Today's football and Hurling championship previews
Leinster SFC quarter-finals: Wexford v Longford Croke Park, 2.0
THINGS we know about Longford: they are on a roll, they won't panic if they go behind but they can be made to look very ordinary if their work-rate drops at all.
Still, to come from six points down against Laois and emerge victorious from the first round of the championship was a decent feat -- even in their own backyard.
Today, however, will be a different test. It's very hard to see a manager like Jason Ryan losing to the same opponents three times in the one year. Wexford owe Longford for the league final defeat and even though Glenn Ryan's men won that last meeting at HQ, Wexford have more big-game experience at Croke Park.
They also boast more pace than Laois, they will attack with 12 men if they have to and while they'll be open and vulnerable in defence, they are quite capable of racking up some serious tallies.
Likewise, the Longford corner-backs, Dermot Brady and Declan Reilly, and centre-back Michael Quinn like to shoot forward at every opportunity so it should be an open affair.
Jason Ryan is without Aindreas Doyle and Andrew Shore through injury. Forward Paddy Byrne hurt his knee in a recent challenge match against Fermanagh but players like Red Barry, Ciarán Lyng, Ben Brosnan and Dáithí Waters should make up for their absence.
Longford have the luxury of a win under their belt and it's no great shock that they have kept faith with the side that defeated Laois.
Paul Barden captains the side which features Bernard McElvanney and John Keegan at midfield and Brian Kavanagh and Seán McCormack in a potent-looking full forward line.
But three victories on the spin against a good side like Wexford might just be too big an ask.
Longford: D Sheridan; D Brady, B Gilleran, D Reilly; C Smith, M Quinn, S Mulligan; B McElvanney, J Keegan; D Barden, P Barden, N Mulligan; D McElligott, B Kavanagh, S McCormack.
Wexford: A Masterson; N Murphy, G Molloy, R Tierney; A Flynn, D Murphy, B Malone; D Waters, R Quinlivan; C Morris, S Roche, B Brosnan; C Lyng, E Bradley, R Barry.
Dublin v Louth
Croke Park, 4.30
IT'S going to be an interesting day for John O'Leary -- the former Dublin No 1 is part of the Louth backroom team, working with their goalkeeping coaching and defensive strategy. And today's game, to be played in front of an estimated 40,000 people, will be intriguing on a number of other fronts.
Despite having lost to the Dubs 12 times since their last championship win over them 39 years ago, Louth are travelling to the capital with some confidence. They may have been inconsistent in the league but they beat Meath and drew with both Galway and Derry so they have some level of performance behind them. Louth have Dessie Finnegan, recently returned from honeymoon, in the full-back line once more and that releases the influential Liam Shevlin to the half-back line. Their in-form match-winner against Westmeath, Danny O'Connor, is a doubt with a fractured toe, however.
Pat Gilroy would not have remianed in the post had he seriously doubted the team's enthusiasm for another shot at the title. He knows Kerry might not be the force they were, Cork are still looking for consistency while Tyrone have been ravaged by injury. He knows that if his men can rediscover the intensity of 2011 they will go a long way towards retaining their crown.
The fact that he has picked 12 of the side that started last year's All-Ireland final for today's game says a lot. Even as players like Ciarán Kilkenny, from the All-Ireland under 21-winning team, start to filter through he has stuck with his tried and trusted, and rewarded Eamon Fennell for a decent league by picking him at midfield.
Cian O'Sullivan, Denis Bastick and Barry Cahill miss out while Bernard Brogan makes his first appearance of the year. It should be a very entertaining game, end to end and intense. We can see Louth living with the champions for up to 50 minutes but really we see only one winner. Louth got out of jail last time against Westmeath thanks to O'Connor's goal but we can't see lightning striking twice. Even though Paddy Keenan will hold his own around the middle, Dublin are too strong in attack and too powerful all over.
Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, Rory O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; E Fennell, M Dara Mcauley; B Cullen, A Brogan, P Flynn; D Connolly, K McManamon, B Brogan.
Louth: N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, G Hoey; R Finnegan, J Carr, D Byrne; P Keenan, R Carroll; D Crilly, M Brennan, A Reid; D Maguire, J McEneaney, D Clarke.
Connacht SFC quarter-final
London v Leitrim
WE'RE sorely tempted to plump for London here. Their only Connacht championship win came against Leitrim in the 1977 campaign, they took Mayo to extra-time last year and then scored a first ever qualifier victory against Fermanagh.
Throw in the fact that the recent eligibility directive, which forces a player to have played club championship before representing their county, infuriated the London side so much that they have now gelled closer together. Indeed, had the London board not brought a round of club games forward, up to 12 players would have been ineligible today. Twelve is also a magic number for Leitrim -- they are down that many players from last year's squad through emigration and other factors. Eoin O'Neill, who hit 0-4 against Fermanagh last season, is back fit again.
Leitrim's co-managers George Dugdale and Barney Breen have been looking to this fixture since the start of the season. The duo oversaw a five-point league win against Paul Goggins' team earlier in the year and although their defence is average at times -- and they were recently beaten by Ballymun Kickhams in a challenge -- there is still a good spirit in the squad. Championship debuts go to Paddy McGowan and Fabian McMorrow and provided they get off to a good start they should edge it. We're only basing that on the fact that they finished ahead of London, Limerick, Carlow, Waterford and Kilkenny in the league.
London: E Byrne; P Sherry, S McVeigh, D McGreevy; T Gaughan, S Mulligan, S Hannon; L Mulvey, M Gottsche; S Kelly, K O'Leary, M Mullins; P McGoldrick, E O'Neill, L Colfer.
Leitrim: C McCrann; J Glancy, C Egan, P Maguire; C Clarke, F McMorrow, W McKeon; D Sweeney, D Lowe; P McGowan, E Mulligan, P Brennan; R Cox, J Glancy, A Croal.
Ulster SFC quarter-final
Fermanagh v Down
Brewster Park, 3.30
There were question marks over the role of Fermanagh full-forward Seamie Quigley, their top scorer in the league, right up to today. He missed training on Tuesday and a recent challenge match, reportedly due to a chest infection. There have also been rumours that Quigley is heading to Boston for the summer, although this has been denied. Captain Ryan McCluskey is a huge loss, though. He suffered a fracture of the sinus cavity above the left eye socket at training the weekend before last.
James McCartan attempted to play down expectation levels surrounding his team last week and he is probably right-- they haven't won an Ulster SFC title since 1994 and haven't appeared in an Anglo-Celt Cup decider since 2003.
Going to Brewster Park won't be an easy trek, especially minus the services of Niall McParland and Benny Coulter, although Liam Doyle has been showing up well. They hit five goals in a recent challenge against Armagh and it remains to be seen how Fermanagh react to their slump to Wicklow in the recent league final. We just feel Down will have enough firepower, composure and experience to get out with a win.
Fermanagh: R Gallagher; N Bogue, B Owens, N McGovern; D Kelly, B Cox, B Mulrone; S Lyons, E Donnelly; D Keenan, B Og Maguire, R Jones; T Corrigan, S Quigley, S McCabe.
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, D O'Hagan; A Branagan, K McKiernan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Poland, A Carr; C Lavert, A McConville, C Maginn
Leinster SHC quarter-final
WESTMEATH v GALWAY
ANTHONY Cunningham set his stall out at the start of the year by culling some big names and the message has gone out to his players -- if you don't perform you'll get the door.
Success has followed the Galway manager in almost every sporting path he has taken and while this year might come too early for him at the highest level, you sense he'll want to lay down a marker. The team's formation has changed -- the utilisation of the Burkes around the middle makes them more potent, Damien Hayes could thrive in the withdrawn half-forward role while Davy Collins looks more comfortable at right wing-back. Although Joe Canning is injured, they should get through this game without being overworked.
Last year Brian Hanley's men pushed Galway all the way and he has continued the fine work by beating Antrim. They showed serious guts having been down to 14 men at the break in that one, especially when they trailed by eight points at half-time. Hanley fielded six championship newcomers that day, including four teenagers, with Niall O'Brien the most impressive.
Thirteen of his panel is eligible for the under 21 grade and beating Antrim was their best win since they took Dublin six years ago. Things are on the up. It surely won't be as close as last year but Westmeath deserve respect.
Westmeath: S McGovern; C Jordan, A Price, P Fennell; P Dowdall, A McGrath, P Greville; A Clarke, J Clarke; B Murtagh, F Boyle, R Greville; N O'Brien, J Shaw, E Price.
Galway: F Flannery; N Donohue, K Hynes, F Moore; P Gordon, T Og Regan, J Coen; I Tannian, D Burke; A Smyth, N Burke, C Donnellan; D Hayes, J Canning, D Glennon.
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