Tight contest in prospect between Donegal and Tyrone
Roscommon wary of young Leitrim outfit keen to break fixture’s 17-year losing streak
Donegal’s Patrick McBrearty stretches away from Conor Hamill of Antrim during the Ulster GAA Senior Football Championship Quarter-Final. Photograph: John McIlwaine/Presseye
Ulster SFC semi-final
Tyrone v Donegal
Live, RTÉ One, 1.10pm Here we go again, then. For the sixth time in seven seasons, Donegal and Tyrone face off. It took three points from the ends of the earth late on for Tyrone to finally break their duck in last year’s Ulster final – they’d lost the previous four meetings on the spin, easily Donegal’s longest period of dominance over them. Their status as favourites here is most likely predicated on those three scores.
Thing is, as they showed against Mayo the next day out, Tyrone’s downfall is that they’re as likely to miss those scores as make them. Their attritional brand of football means they will naturally end up in tight games against the other top teams and in that scenario, those long-range bombs have to land.
If they can’t get Sean Cavanagh or Peter Harte on the ball, what then?
Unless and until they’ve shown that weakness has been eradicated, you wouldn’t see them as a cast-iron choice in this sort of game. Against the teams they can’t blow away with their hard-running counterattack game, it can turn into a bit of a lottery in the closing stages. Potshot bingo, a cuddly toy if your number comes up.
This is almost certainly going to be one of those games. Donegal will match them packed defence for packed defence and so it will come down to who brings their shooting boots to the closing quarter. So often in recent meetings, that has been Donegal. With Michael Murphy, Patrick McBrearty, Ryan McHugh and Hugh McFadden all on the premises, Rory Gallagher’s side may well have the more bankable shooters.
In a game of tiny margins, that could be enough to do it.
Last meeting: 2016 Ulster final, Clones, Tyrone 0-13 Donegal 0-11.
Odds: Tyrone 3/4, Donegal 6/4, Draw 7/1.
Just the ticket: Stand €25/£22, terrace €15/£13. Juveniles €5/£5. Concessions available for students, senior citizens and families.
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)
Connacht SFC semi-final
Roscommon v Leitrim
Dr Hyde Park, 3.30pm
Roscommon become the last county to enter the football championship, a full 11 weeks after registering their only win of the league against Cavan. It was a downbeat campaign because although the team contested most of the fixtures creditably enough, the stress of losing match after match created its own pressures.
The long break, and the opportunity to blow off some steam with the clubs and to allow injuries to clear, has helped to reset the team after getting relegated from Division One. Last year it was the championship that went wrong, culminating in a trimming from Galway in the replayed Connacht final and the ambition is to make amends this summer.
They might not have lost to Leitrim in 17 years, but this year Roscommon will be wary of a young team anxious to make an impact. In the unforgiving spotlight of the league’s top flight, Kevin McStay’s outfit ended up with the worst defensive record in the country and that will encourage Leitrim because in Ruislip it was goals that salvaged the match.
There’s a fair distribution of the county’s emerging talent in attack where Darragh Rooney, Ryan O’Rourke and Keith Beirne are all under-21s. A good display would be valuable for a young team but Roscommon have been playing Division One football for two years and that should count.
Last meeting: 2016 Connacht quarter-final, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roscommon 1-21, Leitrim 0-11
Odds: Roscommon 1/16, Leitrim 8/1, Draw 20/1. Just the ticket: Covered stand €25. Sideline €20. Terrace €20. Juveniles €5. Verdict: Roscommon.