Weekend Gaelic Games Previews

Seán Moran and Malachy Clerkin run the rule over a busy weekend of action

HURLING (Seán Moran)


All-Ireland SHC qualifiers – Round One

Wexford v Offaly Innovate Wexford Park, 3.30, Live, RTÉ 2

This looks more than tricky for Wexford. Whereas Offaly's season has been more than erratic between league defeat by Kerry and then getting beaten in the championship by Westmeath, their Leinster campaign ended in more dignified fashion than might have been expected with a good crack at Galway, which eventually ran out of steam when they went down to 14 men.


Captain Colin Egan is suspended as a result for this but Eamon Kelly's side have the positive experience of having won here in the league last March.

For Liam Dunne’s side, riddled with injuries, withdrawals and diminishing confidence, there has been the opposite trajectory of a low-key and ineffective championship match against Dublin.

It’s become a cliché to talk about Wexford Park as if it’s a fortress despite a lack of supporting evidence in recent times and that may look even more threadbare by the final whistle.

Westmeath v Limerick TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, 5.0

Of all the teams in the qualifiers Westmeath have given their best and achieved much more than expected by reaching the Leinster quarter-finals even if Galway ultimately steam rolled them despite Paddy Moloney’s heroics in goal.

Limerick were poor in failing to make more impact on a 14-man Tipperary and they have the added inconvenience of being drawn away but that was also the case last year and they still managed to win by 12 points. They can pick up the thread of their summer here.

Clare v Laois Cusack Park, 7.0

After last year's memorable exploits, Laois have fallen to earth with something of a bump and to cap it all they have been handed the most daunting draw possible – a reprise of a qualifier three years ago when a promising Leinster campaign, which ran to the semi-finals, was undermined somewhat by a 20-point thrashing in Ennis.

With a panel in transition, manager Séamus Plunkett could be forgiven for feeling apprehensive. Clare’s poor championship record continued last month but their form up until then had been impressive and included winning the league. It’s unlikely they’ll show much mercy here.

Cork v Dublin Páirc Uí Rinn, 7.0 Live, Sky Sports 5

The literal last-chance saloon for two of the more downbeat counties this season after their provincial campaigns ended dismally against the respective champions. There were tactical shortcomings evident in both cases but players in general didn’t have great matches either.

Dublin’s short puck-outs were under pressure from Kilkenny and the clearances as a result frequently went astray. Their forwards were unable to get any purchase on their markers, outmuscled in the half forwards and poorly supplied on the inside. Having kept in touch on the scoreboard – just about – in the first half, they were blown away by the third quarter barrage.

Cork's difficulties with the attempted sweeper system against Tipperary have been well aired both in terms of the operation of William Egan and the consequent lack of threat going forward.

One element of the defensive game that is indispensable is the requirement for work rate and the air of lassitude in the Cork attack exacerbated the scarcity of decent ball. Manager Kieran Kingston’s mini-clear-out reflects that concern and a more focused effort can be expected.

If the defensive emphasis isn’t discarded entirely there is unlikely to be a sweeper deployed on this occasion.

With a little more fluidity Cork can bring their attacking superiority into play and the jolt administered by the Thurles display and result, added to the stark consequences for the losers, should ensure much improved application and with it a home win.


Leinster SHC final Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, 4.0, Live, RTÉ 2

This has become the most frequent engagement of the hurling championship in recent times. During the past four years – allowing that they didn’t meet in 2013 – the counties have played seven times, playing more than once in each year that they’ve faced each other.

Galway have allowed two All-Irelands to slip away despite having held the initiative at some stage both last year and in 2012. Although they were more distant outsiders four years ago when defeating this weekend’s opponents to win a first Leinster senior crown, it’s hard to side with Michael Donoghue’s side this time.

Whereas Kilkenny were characteristically blunt and lethally effective when blitzing Dublin in the third quarter, Galway have been unremarkably picking their way past Westmeath and Offaly – counties that admittedly also made them look misleadingly unconvincing four years ago.

There is acceptance in the county that the orthodox, open-borders defence, which gave everyone a thrilling afternoon in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, is not appropriate for competing with the All-Ireland champions.

Galway have dabbled with the idea of a sweeper although temperamentally they aren't disposed towards it. Johnny Coen played the role with David Burke dropping back in the semi-final against Offaly but the red card shown to opposing captain Colin Egan disrupted the practice.

Further pressure will come around the middle where Michael Fennelly gave a man of the match performance against Dublin and where he and Conor Fogarty look physically too formidable.

As ever it is in attack that Galway pose the greatest threat. Conor Cooney's escape from suspension maintains the strength of the unit that helped the team recover comfortably from a bad start against Offaly. The return of Niall Burke to something like the form of 2012 has also been a boost whereas Conor Whelan, Jason Flynn and Joe Canning have maintained last year's productivity.

Unlike Dublin they need to exert some pressure on Kilkenny’s full-back line and compete physically with Kilkenny’s formidable half backs.

Jonathan Glynn’s departure for the US has removed an obvious weapon for taking on the Kilkenny inside backs in the air and Canning is likely to see time on the square – the more he sees the better it is likely to be going for Galway.

But at the other end Kilkenny are so clinical in taking chances and Jonjo Farrell stepped up so creditably in the semi-final that any question marks about the challengers' defence are likely to be answered expensively.
Previously: Last year's All-Ireland final saw Kilkenny produce a powerful second half display to win 1-22 to 1-18.
You bet: The All-Ireland champions are 8/15 with Galway 15/8 to win a second Leinster title. The draw is 10/1.
Injuries: Richie Hogan continues to miss out for Kilkenny with a hand injury whereas there is concern that David Burke may not be fit for Galway.
Just the ticket: Stand tickets €35 (no concessions in the Hogan). Rebate for OAPs and students in Cusack Stand. Juveniles (16 and under) €5 (limited to two per accompanying adult).
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary).
Verdict: Kilkenny.

FOOTBALL (Malachy Clerkin)


All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 1A (Refixture)

Laois v Armagh Portlaoise, 3.0

You wouldn't crucify Armagh if they just wanted to get this over with. Kieran McGeeney never saw a challenge worth ignoring but he's going in here without 11 players who would either start or be expected to figure. Laois kept their head better in the first game and have John O'Loughlin back. Win here and the A side of the draw opens up for them. It would be Laois-like in the extreme for them to trip up but they ought to come through it.

Verdict: Laois

All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 2A

Sligo v Leitrim Markievicz Park, 6.0

Both sides will want their contribution to Championship 2016 to amount to more than giving the Rossies shooting practice. To be fair to Leitrim, beating Waterford for their first qualifier win in four years and only their second ever isn't a bad way to mark a summer. They're not without a shot here either. Sligo look to be in freefall and Leitrim have beaten them twice in their last three meetings – albeit the last game was in 2011. If this was in Carrick, you might be tempted to give Leitrim the nod. But since it isn't…

Verdict: Sligo

Ulster SFC semi-final replay

Monaghan v Donegal Breffni Park, 7.0

Seconds out (that’s you, Maxi) – Round 3,482. The question of who got more out of the drawn game isn’t a hard one to answer. Monaghan needed three points in six minutes of injury-time to stay standing; Donegal missed a heap of frees and got in for a couple of goal chances. Close and all as it ended, it wouldn’t have taken much for Donegal to win with a bit in hand.

Monaghan will have done some running repairs on their tracking system since last week. Apart from the two goals chances coughed up to Odhrán Mac Niallais and Neil Gillespie, Conor McManus had to sweep up in his own small square at one point to stop Paddy McGrath getting in for another. Malachy O'Rourke will have appreciated the hustle but it hardly needs saying that he'd rather McManus was performing his heroics in a different postcode.

Donegal at their best are probably a couple of degrees better than Monaghan at theirs but they're handicapped on a few fronts. Michael Murphy is clearly carrying an injury, Neil Gallagher is a major loss around the centre and goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley isn't as reliable on the kick-outs as Paul Durcan was.

Inside the parameters of the week available, Monaghan’s issues look a bit more fixable.

Last meeting: June 25th 2016, Ulster SFC semi-final, Cavan - Monaghan 0-14 Donegal 1-11
Injuries: Nothing new since last week
You bet: Monaghan evens, Donegal 6/5, Draw 13/2
Just the ticket: Stand €25/£20; Terrace €15/£12; U16 €5/£5

Verdict: Monaghan


Munster SFC Final

Kerry v Tipperary Fitzgerald Stadium, 2.0

Not to count chickens or anything but the way the draw has panned out, it looks highly likely that if Kerry are to find their way to a game plan that will beat Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final, it will have to be road-tested behind closed doors at training more so than in the heat of battle. Already without their traditional mid-season level-finder against Cork, victory tomorrow places them on by far the handier side of the All-Ireland series.

It's entirely plausible that they will reach the last weekend of August without facing a Division One team. Whether this is a good or bad thing will be hindsight's purview but you suspect that Eamonn Fitzmaurice wouldn't have chosen it this way. No matter – this is a chance to rack up a fourth Munster title in a row, something no Kerry team has done since Mick O'Dwyer's time.

Tipperary are the story of the championship so far and it's fair to say more of us should have had faith in them against Cork. Liam Kearns's admirable attitude to the squad depletion he's had to deal with has obviously been transmitted to the players and from Ciarán McDonald to George Hannigan to Michael Quinlivan, they have players who won't be cowed by occasion or opposition.

But Kerry will have too much.

Last meeting: June 14th 2015, Munster SFC semi-final, Thurles – Kerry 2-14 Tipperary 2-8
Injuries: Tipperary have lost Ian Fahey to a foot injury; Kerry have nothing new since the semi-final.
You bet: Kerry 1/20, Tipperary 20/1, Draw 10/1
Just the ticket: Stand €35; Terrace €25; U16 €5/£5
Referee: David Gough (Meath)

Verdict: Kerry

Ulster SFC semi-final replay

Cavan v Tyrone Clones, 4.0

The notion that Cavan left it behind them the first day is a handy narrative to go with but it only stands up to limited scrutiny. The reality is that Terry Hyland’s team actually played pretty poorly in the drawn game and only hung in there because Tyrone gifted them bad goals. Gearóid McKiernan only took a single shot at goal all day, Seánie Johnston only managed two before being subbed. To get out of Clones without a defeat in those circumstances was Houdini stuff.

So the first job for Cavan here is to perform. On the basis that Tyrone will improve, Hyland's side must do similar and more. They can't continue leaving David Givney so isolated at full-forward, especially when he consistently turns 50/50 balls into 60/40s. Killian Clarke surely won't play in such an advanced position, Johnston surely won't retreat as deep as he did.

Tyrone bring back Niall Morgan in goal as a response to the three green flags they coughed up the last day. They were conceded as much through lapses in concentration as bad defending though so expect Tyrone to have fixed that aspect of their play at least. When they were on, they showed flashes of superiority the first day and if they cut out the dozy spells, they should come through at the second time of asking.

Last meeting: June 18th 2016, Ulster SFC semi-final, Clones – Tyrone 0-16 Cavan 3-7
Injuries: Michael Argue should be fit after his late withdrawal from the drawn game.
You bet: Tyrone 2/5, Cavan 5/2, Draw 9/1
Just the ticket: Stand €25/£20; Terrace €15/£12; U16 €5/£5
Referee: David Coldrick (Meath)
Verdict: Tyrone

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times