Tale of the tape in the four provinces
A slightly surreal beginning last weekend on emigrant soil with Mayo comfortably disposing of New York in the Bronx and Galway having an unexpectedly jittery outing against London in Ruislip. Leitrim, who open and may well close in Hyde Park today, provided one of the captivating stories of the league with their well-acclaimed promotion from Division 4. Roscommon have spent the spring in Division 1 and, while relegated, that differential should tell this afternoon. Leitrim can reasonably expect to close the gap on last year's margin of defeat (14 points) and the year before (17). But Roscommon have now beaten them eight times in succession. Mayo await the winners in the semi-final on May 25, while the Sunday before Sligo will host Galway in the other semi-final in Markievicz Park. Mayo haven't won or contested a Connacht final since 2015. Their National League win suggests they might be about to end that wait, and also end a run of three consecutive championship defeats to Galway.
Odds: Galway/Mayo Evens; Roscommon 9/1
Next up: Roscommon v Leitrim, quarter-final, Dr Hyde Park, 3.30 (today)
Ambush material: Roscommon
Forecast: Mayo to beat Galway in the final
Judged on its conclusion alone, the least interesting provincial championship for many years. There are moments of light relief such as Westmeath's first championship win over Meath in 2015 and Carlow's stunning victory over Kildare last year. But they operate in a vacuum created by Dublin's mind-blowing dominance. It is not a question of Dublin winning Leinster any more, with only one failure since 2005, but how conveniently they'll manage to. Kildare and Wicklow got the latest season under way last night in Carlow and there are two more first-round ties this afternoon. Meath are helpfully placed on the other side of the draw to Dublin, who play in a fortnight's time against Louth or Wexford. Meath's return to Division 1 is a sign of progress and recovery. They won the first provincial title of this decade and contested four of the first five finals but have not featured in a final since 2014.
Odds: Dublin 1/16; Meath 10/1
Next up: Wexford v Louth, Innovate Wexford Park, 3.0; Meath v Offaly, Páirc Tailteann, 3.0 (both today).
Ambush material: Carlow
Forecast: Dublin to beat Meath in the final
Easily the most engaging and competitive of the provincial championships. Donegal are title holders and won promotion in the spring, but Tyrone are most people's favourites. Last year they fell in the opening round to Monaghan in Omagh, where they launch their bid today against 40/1 outsiders Derry. The All-Ireland finalists of last year have pressed Mattie Donnelly into their full-forward line and pushed more numbers up. They are expected to thunder through to the final, but Donegal are on the same side of the draw and a likely semi-final opponent. Monaghan will be expected to come through from the other side and open with a derby meeting against Cavan next Saturday night in Kingspan Breffni. The winners meet Down or Armagh on June 2 in the other semi-final. Over the last 10 years three counties have dominated, Tyrone and Donegal each winning four times and Monaghan twice. Donegal are without Odhrán Mac Niallais but still have an excellent forward line and pose a serious threat to Tyrone's prospects.
Odds: Tyrone 13/8; Donegal & Monaghan 11/4
Next up: Tyrone v Derry, preliminary round, Healy Park, 4.0 (today)
Ambush material: Fermanagh
Forecast: Tyrone to beat Monaghan in the final
Kerry are overwhelming favourites despite losing the league final to Mayo and continuing to grapple with midfield issues and now a season-ending injury to Peter Crowley. They have gifted players in attack and their dominance in Munster is underlined by this year's pursuit of a seventh consecutive provincial title, leaving them only two short of their overall record of eight set in the glory days of Mick O'Dwyer. Clare have made progress and are the highest-ranking opponent judging by league placings, but they have not been able to make any impact when facing Kerry in recent championships. Cork and Tipp were relegated from Division 2 in the spring. Cork's poor form has impacted hugely on the province's status and robbed it of an annual seller when the two traditional heavyweights were lined up to meet. They took Kerry to a replay in the final four years ago but lost the final last year by 17 points in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Odds: Kerry 1/12; Cork 9/1.
Next up: Munster semi-finals, Saturday June 1
Ambush material: Tipperary (in the qualifiers)
Forecast: Kerry to defeat Cork in the final
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