Connacht SFC Semi-Final
Galway v Sligo
Saturday, Pearse Stadium, Salthill, 6.00
Live, Rte.ie, 5.50
AGAINST AN OPPOSITION no better than the last, it’ll be interesting to see if that was merely a freak show that Galway put on in the Hyde.
Of course they should still win regardless of the performance, even if Charlie Harrison says he’s never been part of a better-prepared Sligo team and even if there’s an unpredictable recent history between these two. But if Galway are genuinely a side capable of winning Connacht and going from probably being All Ireland quarter-finalists to potentially being All Ireland semi-finalists, we need more evidence in several key areas right down the spine of this team.
Can Finian Hanley handle the high ball because we still have memories of Declan Maxwell taking him apart and there are better big men out there? Is Johnny Duane really a rock at six or did Roscommon play into his hands? Has Joe Bergin turned a corner and is he now the mobile alpha midfielder this side has craved for some time? Is there a consistency in Paul Conroy because so much of this attack is now build around his ball-winning, distribution and finishing? Can they get by without Meehan and Joyce or will too much pressure and responsibility be lumped on bodies that cannot handle it?
We need yeses to all that to truly believe Galway have moved to a higher plane although they won’t need that many yeses to see them into the Connacht decider. Fair enough, Adrian Marren has been like a new Dessie Sloyne this league but there is still no David Kelly, Eamonn O’Hara isn’t about and midfield won’t match up. For those reasons Galway will win in the short-term but they need a performance as well as a result to make us think they can start winning in the longer term.
Verdict: Galway by five
Galway: A Faherty; K McGrath, F Hanley, K Kelly; G Bradhaw, J Duane, G O’Donnell; J Bergin, G Higgins; G Sice, D Burke, T Flynn; S Armstrong, P Conroy, M Hehir
Sligo: P Greene; N Ewing, J Martyn, R Donovan; C Harrison, M Quinn, P McGovern; S McManus, E Mullen; B Egan, P Hughes, A Costello; S Coen, A Marren, M Breheny
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)
Leinster SFC Quarter-Final
Carlow v Meath
Sunday, O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 2.00
THE WEIGHT HAS been lifted from Meath’s shoulders and they arrive free and flighty with a tailwind carrying them at pace. For that, and several reasons closer to home, we don’t envy Carlow, even if this will be worth a watch to see Brendan Murphy in action. The problem is, as good as Graham Reilly was last day at centrefield, it’s likely Meath will steer clear of Carlow’s star man when possible — especially as Darragh Foley is fast-maturing beside him — and hope that Brian Meade can be as effective in hovering around and above the opposition half-back line as he was against Wicklow.
But there’s a bigger issue here for Luke Dempsey that’s in a much more dangerous area. Those who have watched Carlow throughout the league suggest their full-back line is a disaster waiting to happen and Meath have the players to create that disaster. We know Cian Ward turns on the style against lesser sides, we know Brian Farrell had a huge first 25 minutes against Wicklow and Carlow don’t have a player like Ciarán Hyland to keep him quiet and we know Joe Sheridan has had a fortnight to shed some of the rust despite a big play-making performance the first day out. With Meath’s physicality dominating further out the field, expect plenty goals from that forward line and expect…
Verdict: Meath by 10
Carlow: T O’Reilly; P Murphy, C Lawlor, B Kavanagh; K Nolan, S Redmond, T Bolger; B Murphy, D Foley; B Murphy, P Reid, E Ruth; JJ Smith, S Gannon, D St Ledger.
Meath: D Gallagher; D Keoghan, K Reilly, B Menton; D Tobin, S McAnarney, M Burke; C Gillespie, B Meade; A Forde, S Bray, G Reilly; B Farrell, J Sheridan, C Ward.
Referee: B Cassidy (Derry)
Leinster SFC Quarter-Final Replay
Longford v Wexford
Sunday, O’Connor Park, Tullamore, 4.00
SAY WHAT YOU want, but we found the drawn game intriguing. Longford sat deep and defended with huge discipline and intensity before breaking fast, allowing Paul Barden to run the show and allowing Brian Kavanagh and Seán McCormack to prosper in space. Wexford were patient, and as they continually went lateral in a traffic jam around the 40, it was Adrian Flynn who saw the opportunity to flank his forwards and kick five crucial scores. That contrast in tactics made it enthralling.
But defensively we got the feeling Jason Ryan made it up as he went along and a lot of on-field systems were adapted during play. A week on and he now knows exactly what to expect and his side have more room for improvement. Graeme Molloy cannot be as exposed again by his half-back line, midfield cannot be as poor again and the half-forward line simply can’t turn ball over repeatedly, allowing the opposition to break. Wexford know what they have to do, the drawn game will have brought them up to speed and now we expect them to tick the boxes on that list and win.
Verdict: Wexford by three
Longford: (Predicted) D Sheridan; D Brady, B Gilleran, D Reilly; C Smith, M Quinn, S Mulligan; B McElvanney, J Keegan; D Barden, P Barden, N Mulligan; D McElligott, B Kavanagh, S McCormack.
Wexford: A Masterson; N Murphy, G Molloy, R Tierney; A Flynn, B Malone, L Chin; D Waters, R Quinlivan; P Byrne, S Roche, B Brosnan; C Lyng, E Bradley, R Barry.
Referee: C Lane (Cork).
Munster SFC Semi-Finals
Limerick v Clare
Saturday, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 7.30pm
JOHN GALVIN DOESN’T start but it says a lot about the man and his influence on Limerick football that just his presence on the bench has convinced us his county will be in another Munster final. His side already have the better scoring power through Ian Ryan and Ger Collins – even if both need more consistency and confidence — and they now have by far the better bench with Galvin joining Stephen Lucey and Jim O’Donovan in waiting. That’s some serious experience to call on if the game goes down to the wire.
We aren’t so sure it will though. David Tubridy kicked 44 per cent of Clare’s points this league, excluding the farce against Kilkenny, and while it’s an impressive feat, it’s a number that’s too high and Limerick know exactly where the danger is going to come from. On top of that, it’s eight weeks since Clare played a competitive game of football and plenty of cobwebs will have built up in that time. Limerick have no such problem and while their win over Waterford wasn’t all that impressive, it gives them crucial momentum to add to their experience in these types of fixtures.
Verdict: Limerick by four.
Limerick: B Scanlon; J McCarthy, P Browne, L O’Dwyer; S Lavin, J Riordan, P Ranahan; T Lee, P Kinnerk; I Corbett, S Kelly, S Buckley; G Collins, S O’Carroll, I Ryan
Clare: J Hayes; K Harnett, S McNelis, L Healy; M McMahon, G Kelly, J Hayes; G Brennan, G Quinlan; S McGrath, E Coughlan, A Clohessy; M O’Shea, D Tubridy, R Donnelly
Referee: D Fahy (Longford)
Cork v Kerry
Sunday, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, 2.00
Live, RTÉ One, 1.30
BLOOD AND THUNDER. We cannot wait, even if we have a sneaking suspicion the direction of the rivalry changes here and much like the late 1980s, there’s a shift in domination in favour of Cork. As they stack up on their quality and quantity, their great rivals are left to revert to the same old names and while they may have the hunger, they simply don’t have the speed and physicality to match up to the most daunting side in the land.
Just look at the spine of this Kerry defence as the perfect example. Sure enough, Aidan O’Mahony is there to marshal Aidan Walsh on the edge of the square, but Cork have fast and accurate forwards all around him and should Walsh move further out the field, then what? Between Seamus Scanlon, Eoin Brosnan and the full-back, the visitors could be beaten up so many ways. It could be Pearse O’Neill’s strength, Paddy Kelly’s vision, Fintan Goold’s passing, Colm O’Neill’s accuracy, Paul Kerrigan’s pace or Donnacha O’Connor’s free-taking that undoes them. And while last year we thought the same could happen if Cork got on top at midfield — an area they surprisingly struggled in – this year there’s no Bryan Sheehan and there’s no form from Paul Galvin.
Of course Kerry still have one of the best attacks in the game, and as long as Kieran Donaghy isn’t asked to plug numerous holes his battle with Michael Shields will be a joy, as will Eoin Cadogan and Colm Cooper going at it. A line further from the Cork goal there’s so much to look forward to as well with Declan O’Sullivan back in his best position and Darran O’Sullivan’s pace likely to be aimed at Graham Canty (something that got the better of Cork in Killarney last year) while Paudie Kissane brings so much to this meeting.
But while the entertainment will be in that region of the field, the decisive blows will be struck at the other end, particularly if Cork find the courage to move the ball with pace to their dominant area.
Expect an edge to go along with the quality. But also expect a turn in the tide of this rivalry.
Verdict: Cork by four
Cork: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, E Cadogan; P Kissane, G Canty, N O’Leary; Alan O’Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, P O’Neill, P Kelly; C O’Neill, D O’Connor, P Kerrigan
Kerry: B Kealy; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony, K Young; T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, P Crowley; A Maher, S Scanlon; P Galvin, D O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan; C Cooper, K Donaghy, K O’Leary
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)
Ulster SFC Quarter-Final
Armagh v Tyrone
Sunday, Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 2pm
Live, RTÉ One, 3.35
THE GAME WE are finding the hardest to call for so many reasons. Tyrone’s injuries mean they have come back down towards Armagh’s level. Armagh have home advantage in a hugely intimidating venue. Form disappears when these two collide. Every time we’ve trusted Paddy O’Rourke’s side to grow, they die off. See what we mean… There are other concerns about Armagh as well though. Stevie McDonnell is irreplaceable, Jamie Clarke doesn’t have the support, Michael Stevenson isn’t named limiting their free-taking and this is a group that averaged a miserly five white flags from play throughout the league. They’ve no Charlie Vernon here either, as he is dropped and we worry for Malachy Mackin and Kieran Toner in the middle.
Those two will have a job to do on the ground as well though as Cathal McCarron, Aidan McCrory and Peter Harte in particular can break hard and fast and open up pla. If they manage that, Tyrone have the better point-scoring options as well, even if Owen Mulligan and Stevie O’Neill aren’t the players they once were and even if Martin Penrose doesn’t have the game time this season.
There’ll be little in it, it’s usually that way, and while we are a long way from confident, we go with an away win.
Verdict: Tyrone by three
Armagh: P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, D McKenna; A Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; K Toner, M Mackin; A Forker, K Dyas, A Duffy; J Clarke, B Mallon, C Rafferty.
Tyrone: P McConnell; A McCrory, Justin McMahon, D Carlin; C McCarron, C Gormley, S O’Neill; Joe McMahon, C Cavanagh; R McNabb, M Donnelly, P Harte; M Penrose, S O’Neill, O Mulligan.
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).