Weekend GAA championship previews

Fermanagh face tough task in Clones, Mayo to get past Sligo while Tipperary and Cork clash

Tipperary’s Séamus Callanan takes on Cork’s Damian Cahalane during last year’s Munster championship meeting. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Tipperary’s Séamus Callanan takes on Cork’s Damian Cahalane during last year’s Munster championship meeting. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

SATURDAY

Ulster SFC preliminary round: Monaghan v Fermanagh, Clones, 7pm (RTÉ2)
Monaghan probably see this as the soft side of the Ulster draw, and Fermanagh the hard side, because there are few more difficult challenges than a preliminary game in Clones.

Everything about the form of the teams suggest as much, with 12 places between the counties by the end of this year’s league, Monaghan finishing fourth in Division One, Fermanagh coming last in Division Two.

Monaghan may be missing Darren Hughes through injury, but are otherwise at full tilt, Dessie Ward their only debut on the back of some stellar games in the league at half forward.

Even more worrying for Fermanagh is the form of Jack McCarron, back after several seasons lost to injury to score 3-29 in the league and considerably sharpen a full forward line that also includes Conor McCarthy and captain Conor McManus.

No county has won an Ulster title from the preliminary round since Donegal in 2012, and they were the rare exception, but manager Malachy O’Rourke will hope this is the first step in that direction. For Fermanagh, whose form went into a tailspin in the league and are still trying to win the title for the first time in their history, it is surely a step too far, and the qualifiers await.

Cian McManus, Conor Murphy and Kane Connor all make first championship starts for the visitors, with Ruairí Corrigan, Declan McCusker and Eoin McManus still sidelined.

MONAGHAN: R Beggan; F Kelly, D Wylie, R Wylie; C Walshe, V Corey, N McAdam; K Hughes, K O’Connell; G Doogan, S Carey, D Ward; C McCarthy, J McCarron, Conor McManus. 

FERMANAGH: T Treacy; M Jones, C Cullen, Cian McManus; A Breen, R McCluskey, C Murphy; E Donnelly, L Cullen; B Mulrone, R Lyons, P McCusker; K Connor, S Quigley, T Corrigan.

Referee: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary)

Last meeting: 2015 Ulster semi-final, Monaghan 1-20, Fermanagh 0-13
Just the ticket: Early bird stand €25/£22; Match day €30/£25; early bird terrace: €15/£13; Match day €18/£15
Odds: Monaghan 1/8, Draw 14/1, Fermanagh 6/1
Verdict: Monaghan to win

SUNDAY

Munster SHC quarter-final: Tipperary v Cork, Semple Stadium, 4pm (RTÉ2)
Sometimes it’s not confidence or determination that is driving a team but simply hurt. And it is hard to imagine a team hurting more than Tipperary right now.

Their 16-point defeat to Galway in the Allianz Hurling League final is now four weeks ago, which means they should at least have caught up on the sleepless nights by now: what they will not have forgotten was the nightmare of that performance against Galway, who embarrassed them, and for a team talking up their intention of building on last year’s All-Ireland success that must have cut to the bone.

Manager Michael Ryan admitted again this week that he “didn’t see that defeat coming” – and indeed who did? – adding that he felt Tipperary would have been stretched to their absolute limits to live with Galway “even had we turned up”.

That suggests a deeper loss of explanation as to what went wrong, and that must hurt too. They are also still hurting over the loss of midfielder Jason Forde, suspended for his part in the on-pitch incursion of Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald in the league semi-final.

Séamus Callanan’s return will certainly reboot their attack after the anaemic 0-16 they hit against Galway, but they’ll be still down quite a few of their All-Ireland-winning team. John and Noel McGrath must raise their game, John “Bubbles” O’Dwyer too, the glaring lack of physicality throughout the field against Galway also a given room for improvement.

Cork’s hopes of an ambush died that day against Galway, but they would still rather be playing a team just beaten by 16 points than a team that had won by 16. Manager Kieran Kingston will also take some encouragement from the one-point win over the Premier County in the league, but knows too that young players such as Shane Kingston and Mark Coleman will not decide this game, but more likely the performance of older players such as Séamus Harnedy and Patrick Horgan.

But with Tipp hurting so much, on top of their dominance of Cork in recent years, winning seven of their last eight championship ties, it could be that the nightmare is promptly put to bed.

TIPPERARY: Darren Gleeson; Cathal Barrett, James Barry, John O’Keeffe; Séamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Pádraic Maher (capt); Brendan Maher, Michael Breen; Dan McCormack, Seán Curran, Noel McGrath; John O'Dwyer, Séamus Callanan, John McGrath.

CORK: Anthony Nash; Stephen McDonnell, Damian  Cahalane; Colm Spillane, Christopher Joyce, Mark Ellis, Mark Coleman; Bill Cooper, Darragh Fitzgibbon; Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston; Alan Cadogan, Patrick Horgan, Luke Meade.

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)

Last meeting: 2016 Munster quarter-final, Semple Stadium, Tipperary 0-22 Cork 0-13
Just the ticket: Pre-purchase adult covered stand: €25; Pre-purchase adult uncovered stand: €20; Pre-purchase adult terrace: €15 All adult ticket prices increase by €5 on the day
Odds: Tipperary 1/4; Draw 12/1; Cork 7/2
Verdict: Tipperary to win

Connacht SFC: Mayo v Sligo, MacHale Park, 2pm
And so it begins. This will be the first proper glimpse of Mayo since last September’s All-Ireland final. They have had a feckless winter, just about tolerating the league and ducking under the arrows slung by former managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. There was little evidence that Stephen Rochford was attempting to prepare new personnel for this year’s attempted jailbreak. Mayo will go with what they have – and they don’t have Alan Freeman any more as he has opted out of the panel. But the return of full back Ger Cafferkey after a 14-month layoff is hugely significant for both his solidifying presence and the potential to shuffle Mayo’s versatile half backs.

Fergal Boland is the one debut player while the absence of Aidan O’Shea from the starting team is a big talking point. The bottom line for Mayo this summer must be: no cheap goals and more easy scores. Sligo are the latest team to survive a worrying hour in New York. It will stand to them. Niall Carew and his squad are probably quietly annoyed that they didn’t jump from Division Two in the league.

In Mark Breheny, Charlie Harrison and Adrian Marren, they have experience and quality and promising younger players such as Kyle Cawley and Neil Ewing.

Brendan Harrison looks set to miss out for Mayo with hamstring problems while Carew named full forward Pat Hughes and midfielder Adrian McIntyre, both of whom were considered doubtful.

For Sligo, this is a mammoth task. Ewing may drop back as sweeper and Sligo will be conscious of the demolition job executed by O’Shea two years ago. If Mayo are out to make a statement of intent, it could be a long afternoon for the visitors.

Last meeting: The teams met in the Connacht final two years ago and from the beginning, Sligo were at a loss as to how to cope with O’Shea operating as a conventional full forward. The Breaffy man knocked in three goals as Mayo romped home on a final score of 6-25 to 2-11.

MAYO: D Clarke; C Barrett, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; C Boyle, L Keegan, P Durcan; S O’Shea, T Parsons; F Boland, D O’Connor, C O’Shea; K McLoughlin, C O’Connor, A Moran.

SLIGO: A Devaney; R Donavan, C Harrison, E McHugh; Keelan Cawley, B Egan, J Kelly; P O’Connor, A McIntyre; N Ewing, M Breheny, Kyle Cawley; S Coen, P Hughes, A Marren.

Just the Ticket: Stand tickets €25. Terrace €20. Juveniles €5
Odds: Mayo 1/14. Sligo 8/1. Draw 20/1
Verdict: Mayo to kick-start their summer with a commanding win

Ulster SFC: Donegal v Antrim, Ballybofey, 4pm
The general assumption is that this should be a routine assignment for Donegal, the surprise package in Division One of the league this year. Rory Gallagher has smoothly introduced half a dozen new names and faces to his senior side, with midfielder Jason McGee, Glenties’ Ciarán Thompson, corner back Caolan Ward and Cian Mulligan all impressing. Their failure to close out a solid hour against Monaghan is a nagging mark against them and the severity with which Mayo turned the screw gave the younger players an idea of what awaits this summer. But with Michael Murphy directing traffic and surrounded by a half dozen team-mates from their All-Ireland year, Donegal are hoping for a long summer. Gallagher has been open about his quest for more scores and the onus is on the home team to get the scoreboard ticking here.

Antrim’s preparation has been upset by the Matthew Fitzpatrick saga, with the defender successfully appealing his 48-week ban over an alleged incident during a match against Armagh. The Saffron county had a rough league with just two wins as they slipped into Division Four.

Last meeting: In 2014, the sides were level at the break in the Ulster semi-final in Clones but Donegal took control in the second half and it finished 3-16 to 0-12
Just the Ticket: Stand €25. Advance €22. Terrace €15. Advance €13. Student terrace €10. Senior stand €15. Advance €13. Terrace €10. Advance €9
Odds: Donegal 1/14. Antrim 9/1. Draw 16/1

Verdict: Donegal’s winning streak in Ballybofey goes back to a match against Mayo in 2010. It is hard to see it ending this weekend.

Leinster SFC first round: Louth v Wicklow, Parnell Park, 3pm
These are worrying times for Wicklow football, looking for a first win in Leinster since 2013, and first away win since 2010, and given their once again fruitless league campaign in Division Four, this becomes a boom or bust match for their entire season. 

Manager Johnny Magee has admitted as much, and although working with a very young panel, the return of Seanie Furlong at least adds a little more to their engine. Magee has also admitted he doesn’t care how they win, so expect plenty of men behind the ball. 

That’s because Louth will present a considerable scoring threat, proven by their promotion to Division Two, and despite the loss of sweeper Derek Maguire to the US summer season, they’ll likely be defensively too tight, conceding just 4-89 in the league. Manager Colin Kelly admitted his team are favourites for a reason: “Embrace it,” he said, which Louth surely will. 

Verdict: Louth 

Laois v Longford, O’Moore Park, 3pm
Freshly relegated to lowly Division Four, winning just two of their seven games, Laois might feel they can’t sink any lower, and Longford will be happy to remind them that they can. 

Donie Kingston was the only bright spark in their league, scoring 5-34, but has been nursing an ankle injury. Longford in fact beat them in their last championship clash, the 2012 first round, and manager Denis Connerton will once again look to Michael Quinn and Brian Kavanagh to show his team the way.

With confidence in Laois at such a low ebb, they are definitely there for the taking, the obvious refuge for Laois being the home advantage. Difficult to call given the air of frustration within both camps but the loose money on the visitors. 

LAOIS: Graham Brody; Damien O'Connor, Denis Booth, Pádraig McMahon; Darren Strong, Colm Begley, Stephen Attride; Brendan Quigley, Kevin Meaney,; Alan Farrell, David Conway, Niall Donoher; Evan O'Carroll, Donal Kingston, John O'Loughlin.

Verdict: Longford

Carlow v Wexford, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm
Politely dubbed “The Slaughterhouse 2”, given whoever wins here is destined to be served up against Dublin in the quarter-final. Carlow have not beaten Wexford in the Leinster championship since 1996, and despite a reasonably productive league, marked by Paul Broderick’s impressive tally of 3-35, it is hard to see them getting past Wexford here. 

Manager Séamus “Banty” McEnaney has certainly revived Wexford minds and spirits. Their promotion to Division Three was hard-earned and yet deserved, seasoned players such as Ciarán Lyng, PJ Banville, Daithí Waters and Brian Malone showing the way, while the overall fitness has clearly benefitted from the addition of Martin McElkennon as team trainer.

Verdict: Wexford

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