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today's championship previews Dermot Crowe

Leinster SFC semi-finals

Dublin v Kildare

Croke Park, 4.0

What's the worst that can happenĀ­ - the 11-point handicap proves wildly optimistic and deepens the foreboding on the future of the Leinster Championship? The best that can happen? That Kildare come through with some level of dignity intact and get to within single figures? Anything more aspirational is regarded as fantasy. Even for Dublin fans, these games have become soporific experiences that leave little lasting impression nor appear to offer much meaning.

Yet Kildare would hardly swap places with Laois, now without a manager and scrambling about for a successor with the summer gone. Where Kildare are is infinitely more satisfying than where they were when gasping for air and three points down in Tullamore three weeks ago, or where they stood when suffering a second successive relegation in the National League. Their dark recollections of playing Dublin over the last few years are more to the forefront of their minds though and don't fill their followers with much hope of avoiding another bad beating this afternoon.

If Jason Ryan comes up with a system that maintains an interest in this game for long enough to make it competitive, he'll have done well enough. All teams playing Dublin start on Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs which demands a level of planning and concentration so high that most fail to execute it effectively. And systems cannot save a team that hasn't got the playing talent. Kildare's form before the replay win over Laois read two wins in the league, over Laois and Cavan, out of seven. Dublin, National League champions for a third year running, have come into the year intent of wiping the floor with anyone they can, goaded by their loss to Donegal last year.

Ryan has been obliged to make one change due to injury to Fergal Conway, with Eoin Doyle drafted into the backline, having replaced Conway at half-time in the 3-18 to 1-11 defeat of Laois two weeks ago. That win gives them some bounce but they need a miracle to beat a team with just one loss in the province in ten years. That run includes a 16-point defeat of Kildare at this juncture two years ago.

Dublin: S Cluxton; J Cooper, D Byrne, P McMahon; D Daly, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, K McManamon, C Kilkenny (pictured); D Rock, D Connolly, B Brogan.

Kildare: M Donnellan; C Fitzpatrick, M O'Grady, O Lyons; K Murnaghan, E Bolton, E Doyle; G White, P Cribbin; P O'Neill, E O'Flaherty, C McNally; E Callaghan, A Smith, P Fogarty.

Verdict: Dublin

Meath v Westmeath

Croke Park, 2.0

This could be the day's saving grace, if the main offering follows the expected pattern, and adds the prospect of an historic first championship win for Westmeath over Meath. For the most part Westmeath do not regard losing as a trauma - Meath have been accustomed to occupying a higher station in life. But there have been exceptions, losses in 1973 and in the earlier part of the last decade still painfully recalled.

They come into this with a fighting chance. Being relegated to Division 3 didn't bode well for the summer, and their bad run included a hefty lesson from Meath in Navan, but championship wins over Louth and Westmeath have raised spirits. Meath made unseemly hard work of seeing off Wicklow and conceded heavily. Westmeath are not without hope.

A regular scourge has been Graham Reilly, whose penetrating runs have caused them problems already this year, and with some young players in defence and no commanding presence in midfield, there is a worry that they are vulnerable, unlike solid Westmeath rearguards of the recent past. Meath finished marginally outside the promotion spots in Division 2 of the league, only missing out by virtue of a defeat by Roscommon.

Westmeath's finishing kick against Wexford was impressive, while some of the errors made before that were less so and against Meath these will exact a higher price. New players like Paddy Holloway, who may pick up Reilly, and Killian Daly in defence and Shane Dempsey in attack have come in and nailed down places. Manager Tom Cribbin appears to be getting more of the leadership expected of some of the senior players which he considered absent in the league.

Meath have strengthened their side with recalls since the Wicklow match and Conor McGill has earned his place at full-back where he may be tasked with subduing John Heslin. Meath should prevail, as they usually do.

Meath: P O'Rourke; J McEntee, C McGill, D Tobin; M Burke, D Keoghan, B Menton; H Rooney, K Reilly; G Reilly, P Harnan, A Tormey; M Newman, S Bray, B McMahon.

Westmeath: D Quinn; K Daly, K Maguire, J Gilligan; P Holloway, K Martin, J Dolan; P Sharry, D Daly; R Connellan, G Egan, D Corroon; L Smyth, J Heslin, S Dempsey.

Verdict: Meath

All-Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 1

Tyrone v Limerick

Omagh, 4.0

Mickey Harte has expressed disappointment over a few defections since the Donegal defeat and makes two changes as they restart the engine with Tiernan McCann and Ronan O'Neill named in the half-forward line.

The only change in the Limerick side from the team that lost to Clare in the Munster quarter-final is Darragh Treacy, who replaces John Riordan in the half-forward line.

This is a first ever meeting of the counties in the championship and while Limerick have expressed satisfaction at their response to the Clare loss, a win here is beyond them, having had little luck with the qualifier draw unlike last year when getting pitted against London, and then earning a home tie against Antrim in round two, which they also won before narrowly bowing out to Sligo at the third stage.

Tyrone: M O'Neill; A McCrory, R McNamee, C McCarron; R McNabb, J McMahon, P Harte; C Cavanagh, M Donnelly; T McCann, R O'Neill, R Brennan; D McCurry, S Cavanagh, C McAliskey.

Limerick: B Scanlan; J McCarthy, S O'Dea, R Browne; I Corbett, C Fahy, S Cahill; T Lee, G Hegarty; D Tracey, P Ranahan, S Buckley; D Neville, P Nash, I Ryan.

Verdict: Tyrone

Ulster SHC semi-final

Derry v Down

Owenbeg, 3.45

Derry's league form and qualification for the Christy Ring final, where they lost to Kerry, points to victory here. Down had the more impressive result in the quarter-finals, comfortably dismissing Armagh by 12 points, while Derry were only four points ahead of Donegal in Celtic Park after conceding five goals.

Down might have more appetite for it and gain a modicum of revenge for defeat in the Ring semi-final on May 30 to the Oak Leafers at this venue.

Verdict: Down

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