Thursday 25 May 2017

Today's All-Ireland Football Championship previews

Ulster SFC Preliminary Round
Derry v Armagh
Celtic Park, 2.0

So, in the immortal refrain of the GAA summer, who wants it more? Well, Derry probably. For a county that has been quick to swallow its own hype, a poor league campaign may be no harm at all. Winning the league in 2008 did not herald abundant riches, nor did reaching the final last year. They cannot approach this fixture sated. They cannot arrive recklessly smug.





Last year, they lorried into Monaghan and resolved various issues about their manliness. But the season did not rid Derry of the plague of inconsistency. They were up and they were down. And you have to go back to 2000 to find Derry's last Ulster final appearance. Some of their players are nearing the end of their careers with little to show for their endeavours. It is not difficult to elevate to essential the case for a Derry win.

In Celtic Park, they will feel more assured and today's attack looks devoted to pace and running. Notably, James Kielt has not made the starting side in spite of his promising debut last season. Derry may elect to pump ball to a two-man inside attacking line, possibly drawing Eoin Bradley outfield where his distribution can be used to good effect. In the middle of the field, they are formidable. The defence may be less convincing and their primary concern is Steven McDonnell, who may have the attentions of more than one Derryman this afternoon.

Armagh have been playing a more open game in the league but some observers see the selection of Malachy Mackin, with his experience of playing sweeper, as a more cautionary signal. Kieran Toner is selected at full-back, with Brendan Donaghy moved to the corner; they may not start there, however. Armagh will enter Derry in high spirits after winning Division 2. But we suspect there is a sting in Derry's tail.

Derry: B Gillis; B Og McAlary, K McGuckin, D McBride; G O'Kane, B McGuigan, M Bateson; F Doherty, Patsy Bradley; SL McGoldrick, M Lynch, D Mullan; Paddy Bradley, E Bradley, R Wilkinson.

Armagh: P Hearty; A Mallon, K Toner, B Donaghy; P Duffy, C McKeever, F Moriarty; C Vernon, J Lavery; M Mackin, A Kernan, G Swift; B Mallon, S McDonnell, R Henderson.

Odds: Derry 10/11; Armagh 6/5; Draw 15/2

Verdict: Derry

Munster SFC First Round

Tipperary v Kerry

Semple Stadium, 4.0

Oh, we of little faith, but a shock looks a remote prospect. Granted, Tipperary have made admirable progress, a few of the Kerry players are returning from spells out with injuries, and there isn't the same power and athleticism available since the loss of Darragh ó Sé, Tommy Walsh and Tadhg Kennelly. But they've effectively gained Kieran Donaghy who saw little action last year. And the Tipperary win over Kerry in the Munster under 21 final in Tralee is still fresh in the memory of the most complacent Kingdom dweller.

Tipperary face a hefty challenge playing the All-Ireland champions on a big pitch tailor-made for open and attacking football. Their tendency to be slow off the blocks will need addressing as there are few teams as well equipped at destroying teams as Kerry if the invitation is presented.

Colm Cooper has overcome an eye injury and is likely to be marked by Ciarán McDonald. Niall Curran must find a way of curtailing Donaghy. Darran O'Sullivan's omission gives Bryan Sheehan a chance to win back a place, while Declan O'Sullivan and Paul Galvin stand menacingly on the half-forward line.

Tipperary have tended to over-elaborate, with a surfeit of short passing. A more direct and varied game plan is necessary if they are to annoy Kerry and cause them any degree of inconvenience.

Tipperary: P Fitzgerald; P Codd, N Curran, C McDonald; C Aylward, R Costigan, C McGrath; K Mulryan, G Hannigan; P Acheson, P Austin, H Coghlan; S Carey, B Grogan, B Mulvihill.

Kerry: B Kealy; M Ó Sé, T Griffin, T O' Sullivan; T Ó Sé, M McCarthy, K Young; S Scanlon, M Quirke; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; C Cooper, K Donaghy, B Sheehan.

Odds: Tipperary 7/1; Kerry 1/10; Draw 14/1

Verdict: Kerry

Leinster SFC First Round

Carlow v Wicklow

Portlaoise, 3.30

As devilish fate would have it, Thomas Walsh returns to the Carlow colours for his first championship match and there in opposition is Wicklow, to whose bosom he had earlier absconded amid much gnashing of teeth and stamping of feet. Linking up with Brendan Murphy, Walsh's return means Carlow should not lose this match in the middle of the field.

The loss of Walsh to Carlow is a headache Wicklow could have done without. JP Dalton moves into the empty space beside James Stafford, while Wicklow also suffer the absence of one of their top defenders, Ciarán Hyland, due to injury. Dara ó hAnnaidh is summoned from overseas and almost a year away to play at full-back. Nickey Mernagh, included in attack, is one of two changes from the team that lost to Kildare in last year's qualifiers.

Carlow are depleted by several injuries but seem to be approaching the match in growing confidence. Of the five newcomers, three are defenders, two in the full-back line. Murphy makes his bow at midfield, and the fifth novice is Darragh Foley, listed at centre-forward. A promising under 21 team has stirred fresh optimism and the return of Walsh heightened interest. Injuries aside, they'll feel they can win this. Wicklow, though, have had had little else on their minds since the turn of the year and are a more mature championship team.

Carlow: J Clarke; P Murphy, L Murphy, B Kavanagh; A Curran, J Hayden, P McElligott; B Murphy, T Walsh; S Gannon, D Foley, M Carpenter; S Rea, J Murphy, J Kavanagh.

Wicklow: M Travers; S Kelly, D ó hAnnaidh, A Byrne; P McWalter, B McGrath, D Hayden; J Stafford, JP Dalton; L Glynn, T Hannon, N Mernagh; D Odlum, S Furlong, P Earls.

Odds: Carlow 11/4; Wicklow 2/5; Draw 15/2

Verdict: Wicklow

DERMOT CROWE

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