Wednesday 21 March 2018

Today's football and hurling championship previews

Kieran McGeeney
Kieran McGeeney

Dermot Crowe

Leinster SFC semi-finals, Connacht SFC semi-final replay, All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Rd 1, Ulster SHC semi-final

Leinster SFC semi-finals

Dublin v Kildare

Croke Park, 4.0

Season six for Kieran McGeeney's Kildare brings them into the path of Dublin, with the bigger questions hovering over the team in white. Dublin, much talked of, probably too much talked of, have already handed them a severe beating in this year's league. The O'Byrne Cup win for Kildare early in the year has faded from memory and with an underwhelming record in the province, Kildare come in a little under the radar but with a pressure on them to perform. Last year's championship exit to Cork and the defeat to Meath were dismal surrenders. Today they must at the very least make an honest contest of it.

Their usual route back to Croke Park is through the qualifiers but they know that a win here will give them a wonderful chance of finally nailing a piece of silverware worth cherishing. While winning is not a ludicrous fantasy, the problem for Kildare is that all the top teams can match their industry and movement, and honest application, but at this stage there is no compelling evidence that they have discovered some new way of altering their strategy or become cuter. They will also have the usual trials in converting possession into scores, and in a match against Dublin the scoring is usually high.

Dublin's conventional defensive formation gives Kildare a shot but they'll need to win midfield and be inventive up front. Goals, well-timed, were the platform for their last championship win over Dublin in 2000. Green flags are no less pressing now but at the other end Dublin have a variety and vibrancy that Kildare will do well to subdue. Dublin by three or four.

Kildare: M Donnellan; P Kelly, M Foley, H McGrillen; E O'Callaghan, M O'Flaherty, E Bolton; Daryl Flynn, Daniel Flynn; P Cribbin, N Kelly, E O'Flaherty; J Doyle, T O'Connor, P Brophy.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Daly, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; MD Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.

Odds: Dublin 1/4; Draw 10/1; Kildare 4/1.

Verdict: Dublin

Meath v Wexford

Croke Park, 2.0

Seamus Kenny returns from a serious injury for his first match in a year, a victory in itself, and Pádraig Harnan makes his championship debut at right half-back for Meath, while Wexford name the same team that won at Louth, typically running up a big score and then almost conceding as much before being saved by the bell.

Seven players who featured on the team that overturned a ten-point deficit to defeat Meath in 2008 remain. They are capable of anything but usually take well to Croke Park. Meath might have more room for improvement and they've the incentive of having lost the last two meetings in 2006 and '08.

Wexford: A Masterson; M Furlong, G Molloy, L Chin; B Malone, D Murphy, A Flynn; D Waters, R Quinlivan; J Holmes, B Brosnan, A Doyle; C Lyng, R Barry, PJ Banville.

Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keoghan, K Reilly, B Menton; P Harnan, C King, S Kenny; B Meade, C Gillespie; P Byrne, D Carroll, G Reilly; E Wallace, S Bray, M Newman.

Odds: Meath 5/6; Draw 15/2; Wexford 5/4.

Verdict: Meath

Connacht SFC semi-final replay

London v Leitrim

Dr Hyde Park, 3.40

Leitrim's late scores saved them from a painful home defeat in Carrick-on-Shannon last Sunday and the loss of Emlyn Mulligan showed that their reliance on one forward is probably greater than in any other county in the country.

They'll hope they can call on him for today's replay and he seems to rate his prospects as being positive.

Paul Geraghty replaces Barry Mitchell in attack in the only change for London who will feel they can continue to confound sceptics.

For either, a Connacht final against Mayo is both a terrific and terrifying prospect.

London: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon, S Mulligan, T Gaughan; M Gottsche, C Doyle; G Crowley, L Mulvey, C McCallion; P McGoldrick, P Geraghty, C Magee.

Leitrim: Not named.

Odds: Leitrim 4/6; Draw 7/1; London 13/8.

Verdict: Leitrim

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Rd 1

Armagh v Wicklow

Athletic Grounds, 3.0

A couple of years ago Wicklow embellished their reputation as a qualifier specialist when drawing at this venue, after extra-time, requiring their opponents to make exotic travel plans for Aughrim. Armagh survived on an evening laced with emotion as it marked the end of Mick O'Dwyer's reign as Wicklow manager.

Wicklow have managed quite well in his absence under the considerably less feted but well regarded Harry Murphy, though this year's league demotion was devastatingly swift.

They had moments in the loss to Meath where a bit more luck could well have made a serious match of it and now they face Armagh keen on redeeming themselves after a woeful opening day in Cavan. For all that they had enough possession in the second half to have won the game at Breffni Park and the Jamie Clarke goal cancellation will be one of those terrible reminders of the fallibility of the official. Another example of why the advantage rule is long overdue.

James Morgan, Brendan Donaghy, Ethan Rafferty and Eugene McVerry come into the home team in a sweep of changes. They should have enough but Wicklow do not roll over.

Armagh: P McEvoy; P McKeown, B Donaghy, J Morgan; A Kernan, C McKeever, M Shields; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, K Dyas, E Rafferty; J Clarke, T Kernan, E McVerry.

Wicklow: Not named.

Odds: Armagh 2/7; Draw 9/1; Wicklow 7/2.

Verdict: Armagh

Derry v Sligo

Owenbeg, 5.0

Sligo carry the heavier disappointment into the qualifiers, having succumbed to London in Ruislip after being placed on the easier side of the provincial draw. That subdued form was not out of line with their league which saw them narrowly escape relegation to Division 4. They'll surely summon a kick with the whole year on the line against a Derry team which needs to erase the disappointment of a second-half capitulation to Down. Some of their six changes are enforced, with Eoin Bradley on the bench after a shoulder dislocation.

Derry: E McNicholl; D Brown, C McKaigue, D McBride; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; Patsy Bradley, PJ McCloskey; C McAtamney, J Kielt, E Lynn; C McFaul, L Kennedy, B Heron.

Sligo: P Greene; C Harrison, R Donovan, N Ewing; K Cawley, A McIntyre, M Quinn; J Kilcullen, S Gilmartin; S McManus, P Hughes, B Egan; M Breheny, A Marren, F Quinn.

Odds: Derry 1/6; Draw 10/1; Sligo 11/2.

Verdict: Derry

Ulster SHC semi-final

Derry v Down

Athletic Grounds, 1.0

In the parallel universe otherwise known as the Ulster hurling championship, Down are warm favourites to advance to the final following on from their Christy Ring success.

Verdict: Down

Irish Independent

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