Saturday 20 January 2018

Today's championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Connacht SFC final and Ulster SFC final

Connacht SFC final

Mayo v London

McHale Park, 2pm

James Horan's first championship game as Mayo boss could possibly have been his last! Mayo were taken to extra-time by London in Rusilip a couple of years ago and only just survived. Horan has since gone on to develop his side into serious contenders for the All-Ireland title.

Today, they meet London again, with the Exiles fully deserving their passage through to this decider after hard-earned wins over both Sligo and Leitrim.

Mayo are unrecognisable from that May 2011, however, and they should win quite comfortably here, particularly as injuries to Alan Dillon and Keith Higgins look to have cleared up.

Physically, they should have a clear edge over their rivals. Mayo have been working very hard at tackling this season after conceding way too many fouls last year. They also look a more impressive unit with Donie Buckley's coaching behind the scenes

Horan's men will also have received a jolt in a recent challenge match against Monaghan, which was reportedly no holds barred. Monaghan came out on top with no supporters allowed. That will certainly have focused the minds of the Mayo players ahead of what's expected to be a facile win here.

But London are diehards; they stay in games. And they score goals. Only four teams have scored more goals than them in this year's championship.

They had to wait 30 summers to win a Connacht championship game but they deserve to be here.

Captain Seamus Hannon is fit to play after suffering a stinger injury to his shoulder in the replay win over Leitrim but has recovered well and returned to full training late last week.

London's big worry is the loss of classy midfielder Mark Gottsche, who required an operation on a foot injury sustained in the first outing against Leitrim.

The Westerners are overwhelming favourites to claim a third successive provincial title, with one bookmaker pricing them at 1/500 to lift the Nestor Cup.

Realistically, London's main task here is to keep the score down. That will be a tough task as Mayo look ruthless.

Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, K Higgins, C Boyle; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, A Dillon, R Feeney; A Moran, A Freeman, D Coen.

London: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon, S Mulligan, A Gaughan; C Doyle, P Geraghty; G Crowley, D Dunleavy, C McCallion; E O'Neill, L Mulvey, C Magee.

Verdict: Mayo

Ulster SFC final

Monaghan v Donegal

Clones, 4pm

Monaghan showed their credentials in that challenge match with Mayo that we referred to earlier, and they will try to play Donegal at their own game.

This is their third shot at an Ulster title in six years, however, and they may not have introduced as much young blood as they would have liked. Donegal, meanwhile, are unbeaten in Ulster in three seasons.

Monaghan are driven by the hurt of past championship exits and we don't think this game will be an easy one for the All-Ireland champions. In fact, it could boil down to the final few minutes. A goal for either team could prove to be a massive turning point. The physical battle will also provide plenty of turnover ball – Donegal's ability and willingness to get down and dirty for that secondary possession is unquestionable.

To have a hope of winning, Monaghan will need to bring 12 men behind the ball and attack down the flanks as they will most likely get gobbled up and turned over if they funnel through the centre. Down gave away too much ball coming through that channel when they played Donegal so Monaghan need to learn from that. They will also have to leave two to three men in attack at all times to keep Donegal honest and maintain an attacking threat.

Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, C Walshe; V Corey, N McAdam, D Mone; O Lennon, D Hughes; P Finlay, S Gollogly, D Malone; C McGuinness, K Hughes, C McManus.

Verdict: Donegal

Irish Independent

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