Monday 19 February 2018

Today's football championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Leinster SFC quarter-finals: Meath v Kildare,Croke Park, 2.0

It's been a somewhat fractured build-up for Meath with two selectors walking away following the return of Graham Geraghty after three years in retirement. Whether Geraghty gets a cameo role or not remains to be seen, but he is hardly back just to make up numbers.

Stephen Bray makes his first competitive start of the year while Bryan Menton and Ciarán Lenehan will make their championship debuts. Bray missed Meath's league campaign as he was away but he has impressed in recent challenge matches and gets the nod at corner forward. The half-back line has been overhauled from 12 months ago with captain Seamus Kenny repositioned at wing-back.

Meanwhile, Eamonn Callaghan and James Kavanagh have been recalled to the Kildare team. Otherwise it's the same side that beat Wicklow in a thoroughly dismal clash. Expect them to use a sweeper, and a strong midfield featuring Johnny Doyle and a two-man full-forward line.

The form book would clearly suggest a handsome Kildare win, with Meath barely securing their Division 2 status and enduring storm after storm since last year's controversial Leinster final win. Indeed, it's like a cloud lingers over them following that win over Louth. Yet on paper they appear to have better forwards than their opponents -- even if they didn't impress during the league.

Meath must now draw on the fight they showed against Tyrone in the last round of the league and against Galway in a recent challenge. Overall, Kildare look more organised and unified. Their work ethic is up there with the best. Will the Meath defence cope with the non-stop runners into their territory? It's unlikely.

Meath: B Murphy; G O'Brien, K Reilly, S McAnarney; S Kenny, B Menton, C Lenehan; N Crawford, B Meade; J Queeney, S O'Rourke, G Reilly; S Bray, J Sheridan, C Ward.

Kildare: S Connolly; A MacLochlainn, M Foley, H McGrillen; G White, B Flanagan, E Bolton; T O'Connor, H Lynch; M O'Flaherty, E O'Flaherty, E Callaghan; A Smith, J Doyle, J Kavanagh.

Verdict: Kildare

Dublin v Laois

Croke Park, 4.0

JUSTIN McNULTY has cautioned his Laois players that they will be obliterated if they put in a similar performance to the one that saw them scrape past Longford.

That one-point win came principally due to the work-rate and accuracy of Dáithí Carroll and Billy Sheehan (named at full-forward but who will revert to the half-forward line). Up to eight players didn't get out of the starting blocks on the day and if the same happens again they face a torrid afternoon.

Only one of the 25 Laois kick-outs was claimed cleanly. With Stephen Cluxton capable of putting a ball on a sixpence, the Laois men had better improve their own supply stats this afternoon. It's surprising then that Pádraic Clancy has been left in reserve once more as the experienced midfielder impressed in his short spell on the field against Longford.

Dublin will give them even less space. Pat Gilroy's men are a hard-working team with flashes of individual talent and their tenacious defence won't give Sheehan and Carroll the space they got the last day.

Meanwhile, the return of Rory O'Carroll, from a teaching stint abroad, to the full-back line is another boost.

Gilroy has made three changes from the team which started the league final against Cork -- Paul Brogan, Denis Bastick and Tomás Quinn make way for O'Carroll, James McCarthy and Alan Brogan.

After some great early progress during the league, it's hard to see how Laois will cause a shock here. It's eight years since they put one over Dublin in championship football and it's hard to see that run being broken even.

Dublin: S Cluxton; P McMahon, Rory O'Carroll, M Fitzsimons; J McCarthy, G Brennan, K Nolan; M D Macauley, B Cahill; P Flynn, K McManamon, B Cullen; A Brogan, D Connolly, B Brogan.

Laois: E Culleton; C Healy, K Meaney, M Timmons; D Strong, S Julian, P O'Leary; C Begley (capt), B Quigley; D Carroll, J O'Loughlin, N Donoher; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, MJ Tierney.

Verdict: Dublin

Munster SFC semi-final

Cork v Waterford

Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 3.30

CORK beat Clare by a handy 15 points last time out and while Waterford should put up more of a battle you would expect another handsome win for the All-Ireland champions.

With all their old hands back at the pump, principally Alan Quirke and Graham Canty, complacency is the only thing that can affect them today and that's unlikely with such serious competition for places.

And by making six changes from the Clare win, Conor Counihan shows how versatile and competitive his panel is. Douglas duo Eoin Cotter and Eoin Cadogan are named in the corner-back positions, with John Miskella and Paudie Kissane recalled to the half-back line. Ray Carey, Jamie O'Sullivan, Noel O'Leary and Denis O'Sullivan all make way.

Elsewhere, Fiachra Lynch starts at left half-forward, while Paul Kerrigan is named at left corner-forward, as Pearse O'Neill and David Goold drop out of the team.

Waterford were desperately unlucky to be relegated and have Gary Hurney back in the squad for today which is a boost. The longest serving member of the panel, he won a Munster football All Star in 2006, represented the province in four Railway Cups and was named the county's senior footballer of the year in 2007 and 2008.

Last season, after packing up hurling, he scored a total of 2-6 in three championship games against Clare, Limerick and Offaly. Liam Ó Líonáin is also back in contention for a place in the forwards after injury.

It will be of some comfort to the Waterford lads that their domestic championship at least has them battle-hardened but it's hard to see them coping with Cork's all-round excellence.

Cork: A Quirke; E Cotter, M Shields, E Cadogan; G Canty, J Miskella, P Kissane; A O'Connor, A Walsh; C Sheehan, P Kelly, F Lynch; D Goulding, D O'Connor, P Kerrigan.

Waterford: naming Friday night




Verdict: Cork

Ulster SFC quarter-final

Tyrone v Monaghan

Omagh, 3.30

IT hasn't helped this new-look Monaghan team that the experienced Vinny Corey has been ruled out.

Eamonn McEneaney has been quietly rebuilding this Monaghan team after the end of the Seamus McEnaney era but it hasn't been easy -- they have been decimated by retirements, injuries and emigration.

When you consider that a much stronger Monaghan team was taken apart by Tyrone last season the omens don't look good for this afternoon.

Their squad no longer includes seasoned campaigners like Gary McQuaid (31), Rory Woods (30), and Damian (34) and Tomás Freeman (30). There's a general consensus that they won't be able to challenge without that know-how.

Tyrone look to have their appetite back and despite the loss of the McMahon brothers, Justin and Joe, as well as Tommy McGuigan through injury, they have been heartened by the return of Stephen O'Neill and Brian Dooher (starting his 16th championship season) to full fitness. Indeed, O'Neill has been motoring well in training lately. Philip Jordan is also back which is a help. Corner-forward Mark Donnelly is their only newcomer.

Monaghan have a strong base of players coming through from underage level and vocational school level. But it may be a while before that comes to the fore at senior level.

Tyrone: P McConnell; M Swift, C McCarron, R McMenamin; D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan; A Cassidy, S Cavanagh; B Dooher, B McGuigan, P Harte; M Penrose, S O'Neill, M Donnelly.

Monaghan: M Keogh; K Duffy, D Hughes, C Walshe; C Galligan, D Mone, O Duffy; O Lennon, D Clerkin; S Gallogly, M Downey, N McAdam; D McKenna, P Finlay, C McManus

Verdict: Tyrone

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