Weekend GAA football previews: Galway expected to seal final place
Kerry and Monaghan also favourites to book their place in provincial deciders
James O’Donoghue: enthused about a return to full fitness for Kerry by stating: “I feel like I’m 22 again”. But at 28 he is now one of the experienced members of a young Kerry squad. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
CONNACHT SFC semi-final
Galway v Sligo
Pearse Stadium 3.30pm.
After the early-season hype of their derby against Mayo, Galway now have to get on with the more prosaic business of winning the games they are expected to. The return of Eamonn Brannigan and the inclusion of Ian Burke promises a more attack-minded approach by the home team.
They are two of four changes Kevin Walsh has made for this game. On paper, this is a contest between the league finalists and a mid-table Division Three side.
Reality is different: Walsh knows first hand from his years in Sligo the quality of players like Charlie Harrison, Ross Donovan and Adrian Marren while the midfield pairing of Niall Murphy and Kevin McDonnell has clicked.
Sligo gained momentum in the second half of the league, were slick in piling 1-21 against London in early May and Cathal Corey has had a month to prepare for this. They will present a sticky challenge but Galway’s variety of attacking options and physical strength should see them through.
Munster SFC semi-final
Kerry v Clare
Fitzgerald Stadium 3.30.
The Kingdom are masters at tip-toeing into the championship but this is an intriguing game.
Colm Collins has done a terrific job with Clare and is not afraid to voice the idea, at least, that Clare can end a 26-year losing streak against Kerry. Last year, five points separated the sides.
They hit 1-22 in a comfortable win over Limerick and hope to have Sean Collins and Kevin Hartnett back to full fitness for this game. Chief among the Kerry-spotting will be how the management uses the squadron of young stars at its disposal.
It seems like only yesterday since James O’Donoghue was the new face of Kerry football; this week, he enthused about a return to full fitness by stating: “I feel like I’m 22 again.” At 28, he comes into veteran-category in the dressing room.
But it is the senior players – David Moran, Kieran Donaghy, Peter Crowley, Paul Geaney – who will ultimately dictate how far Kerry can go this summer and if they can challenge Dublin. Cork await the winners. Kerry,at home, will have enough to ensure they renew that big southern rivalry.
Ulster SFC semi-final
Fermanagh v Monaghan
Healy Park 2.00pm.
A happy hunting ground, this, for Monaghan, after their eye-catching win over Tyrone. Malachy O’Rourke’s team showed in that game that they are among the great shape-shifters in the modern game, adapting and expanding and finding a way to get the most out of an exceptional group of players.
It was also the game in which Vinny Corey proved he is the Chris Cooper of Gaelic games: the best character-actor in the business. There is no role he can’t play. Drew Wylie may be asked to match up against Fermanagh’s totemic Sean Quigley but the chief task for Monaghan is trying to break down the rigorously organised defence Rory Gallagher has implemented.
This is a game Monaghan should win, which makes it so tricky. They have a unique talent in Conor McManus and several very good players but it was hunger and ambition that transformed Monaghan over the past five years. They will see those characteristics in the green team on Sunday.