Tuesday 16 January 2018

Today's Football Championship previews

Leinster SFC
Westmeath v Louth
Páirc Tailteann, 3.30

Having been touted as relegation fodder before the league, Westmeath and Louth did well to retain their Division 2 status.

This will be the fifth competitive meeting of the sides in less than two years with the Wee County having won all four previous meetings.

Louth had two points to spare in the 2010 Leinster SFC semi-final, were victorious in two meetings in last year's National League (including the Division 3 final) and continued their dominance by beating Westmeath again in the first round of this year's league.

Most encounters have been fairly close, however, and today's game is likely to be no different. Westmeath haven't done much in the championship in the last four years, with Wicklow the only side they've beaten in Leinster in that time.

Still, their young team is starting to improve and backboned by players like Gary Connaughton and John Heslin they won't be too far off the pace at Navan this afternoon, especially with the two Glennons in attack.

Louth's cause won't be helped with so many players missing -- Brian White and Brian Donnelly will spend the summer in Boston while James Califf and Cathal Bellew will also emigrate this summer. Still, we're going to judge Peter Fitzpatrick's men on their display against Meath -- if they repeat that against a young Westmeath side they should come through.

Westmeath: G Connaughton; M Curley, J Gaffey, K Maguire; D Harte, M Ennis, D McDermott; J Heslin, P Bannon; K Martin, G Egan, J Dolan; Denis Glennon, David Glennon, P Sharry.

Louth: N Gallagher; P Rath, L Shevlin, G Hoey; R Finnegan, J Carr, D Byrne; P Keenan, R Carroll; D Crilly, M Brennan, A Reid; D Maguire, J McEneaney, D Clarke.

Verdict: Louth

Longford v Laois

Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 3.30

Longford players are desperate to end their losing streak against Laois. And they may never have a better opportunity.

Many of their team have lost three times to Laois in the championship since 2007, but now they're well placed to ensure a change of fortunes after lifting the Division 3 title last month, their second league crown in succession.

They face a step-up in class today, but there's a lot to be said for going on a winning run, and they could hold the edge coming into this championship opener after an unbeaten run in the NFL. Losing to Leitrim in a recent challenge game will have given them a wake up call.

Laois come into today's encounter on the back of relegation to Division 2 but they put in some very impressive displays (against Donegal and Armagh) in the top flight at the same time. Conor Boyle and Gary Walsh are included in an experienced side that features 2003 Leinster winners Ross Munnelly and Pádraic Clancy (pictured) in the full-forward line.

Expect Clancy to try to capitalise on the new square ball rule every chance he gets.

John O'Loughlin partners Brendan Quigley at midfield, while there is no place for former captain Pádraig McMahon, who recently returned to the panel. Expect the Laois blanket defence to try and stifle the pacy and energetic Longford attack.

We're going for a Longford win on their home patch.

Longford: D Sheridan; D Brady, B Gilleran, D Reilly; C Smyth, M Quinn, S Mulligan; G McElvanney, J Keegan; D Barden, P Barden, N Mulligan; D McElligott, B Kavanagh, S McCormack.

Laois: D Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O'Leary; D Strong, S Julian, C Boyle; J O'Loughlin, B Quigley; K Meaney, B Sheehan, C Begley; R Munnelly, P Clancy, G Walsh.

Verdict: Longford

Connacht SFC quarter-final

Roscommon v Galway

Dr Hyde Park, 4.0

IT'S been a while since Galway were a major force and feared by the top tier. In fact, they are 33/1 to win the All-Ireland. But with a good young manager and a team bursting with underage success, Galway could take their first meaningful steps towards a resurgence this afternoon.

They had a mixed campaign in Division 2, finishing third on eight points from three wins and two draws but their forwards should give the Roscommon defence a torrid time -- even if Pádraic Joyce and Michael Meehan are not starting.

Des Newton isn't starting any of the under 21 side that played Dublin in the All-Ireland final earlier this month. With that in mind, we have to judge them on league form and we didn't see much there to inspire a whole lot of confidence, even if they won four of their seven Division 3 games. They ended up way behind Longford in a division that wasn't high on quality.

Of course, they were without their St Brigid's players, the likes of Karol Mannion and Senan Kilbride, so that was a factor. But Galway look to have more potential.

Galway: A Faherty; K McGrath, F Hanley, K Kelly; G Bradshaw, J Duane, G O'Donnell; J Bergin, G Higgins; G Sice, Damien Burke, T Flynn; S Armstrong, P Conroy, M Hehir.

Roscommon: G Claffey; S McDermott, N Carty, S Purcell; C Dineen, P Domican, I Kilbride; M Finneran, K Mannion; D Keenan, C Cregg, J Rogers; S Kilbride, D McDermott, D Shine.

Verdict: Galway

Munster SFC quarter-final

Limerick v Waterford

Gaelic Grounds, 3.30

THIS will be a tight, low-scoring game and the absence of Gary Hurney and John Galvin, two of the best footballers in Munster, will certainly lessen the entertainment factor.

Hurney is out with a fractured cheekbone while the luckless Galvin has more cruciate trouble.

Neither side is coming into this game with much form. Waterford's preparations were certainly not ideal either as they fitted training sessions in between two rounds each of the senior football and senior hurling championships. At some stage John Owens was robbed of the services of almost every player on his squad. With so many of them coming straight from two weekends of hurling, it's hardly ideal preparation.

Maurice Horan, meanwhile, has enjoyed a steady build-up. Limerick played Laois in a recent challenge whereas Waterford had to postpone an arranged match with Offaly. Galvin may be gone but Horan has nonetheless welcomed back two experienced stars in Jim O'Donovan and Thomas Lee in the past fortnight. O'Donovan was out injured with a back injury while Lee has returned from Australia.

Stephen Kelly, Stephen Lucey and Cian Coady have all shaken off injury worries and although Limerick lost to Waterford in the league, their superior championship credentials might stand to them today.

Limerick: B Scanlon; J McCarthy, P Brown, L O'Dwyer; S Lavin, J Riordan, P Ranahan; T Lee, P Kinnerk; E Barry, E O'Connor, S Buckley; G Collins, S O'Carroll, I Ryan.

Waterford: K Cotter; M O'Gorman, T O'Gorman, K Connery; W Hennessy, T Grey, S Briggs; S Ahearne, S O'Hare; P Hurney, P Whyte, C O'Keeffe; T Prendergast, S Fleming, M Ferncombe

Verdict: Limerick

Ulster SFC first round

Cavan v Donegal

Kingspan Breffni Park, 3.30

THE defending provincial champions won't have things as easy as they did last year when Jim McGuinness's men won by nine points. They should prevail with a bit to spare all the same.

Cavan manager Terry Hyland (pictured), who saw his team defeat Leitrim in a recent challenge, has chosen five newcomers for this opener -- Kevin Meehan, Robert Maloney-Derham, Niall Smith and Jack Brady. Brady was a star player with the successful under 21s, while the other four were regulars during the recent NFL. Key midfielder Gearóid McKiernan returns after injury.

Fitzpatrick looks in good scoring form while Ray Cullivan and Niall McDermott also look sharp. Maloney-Derham has also earned his place at wing-back. Successive under 21 provincial triumphs, allied to last year's Ulster minor crown, shows that Cavan are developing. Donegal are still picking themselves up after recent injuries -- Michael Murphy is only in recovery mode after knee ligament damage, while Christy Toye is overcoming troublesome Achilles problems.

Jim McGuinness's side will be hard to break down today and the young Cavan side could struggle to get to grips with the intensity that they will face -- even if Terry Hyland has successfully manoeuvred his way around such challenges at underage level.

Cavan: J Reilly; P O'Reilly, D Reilly, R Flanagan; K Meehan, J McCutcheon, R Maloney-Derham; D Givney, G McKiernan; F Flanagan, M McKeever, N Smith; J Brady, E Keating, B Fitzpatrick.

Donegal: TBA

Verdict: Donegal

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