Saturday 24 February 2018

Today's championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Leinster SHC final, Munster SFC final, Ulster SHC semi-final replay,

Leinster SHC final

Galway v Dublin
Croke Park, 4.0

Five intense games in a row for Dublin with the weathermen predicting a scorcher – it's a lot to ask.

They showed huge grit and determination to beat Kilkenny last weekend but they must be ravaged after facing the Cats twice and, before that, Wexford twice, all in consecutive weeks. And to think they still haven't won a Leinster title.

To their credit, though, our sources say that every player has knuckled down since the win over the Cats and their feet have remained firmly planted on the ground. They won't lack for belief this afternoon and players like Liam Rushe, Peter Kelly and Stephen Hiney are in the form of their lives. Danny Sutcliffe and Dotsy O'Callaghan are hungry for work – and ball – and they have depth to their bench now with Eamon Dillon and Mark Schutte playing starring roles last Saturday.

Dublin are strong at the back, and Peter Kelly will relish the challenge, should it materialise, of going head to head with Joe Canning.

The Dubs played a lovely, controlled brand of hurling for stages of last Saturday's game. However, they could do with more of a goal threat up front and they'll surely need a couple of goals to win today. Their passing and distribution into the red zone can be a bit disjointed at times and that, plus the weariness we imagine they will feel after 50 minutes today, could be a hindrance. Galway, meanwhile, although they look well below championship pace, should be fresh as daisies and ready to make amends for their poor showing against Laois.

Laois frustrated the westerners by pulling 13 men behind the ball and in doing so maybe they have showed Anthony Daly a template for victory.

Another factor that could upset Galway is the possibility that they were preparing to face Kilkenny – and not Dublin – in today's final. They might suffer, focus-wise, on that front.

When all is said and done, though, we feel they have sufficient scoring power to out-gun the 'home' team today. Most neutrals will be hoping Dublin add another title to their collection but we take Galway to get over the finishing line this afternoon.

Verdict: Galway

Munster SFC finaL

Kerry v Cork
Fitzgerald Stadium, 2.0

Could you rule out a draw here? Not in the slightest.

There's rarely little to separate these teams at this time of year and for once, both have slipped in under the net ahead of this Munster final. The truth is almost everyone else is talking about Dublin.

That will suit the respective managers just fine. Kerry have trained behind closed doors for the past month, playing intense challenge matches against the likes of Kildare, and they are down Aidan O'Mahony, who will be a massive loss. Thus, Mark Griffin, a fine player, gets the chance to make his championship bow at full-back and what a baptism of fire that will be. Equally, Kieran Donaghy missing out is a huge call for Eamonn Fitzmaurice in his first senior championship game as manager.

Cork have not gone down the challenge match circuit, preferring instead to play internal A v B games. The word coming out of the camp all week was that, like Donaghy, Aidan Walsh would not make the team, incredible as that seems.

One third of the Cork team are new to championship football and like Kerry, their bench looks exceptionally strong. Their biggest job will be keeping tabs on Colm Cooper at No 11. Should Paudie Kissane surge forward as he likes to, Graham Canty will have to drop in quickly to fill in at No six.

Both attacks look potent and dangerous, while both defences are patchy in places, therefore we should be treated to an open, end-to-end affair, with no blanket defence on view as such. We expect Kerry to withdraw Declan O'Sullivan from their full-forward line, exploiting the pace of Darran O'Sullivan and James O'Donoghue inside. Cooper will pull all the strings with pop passes, loops and diagonal balls into space.

Killarney will be packed and we take Kerry to come out on top – but only just.

Cork: K O'Halloran; E Cadogan, M Shields, D Cahalane; J Loughrey, P Kissane, T Clancy; G Canty, P O'Neill; F Goold, P Kelly, J O'Rourke; D Goulding, B Hurley, P Kerrigan.

Kerry: B Kealy; M O Se, M Griffin, S Enright; T O Se, K Young, P Crowley; A Maher, J Buckley; P Galvin, C Cooper, D Walsh; D O'Sullivan, D O'Sullivan, J O'Donoghue

Verdict: Kerry

Ulster SHC semi-final replay

Down v Derry
Athletic Grounds, 3.3

Derry got the equaliser last weekend, which would make them favourites to win today in many people's eyes, but we feel Down have more about them.

The Oak Leafers scored 11 points without reply to open up a three-point lead with eight minutes remaining, only to be caught by a late Down rally. They let their concentration slip at the end.

All six of Down's forwards scored in the drawn game and while they were nowhere near their peak they may have a bit more in the locker. Down coach Paul Flynn will be working hard to iron out whatever kinks were evident last Saturday and his team should prevail.

Verdict: Down

Irish Independent

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