Monday 11 December 2017

Champions Dublin to face runners-up Kerry at Croker in League opener

Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

NEXT year's National Football League will open with a glamour re-match of this year's All-Ireland football final in Croke Park.

A Saturday night showstopper between the Dubs and Kerry on February 4 looks sure to draw a huge crowd and silence those who've criticised the GAA for starting the campaign with a whimper in recent seasons.

No venues have yet been confirmed, as the fixtures are currently in draft form while the GAA is waiting for counties to nominate their 'home' venues, but the Irish Independent has received a copy of the proposed list.

And given the opportunity for Dublin to attract a bumper crowd to acclaim their first All-Ireland champions in 16 years, it looks inevitable that the big re-match will be a floodlit clash at GAA headquarters.

The Dubs may be getting home advantage first day out, but they only have three home games from seven in their new Division 1 NFL schedule.

They are also home to Donegal and Armagh, but Sky Blue supporters will have to travel to Mayo, Laois and Down and their group finishes with a difficult trip to Cork.

Beaten All-Ireland finalists Kerry -- like Laois and Cork -- have four home games, hosting Donegal, Armagh, Laois and Mayo, but they will have to beat Cork in the Rebels' den on Sunday, March 18 and also travel to Down.

The Allianz Hurling League, the format of which has caused so much controversy among the game's superpowers recently, starts with another All-Ireland final rematch when Kilkenny host Tipp on Sunday February 26.

With just six teams in hurling's top section, every round of the newly formed Division 1A should provide thrillers.

New Cork hurling manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy has a home draw first day out against Munster rivals Waterford, while Dublin hurling boss Anthony Daly has to take his team on the road to Galway on opening day.

His side are due to play Tipperary on Saturday, March 24 and that looks likely to be a double-header under lights in Croke Park as the Dublin footballers are due to host Donegal the same day.

All-Ireland hurling champions Kilkenny have three home group games (including Dublin and Galway), while whoever takes over the reins in Galway has a particularly tough schedule, with only two home games (Dublin and Waterford) and testing away ties to Tipperary, Cork and Kilkenny.

Limerick, who felt they should be part of an eight-team Division 1 after winning Division 2 last year, will face Clare in their Division 1B opener, which is a re-match of last year's Division 2 final.

Irish Independent

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