Weekend’s football previews: Allianz League deciders and Under-21 provincial finals
Sean Moran looks at the final round of games as the battle for promotion and safety hots up
Roscommon host the reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin this Sunday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Leinster Under-21 FC final Kildare v Dublin, Páirc Tailteann, 2.0 – A well balanced final with the verdict floating between the quality of Con O’Callaghan, Chris Sallier and Colm Basquel (not named in the starting 15 but who made a big impact off the bench against Laois just days after winning the club All-Ireland) and Kildare’s collective strength, in an age group that has beaten Dublin at minor twice in the past three years, plus their own attack with Mark Sherry back and Neil Flynn, gives them the vote.
Connacht Under-21 FC final Roscommon v Mayo, Markievicz Park, 6.0 – Two quality sides, as Mayo won the minor All-Ireland in this cohort whereas Roscommon have been dominating the grade in Connacht. With Ultan Harney and Diarmuid Murtagh in tandem Roscommon near full strength and marginally favoured to beat Mayo, whose full forwards Brian Reape and Fionán Duffy have been prolific with Diarmuid O’Connor on supply,
Allianz Football League Division Four Waterford v Leitrim, Dungarvan, 4.0 – Two hugely disappointing results for the counties last week saw Waterford beaten by London and Leitrim losing at home against Carlow. Even in a division where all issues have already been resolved to describe this as a dead rubber would be to over-dramatise it. Leitrim to win.
Allianz Football League [Matches at 2.0 unless stated] Division One Roscommon v Dublin, Dr Hyde Park – A forecast of steady April rain should further soften up Hyde Park ahead of the visit of the All-Ireland champions. The more pertinent question is whether Mayo softened up Roscommon last week. The stern and businesslike way with which Mayo raided the Rossie’s Easter party ended what had been a fabulous league run. Roscommon’s defensive openness became a problem for them, particularly in the first half. Regardless of which 15 Jim Gavin fields, the instruction will be to attack at pace and Roscommon may go against their instincts by falling back to contain. Hard not to escape the sense that Roscommon have taken the foot of the gas now that they have realised their ambition to stay in this division. They won’t want a lecture here but in composing a perfect league record, the Dubs have not amassed the frightening score lines of earlier years. If the Rossie’s bring their shooting boots a la Letterkenny, they could deliver the result of the campaign. But grinding out wins in the country makes Jim Gavin happier than bedazzlement in Croke Park.
Monaghan v Donegal, Castleblaney – Funny, there hasn’t been too much history between these two Ulster friends in recent...oh, hang on. Best keep Bob Geldof away from ‘Blaney on Sunday. It may well confirm all of his worst suspicions about the Irish capacity for in-fighting. The dominant pair of recent provincial finals have developed a healthy and active dislike of one another. If imitation is flattery etc, then Monaghan have paid it in spades by mirroring the Donegal deep-lying defensive system and direct counter-attack. They are one of the few teams that excel at it. They have a brilliantly organised defence, a future All-Star in Karl O’Connell and a ridiculously talented shooting forward in Conor McManus. However, they have been over-reliant on him in this league. They need a win here to avoid relegation. Donegal need to establish some form on their own kick-out and to reassure themselves that the Farney men to not have the Indian sign on them with a road win. They have the resources to obtain that.
Kerry v Cork, Tralee – It’s the veteran men- Donaghy, O’Mahony, Cooper, Sheehan - who have steered the Kingdom ship through its habitual early-league storm. Donaghy has been their man for all seasons even though it’s still April: combative, belligerent, high-fielding, playmaker and, against Monaghan, sublime point scorer. Kerry have inflicted all manner of championship insult and injury on Cork in recent years, which is why it was amusing to see Donncadh Walsh claiming, in a brilliant turn of Kerry earnestness, that the Kingdom ‘owe’ Cork for a couple of recent league wins. Cork have been wildly uneven in this league and a win in Tralee would be a significant moment for the new management team. They have scored eight goals in this campaign and know how to trouble the Kerry defence. But Kerry are still smarting from that home defeat to Roscommon and look a better bet to win this version of the derby. If they drop Cork into relegation in the process, well, it will be nothing personal; just business.
Mayo v Down, Castlebar – Be careful what you wish for. The teams clambering for promotion from division two might pause for thought when they consider Down’s nightmarish experience. It has been a tough spring for manager Eamonn Burns, who has done his best to accentuate the positive. Holding Cork to 0-12 in their most recent game reflected well on the defensive structure Burns is trying to implement. But he is tasked with building a team from scratch and the most disheartening result for Down football came not in this league but in the recent Ulster U-21 championship when they lost to Armagh by 5-16 to 0-9. Monaghan then put Armagh away by 2-16 to 0-9. It doesn’t augur well for the immediate future in the Mourne county. Mayo finally barked against Roscommon and should consign them to a winless exit here.
Division Two. Cavan v Galway, Breffni Park – This is arguably the game of the weekend as two old-word giants of Gaelic football duke it in a match which has a knock-out feel to it. Draw here and Cavan are back in the big time of division one. Kevin Walsh’s Galway need to win to go up, which is a clear-cut challenge for them. Liam Hyland is optimistic that Seanie Johnston will be fit enough to continue as the focal point of the Cavan attack. Galway have impressed in bursts this year but have made a habit of drawing rather than winning. Cavan look a more solid bet.
Fermanagh v Tyrone, Enniskillen – Niall Morgan is replaced in the Tyrone goal by Michael O’Neill, one of four changes made by Mickey Harte in response to last week’s late concession of a goal to Armagh. That draw has been the only blemish on their league.
Pete McGrath’s team have performed admirably in this division, including last week’s brave draw against Galway. But they couldn’t have for a tougher close to the campaign. Hard to see them repel Tyrone’s surging attacks and results elsewhere might well consign them to an ill-deserved drop to the third tier. A draw is not out of the question but it would be a sensational result.
Armagh v Derry, Athletic Grounds – This is not the kind of big day which Armagh football fans have become accustomed. A drop into division three would be a minor catastrophe for Kieran McGeeney’s side. Niall Grimley’s last-gasp goal to earn them a draw in Omagh was the first break they’ve enjoyed in a while. They need to make it count here. Derry supporters will point to the whopping 13-71 (although five of those goals came against Laois) their team has posted in this league and wonder why they aren’t in the promotion race. They are coughing up way to many easy points. Armagh aren’t a big scoring team just now but should edge what will be a tense game.
Laois v Meath, O’Moore Park – It started to go wrong for Meath in the second round, when the registered just 0-6 against Fermanagh. Their draw against Derry gives them reason to scrap for their lives here for division two survival. Mick O’Dowd has been liberally auditioning players ahead of the championship and their form has been tough to read. Mick Lillis needs a home win and minor miracles elsewhere if Laois are to avoid the drop. It is a stark scenario for two proud football counties: a win-or-go-down scenario in the rain. Meath used to be the masters of hard earned wins and could edge this.
Division Three Longford v Westmeath, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park - Westmeath have located their form at the right time but need to take something from this local skirmish if they are to avoid a third successive relegation. In the circumstances - Longford aren’t clear of the drop themselves - it’s still knife-edge but Westmeath have form.
Limerick v Offaly, Newcastlewest - In what’s a big traffic jam in the middle of this divisional table Offaly have a slight advantage in that Limerick have already been relegated and have nothing left to fight for whereas the visitors need something to be sure.
Kildare v Clare, Newbridge - Kildare sealed their swift return to Division Two with last week’s big win in Tipperary. They may have nothing to play for but Clare certainly do, being best placed to join them. Kildare should win but other results may go the way of the visitors who have a big scoring difference.
Sligo v Tipperary, Markievicz Park – It’s been a difficult campaign for Tipp and they are possibly the most vulnerable of the teams on six points given Sligo’s home advantage. Niall Carew’s team have won their last two whereas Tipp have lost theirs. Advantage Sligo,
Division Four London v Wicklow, Ruislip, 1.30 – Good win for London last week, which will fire them up for this and a potential sixth place. Wicklow can head them off.
Antrim v Louth, Corrigan Park, 1.30 – Antrim can become the first 100 per cent county in this year’s league, against Colin Kelly’s Louth, who did terrifically well to wrest back promotion from Wexford.
Wexford v Carlow, Innovate Wexford Park, 1.30 – A very disappointingconclusion to Wexford’s promotion challenge but they can finish off with a win against Carlow whose last match was a commendable win in Leitrim.