Gaelic Games: Weekend previews

Croke Park are expecting something in the neighbourhood of 25,000 for Dublin v Donegal Division One clash

Dublin’s Kevin McManamon and Odhran Mac Niallais of Donegal will renew battle at Croke Park in their Allianz League Division One clash. Photograph: Inpho

Dublin’s Kevin McManamon and Odhran Mac Niallais of Donegal will renew battle at Croke Park in their Allianz League Division One clash. Photograph: Inpho

 

Saturday Allianz League Division One Dublin v Donegal, Croke Park, 7.0 – As well as marking a renewal of last August’s memorable All-Ireland semi-final, this evening brings together the two counties most distraught not to win the 2014 All-Ireland. The teams are coming into this in contrasting moods. Rory Gallagher’s assumption of the reins in Donegal has been smooth so far and last week’s second-half change of gear against Derry was impressive. They field a strong side and will fancy their chances against a Dublin team, much changed from the championship because of injury, rest and club requirements. Jim Gavin deliberately shook up the team when it was going well in a tight match against Cork. So far the most interesting aspects have been the consistent form of Shane Carthy at centrefield and wing forward, Tomás Brady’s ball winning at wing forward and John Small as an impressively retro, defensive centre back. On paper this is a good chance for Donegal but there is pressure on those auditioning for Dublin and that can be influential. Verdict: Dublin.

AIB All-Ireland club –SHC semi-finals Kilmallock (Limerick) v Portaferry (Down), Mullingar, 2.0 – The disruption to the clubs caused by the freeze in Thurles is slightly compensated for in Portaferry’s case by the venue switching to a ground at which Ulster champions have done well in the past. Much of the focus on the Down team concerns Paul Braniff but as well as a handful of other experienced players such as Stephen Murray and Andy Savage, manager Noel Sands has blooded new talent and they won their first provincial title by defeating recent All-Ireland winners, Loughgiel. Kilmallock are missing Gavin O’Mahony after his red card in the Munster final but have other well-known intercounty performers such as Paudie O’Brien and Graeme Mulcahy. They’re an orthodox team, well coached by Ger O’Loughlin, strong in the air, confident score takers and likely to reach a first final in 22 years. Verdict: Kilmallock.

Gort (Galway) v Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny), Tullamore, 2.0 – Gort are one of just two, along with Loughrea, Galways champions in the past 26 years not (so far) to have gone on to win an All-Ireland title. They will have learned from reaching this stage three years ago but find themselves up against one of the heaviest hitters. Ballyhale’s form hasn’t been stupendous but for a side that has achieved so much they remain tenacious. They might have ridden their luck against Kilcormac in the Leinster final but they also held their nerve and with artillery like TJ Reid and Henry Shefflin on hand, it’s as well to put them away when you have the chance. They’re also very flexible with two All Star centrefielders, Michael Fennelly and James Fitzpatrick, not even playing there and available for switching. Gort would probably have preferred the original venue in Thurles. They’re a relatively young side with plenty of pace, a strong, ball winning half-forward line and Richie Cummins in the corner. Kilcormac showed up weaknesses in the Leinster final but Ballyhale also showed they won’t be easily budged. Verdict: Ballyhale.

Bórd na Móna Walsh Cup (Leinster SH) final Dublin v Galway, Croke Park, 5.0 – In the absence of Kilkenny this pairing isn’t a major surprise but under new management Dublin have been tipping along nicely and have a chance to take some early silverware against a Galway side short of Joe Canning and in experimental mode. Verdict: Dublin. Division Two Down v Roscommon, Newry Nothing like a last-minute win on the road in early February to set you up for the year. Turning a three-point deficit into a four-point win in injury-time last week gives Jim McCorry plenty to work on and he makes five changes – the most notable the inclusion of repatriated AFL player Caolán Mooney from the start. The Rossies probably left a point behind them against Cavan and they will need Enda Smith to continue the form he showed for DCU midweek if they are to grab anything at a venue where Down very rarely lose. Verdict: Down

Laois v Cavan, Portlaoise A glance at the date on the top of the page is obviously advisable before declaring Laois to be in an irredeemable tailspin. Things ain’t good though. No wins in the O’Byrne Cup followed by providing Westmeath with their first league win in nearly two years followed by Conor Meredith leaving the panel. Cavan at home is one of the fixtures they’ll have eyed up in plotting a course to Division Two safety but Terry Hyland’s side are awkward and the last thing they need. Verdict: Cavan

Meath v Kildare, Navan Both sides have some making up to do after suffering variously-hued calamities last weekend. Whatever about Kildare’s choke at home to Down, Meath’s display over in Galway was the worst show put up by anyone in the division. Mick O’Dowd has decided to make only one change from the team that stank out Pearse Stadium. They can’t be as bad again surely. As for Jason Ryan’s team, a repeat performance with a little more composure late could do the trick here. Verdict: Kildare. Sunday

Allianz League Division One – (All throw-ins 2pm, unless stated) Mayo v Tyrone, Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar – Tyrone arrive in Castlebar shattered after last week’s turnaround by Monaghan, which should fire them up for a fixture in which they’ve a good recent record. The same problems remain, however, with talented forwards not compensating for a lack of ball winning ability and a leaky defence. Mayo aren’t the kind of ultra-defensive team that give Mickey Harte’s men particular trouble but they showed last week in Killarney that the new management this season hasn’t derailed their strengths from recent seasons under James Horan. They were brisk and their movement good, albeit against a team still coming down from an All-Ireland. They had encouraging displays from newcomers Stephen Coen and Patrick Durcan in defence but the forwards were familiar faces. The attack will be strengthened tomorrow by Cillian O’Connor’s availability after suspension. Tyrone may well improve but it mightn’t be enough. Verdict: Mayo

Monaghan v Cork, Castleblayney – Both teams had good wins last week in matches that threatened to get beyond them. Monaghan’s win over Tyrone was all the more commendable given the absence of some key players with injury whereas Cork saw off Dublin with UCC’s Conor Dorman impressive in the half backs. This is the first of Cork’s four appointments in Ulster this league but the county has a reasonable record in the province, having lost only once in the four previous visits. Brian Cuthbert is able to restore some experience to the attack with Donncha O’Connor able to line out this week and Paul Kerrigan back. Verdict: Cork

Derry v Kerry, Celtic Park – It’s as well for Derry that they’re getting the All-Ireland champions in the state of relative disrepair that’s the result of having little pre-season. What may swing this match against Brian McIver’s team is the county’s absentee crisis at centrefield. Patsy Bradley is club tied with Slaughtneil, PJ McCluskey injured again (still) and Fergal Doherty rehabbing for another month. Mark Lynch blew a gasket last week after dominating the first half and today he and Conor McAtamney will be up against Kerry’s most formidable sector from last week, the O’Rahillys combination of captain David Moran and AFL prodigal Tommy Walsh. Verdict: Kerry

Division Two Westmeath v Galway, Mullingar – Bad and all as Meath were last week, Galway have had plenty of recent days where they matched an opposing side having an off-day rather than burying them. The incision of Shane Walsh from centre-forward was clear to all last week and given enough possession he could tear Westmeath asunder here. Tom Cribbins is doing good, healing work with Westmeath though and Ger Egan’s return of four points from play against Laois hints at a cutting edge that has been missing. Westmeath are away for three of their next four games - a win here would go a long way to keeping them up. Hard to see it all the same. Verdict: Galway

Division Three Louth v Clare, Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda – Contrasting fortunes on the opening weekend. Even allowing for Wexford’s red card, the thumping Clare handed a county that’s been competitive at a higher level in recent years laid down a marker. Louth on the other hand illustrated the scale of Colin Kelly’s challenge by getting trimmed in Fermanagh. Clare are a coming force in the division and can adduce further evidence tomorrow. Verdict: Clare

Sligo v Fermanagh, Markievicz Park – Another contrast here: Fermanagh’s big win over Louth got Peter McGrath’s season off to a flier whereas Sligo lost to an apparently vulnerable Limerick. No reason why Fermanagh can’t repeat last season’s comfortable victory. Verdict: Fermanagh.

Wexford v Armagh, Wexford Park – Time flies. Ten years ago, these counties contested the Division One final, won by Armagh, and there hasn’t been a bigger crowd at the league decider since. By way of footnote, Wexford had beaten Armagh in the regulation match in Wexford Park. Meanwhile back in the real world, Armagh just about got their season off on a winning note whereas 14-man Wexford had a horror-start in Ennis. Trajectories to be maintained. Verdict: Armagh.

Tipperary v Limerick, Templetuohy – A serious performance up in Armagh by Tipp in what looks their most demanding fixture of the season resulted in narrow defeat and the loss through suspension of Robbie Kiely. They should be too strong for a Limerick side, a stronger version of which they decisively defeated in last year’s championship. Verdict: Tipperary Division 4 Carlow v London, Dr Cullen Park, (1pm) – Carlow’s draw in Antrim last week possibly should have come as such a surprise given they beat the northerners last year. Still, it was a fair result after a long journey and if they back it up, they’ll put London away quite easily. Verdict: Carlow. Longford v Antrim, Pearse Park – Both sides drew their opener against teams they probably ought to have had the whip hand over so there’ll be a certain amount of nose-to-the-grindstone work here. The return of Michael McCann could tip this Antrim’s way. Verdict: Antrim

Offaly v Waterford, Tullamore – Waterford might be the real thing. The loss of Liam Lawlor to injury could slow them up but this will be a good test of their credentials. Offaly made heavy weather of their trip to Ruislip and look vulnerable here. Verdict: Waterford

Wicklow v Leitrim, Aughrim – The season slides away very quickly in Division Four if you don’t pick up an early win and Wicklow can probably kiss promotion goodbye if they don’t take this. Verdict: Wicklow

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