galway – on a day when Larry Tompkins scored 1-5.
Kildare are another yo-yo county, having gone from Division One to Three and back again in successive seasons whereas Galway have been loitering in this tier for six seasons.
O’Neill’s team have probably been slightly more impressive this season, recording big wins over two sides – Meath and Cork – that started off as likely promotion rivals and neither of whom Galway beat but there’s not much between them, as the final standings indicate: both have nearly identical scores for and against.
A week ago Shane Walsh’s running into space caused problems for Kildare, as did the counter-attacking breaks of the wing backs, especially Johnny Duane. Their defence will back to full-strength this weekend and a man marker for Walsh will probably be organised given that his direct opponent is likely to be opposing captain Eoin Doyle, who plays a deeper role in front of his full backs.
Galway’s excessive caution in Salthill a week ago was presumably influenced by their defensive shortcomings in a couple of matches and they will remain mindful of what happened last August when they took the field as favourites against Tipperary in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Galway have it in them to do well on a big pitch with a good surface, given the form of Walsh – who at last is delivering on his potential with consistent displays – and the pace of team-mates Eamonn Brannigan. Kildare though look steadier, better balanced between defence and attack and with the exception of Niall Flynn (out with appendicitis) they have a full hand, the confidence and athleticism to land some silverware.
Division Three final
Louth v Tipperary
Saturday, 5.0, Live TG4
Louth have been some story in this league and have completed a four-year cycle of dropping from Division Two to Four and now back again in successive seasons. Their watershed match was beating their final opponents in Thurles with some great second-half shooting.
Last week’s second defeat, by Sligo, came after promotion had been secured was with essentially a second team.
For a team favoured for promotion after last year’s championship exploits Tipp have made heavy work of attaining that target – Michael Quinlivan’s decisive goal in Armagh came with just seconds of injury-time left on the clock – but manager Liam Kearns can point to injuries and schedule disruption as mitigating factors.
The main task completed for both teams, they can relax into this but looked at over a period Tipperary have showed the greater aptitude for playing at a higher level and having played so well in Croke Park in last year’s championship they look the more likely winners.
Division Four final
Westmeath v Wexford
Saturday, 3.0, Live TG4
Westmeath’s tour of the divisions continued with promotion from the bottom rung and they have had a very good season to date. Manager Tom Cribbin spoke during the week about the advantage of a rested and injury-free team, contrasting this state of affairs with last year.
The Leinster finalists played right through the campaign to record the highest points total in the division and thrashed a below-strength Wexford after the latter had sealed promotion. Whether Séamus McEnaney’s policy of throwing the last two matches will work in terms of giving players game-time remains to be seen, as more immediately does how it will impact on this – with Monaghan, he won one and lost one of the league finals his teams contested.
Westmeath have plenty of Croke Park finals experience in recent years and with John Heslin and Ger Egan in form their momentum to date can do the rest.