Monday 22 January 2018

Today's football and hurling championship previews

James Walsh, Laois
James Walsh, Laois

Dermot Crowe

Connacht SFC Semi-Final, Munster SFC Semi-Final, Ulster SFC Quarter-Final, Leinster SHC Semi-Final and Ulster SHC Quarter-Final.

Connacht SFC Semi-Final

Mayo v Roscommon

McHale Park, 4.0

When these counties met in the 2011 final, Mayo won by just two points. Roscommon were reigning provincial champions, having emerged with a pleasing brand of football that did some justice to the finer points of their tradition. They kicked the ball early and long, created space and utilised it cleverly. All of that and more is required today to upset a Mayo team that's tightly managed and showing little apparent hint of complacency.

Both Mayo and Roscommon carry a high proportion of players from 2011 but it is Mayo that have accelerated on; Roscommon have not. While Mayo contested an All-Ireland semi-final and final in successive years and remain unbeaten in their province, Roscommon's form has been disappointing and uncertain.

They received a walloping from Galway in Connacht last year, recovered to surprise Armagh in the qualifiers and then put in a reasonably decent show against Tyrone. But they did not win promotion out of Division 3. Mayo contested the Division 1 semi-final. They will feel the loss of an inventive Cillian O'Connor, who will not be seen again until well into August, but Alan Dillon continues his recuperation and Andy Moran is not selected but playing well, goaling again in a recent challenge against Cavan and also appearing in a private match against Kildare. Jason Doherty and Barry Moran are back training which raises morale and competition for places.

Roscommon have a decent side selected but miss Donie Shine and face an intensity to which they are not accustomed. They include two players new to championship, goalkeeper Darren O'Malley and half-back Conor Daly.

In three of the last four years they have beaten Mayo under 21 teams and this year they turned over their minors. They can produce a stylish football-friendly performance but winning looks beyond them for now. They will, however, expect to make a better fist of it than Galway.

Mayo: D Clarke; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; A O'Shea, S O'Shea; K McLoughlin, R Feeney, C Carolan; E Varley, A Freeman, A Dillon.

Roscommon: D O'Malley; N Collins, N Carty, S McDermott; D Keenan, N Daly, C Daly; K Higgins, M Finneran; C Devaney, K Mannion, C Cregg; D Smith, S Kilbride, D O'Gara.

Odds: Mayo 1/7; Draw 12/1; Roscommon 11/2.

Verdict: Mayo

Munster SFC Semi-Final

Clare v Cork

Cusack Park, 3.30

The recent unsympathetic displays of Goliath crushing David is unlikely to change here, at the venue where Cork stalled the John Maughan train 20 years ago and relieved them of their Munster title.

Since then there have been some tight encounters and a memorable Clare win at this ground in 1997 but the later trends are not so reassuring. Cork are All-Ireland material, with a degree of urgency after faltering campaigns in the last two seasons. Clare, even with the old fox Mick O'Dwyer at hand, failed in their promotion bid in Division 4.

They have lost a few players from last year's run to a Munster final, a first appearance in the provincial decider since 2000, including the injured Enda Coughlan and forward Michael O'Shea. The Kilkee man was their top scorer against Cork in last year's Munster final, a 12-point defeat, when Clare's problems were partly of their own making with a tactical arrangement that seemed to think they could live with Cork man-on-man. Three first-half Cork goals showed the folly of that line of thinking. It was a wasted opportunity to get more out of the day.

Today they'll have to close down those channels and keep enough discipline not to be murdered on frees. Then there is the task of scoring enough at the other end. If not mission impossible then this is as close as it comes. Cork may have blown some gas in destroying Limerick which might keep the scoreline respectable. Anything below ten is respectable.

Clare: J Hayes; L Healy, S McNelis, G Kelly; D Callinan, J Hayes, M McMahon; G Brennan, C O'Connor; R Donnelly, G Quinlan, S McGrath; A Clohessy, I McInerney, D Tubridy.

Cork: K O'Halloran; E Cadogan, M Shields, D Cahalane; J Loughrey, G Canty, T Clancy; A O'Connor, P O'Neill; J O'Rourke, P Kelly, C Sheehan; D Goulding, B Hurley, P Kerrigan.

Odds: Clare 12/1; Draw 33/1; Cork 1/50.

Verdict: Cork

Ulster SFC Quarter-Final

Fermanagh v Cavan

Brewster Park, 2.0

After a good league Fermanagh's 2012 season disintegrated in summer, losing to Down in Ulster and then bowing out at home to Cavan in the qualifiers.

They won the league meeting this year but Cavan had a player dismissed in the early stages in a fiery encounter in which Peter Canavan's men were hard and uncompromising. None of the hippy-trippy open play of the Armagh game can be expected here then.

Such was Armagh's well-intentioned but desperately misguided game plan that any analysis of Cavan and their main sharpshooter Martin Dunne must be weighed against those accommodating environmental factors. Fermanagh will now allow that kind of latitude and Cavan will not expect to see it either.

Dunne, scorer of eight from play against Armagh, is still a useful player as is the light-footed Eugene Keating but the home team is strong through the middle and has a clear plan and strategy in place.

They also have a powerful incentive to do well in the championship after last year's lame showing. The winner's reward is a semi-final date with Monaghan in a fortnight.

Goalkeeper Chris Snow and wing-back Declan McCusker, both Ederney men, make their first championship starts for Fermanagh. Shane McCabe will play his first Ulster championship game since 2008, having missed the Down game last year due to illness. Jack Brady is included on the Cavan team after withdrawing shortly before the opening match.

Tight and tense seems set to be the order of the day.

Fermanagh: C Snow; J Woods, B Owens, D Kelly; D McCusker, R McCluskey, M O'Brien; J Sherry, M McGrath; C Quigley, S McCabe, R Jones; P Ward, S Quigley, T Corrigan.

Cavan: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, K Clarke; J McEnroe, A Clarke, R Flanagan; D O'Reilly, D Givney; C Mackey, J Brady, F Flanagan; N McDermott, M Dunne, E Keating.

Odds: Fermanagh 6/5; Draw 7/1; Cavan evens.

Verdict: Fermanagh

Leinster SHC Semi-Final

Laois v Galway

O'Moore Park, 3.30

The most accommodating of hosts when Galway began life in the Leinster championship four years ago, Laois have recently been reminding us of their existence; that they do and can hurl. This is to be applauded but caution is advised: Galway can shoot the lights out on their day. Laois must aim to discommode the title-holders as much as possible, hold their nerve, and pin their hopes on sustaining some kind of challenge.

If they do that and lose by 12 points or less, it may been seen, genuinely, as a good day's work. Galway have plenty to motivate themselves after a league fade-out that reawakened worries about their inner child. There are some changes on last year, centre-back most notably, and the arrival of Davy Glennon as a lively sniper well able to win hard ball. However, those are yet to be tested in the white heat.

Laois have all their artillery and possess some lively forwards. The confidence is up, if accompanied by a keen knowledge of the gap that separates them from a team of Galway's stature. They have come back well from catastrophe and humiliation in a short space of time. How their defence, without Brian Campion, first choice full-back, handles a Galway attack that will fancy zipping the ball around is the big question. We hope they do well; there is room for both that and a Galway win.

Galway: J Skehill; F Moore, K Hynes, N Donoghue; D Collins, J Coen, J Cooney; I Tannian, A Harte; D Burke, N Burke, C Donnellan; D Glennon, J Canning, C Cooney.

Laois: E Reilly; B Stapleton, D Maher, J Delaney; J Fitzpatrick, M Whelan, G Burke; C Healy, J Walsh; S Maher, Z Keenan, T Fitzgerald; J Brophy, W Hyland, B Dunne.

Odds: Laois 12/1; Draw 33/1; Galway 1/50.

Verdict: Galway

Ulster SHC Quarter-Final

Down v Armagh

Páirc Esler, 3.30

Armagh pulled off a surprise win over Down in 2011 in the Ulster semi-final despite losing by 17 points in their Christy Ring clash six weeks earlier. This sees the Mournemen riding high after victory in the Christy Ring Cup, which included a nine-point win over the Orchard men. They have surely learned their lesson.

Down: S Keith; M Conlon, P Flynn, M Hughes; B Toner, C Woods, M Ennis; D Hughes, K McGarry; S Nicholson, P Braniff, P Sheehan; D Toner, G Johnston, J Coyle.

Armagh: Not available

Verdict: Down

Irish Independent

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