Dubs and Fermanagh chase history as 'Super 8s' race hots up
A place in the history books is the target for Fermanagh and Dublin in tomorrow's Ulster and Leinster SFC finals on a weekend when, barring draws, three more of the eight slots in the All-Ireland quarter-final 'Super 8s' will be decided.
Galway are already there as Connacht champions and will be joined by Cork or Kerry, Dublin or Laois and Donegal or Fermanagh. Kerry are bidding for a sixth successive Munster title - a feat they last achieved in 1980 - when they face Ronan McCarthy's Cork this evening (7.0) at the redeveloped Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice makes one change to his exciting starting 15 as Brian Ó Beaglaoich is preferred to Ronan Shanahan at corner-back as they look to build on their phenomenal attacking display against Clare where they hit a whopping 32 points.
Dublin's remarkable run in Leinster leaves them pursuing an eighth successive title against Laois - who make two changes with injured captain Stephen Attride and veteran attacker Ross Munnelly both missing as Darren Strong and Evan O'Carroll start - in Croke Park tomorrow (4.0).
At the other end of the spectrum, Fermanagh are hoping to win a first Ulster title when they take on Donegal in Clones (2.0). They were ranked behind Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone on their side of the Ulster draw this year but have defied the odds.
With an ultra-tight defence conceding just 17 points in two games, it has been a tactical triumph for ex-Donegal manager Rory Gallagher - ably assisted by former Tyrone star Ryan McMenamin - and his squad, who have expertly executed his game-plan.
Donegal have impressed on their way to a seventh final in eight seasons, averaging 2-19 in wins over Cavan, Derry and Down, while the Dubs ran in even bigger scores against Wicklow and Longford.
It's also big weekend in the football qualifiers, with top-ranked All-Ireland contenders, Mayo, Tyrone and Monaghan all involved in Round 2 games today. Mayo appear to have the most difficult test away to Tipperary - who suffered an unexpected slump against Cork in the Munster semi-final - and Stephen Rochord can once again call on the services of Lee Keegan.
Keegan makes his first competitive start since March following a serious shoulder injury after making his return off the bench in their 18-point win over Limerick and partners Seamus O'Shea at midfield.
Neil Flynn is a notable inclusion in Cian O'Neill's Kildare side which face a difficult trip to Pearse Park to play Longford with the Maynooth forward set to start his first game for the Lilies in over a year- he shot five points when introduced in their win over Derry two weeks ago.
Both Carlow and Waterford were in Division 4 this year, which leaves them with a lot of ground to make up against Tyrone and Monaghan - who are the minus the services of the injured Kieran Hughes - respectively.
The eight Round 2 winners go into the Round 3 draw, which will take place on RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' on Monday (8.35am approx). They will be paired together with no repeats of provincial championship ties.
Possible repeat pairings are: Monaghan v Tyrone; Tipperary v Waterford; Carlow v Kildare; Carlow v Louth. The Round 3 games will be played next weekend.