Friday 20 October 2017

Today's Allianz League Finals

Allianz NFL Division 1 final

Cork v Mayo

Croke Park, 4.0

ALL the indications are that this will be an extremely tight game as Cork and Mayo slug it out for the first time in a top-tier league final.

Cork were the highest scorers in the division, with 9-93 in seven games; but they can be got at too -- they conceded 9-86 in the group stages.

They badly need to land a national title at Croke Park to alleviate the damage of two bad All-Ireland final defeats to Kerry. A win today could be a first step towards ending that final hoodoo.

All through the league there have been periods of games where they totally dominated, but instead of killing opponents off, they've taken the foot off the floor. They line out without Anthony Lynch, John Miskella, Graham Canty, Eoin Cadogan and Pearse O'Neill today, so it won't be easy. Still, Conor Counihan (pictured) has made 10 changes to the side that lost to Mayo last time out, while John O'Mahony has named the same 15.

Mayo, meanwhile, despite their own deficiencies at HQ, have emerged as many people's fancies for a serious crack at Sam Maguire this year. They are just as potent as Cork too in attack (9-86) but with a slightly meaner defence (5-88).

As we all know, they too have an awful record in finals at Croke Park but this is a relatively new-look side John O'Mahony has moulded and they won't be overly concerned that they've lost four All-Ireland senior finals, a National League and back-to-back All-Ireland minor deciders in the capital in recent times.

What will be a worry, though, is that they are without Peadar Gardiner, Tom Cunniffe and Barry Moran today. Without those, it will be a serious struggle. We take Cork to shade it.

Verdict: Cork

Allianz NFL Division 2 final

Armagh v Down

Croke Park, 2.0

ONE wonders if Armagh will have an eye on the championship today? If they do, you couldn't blame them really as they face Derry in a preliminary Ulster SFC round on May 16. Down, meanwhile, have a further two weeks' grace.

There are several reasons to opt for Down here. James McCartan's men have a great defensive record, having been miserly at the back. At the same token, they've looked sharp up front and Benny Coulter is fine for today's game after a broken rib scare. Martin Clarke is crucial at centre-forward but his brother, John, is in fine form too and that's a nice bonus for the management.

Dan Gordon is back fit and refreshed from his sabbatical and Ambrose Rogers should be passed fit to start. They fielded a totally under-strength side and still beat Laois last time around and, most importantly, the Down players will have been well warned by Armagh's complete trouncing of Donegal on the same weekend.

Paddy O'Rourke, meanwhile, has drafted in three U21s into his set-up as well as welcoming veterans Enda McNulty and Martin O'Rourke back to the fold.

O'Rourke certainly has his team well organised. They are way more fluid than in recent years. Stevie McDonnell has been in tremendous form, as has Aaron Kernan in the half-forward line. Against Donegal, they boasted 12 different scorers which is impressive stuff.

Down had seven points to spare on Armagh when they met in round 5. Unbeaten so far, they look to be men on a mission this season and they will want to win this final and then prepare for Donegal in Ballybofey at the end of May.

We expect both teams will tear at each other from the start and play in an open, positive fashion as players bid to cement their championship places. We take Down to come out on top.

Verdict: Down

DAMIAN LAWLOR

Sunday Independent

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