Saturday 24 March 2018

Today's Allianz football league previews

(2.30 unless stated)

Damian Lawlor

Division 1

Armagh v Cork

Morgan Athletic Grounds

ARMAGH talisman Stevie McDonnell is missing but before the league is over he should return to captain the team after the birth of his fourth child.

Also on the absent list are the Crossmaglen contingent and Jamie Clarke, Ronan Clarke, Rory Grugan and Gavin McParland, although 2009 All-Ireland minor winner Eugene McVerry can bear some of the burden in attack.

This makes a tough opener all the more daunting and while Charlie Vernon and Malachy Mackin provide experience, it's a near full-strength Cork side, with Colm O'Neill back after his injury woes. Verdict: Cork

Division 2

Derry v Galway

Celtic Park

THERE'S a new era looming in Galway football. Joe Bergin and Nicky Joyce have been left on the bench as manager Alan Mulholland hands debuts to four players. The newcomers are goalkeeper Manus Breathnach, corner-back Keith Kelly and Milltown forwards Mark Hehir and Michael Martin. Finian Hanley captains the team from full-back, while last year's under 21 star Thomas Flynn from Athenry will partner Fionntáin ó Curraoin at midfield.

But Derry should be physically stronger today. John Brennan wasted no time in reintroducing Paddy Bradley to the starting 15 and they were further boosted by the news that Glasgow-based Charlie Kielt could yet feature in their Division 2 campaign. The Kilrea dentist moved to Scotland last year for work reasons but is now in the frame.

Derry should have enough experience to get past this hurdle provided their defence improves from the McKenna Cup final.

Verdict: Derry

Louth v Westmeath


Louth are without a host of regulars today but attention will be on Paddy Keenan, who makes his 100th appearance for Louth.

The midfielder -- Louth's only All Star -- captains the team. He has played 31 championship matches, 55 in the league and 13 times in the O'Byrne and Murphy Cups.

Peter Fitzpatrick's men have been working hard in pre-season. They beat Roscommon last weekend in a challenge match and will be heartened by the fact that Paul Greville, Frank Boyle, Brendan Murtagh, Conor Jordan and Philip Gilsenan are concentrating on the Westmeath hurlers this year.

In addition, Pat Flanagan is missing Conor Lynam, Denis Corroon, John Heslin and Tomas McDaniel from last year's panel. Darragh Daly and Ger Egan are on the treatment table, while the Garrycastle contingent are preparing for the All-Ireland club SFC semi-final. That's a lot of missing talent. Verdict: Louth

Division 3

Longford v Offaly

Glennon Bros Pearse Park

IT'S a big season for Glenn Ryan and Longford and they should be capable of starting it with a win at home. Former Aussie Rules player Michael Quinn is back in their ranks but there are concerns; Brian Kavanagh is thought to be carrying a slight knock while the squad wasn't all that impressive in the O'Byrne Cup.

But Offaly have hardly set the world alight either in the past few seasons. Niall MacNamee is back but won't feature today. But Kilmacud Crokes' Brian Hanamy will make his first competitive start for the county after qualifying to play under the parentage rule. He partners Niall Smith at midfield in the absence of Richie Dalton, who has a calf injury.

Longford have a little more quality at the moment with Francis Magee and Seán McCormack showing good form.

Verdict: Longford

Wexford v Cavan

Wexford Park

Jason Ryan believes Wexford will need to win all of their home matches if they are to have any chance of achieving promotion and they look odds-on to get those first points this afternoon.

They only missed out on promotion last year on scoring difference, finishing behind Westmeath and Louth, but hope to make amends now. Shane Roche, Kevin O'Grady, James Holmes and Rory Quinlivan have showed up well in recent weeks and the foundations are rock-solid under Ryan.

Cavan have received a welcome boost as goalkeeper James Reilly has returned to the squad but most of the talk in the Breffni County surrounds Seanie Johnston's transfer saga.

Verdict: Wexford

Roscommon v Tipperary


It will be a very difficult ask of Tipperary to travel to Hyde Park and take points off Roscommon who were Connacht champions only two years ago.

But Tipp will be heartened by their McGrath Cup exploits, as they pushed Cork hard in last Sunday's final and if the visitors can get an early goal they could cause an upset. Roscommon, however, have undoubted class in Donie Shine. They are eyeing up promotion and will fancy their chances in what could be the toughest game of the day.

Verdict: Roscommon

Division 4

London v Fermanagh

Ruislip 1.0

London are a better side than last year and have prepared well to meet Fermanagh in a repeat of last year's All-Ireland qualifier when they shocked the Ulster side. But, under Peter Canavan, Fermanagh are a different team and they will get some sort of revenge today.

Verdict: Fermanagh

Clare v Waterford

Cusack Park

Clare had a good win over UL in the McGrath Cup but were hammered by 12 points by UCC in the next round. Still, they got to use 25 players in those games and that was beneficial.

Full-forward Ger Brennan has shown up well in the early stages of the season but they need to convert more goal chances. Podge Collins, Stephen Tierney, Shane Brennan and Eoin Troy are all being blooded by Micheál McDermott and Liam McHale.

Waterford, on the other hand, are minus the O'Gorman twins for possibly the entire season and that's a major blow. Gary Hurney will carry a huge load on his shoulders this afternoon.

Verdict: Clare

Kilkenny v Wicklow


Following three games in the O'Byrne series, Harry Murphy will have got a good read on his side and they should open their competitive account today with an easy start at Freshford.

Verdict: Wicklow

Leitrim v Limerick


There are still places up for grabs on the Leitrim panel and spirits are reasonably high after they won two of three FBD Connacht league outings. But Emlyn Mulligan is a big loss, while Tomás Beirne and Brian McDonald are not near full fitness yet.

Limerick welcome new coach Brian Lacey into their camp along with Kerry import Graham O'Connell. Players like Seamus O'Carroll, Eoghan O'Connor, Tom McCarthy, Ian Corbett, Tommie Griffin and Donal O'Sullivan are all close to being right and they should pinch a win. Verdict: Limerick

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