The weekend's football and hurling previews
The Leinster and Munster SFC finals follow round three of the football qualifiers
John Conlon: has proved a formidable presence in Clare’s attack, registering 1-14 from play. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers, Round Three
Leitrim v Monaghan, Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon 2.30
– They meet for the first time in championship despite Clones being less than 50 miles from Carrick and the home draw is a great reward for Leitrim’s eyebrow-raising barrage against Louth.
The impact of the departure of players from the panel was probably exaggerated in that only Keith Beirne was a guaranteed starter. This is predominantly a young, fast team with growing self-confidence and sticking up 25 points is an achievement for any side even allowing for Louth’s disciplinary issues, which saw them finish with 12 men.
Monaghan must have had an altogether less rewarding weekend, whacking Waterford despite Conor McManus being quiet enough and then watching the Fermanagh team that had tipped them out of the Ulster championship get dismantled by Donegal. They will find it more demanding here but will move within touching distance of the last eight.
Armagh v Clare, Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 3.0
– Another historic first championship meeting. Clare have been operating at a higher level than Armagh and got their show back on the road last weekend after the thrashing by Kerry.
Presumably home advantage makes Armagh favourites although Kieran McGeeney continues to develop his familiar qualifier practice. Clare could though spring a surprise here; after all they finished third in Division Two.
They have attacking talent in the in-form Eoin Cleary and the speed of Jamie Malone although some of the latter’s finishing lacks precision. They have the advantage of a super-competitive win last weekend against Offaly in Tullamore where they were severely tested.
Armagh were more comfortable winners over Sligo but again it was an away fixture and the team isn’t as strong as it might be given injuries and sundry other absences.
Cavan v Tyrone, Brewster Park, Enniskillen, 5.0
– Ostensibly Cavan have had a good year in gaining promotion back to Division One but the championship has been a disappointment.
The drubbing by eventual champions Donegal was a low-key start and the qualifiers culminated in an exciting if vaguely fortunate win over Down. Further fortune followed, as the CHC freed Dara McVeety and Conor Moynagh to play after red cards at the end of last week’s match, indiscipline which might have cost the county dearly.
Tyrone have only lost one qualifier to another Ulster team and they have generally kept the local hierarchies going – Cavan haven’t beaten Tyrone in 35 years. Tyrone performances haven’t been hectic since defeat by Monaghan and they were fortunate to see off Meath in extra time but the team is stronger now and has the players and the know-how to win this.
Kildare v Mayo, St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge, 7.0
– Not a great week for Mayo, who could have dealt with an away fixture decided without fuss or a trip to Croke Park but having to travel to a venue high on the revolutionary fervour of the past week is more complicated.
As Cian O’Neill pointed out, Kildare have reconstituted with a couple of decent away wins and are now set up for a serious crack at the last eight against a team now missing their first-choice centrefield.
The home side will presumably contest the kick-outs, as Tipperary’s concession of restarts allowed Mayo hit their stride even when the match was going against them. There is also an upside to the venue fracas. It will concentrate minds and the travelling support is expected to outnumber the locals.
This has the feel of one of those transformative qualifiers, which almost catapults the winners into the latter stages with real momentum. The demands of such a situation are more Mayo’s speciality.
Munster SHC final
Cork v Clare, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 2.0 [Live, RTÉ 1]
– It’s slipped beneath the radar a bit but Cork are the only team, besides All-Ireland champions Galway, to have reached this point of the season unbeaten and one of their victories was against Sunday’s opponents.
They are also defending champions but yet there is a sense that momentum is against them here. They have been resilient, their two wins coming in injury-time after tight contests but equally have lost the initiative in their two other fixtures, squandering the nine-point lead against Tipperary and a one-man advantage for more than half the Limerick match.
There is also the consideration that Clare have demonstrably stepped up their performance levels since the first meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Central to this has been Peter Duggan’s arrival as a free-taker of the highest quality, which has underwritten the successes, the form of John Conlon whose terrorising of defences has yielded 1-14 from play and the less remarked on return to form of Tony Kelly who has emulated that scoring statistic.
Just as important will be the ability to hold Patrick Horgan, and Séamus Harnedy, who have been providing vital scores but unexpectedly, for the most questioned part of the team, Clare’s defence has been the best in the province.
Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath)
Last meetings: 2018 Munster first round, Cork 2-23, Clare 1-21. 2017 Munster final, at Semple Stadium, Cork 1-25, Clare 1-20.
Just the ticket: Stand €35, Terrace €25 Match day – €40 and €30. Juveniles €5.
Odds: Clare evens, Cork evens and 9/1 draw.
Verdict: Clare to win
Leinster SHC final
Galway v Kilkenny, Croke Park, 4.0 [Live, RTÉ 1]
– Imagine for a moment that the teams were to swap jerseys and that Kilkenny were the champions with the credentials they have and Galway had won the league but struggled a bit in the championship. No-one would even be discussing the likely outcome.
Yet Kilkenny still have that psychological hold. Not even last year’s apparently revolutionary resetting of the relationship was sufficient to make Wexford believe when the world was imploding around them in Nowlan Park.
Galway didn’t have to face Kilkenny last year and whereas few believe that this qualifies the All-Ireland achievement, plenty wouldn’t have minded seeing what would have happened.
Kilkenny’s two big wins came in Nowlan Park – the league final and Wexford the last day – and they haven’t actually played championship in Croke Park since the All-Ireland of 2016.
Their big challenge here will be the physicality and pace of Galway, which creates the scoring platform. By contrast Kilkenny’s attack has the lowest yield of any Leinster county apart from doomed Offaly.
Like Tipperary in the league, Galway need to win this to demonstrate that they are beyond the old mental frailty jibes – we know how that turned out for Tipp. This weekend will be different.
Referee: Fergal Horgan (Tipperary)
Last meetings: 2018 Leinster third round, Galway 1-22, Kilkenny 2-11 and 2015 All-Ireland final, at Croke Park, Kilkenny 1-22, Galway 1-18.
Just the ticket: Pre-pay – Stand €35, Terrace €25 Match day – €40 and €30. Juveniles €5. Concessions available but not for Hogan Stand.
Odds: Galway 2/5, Kilkenny 5/2 and 10/1 draw.
Verdict: Galway to win
McDonagh Cup SHC final
Carlow v Westmeath, Croke Park, 1.45
– The McDonagh Cup has been a great event for the counties involved. This weekend’s finalists will still be competing in the senior All-Ireland against Limerick and Wexford, long after Tipperary, Waterford, Dublin and Offaly have departed the field.
Carlow, expected to be without influential centre back David English, have beaten Westmeath already in the competition and in the AHL Division 2A final and are favourites to win and avail of what manager Colm Bonnar sees as the main perk of that – a place in next year’s Leinster round robin.