Weekend GAA championship previews

Ruislip reopens in London, Galway take on Dublin, and a Shannonside derby in Ennis

Joe Canning’s Galway take on Dublin in O’Connnor Park on Sunday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Joe Canning’s Galway take on Dublin in O’Connnor Park on Sunday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho



Waterford v Cork, Fraher Field, Dungarvan, 7.0

After a bright start with two wins, Waterford’s league campaign fell away into a familiar oblivion. They must, however, be aware that Cork’s anxieties about Tipperary assume a positive outcome here. Why wouldn’t they? It’s 57 years since Waterford won this, 1-9 to 0-11 in Lismore, and in the nine meetings since the average margin has been more than 18. The home side have a competitive defence but lack impact farther up the field. The match will say something about the mood of Cork, which has come across as fairly embattled in the lead-up to the championship.

WATERFORD: Stephen Enright; Brian Looby, Thomas O’Gorman, Tadhg Ó hUallacháin; James McGrath, Stephen Prendergast, Ray Ó Ceallaigh; Tommy Prendergast, Michael Curry; Michael O’Halloran, Paul Whyte, Conor Murray; Donie Breathnach, Joey Veale, Gavin Crotty. 

CORK: Ken O’Halloran; James Loughrey, Jamie O’Sullivan, Stephen Cronin; Tomás Clancy, Michael Shields, Kevin Crowley; Aidan Walsh, Ruairi Deane; Kevin O’Driscoll, Mark Collins, John O’Rourke; Colm O’Neill, Peter Kelleher, Paul Kerrigan.

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)

Verdict: Cork to win.

Westmeath v Offaly, TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar, 7.0

Symbolic of Offaly’s reduced circumstances has been Brian Whelahan fretting over loose talk in the local papers before the championship opener against Westmeath. He wasn’t alone in his concern after last year’s 14-point demolition in the same fixture. The hosts aren’t going as well this year but they have been improving having already played three competitive fixtures, albeit beating only Meath and acquiring a discipline problem with a couple of red cards. Offaly look in better shape going into a first championship match despite just one league win. They have showed more resilience, pushing Limerick and Wexford close and, although blitzed by Tipperary in the league quarter-final, they resisted until the end.

WESTMEATH: Paddy Maloney; Conor Shaw, Tommy Doyle, Tommy Gallagher; Aaron Craig, Paul Greville, Shane Power; Aonghus Clarke (capt), Gary Greville; Cormac Boyle, Niall Mitchell, Robbie Greville; Killian Doyle, Niall O’Brien, Alan Devine.


Referee: Séamus Cleere (Kilkenny)

Verdict: Offaly to win


London v Leitrim, McGovern Park, Ruislip, 3.30

Leitrim’s apparently comfortable win in the league staging of this fixture isn’t as informative as it looks, as they were rattled by their visitors in the second half of that match and because both teams show about a 50 per cent turnover compared to two months ago.

Brendan Guckian’s selection is especially radical with five full debutants listed, as Leitrim get to grips with the loss to injury of their attacking kingpin Emlyn Mulligan.

London have become steadily more formidable with the emergence of local players – most high-profile of whom is captain Liam Gavaghan – and a consistency of selection that wasn’t always there. They also have the memory that the visitors were beaten along the way after a replay when they reached the 2013 Connacht final.

They further have the occasion of officially opening the redeveloped facilities in Ruislip.

Ultimately though, Leitrim were a cut above the home side in the league this year and although their younger call-ups lack experience they have quality and can survive a challenging afternoon.

Last meeting: 2013 Connacht semi-final, at Hyde Park, Roscommon, London 2-11, Leitrim 1-13.
Just the ticket: £20, £10 (concession) and under-16s free of charge.
Odds: Leitrim 4/6, London 13/8 and 15/2 the draw.

LONDON: Gavin McEvoy; Philip Butler, Colin Dunne, Conor O’Neill; Marc Jordan, Ryan Jones, Ciaran Dunne; Cathal óg Greene, Liam Gavaghan; Eoin Murray, Mark Gottsche, Jarlath Branagan; Rory Mason, Conor Doran, Killian Butler.

LEITRIMBrendan Flynn; Michael McWeeney, Ronan Gallagher, Paddy Maguire; James Rooney, Donal Wrynn, Oisín Madden; Shane Moran, Damien Moran; Jack Heslin, Brendan Gallagher, Ryan O’Rourke; Keith Beirne, Conor Gaffney, Darragh Rooney

Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)

Verdict: Leitrim to win

Laois v Wexford, O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 2.0

Wexford will sigh with relief to get this out of the way and focus unconditionally on the likely semi-final against Kilkenny. Laois however have come into some good form with a 100 per cent run through the qualifier group and will enjoy having the pressure off in this. Given the level to which David Fitzgerald has got the visitors, the contest will be a major step up for Laois. Ross King will do well to maintain his dead-ball averages given that Wexford conceded no scores from frees in the league semi-final against Tipp and the sweeper system – regardless of whether Shaun Murphy is fit – will limit the productivity of Paddy Purcell’s raids from the middle. There wasn’t much between the sides in the league; you’d suspect there’ll be more in it tomorrow.

LAOIS: Enda Rowland; Lee Cleere, Leigh Bergin, Dwane Palmer; Ciarán Collier, Charles Dwyer, Matthew Whelan; Ross King, Patrick Purcell; Seán Downey, John Lennon, Willie Dunphy; Aaron Dunphy, Neil Foyle,Stephen Maher


Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)

Verdict: Wexford to win

Galway v Dublin, O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 4.0
It occurred to a long-suffering Galway supporter during the week that he hadn’t managed the dual satisfaction of going into a championship match confident of a win and then getting a decent performance since the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Until now.

Galway’s confidence is easy to source after the league win but more importantly its emphatic nature. The challenge for Micheál Donoghue’s team will be to make this a strong performance against an opposition that is struggling.

They will need to be focused about it because Dublin for all the difficulties and loss of experience retain much the same defence as last year and even Conor Dooley in goal started more championship matches than Gary Maguire, who is suspended this weekend.

On a roll, Ger Cunningham’s team looked impressive when defeating Cork in the league and in Ennis for the regulation match they by all accounts looked better than Clare before losing.

There have been some injury concerns about Eoghan O’Donnell and if he’s not 100 per cent that’s a loss given his performances at full back during the league. But it’s up front where the callow nature of Dublin’s challenge will be most exposed, even allowing for the presence of David Treacy and Eamonn Dillon.

Galway imposed themselves physically on Tipperary and wouldn’t have as much to do to emulate that in Tullamore. There are issues for Donoghue, as he prepares for a campaign that could be the county’s most momentous for nearly 30 years.

The defensive spine of Daithi Burke and Gearóid McInerney has held solid this year but it will be put to more serious tests in the weeks ahead.

Last meeting: 2015 Leinster quarter-final replay, O’Connor Park, Galway 5-19, Dublin 1-18. Draw, Croke Park, Galway 1-17, Dublin 0-20.
Just the ticket: Stand: €20. Adult terrace €15 Reductions for students and senior citizens. Children (under 16) €5.
Odds: Galway 1/4, Dublin 7/2 and 14/1 the draw.

GALWAY: Colm Callanan; Adrian Touhy, Daithi Burke, Paul Killeen; Pádraig Mannion, Gearóid McInerney, Aidan Harte; Johnny Coen, David Burke; Jason Flynn. Joe Canning, Joseph Cooney; Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney.

DUBLIN: Conor Dooley; Cian O’Callaghan, Eoghan O’Donnell, Oisin Gough; Chris Crummey, Liam Rushe, Shane Barrett; Ben Quinn, Seán Moran; Eoghan Conroy, Niall McMorrow, David Treacy; Donal Burke, Ryan O’Dwyer, Eamon Dillon.

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath)

Verdict: Galway to win.

Derry v Tyrone, Celtic Park, Derry, 2.0

A year ago after a cagey opening Tyrone took Derry apart at the same venue and there’s little to suggest that the differentials have shifted much apart from the latter getting relegated from Division Two on scoring difference, courtesy of the league’s second worst (after London) defence – not helped by the absence of the Slaughtneil players.

Tyrone’s league campaign stalled when they looked likely finalists but they were playing at a far higher standard than their opponents this weekend. There is always emphasis when the teams meet on the local nature of the rivalry and the belief that neither is ever fully beyond the others’ grasp.

You’d have to question that at the moment. Derry managed to lose a player during the week of a championship and not just any player but their goalkeeper, Thomas Mallon. Given Tyrone’s defensive system and their pace in covering and countering it’s hard to see Damian Barton’s side with four championship newcomers getting much purchase especially as last year’s free taker and top scorer James Kielt is suspended.

The champions are missing Cathal McCarron and Justin McMahon but Derry’s attempts to go long 12 months ago were efficiently countered and their

There is speculation that after a weekend in Carton House, Tyrone might try to loosen the shackles a bit and try to play at least some of the forwards’ strengths. We’ll see. It would be an interesting departure, as Mickey Harte needs to do something to ramp up the scoring threat in big matches to complement the suffocating defence and agile counter-attack.

Derry haven’t beaten their neighbours in championship for 11 years, which by Sunday evening should be 12.

Last meeting: 2016 Ulster quarter-final, Celtic Park, Derry 0-12, Tyrone 3-14.
Just the ticket: Stand: Adult €30/25. Adult terrace €18/£15 if purchased on the day (reductions if purchased by 21.00 on Saturday). Reductions for students and senior citizens available through clubs and county boards only. Children €5/£5.
Odds: Tyrone 1/4, Derry 4/1 and 10/1 the draw.

DERRY: Ben McKinless; Niall Keenan, Brendan Rogers, Karl McKaigue; Ciarán McFaul, Chris McKaigue, Carlus McWilliams; Conor McAtamney, Danny Heavron; Ryan Bell, Niall McLoughlin, Enda Lynn (capt); Danny Tallon, Emmett McGuckin, Benny Heron. Subs: Conor McLarnon, Michael McEvoy, Shane McGuigan, Conor Nevin, Mark Lynch, Charlie Kielt, Peter Hagan, Oisín Duffin. Conor McGrogan, Gavin O’Neill, Conor Doherty

TYRONE: Niall Morgan; Aidan McCrory, Ronan McNamee, Pádraig Hampsey; Tiernan McCann, Rory Brennan, Peter Harte; Colm Cavanagh, Conall McCann; Kieran McGeary, Niall Sludden, Conor Meyler; Mark Bradley, Seán Cavanagh, Matthew Donnelly. Subs: Michael O’Neill, Lee Brennan, Frank Burns, Declan McClure, Darren McCurry, Hugh Pat McGeary, Ronan McNabb, Pádraig McNulty, Cathal McShane, David Mulgrew, Ronan O’Neill

Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)

Verdict: Tyrone to win.


Clare v Limerick, Cusack Park, 3.30
The counties meet for the fourth time in six seasons but Limerick haven’t beaten their neighbours since reaching the Munster final in 2009. Clare have had much the better league – briefly threatening promotion to Division One after beating Cork whereas their opponents remain becalmed in Division Four.

None the less in 14 years and five championships matches there has been more than a score between them only once. Limerick manager Billy Lee welcomes back experienced attacker Ger Collins in a team with two newcomers.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be able to hold opponents who have been playing at a higher level and whose attack managed more against Division Two defences than Limerick did two divisions lower.

LIMERICK:Donal O’Sullivan; Daniel Daly, Johnny McCarthy, Sean O’Dea; Paul White, Iain Corbett, Brian Fanning; Darragh Treacy, David Ward; Peter Nash, James Naughton, Garrett Noonan; Seamus O’Carroll, Danny Neville, Ger Collins 

CLARE: Joe Hayes; Dean Ryan, Kevin Harnett, Martin McMahon; Pearse Lillis, Gordon Kelly, John Hayes; Gary Brennan, Cathal O’Connor; Shane Brennan, Seán Collins, Jamie Malone; Keelan Sexton, Eoin Cleary, David Tubridy.

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)

Verdict: Clare to win.

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