Thursday 25 December 2014

TODAY'S FOOTBALL AND HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWS Damian Lawlor

Damian Lawlor

Published 18/05/2014 | 02:30

Ulster SFc prelim. round

Tyrone v Down

Healy Park, 4.0

This is the undoubted game of the day. All you had to do was look at Kyle Coney's interview last week when he reminded us that although this was his fifth full season, he had yet to play a full Ulster championship match. That reminded us just how much some of the Tyrone players still have to prove.

Despite some inexperience they have the smarts, pace and firepower to outscore Down today, though. We reckon it could be a high-scoring affair as Tyrone are open enough at the back. It doesn't help the team, surely, that Niall Morgan is so often called upon to make point-blank saves, nor does it help them that they break forward in such droves that they can be caught on the hop at the other end.

Down looked promotion contenders to Division 1 for quite a while but their bid trickled out in the end. This game has been in their sights from a long way out.

Full-back Benny McArdle will be fine after a hamstring strain and for most of the team this game is the one they have trained for all year. The league was there to be attacked, but Tyrone were always in the back of their minds.

Dan Gordon looks to be coming into some good form and impressed in the club championship recently but he has not made the squad and so they are devoid of another option. They'll need everything to go for them today as Tyrone look well set.

Verdict: Tyrone

Connacht SF quarter-final

Roscommon v Leitrim

Dr Hyde Park, 3.0

Leitrim were making massive progress during the NFL until a defeat in Waterford that cost them any chance of a coveted place in Division 3.

The question is have they recovered from that game, or has their early-season form evaporated? It seems harsh to say that as they have lost only two of their 11 games so far this season.

But we'll know a lot more today. After their Division 3 final win over Cavan at Croke Park, Roscommon are in scintillating form. Their manager John Evans has a nice settled side, with just one change for today's Connacht quarter-final meeting.

Ronan Stack comes into attack, replacing his St Brigid's clubmate Darragh Donnelly at left half-forward. Stack, Ciaran Cafferkey and Ciaran Murtagh will all make their first championship starts while the under 21 players are kept in reserve again. That just shows the strength in depth that Evans has at his disposal.

Provided they watch out for the Leitrim dangermen, they have the craft, pace and back-up to get over what could be a tricky game.

Verdict: Roscommon

Leinster SFc first round

Wicklow v Laois

Aughrim, 3.30

Laois were very inconsistent in the league, while Wicklow, operating two divisions lower, had two stumbles in their campaign, winning five games out of seven and at home today in the fortress of Aughrim they won't have any fear of playing the midland side.

When it is put up to Laois today, we simply don't know how they will react.

Leighton Glynn and Seanie Furlong could inflict serious damage and while Laois can look pretty devastating at times, they tend to squander scoring chances and can be got at too.

Still, their status as a higher-ranked team makes it hard to oppose them.

Verdict: Laois

Longford v Offaly

Glennon Bros Pearse Park, 3.30

Longford are ar favourites even though they are far from the finished article themselves and were beaten by a point by Westmeath in a recent challenge match. While they have a few nice under 21 players and are capable of some nice football, they are inconsistent too.

A couple of seasons ago, when they achieved successive promotions, it looked like they could be a force but they've stalled since.

Offaly, mind you, are not in a good place at all. Struggling for form they will be doing well to come out with a win this afternoon.

Verdict: Longford

Leinster SHC round robin

London v Laois

Ruislip, 12.30

Laois made it two wins from two in the Leinster SHC round-robin series after cruising to victory over 14-man Carlow at O'Moore Park last weekend.

Indeed, the O'Moore men were never troubled in a disappointing local derby and they will join Antrim in the Leinster SHC quarter-finals if they can beat London today.

They should do so but it's unfair that Laois are being asked to go from the league into effectively another league. And from there into a knockout championship the Sunday after. That needs to be looked at again.

Verdict: Laois

Carlow v Westmeath

Dr Cullen Park, 3.0

This is a dead-rubber game today. Both sides are struggling but maybe Brian Hanley's men are better tuned into clinch the victory.

Verdict: Westmeath

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