GAA championship previews: Not a lot to separate Donegal and Armagh

Galway will have to overcome problems with Mayo’s physical power

SATURDAY

Ulster SFC quarter-final

Antrim v Cavan, Corrigan Park, Belfast, 2.0 – Live BBC Two NI
Cavan rounded off an uneventful promotion with the Division Four title and looked comfortable, whereas Antrim held steady in Division Three and are a purposeful outfit under Enda McGinley. Plus they are at home for the first time in nine years since seeing off the Ulster Council (and their opponents) on venue change. That gives them a bounce going into this but Cavan are a more seasoned team, champions two years ago, and Mickey Graham will have them right for this. Verdict: Cavan

SUNDAY

Connacht SFC quarter-final

Mayo v Galway, Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, 4.0 – Live RTÉ2
It's not clear how seriously Mayo were taking their Division One final with Kerry but a 15-point beating presumably wasn't part of the plan. Galway's failure against Roscommon in Division Two was all the more depressing in that they regained and then lost the initiative.

Mayo are still off full strength but have experience, as Cillian O'Connor starts his first championship match in two years. Five of the named players featured in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat by Kerry 11 years ago and if Rob Hennelly were available, it would be six.

Galway have had problems with their neighbours’ physical power, most recently when overwhelmed in last year’s Connacht final second half. Mayo are at home for the first time since 2018 but of the four venues where they have played championship in the past four years, MacHale Park, Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds, Pearse Stadium and Croke Park, Castlebar is actually the one where Galway last won.

It is speculated that Seán Kelly will drop back to defence to try to shore up the area that continues to give Galway most trouble.

They have acquired a bad habit of disappointing on big days and it's hard to say with conviction that that's about to change. Verdict: Mayo

Leinster SFC round one

Louth v Carlow, Páirc Tailteann, Navan, 2.30
Mickey Harte's Louth are on the march from promotion to winning Division Three to gaining access to the Sam Maguire. In Sam Mulroy they boast the league's top scorer. Carlow had a difficult campaign, finishing second from bottom of the whole league. They've a young team, put together in the wake of retirement and other panel departures. Defender Mikey Bambrick is doubtful but the team is otherwise full strength. Louth though are on a roll. Verdict: Louth

Wexford v Offaly, Chadwicks Wexford Park, 3.0
Teams from lower divisions ambushing their betters is not unknown and Wexford had experience of doing so in times past. It's unlikely here even with home advantage. Offaly were competitive in Division Two and nearly stayed up. Defensively they have conceded nearly 20 points a match in the league but their strength is up front. Anyway it's unlikely that a hard-working Wexford team, despite being the canary in Dublin's mine a year ago, will stress test these issues.

Verdict: Offaly

Wicklow v Laois, Aughrim, 3.30
Miserable times for Laois in particular, who completed a slide down two divisions a few weeks ago. It was slightly unfortunate in that they finished the third-highest scorers in the division behind the promoted teams. Evan O'Carroll and Mark Barry have been prominent up front and they face a young Wicklow team, who were competitive in Division Three. Home hopes are high that they can replicate the Battle of Aughrim from 36 years ago but chances are it will more closely resemble Laois' comfortable win here last month.

Verdict: Laois

Ulster SFC quarter-final

Donegal v Armagh, MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, 2.0 – Live BBC One
Overshadowed by the disciplinary shenanigans during the past week, this match should have attracted attention for being the highest-quality fixture to date in the championship. It is informed by the final league match between the teams, which produced the famous melee for which Donegal accepted their punishment and for which Armagh – with the exception of Ciarán Mackin, who withdrew his challenge – didn't.

On the pitch not a lot separates the sides. Patrick McBrearty kicked the winner in the fifth minute of injury-time in Letterkenny four weeks ago. There is a difference in styles. Donegal work the ball through the lines whereas Armagh go quickly.

They are also blessed with one of the league’s top performing forwards, Rian O’Neill, who escaped likely suspension on a technicality after the league match – an administrative error that may prove costly for Donegal.

It’s interesting to note how Armagh have closed the gap on their opponents since the 12-point defeat in the 2020 Ulster championship less than 18 months ago.

Although Armagh have received a boost from the appeals, Donegal will be extremely motivated by grievance. That and home advantage may not, however, be enough to see them through.

Verdict: Armagh