Friday 15 December 2017

Today's football and hurling championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Connacht SFC final

Sligo v Mayo

Dr Hyde Park, 2.0

YOU only have to go back to the 2010 championship when Sligo defeated Mayo to spot the danger that exists for James Horan's men today. Unless his side is fully focused we could see a similar outcome.

A couple of flashing lights for the favourites: Galway hammered Roscommon in the provincial championship opener and were being talked about as All-Ireland contenders. Until Sligo went to Salthill and walloped them.

Secondly, the withdrawal of Conor Mortimer, and all that has gone with it, so soon before this game will have done little for the mood of the camp. Even though Mortimer was no longer a first-choice player, it's never good when such a high-profile player leaves before an important fixture -- just one game short of 100 appearances for the county.

Enda Varley has been drafted into the team. Varley replaces Alan Freeman at right corner-forward in the only change from the side that trounced Leitrim by 22 points in the semi-final three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the experienced Tony Taylor returns at midfield in place of Eugene Mullen for Sligo. Otherwise, manager Kevin Walsh has kept faith with the men that claimed such an impressive win over Galway.

Under Kevin Walsh, even though their form has been up and down in the past two years, they always seem to produce a big performance on the big day. They give their all, empty the tank, and won't stop until the end. They'll surely go long to David Kelly or Adrian Marren, while Keith Higgins could be pressed into man-marking duties. It would suit Mayo to go long too. They should just have enough but we expect a close encounter.

Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; B Moran, D Geraghty; K McLoughlin, C O'Connor, A Dillon; E Varley, A Moran, J Doherty.

Sligo: P Greene; N Ewing, J Martyn, R Donovan; C Harrison, M Quinn, P McGovern; S McManus, T Taylor; A Costello, P Hughes, B Egan; M Breheny, A Marren, D Kelly.

Verdict: Mayo

Munster SHC final

Tipperary v Waterford

Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4.0

THIS is Waterford's fifth final in succession but expectations are certainly nowhere near as high as previous years thanks to last year's 21-point drubbing by Tipperary. Over the years this team has suffered from too much hype; this time around little is expected of them so they could be highly dangerous.

There are still doubts about Waterford's defence, but the same can be said for Tipp after at least two defenders struggled badly against Cork.

Tony Browne returns for this one in his 21st season of championship hurling. Noel Connors and Pádraic Mahony also return. Eoin Kelly drops to the bench. They have plenty of young blood in the squad, the likes of Stephen Daniels and Philip Mahony, but Michael Ryan's men still look too reliant on John Mullane in attack.

Tipperary once again have a bench that is bursting at the seams with quality. Shane Bourke has to be introduced early today -- he made a serious impact in the previous two games and would be a certain starter in most other counties. Last year, Tipperary went long and the direct route yielded 4-13 from play. But they have options and with Noel McGrath back in excellent form, they can create space and ghost in from anywhere to create chances.

With Lar Corbett back, they'll target the Waterford full-back line but they'll have nothing like the success they enjoyed against them last season. Tipp to win -- but only by a few points. They don't always handle the favourites' tag well. Expect a much closer battle this time around.

Tipperary: B Cummins; Conor O'Brien, P Curran, M Cahill; T Stapleton, C O'Mahony, Pádraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; P Bourke, Patrick Maher, L Corbett; B O'Meara, J O'Brien, N McGrath.

Waterford: S O'Keeffe; N Connors, L Lawlor, S Daniels; T Browne, M Walsh, K Moran; S Molumphy, Phil Mahony; Padraic Mahony, S Prendergast, M Shanahan; J Mullane, S Walsh, G O'Brien.

Verdict: Tipperary

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers

Round 2

Westmeath v Kerry

Cusack Park, 3.0

Pat Flanagan decided to take no action against a trio of Tyrrellspass players who opted to play for their club rather than attend county training last Tuesday night.

Goalkeeper Darren Quinn and forwards Ger Egan and Denis Glennon all lined out for their club in an All-County League Division 1 match against Mullingar Shamrocks just five days ago. Dropping them could have created a storm but Flanagan has sensibly looked at the bigger picture and dealt well with what could have been a thorny issue.

And they'll need a united camp if they are to test Kerry. Callum McCormack has been rewarded for his super-sub role against Louth with a starting place and deservedly so -- the under 21 star shot 1-3 after coming off the bench against the Wee County, and replaces the suspended James Dolan.

Even if Kerry are in something of a mini-slump, there should be no shocks here. Colm Cooper moves to full-forward and the shackles are off Kieran Donaghy, who gets a roving role.

In all, there are four Kerry changes from the side that lost last month's Munster SFC semi-final to Cork and the most influential of these is the return of fit-again Bryan Sheehan to midfield in place of Seamus Scanlon.

Kerry: B Kealy; M ó Sé, A O'Mahony, K Young; T ó Sé, E Brosnan, B McGuire; A Maher, B Sheehan; P Galvin, Declan O'Sullivan, D Walsh; J O'Donoghue, C Cooper, K Donaghy.

Westmeath: D Quinn; M McCallon, J Gaffey, K Maguire; D Harte, M Ennis, D McDermott; J Heslin, P Bannon; K Martin, G Egan, C McCormack; Denis Glennon, David Glennon, P Sharry.

Verdict: Kerry

Cavan v Kildare

Kingspan Breffni Park, 3.0

Kieran McGeeney has reacted to the Meath defeat by making two changes in personnel and a host of positional switches for this high-octane occasion.

Andriú MacLochlainn is an indirect replacement for Ollie Lyons in defence, while Robert Kelly's inclusion at midfield sees Pádraig O'Neill dropping out of the side. Hugh McGrillen moves to left half-back with Emmet Bolton reverting from midfield to right half-back. There has also been talk that Seánie Johnston may well start at corner-forward. Leaving aside the Johnston saga and judging this game on its merits, Kildare are by far the better side and provided they are over their Meath defeat they should win well here. If they don't win, that's five years of hard work up in smoke. In order to win, though, they'll need to create more openings for John Doyle.

The visitors are more physically developed and possess greater experience than this young Cavan side and they'll surely be keen to make amends for their implosion against Meath.

Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochlainn, M Foley, P Kelly; E Bolton, M O'Flaherty, H McGrillen; D Flynn, R Kelly; E O'Flaherty, M Conway, A Smith; J Doyle, T O'Connor, J Kavanagh.

Cavan: J Reilly; K Clarke, P O'Reilly, D Tighe; M McKeever, D Reilly, F Flanagan; D Givney, T Corr; N Smith, G McKiernan, R Flanagan; N McDermott, E Keating, J Brady.

Verdict: Kildare

Laois v Monaghan

Portlaoise, 3.0

MJ Tierney was crucial in securing a win for Laois over Carlow last time out and yet he stays on the bench. That's a tough call on a forward who looked sharper than most of his team-mates in his brief cameo against Luke Dempsey's side. Tierney may not be a towering physical specimen but he is pacy and mobile, like Paul Cahillane. Anyway, this will be a first championship meeting between the two counties and it should be an interesting affair. If the Laois lads play like they did against Carlow, they will be out of the championship -- simple as that.

Billy Sheehan returns to the Laois team after missing the game against Carlow. Colm Begley reverts to midfield to partner Brendan Quigley. John O'Loughlin drops back to centre-back with team captain Kevin Meaney now wearing the number three jersey.

As for Monaghan, they need to banish the memory of their second-half performance against Down and focus on the first 35 minutes when they played savage football. They dominated midfield, they got men behind the ball and played a delightful attacking game that tore Down to shreds. The game looked over at one stage during the first half only for Monaghan to self-destruct and give away sloppy frees in the second half. They lost their concentration and blew the chance of a famous championship win.

However, they took a short break from training and went back to their clubs. We assume they are ready for another shot. If they are mentally tuned in, they should win here -- even with injury doubts hanging over them.

Laois: E Culliton; C Healy, K Meaney, J Kavanagh; D Strong, J O'Loughlin, C Boyle; B Quigley, C Begley; D O'Connor, B Sheehan, G Walsh; R Munnelly, P Clancy, C Kelly.

Monaghan: M Keogh; D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe; K O'Connell, D Mone, K Duffy; O Lennon, D Clerkin; P Dooney, D Hughes, J Turley; P Finlay, C McManus, T Freeman.

Verdict: Monaghan

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport