Weekend’s football championship previews

Qualifiers, Leinster semi-finals and an Ulster semi-final are all on the menu this weekend

Dublin are in action this weekend for their Leinster SFC semi-final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Dublin are in action this weekend for their Leinster SFC semi-final. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Saturday

All-Ireland SFC qualifiers (Round One)

Wexford v Waterford, Innovate Wexford Park, 1.30

Against most expectations, possibly their own, Wexford were within moments of killing off Laois, only to drop dead of thirst a few steps before the well. Suitably revived, they face Waterford for the first time in the championship, a team burdened by that lasting and demoralising 11-point loss to Tipperary.

Verdict: Wexford

Derry v Kildare, Owenbeg, 3.0

Cian O’Neill won’t need reminding that he currently boasts one of the worst losing streaks around, the fear being it won’t end here for the Kildare manager. Carlow were perfectly deserving of their seven-point win, their first victory over Kildare in Leinster since 1953. Derry were seven points down not long in their defeat to Donegal, but finished strong nonetheless. There’s more than pride between the lines here, and in Owenbeg, Derry should have a little more of it.

Verdict: Derry

Meath v Tyrone, Pairc Tailteann, 5.0 (Live on Sky Sports Arena)

Be here now. Neither Mickey Harte nor Andy McEntee would have dared contemplate their season ending before the second Sunday in June. The half-truth being they shouldn’t be here: Meath were sloppy against Longford, and Tyrone just couldn’t put Monaghan away. Navan has been the graveyard for plenty of ambitions over the years but on this occasion Tyrone come armed and still vibrant, even without the suspended Peter Harte and the injured Lee Brennan and Mark Bradley. Morale is low in Meath and Tyrone are a team that will sense it.

Verdict: Tyrone

Limerick v Mayo, Gaelic Grounds, 6.0

Stephen Rochford said all the right things after this draw. That every team starts out from the same bowl and with confidence taken aback a little. Only he knows well Mayo had Galway in perfect sight before indiscipline and a late goal cost them. Lee Keegan is back on board and there will be no half-efforts here against a Limerick team who huffed and puffed but blew very little against Clare.

Verdict: Mayo

Offaly v Antrim, Bord na Mona O’Connor Park, 6.0

Some calm in the aftermath of the Wicklow storm, as Offaly’s interim management led by Paul Rouse welcome back Johnny Moloney, who left the panel under sacked manager Stephen Wallace, and also Brian Darby, who comes out of retirement to join his brother Niall in defence. Truth is they weren’t that bad against Wicklow, and Antrim, who have never played Offaly before, might be about to get caught up in a different sort of storm.

Verdict: Offaly

Wicklow v Cavan, Joule Park, 6.0

Take out the 2-7 they conceded in the opening 15 minutes against Dublin, without themselves scoring, and Wicklow held up relatively well against the All-Ireland champions. Manager John Evans talked about progress afterwards, as did Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan after their tame exit to Donegal. With captain Dara McVeety back from injury, the visitors suddenly look a more settled and capable team.

Verdict: Wicklow

Westmeath v Armagh, TEG Cusack Park, 7.0 Given where Fermanagh now find themselves, perhaps Armagh’s slumbering exit - after scoring a mere seven points - wasn’t that bad. Kieran McGeeney has put together decent qualifier runs before, beating Westmeath in round two last year. John Heslin is still out injured and for Westmeath that’s proving unbearable.

Verdict: Armagh

Sunday

All-Ireland SFC qualifier (Round One)

London v Louth, Ruislip, 2.0

Their first championship meeting since 1913, when Louth won an All-Ireland semi-final. Things have changed since then, Louth’s tame exit against Carlow suggesting London have the upper hand this time, as off colour as they were against Sligo.

Verdict: London

Leinster SFC semi-finals

Dublin v Longford, Croke Park, 4.0 (Live on RTÉ 2)

In a way, the only real surprise from the news this week that four of the extended Dublin panel have gone to the US for the summer is that it has taken them all this long. Ciarán Reddin, Emmet Ó Conghaile and both Shane Carthys have all been on and off Jim Gavin’s squad for four or five years now and are all in their mid-20s.

The last championship appearance for any of them was a sub’s cameo from St Vincent’s Carthy in last year’s Leinster final. They’ve been passed in the bit-part pecking order by the likes of Eoin Murchan, Colm Basquel and Brian Howard over the past two seasons, while Mark Schutte was on the bench for the Wicklow game. The iron has cooled and their opportunities to strike have passed.

Coupled with Diarmuid Connolly’s summer in Boston, you could, if you were mischievous about it, infer a spot of discontent around the place. It feels like reaching, though - it certainly won’t turn a hair on Gavin’s head. The show keeps rolling and Longford’s resistance here will be quashed in short order.

Last meeting: 2015 Leinster quarter-final, Croke Park; Dublin 4-25 Longford 0-10.

Just the ticket: Stand €40, Terrace €25; €10 concession for students/seniors; Juveniles €5.

Odds: Dublin 1/500 Longford 33/1 Draw 66/1.

Verdict: Dublin.

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

Laois v Carlow, Croke Park, 2.0

Rory Gallagher must look on with a fair amount of bemusement at the outpouring of goodwill surrounding Carlow’s rise this year. His Fermanagh team are no more defensively entrenched than Turlough O’Brien’s and yet while the feelgood story of the summer is being told in the south-east, the praise going the way of the Ulster finalists is routinely grudging, purely because of the way they set up.

This is no knock on Carlow, just a small gripe at the double standards. As ever, the only legitimate criticism of any style of football is to be made when it’s not getting results. Fermanagh are in an Ulster final and Carlow are 70 minutes away from the Leinster decider. Everyone else can go whistle.

Can they turn Laois over? It’s more a possibility than a probability, in all honesty. You have to go back 30 years to the last time it happened and the more recent evidence is no more encouraging for O’Brien’s side. Both league encounters went Laois’s way earlier this year and John Sugrue looks to have harnessed a decent level of backbone in his team. They will take Carlow’s threat seriously, which ought to be enough.

Last meeting: 2015 Leinster first round, Dr Cullen Park; Laois 3-16 Carlow 0-8.

Just the ticket: Stand €40, Terrace €25; €10 concession for students/seniors; Juveniles €5.

Odds: Laois 8/11 Carlow 11/8 Draw 8/1.

Verdict: Laois.

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).

Ulster SFC semi-final

Down v Donegal, Clones, 4.0

Monaghan’s exit last weekend means Donegal are now 1/2 shots to win Ulster. Those are mighty slim odds considering the hard labour that lies ahead of them if they’re to get past Down and Fermanagh.

Down will give them plenty to detain them here. The returning Neil McGee will have his hands full with Connaire Harrison and the raiding from deep of Caolán Mooney and Kevin McKernan will mirror what Ryan McHugh and Frank McGlynn bring to the day. In corner-back Adrian Doherty, they’ve unearthed a long-range free-taker to complement Donal O’Hare closer to goal.

They’re generally quite a sticky side too. Although they were relegated to Division Three in the spring, they actually had the best defensive record in Division Two going into the final day. The 4-14 they coughed up to Meath that day was thoroughly out of character - it accounted for a quarter of all the scores they conceded over the seven matches.

So Donegal will have to sweat this out and anyone expecting a more open, free-flowing affair than last Sunday could be disappointed. Expect Declan Bonner’s side to find the scores in the last quarter - but not enough for a landslide or anything.

Last meeting: 2013 Ulster semi-final, Breffni Park; Donegal 0-12 Down 0-9.

Just the ticket: Stand €35, Terrace €20; Student/Senior €20 (stand), €17 (terrace); Juvenile €5.

Odds: Donegal 1/4 Down 7/2 Draw 10/1.

Verdict: Donegal.

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).

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