Saturday 24 February 2018

Today's championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Leinster SFC semi-finals: Wexford v Carlow,Croke Park 2.0: WEXFORD have lit up the Leinster championship following their failure to secure promotion from Division 3 after losing out on points difference.

You could also go as far as saying that Ciarán Lyng is playing the best football in the country -- he was totally sublime against Westmeath and Offaly and has 1-16 to his name from those encounters. He's been well backed up by Ben Brosnan in the attack but overall the entire team looks more focused, direct and pacier than it has in some time.

They're raging hot favourites to beat Carlow today and rightly so but they won't take their opponents lightly having laboured against them in O'Byrne Cup and recent challenge matches.

It's the first Leinster championship clash between the counties since 2005 when Wexford won handily, 3-12 to 2-10. Today's latest meeting will see Carlow bid to reach a Leinster final for the first time since 1944 so there is a danger that the occasion -- and playing at Croke Park -- may get the better of the minnows whereas Wexford are quite used to appearing at HQ.

One player who has impressed for Carlow so far is their 19-year-old full-back Conor Lawlor who has been struggling with a shoulder injury lately and has been restricted to light training. But he takes his place on a side that looks more settled with every outing.

Interestingly, Carlow decided not to ask for a visit to Croke Park in advance of this game, preferring to treat it like any other pitch. They'll need huge showings from their star man Brendan Murphy and Daniel St Ledger, while Thomas Walsh really needs a big game in a central position. It's entirely possible that the underdogs will hold the edge at midfield but we ultimately expect Wexford's explosive power, running game and their military precise organisation to prevail.

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.

Carlow: T O'Reilly; A Murphy, C Lawlor, B Kavanagh; P Cashin, S Redmond, K Nolan; B Murphy, D Foley; P Hickey, T Walsh, E Finnegan; B Murphy, S Gannon, D St Ledger.

Verdict: Wexford

Dublin v Kildare

Croke Park 4.0

ON paper this looks simple -- Dublin have scored 31 goals in 13 games this season while Kildare have kicked 35 wides in their last two outings.

To win, all they have to do is cut down on their wides and stop the Dubs from scoring goals.

If only it were that simple.

Still, there is something to be heeded from the amount of wide balls that Kieran McGeeney's men are registering. While it's great to see attacking, exciting football, they must get their radar tuned in quickly if they are to entertain any hopes of claiming silverware in 2011.

Today's game could be the biggest challenge of their season as they meet a side that is equally as fit and powerful, equally intent on cutting down space in defence and capable of bursting from the back to raise flags.

Already, a number of factors appear to be weighing in favour of the home team. The Kildare defence looks like it can be got at and with the Dublin attack, with the two Brogans and Diarmuid Connolly in tow, being a seriously potent force, that's one avenue that could be exploited. And while Dublin's midfield is not firing on all cylinders, Kildare have also had to bring Johnny Doyle out the field to get theirs motoring so it's all to play for in that sector.

No-one would be surprised if Kildare won and it was tight when they last met in the 2009 Leinster final when Dublin, despite having Ger Brennan sent off after 19 minutes, hung on by 2-15 to 0-18. Bernard Brogan scored 0-7 that day to land Dublin's fifth successive Leinster title and he has only developed further in the interim.

Overall, there are no signs that the Dubs have taken the foot off the floor, but while Kildare are capable of beating anyone on their day they still need more form in their attack. Two years ago they conceded 1-3 to Dublin in the opening minutes -- that probably won't happen again this afternoon but as the game goes on it's hard to see the Lillies coping when everything is thrown at them.

They start with the same starting 15 which defeated Meath and they do have Daryl Flynn, who recently returned to training after a layoff with injury, in reserve, which is a boost.

But the Dubs look more balanced.

Dublin: S Cluxton; P Conlon, R O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; D Bastick, MD Macauley; P Flynn, A Brogan, B Cullen; D Connolly, E O'Gara, B Brogan.

Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochlainn, M Foley, H McGrillen; G White, B Flanagan, E Bolton; J Doyle, H Lynch; M O'Flaherty, E O'Flaherty, E Callaghan; A Smith, T O'Connor, J Kavanagh

Verdict: Dublin

Connacht SFC semi-final

Mayo v Galway

Castlebar 2.0

It's one of the great rivalries in Gaelic football and it could go either way but even after a dismal league we have the slightest tendency for Galway.

It's good that these two have had a break from each other -- when they last met in 2009 it was the eighth successive year they played each other in the Connacht championship.

Games between them have always been tight; indeed three of their recent clashes were won by one-point margins. It could be the same again.

After their dramatic scare against London, James Horan has named a completely new midfield featuring brothers Seamus and Aidan O'Shea. In total there are six changes to the side which spluttered at Ruislip in May, only winning by 0-19 to 2-10 after extra-time.

Keith Higgins returns in place of Dermot Geraghty in the full-back line while Trevor Mortimer replaces Chris Barrett at half-back. It will be interesting to see how he fares in that slot.

Six changes show that the side is unsettled and there is still a serious amount of inexperience there.

Galway may have endured a torturous league which saw them fall to Division 2 but they have looked settled recently in challenge games and did well against Cork by all accounts.

Colin Forde, Johnny Duane, Mark Hehir and Greg Higgins make their senior inter-county championship debuts but today's affair will be a step up from what they have faced in the past at underage level.

Still, the half-back line and midfield pairing has a promising look about it while there is pace on the half forward line with under 21 star Mark Hehir at centre-forward. It's the inside line, however, that poses so much threat to Mayo -- Pádraic Joyce, Paul Conroy and Cormac Bane all look dangerous and word is that Michael Meehan could yet play 30 minutes.

It's a tight game that could end in a draw but if we're to hop off the fence we'll land on the Galway side.

Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, K Higgins; R Feeney, D Vaughan, T Mortimer; S O'Shea, A O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, A Moran; C O'Connor, A Freeman, J Doherty.

Galway: A Faherty; A Burke, C Forde, J Duane; G O'Donnell, G Higgins, G Sice; J Bergin, F Hanley; O Concannon, M Hehir, G Bradshaw; P Joyce, P Conroy, C Bane

Verdict: Galway

Ulster SFC semi-final

Donegal v Tyrone

Clones 3.30

WITH Donegal on the crest of a wave and Colm McFadden, Paddy McBrearty and Michael Murphy all in flying form, there's a temptation to plump for Jim McGuinness and his green and gold army here.

They're young, fresh, reinvigorated and playing for a manager they absolutely adore. Tyrone, on the other hand, are ultra-hardened to the pressure cooker championship atmosphere; they play for one of the best managers in the history of the sport and while they're not getting any younger they still possess tried and trusted class.

In true Ulster football tradition, this game could swing either way but in the heel of the hunt you'd just about fancy Tyrone to hang on.

They meet for the first time since 2007 in the Ulster championship and the 17th time in total, with Tyrone leading 10-5 from those previous clashes. Mickey Harte's men, champions for the last two years, are bidding to reach their third successive final so the only question is 'are they fresh enough?'

Donegal certainly are. Colm McFadden has reinvented his career; Paddy McBrearty is a child prodigy and if Murphy, like the other two, is to be left in the full-forward line, he simply has to be hit with regular ball, otherwise he'll just get frustrated.

McGuinness currently has one of the great full-forward lines at his disposal and Dermot Molloy, who scored 1-2 against Tyrone in the league, can't even make the starting 15.

By the way, there has been serious criticism about Donegal's defensive style but they still managed to score 2-14 last time out. How bad?

It will be a searching examination for Tyrone who will miss Justin McMahon through injury but at least welcome his brother Joe back.

Overall, though, it's hard to see any team that contains Brian Dooher lacking motivation or the hunger for battle. Provided they're tuned in and ready for a fight, Tyrone to shade it. By the tightest of margins.

Donegal: P Durcan; K Lacey, N McGee, P McGrath; K Cassidy, A Thompson, M Boyle; R Kavanagh, K Rafferty; M McElhinney, M McHugh, R Bradley; C McFadden, M Murphy, P McBrearty

Tyrone: P McConnell; M Swift, Joe McMahon, R McMenamin; D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; K Hughes, S Cavanagh; B Dooher, B McGuigan, P Harte; M Penrose, M Donnelly, S O'Neill.

Verdict: Tyrone

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