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Published 28/05/2011 | 05:00

Ulster SFC quarter-final

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Armagh v Down, Athletic Grounds, 7.30, C Reilly (Meath), Live on BBC 2 / deferred on RTE 2 (10.30)

Ever since the championship draws were made last October, this game was pencilled in as one of the big early-season attractions.

There's no guarantee that it will live up that billing, but it certainly has the potential as two sides with contrasting credentials begin their campaign.

Down's case looks the more compelling after their excellent run, via the qualifiers, to last year's All-Ireland final, but they have a poor Ulster record for a long time, having failed to win the title since 1994 or reached the final since 2003.

Armagh won seven Ulster titles between 1999 and 2008 and while the squad has undergone a massive overhaul in that period, they still have experienced performers like Paul Hearty, Andy Mallon, Aaron Kernan, Ciaran McKeever and Steven McDonnell to underpin their case.

Armagh were disappointing in last year's championship and were lucky to survive in Division 1 this year but they did run Down to a single point, proving yet again just how closely matched these neighbours are in any competition.

Home advantage is a plus for Armagh, although Down are insisting that they don't regard it as an issue. Their big test is to restore the momentum levels they displayed in last year's All-Ireland series, culminating in a final appearance where they led Cork for a long way before eventually succumbing to the Rebels' greater experience.

Last C'ship clash: Armagh 1-12 Down 0-11 (2008 Ulster quarter-final)

Verdict: Down

Odds: Down 8/11; Armagh 6/4; Draw 13/2.

Armagh -- P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, K Dyas; A Kernan, C McKeever, P Duffy; K Toner, C Vernon; T Kernan, BJ Padden, M Mackin; M O'Rourke, S McDonnell, J Clarke.

Down -- B McVeigh; D McCartan, D Gordon, G McCartan; B McArdle; K McKiernan, D Rooney; K King, P Fitzpatrick; D Hughes, M Clarke; P McComiskey; J Clarke, B Coulter, M Poland.

Leinster SFc Preliminary Rd

Offaly v Wexford, Tullamore, 5.0,

P O'Gorman (Kerry)

Only a point has separated them in their last three league and championship games, so the mix is right for another close encounter. Both won four of seven games in Division 3 but lost out to Louth -- who also finished on eight points -- for promotion on the scoring difference rule.

Offaly are seeking their first win in the Leinster championship since 2007, which is very disappointing, but they will have identified this year as an opportunity to make real progress.

So will Wexford, but, in a clash where the margins have been so minimal, home advantage could prove significant.

Last C'ship clash: Wexford 2-11 Offaly 0-16 (2010 qualifiers)

Odds: Wexford 10/11; Offaly 11/10; Draw 15/2.

Verdict: Offaly

Offaly -- A Mulhall; B Darby, S Brady, S Pender; S Lonergan, R Brady, K Slattery; R Dalton, N Smith; C McManus, S Ryan, A Sullivan; B Allen, N Dunne, N McNamee.

Wexford -- A Masterson; J Wadding, G Molloy, B Malone; A Flynn, D Murphy, A Doyle; R Quinlivan, D Waters; S Roche, C Lyng, B Brosnan; C Morris, E Bradley, R Barry.

Ulster MFC quarter-final

(Extra-time if necessary)

Armagh v Down, Morgan Athletic Grounds, 5.45, N Mooney (Cavan)

Verdict: Down

tomorrow

Connacht SFc quarter-final

London v Mayo, Ruislip, 3.0,

M Collins (Cork)

One win, achieved against Leitrim in 1977, is London's sole return from 36 years in the Connacht championship and it's unlikely to improve tomorrow.

Paul Coggins and his hopeful squad will try everything to disguise the gulf between themselves and Mayo but having won just one game (v Kilkenny) in Division 4, this is about turning in a good performance and the home side will hope to come as close as possible to performing to their optimum.

For Mayo, it's an opportunity for their new-look side to increase the blending process ahead of the clash with Galway in Castlebar four weeks later.

Last C'ship clash: Mayo 1-18 London 0-8 (2006 Connacht quarter-final)

Odds: Mayo 1/100; London 16/1; Draw 25/1.

Verdict: Mayo

Mayo -- R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, G Cafferkey; R Feeney, D Vaughan, C Barrett; J Kilcullen, J Gibbons; A Campbell, A Moran, A Dillon; T Howley, A Freeman, J Doherty.

Munster SHc quarter-final

Tipperary v Cork, Thurles, 4.0, B Gavin (Offaly), Live on RTE 2

For the first time in nine years, Tipperary head into the championship as All-Ireland favourites while also pursuing a target that has eluded them since 1965 -- retaining the title.

It's new territory for a new generation but ever since they reprogrammed their systems last June, there has been a swagger about them which suggested that they believed they were poised to embark on a special adventure. Now that they are All-Ireland champions, it's likely to be even more pronounced.

Enter Cork, whose rating dropped in direct ratio to Tipperary's upswing last summer. And yet Cork head for Thurles with a code which nobody else held in last year's championship and which enabled them to pick Tipperary's lock with incredible ease in the Munster quarter-final.

It's only a year ago but given what happened both counties subsequently, it seems as if it's from another age. Unsurprisingly, Cork are a much-changed outfit as Denis Walsh attempts to speed up the transition while remaining seriously competitive.

In those circumstances, the Munster draw could not have been less kind, despatching Cork to Thurles to take on Tipperary. Still, they will feel that having trussed Tipp last year, Declan Ryan's squad might be more jittery than would normally be the case with All-Ireland champions.

Cork may well be right, but how long can it sustain them? Longer perhaps than many appear to think but, ultimately, Tipperary have the power to negotiate a successful take-off on their new mission.

Last C'ship clash: Cork 3-15 Tipperary 0-14.

Odds: Tipperary 4/11 Cork 11/4; Draw 10/1.

Verdict: Tipperary

Cork -- D Og Cusack; S McDonnell, E Cadogan, S O'Neill; J Gardiner, W Egan, B Murphy; L McLoughlin, P Cronin; B O'Connor, C McCarthy, N McCarthy; P Horgan, P O'Sullivan, L O'Farrell.

Tipperary -- B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; D Young, P Maher, J O'Keeffe; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, P Maher; E Kelly, J O'Brien, L Corbett.

Leinster SHC quarter-final

Dublin v Offaly, Croke Park, 2.0, J Sexton (Cork), Live on RTE 2

In the 1998 All-Ireland semi-final refixture, Joe Dooley scored five points from open play as Offaly defied their outsider status when beating Clare, the reigning champions. It was one of Dooley's best performances throughout an outstanding career and was watched from close quarters by Clare captain, Anthony Daly. Neither will mention it to their players tomorrow but both know that it serves as another reminder of how, irrespective of what the odds say, championship games can take on a life of their own.

Once again, Dooley is the outsider while Daly finds himself in an unusual situation in charge of a Dublin team which is odds-on to win a championship game against a county which has been much more successful than them for a very long time.

It's new territory for Dublin, who built their big reputation on an excellent league campaign. Now, the big question is whether Dublin can handle their new-found status.

If they can, they will win, but if Offaly nudge and niggle them into errors then the longer the game goes the more Dooley's men will fancy their chances. It's trickier for Dublin than the league differentials between the sides suggest, but they should have enough balance to rack up their third win of the year in Croke Park.

Offaly suffered another blow yesterday when Rory Hanniffy was forced to withdraw with a broken hand. His replacement will be announced before throw-in tomorrow.

Last C'ship clash: Offaly 2-25 Dublin 2-13 (2007 All-Ireland qualifiers)

Odds: Dublin 2/7; Offaly 7/2; Draw 10/1.

Verdict: Dublin

DUBLIN -- G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, O Gough; M O'Brien, J McCaffrey, S Durkin; L Rushe, A McCrabbe; C McCormack, R O'Dwyer, C Keaney; D O'Callaghan, D Plunkett, P Ryan.

Offaly -- J Dempsey; M Verney, D Kenny, S Egan; D Hayden, AN Other, D Morkan; C Mahon, D Molloy; B Carroll, G Healion, E Egan; S Dooley, J Bergin, D Currams.

Leinster SHC quarter-final

Wexford v Antrim, Wexford Park, 3.30, C McAllister (Cork)

Five straight defeats left Wexford headed into the last two rounds of the Division 1 campaign needing to take at least three points to avoid relegation.

Given their previous form, it didn't look possible but they were a new force on the home run, beating Cork and drawing with Tipperary.

Those performances not only enabled them to remain in the top flight, it relaunched a season that seemed headed on an irreversible downward spiral. Now, they have a home championship tie against Antrim, with another home date -- this time against Kilkenny -- as the prize for victory.

That should be enough to ensure they hit tomorrow's game at full pace, which is precisely what they need to do in order to prevent Antrim building up momentum. Antrim have a good league record against Wexford, winning two of their last three clashes, and go into tomorrow's game in confident mood after wearing down Laois in the first round. But Wexford are better than Laois and will make it count.

Last C'ship clash: Wexford 2-15 Antrim 2-12 (2003 All-Ireland quarter-final)

Odds: Wexford 1/6; Antrim 11/2; Draw 11/1.

Verdict: Wexford

Antrim -- C O'Connell; C McGuinness, C Donnelly, K Molloy; A Graffan, M Herron, C Herron; P Shiels, B McFall; S McRory, K Stewart, N McManus; C McCann, D Hamill, E McCloskey.

Wexford -- N Breen; P Roche, M O'Hanlon, K Rossiter; L Prendergast, C Kenny, M Jacob; W Doran, D Redmond; PJ Nolan, H Kehoe, S Banville; R Jacob, E Martin, J Berry.

Munster IHC quarter-final

(Extra-time if necessary)

Tipperary v Cork, Thurles, 1.45

Verdict: Tipperary

Ulster SHC quarter-finals

(Extra-time if necessary)

Down v Derry, Casement Park, 3.30, O Elliott (Antrim)

Verdict: Down

Armagh v Monaghan, Newry, 3.30, D Magee (Down)

Verdict: Armagh

Ulster MHC quarter finals

(Extra-time if necessary)

Down v Derry, Casement Park, 1.45, C Cunning (Antrim)

Verdict: Down

Armagh v Cavan, Newry, 5.15, J Devlin (Tyrone)

Verdict: Armagh

Ulster MFC quarter-finals

(Extra-time if necessary)

Tyrone v Monaghan, Brewster Park, 7.0, I Molloy (Donegal)

Verdict: Tyrone

Cavan v Antrim, Newry, 7.0, C O'Hagan (Tyrone)

Verdict: Cavan

Irish Independent

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