Allianz League previews: Football

Division One Dublin holders kick off campaign against Cork who have just three home

Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh in McKenna Cup action recently. The veteran is named at full forward to face Monaghan at Healy Park. Photograph: Inpho

Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh in McKenna Cup action recently. The veteran is named at full forward to face Monaghan at Healy Park. Photograph: Inpho


Saturday (7.0 unless stated)

Division One

Tyrone v Monaghan, Healy Park – Bit of a shake-up in the Tyrone camp in advance of one of this evening’s two reprises of an Ulster championship match from last summer. Tyrone’s priority this year has to be stabilising the defence and Cathal McCarron returns at corner back with recent solid displays by Ronan McNamee in the McKenna Cup win rewarded with the number three jersey. Seán Cavanagh is named at full forward, which you’d imagine would be the ideal if an adequate centrefield can be run in. Back in the top flight, Monaghan will be hard pressed to replicate the championship victory, as Malachy O’Rourke hasn’t been able to field his best team so far and will miss 2013 All Star Colin Walshe for the whole campaign.

Donegal v Derry, Ballybofey – Donegal gave notice of their revival last summer with a convincing win over the league finalists in Celtic Park. Much has happened since, with Rory Gallagher succeeding Jim McGuinness and Mark McHugh returning to the fold. Eleven of the team played in Derry last May whereas 10 of the visitors’ team can say the same. The counties also played earlier this month but Donegal fielded a very experimental side. One Derry variation that is retained sees Niall Holly, usually a centrefielder, continuing at full back. Fergal Doherty, Dermot McBride, Carlus McWilliams and James Kielt aren’t ready to return yet. It’s a strong Donegal selection and can get the county’s return to Division One off to a good start.

Division Three
Fermanagh v Louth
, Brewster Park – Under Peter McGrath Fermanagh have been plugging away below the radar, preserving their status in the division last year and after losing in Ulster to Antrim they nearly surprised Laois in the qualifiers. They had a respectable McKenna Cup and although Séamus Quigley still refuses to play, his brother Seán lends firepower. Louth were relegated last year and are under new management in former county player and Railway Cup forward Colin Kelly. They’ve lost big names with the departure of Paddy Keenan and Shane Lennon and need to be careful in a competitive division, starting this evening. Home win.

Division Four
Waterford v Wicklow,
Fraher Field (7.0) – That’s ‘McGrath Cup Champions, Waterford’ to you, sonny. And don’t you forget it. What’s seldom is wonderful but Waterford have to back it up now. Sheer momentum could take them past Wicklow here so they should cash in while they can.

Waterford Crystal Cup (Munster SH) final
Cork v Limerick, Mallow
– Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy has calmed down the carousel rotation of recent weeks with only two changes to the team that beat Clare with Luke O’Farrell bagging two goals. It’s still experimental but the bench is strong. Limerick had a good win over UCC but are missing Fitzgibbon and club-tied Kilmallock players. Cork look stronger.

Sunday (2.0 unless stated)

Division One Cork v Dublin, Páirc Uí Rinn - Contrasting fortunes in last week’s pre-season finals saw Dublin with a first O’Byrne Cup in six years and Cork losing to Waterford in the McGrath Cup. The counties’ matches last year were memorable and Cork have a good record against Dublin in the league, especially at home. Brian Hurley and Colm O’Neill have both troubled the Dubs’ full-back line in the past. Brian Cuthbert names a reasonably strong team whereas Jim Gavin’s still waiting for the return of a number of players. Dean Rock has been moving well as well as kicking well off the tee and will benefit from a league campaign. Michael Macauley is another in need of game time after just recently returning from injury. Cork could particularly do with a win - practically, as they’ve just three home matches and four trips to Ulster and psychologically after losing the 10-point lead to Dublin in last year’s semi-final. Home win.

Kerry v Mayo, Fitzgerald Stadium - Hamlet without a few of the princes, as the counties revisit last August’s epic semi-final rivalry. Most obviously, James O’Donoghue and Cillian O’Connor - three goals each over the two matches - miss out because of injury and suspension, respectively. Club-tied Kieran Donaghy and Aidan O’Shea, another injured, are also absentees. Mayo look to have parked the idea of playing Donal Vaughan at full back and he lines out at centrefield. Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes shake things up a bit with two of the All-Ireland winning minors of 2013, Stephen Coen and Patrick Durcan, making their first starts and Mark Ronaldson coming back for a first league match in four years. Kerry have moved sluggishly in the league in Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s two years and the return of the Sam Maguire is unlikely to have sharpened that focus. Tommy Walsh is on the bench and if he appears it will be interesting to see where. Kerry are short their two All Star forwards and Walsh played centrefield for O’Rahilly’s last week. Mayo look more afflicted by the loss of their missing contingent.

Division Two (All throw-ins 2.0)
Kildare v Down, Newbridge – Given that they’re one of the teams with four away games on the slate, it’s slightly curious to see Kildare at the top of the betting for Division Two. That said, Down do head to Newbridge a bit fresher of face than Jim McCorry would like here. No Aidan Carr, Ambrose Rodgers, Kalum King, Liam Doyle or Dan Gordon - and that’s on top of the retirements of Benny Coulter and Brendan McVeigh. Kildare gave them a chasing in the championship last summer and if they hit their stride here could do so again.

Westmeath v Laois, Cusack Park – Two patients in need of good news when the doctor does his rounds. Westmeath haven’t won a league game since the last weekend of March 2013, Laois only just survived the drop to Division Three last year and lost all three of their games in this year’s O’Byrne Cup. The severity of the situation is clear from the named Laois XV - heavy on experience, light on experimentation. It will be interesting to see where Evan O’Carroll is in his development - still only 19, Laois need him sooner than he might be ready. Westmeath might have to wait for that first win.

Roscommon v Cavan, Kiltoom – These could be some hard yards for Cavan to negotiate through the spring. They made a decent fist of giving Tyrone a game in the McKenna Cup final but got shut down pretty handily the further the game went on. Already without Eugene Keating and David Givney - apparently for the year - the loss of Cian Mackey to injury makes them somewhat toothless. They have it all to do here against a Roscommon side that looks to be heading the right way. John Evan’s side beat Mayo and Galway in the space of a couple of weeks in January and have had the whip-hand over Cavan in their most recent meetings.

Galway v Meath, Pearse Stadium – If this is anything like the meeting on the first weekend of the league last year, hang on to your hats. Meath win it 3-18 to 4-11 on a day we all decided the black card was the greatest innovation since Predator boots. Galway have a sturdy look to them so far under Kevin Walsh and a central diamond of Gareth Bradshaw at 6, Tom Flynn and Fiontán Ó Curraoin at midfield and Shane Walsh at 11 will take some beating no matter who they come up against. As for Meath, there’s still a good chunk of an injury list to clear - no sign yet of Conor Gillespie or Eamonn Wallace. Home advantage to swing it.

Division Three

Clare v Wexford, Milltown Malbay - Former Tipperary under-age coach David Power makes a familiar trip to Clare in his first league match as Wexford manager. Clare haven’t been out of the basement division since the current format was introduced in 2008 so this is an achievement by manager Colm Collins who has the added bonus of his son, former hurling All Star Podge’s undivided attention. A good start to the campaign is important if last year’s progress is to be maintained. Wexford however look a bit too strong, particularly up from with Ciarán Lyng back to join Ben Brosnan on the inside line.

Limerick v Sligo, Kilmallock - Limerick will be doing well to keep afloat given the scale of manager John Brudair’s absentee list. The team’s attack has been severely undermined by injury and general unavailability. Top forwards Ian Ryan and Ger Collins are among the missing and of course John Galvin’s announcement of his retirement after a towering career was another setback. Sligo beat Limerick twice last year, in league and qualifiers. Hard to see that trend shifting tomorrow.

Armagh v Tipperary, Athletic Grounds - Two of the more fancied teams in the division, both are new arrivals with Armagh slipping out of the top half of the league for the first time in 13 years and Tipp, yo-yoing back up the divisions with a strengthening panel built on recent under-age progress. New Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney will see promotion as a must for his first year and he has the players and experience to do that. For the visitors it’s the hardest start possible but a good performance can set them up for the rest of the campaign.

Division Four
Antrim v Carlow,
Páirc Naomh Pól – Antrim have named a pretty serious side here with the likes of CJ McGourty, Tony Scullion, Niall McKeever and Seán McVeigh included. But Carlow have Brendan Murphy back in the fold after last year’s sabbatical and should give them a run for it.

Leitrim v Longford, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada – Life is tough enough on Leitrim without having to do without one of the best forwards in Connacht as Emlyn Mulligan has gone travelling. They host a Longford side that is in a hurry to get back up the divisions and even without Paul Barden just yet, Jack Sheedy’s side should have too much firepower.

London v Offaly, Ruislip – Pat Flanagan looks to have peeled the Offaly footballers up off the mat and a couple of O’Byrne Cup wins has put colour back in their cheeks. This should be straightforward enough against London, who always struggle this early in the year.

Walsh Cup (Leinster SH) semi-finals Carlow v Galway, Netwatch Cullen Park - Galway welcome back Ronan Burke for his first match of the season and they should proceed to the final.

Laois v Dublin, O’Moore Park - Laois have had some good results and performances but Ger Cunningham’s team will be alert to the danger.

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