Wednesday 21 March 2018


Leinster SHC Quarter-final

Dublin v Galway

Croke Park, 2.0

There is just the right amount of hush about Galway to have any discerning Dub feeling uneasy. After two poor years, which started with the 2013 Leinster final loss, surely it is prime time for one of those supersonic Galway performances they major in when least expected.

They have forwards capable of unlocking a Dublin defence rebuilt during the spring and featuring a streak of championship innocence in Cian O'Callaghan and Chris Crummey. Both have had excellent leagues might have been in the team earlier, but this is still a higher altitude. Conal Keaney is playing wing back at 32; some day a really fast forward may test those well-travelled legs but Galway may be content to direct play away from Keaney given his ability to inspire Dublin in the air. If it were Kilkenny, of course, that is precisely where the gun would be pointed.

Throw in the immense pressure on Anthony Cunningham to get an overdue championship win against a high-ranked county and you have the kind of low publicity from which sparkling Galway hurling has sprung in the past. Has their league exit to Waterford, on a poor weather day in Walsh Park, been overplayed, all the more in light of Waterford's displays since? Maybe not with spectacular hurling, but Galway reached the quarter-finals in a steady campaign.

If Dublin looked less comfortable in Croke Park against Cork than in other more parochial venues then it could be said that most counties had wild form swings. It could also be said that the Dublin defensive formation has changed since then, with Peter Kelly moving to full-back.

The loss of Niall McMorrow is a hard blow as he was hurling well in a free-wheeling midfield role and recent challenges have advanced the selection claims of former Kerry hurler, Darragh O'Connell.

But Galway have been poking around too. John Hanbury, a tenacious player and All-Ireland minor winner in 2011, is selected at full-back where Galway were exploited by Dublin two years ago. Galway's injury losses include Niall, Daithi and David Burke, and Conor Cooney. The return of Cyril Donnellan offsets that to some extent.

Then there is Joe Canning who in spite of Kelly's subsequent All-Star garland, nearly turned the Leinster final of 2013. With Joe there's always a chance.

Dublin: A Nolan; C O'Callaghan, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Durkin, C Crummey, C Keaney; J McCaffrey, S Lambert; R O'Dwyer, L Rushe, D Sutcliffe; D O'Callaghan, D Treacy, M Schutte.

Galway: C Callanan; J Coen, J Hanbury, P Mannion; D Collins, I Tannian, G McInerney; J Cooney, A Harte; A Smith, C Donnellan, J Glynn; C Mannion, J Canning, J Flynn.

Verdict: Dublin

Leinster SFC Quarter-final

Dublin v Longford

Croke Park, 4.0

The 16-point handicap being offered - the precise margin of defeat for Kildare, Meath, Wexford and Westmeath in recent Leinster Championship games against Dublin - offers a withering summary of Longford's prospects. No team in the province has come within 10 points since Meath went down by seven in the 2013 final. Louth also took a 16-point hit in 2012.

In that context all you can do is either derive voyeuristic value from a likely Longford lashing or hope for some defiant passages of play from Jack Sheedy's men. They have the comfort of being well into bonus territory, having earned promotion from Division 4 and celebrated a heartening win over Offaly two weeks ago.

If they found Offaly's slick forward play a trial, as they did in the Division 4 league final at Croke Park, how can they expect to handle a team like Dublin? Hatching a defensive game plan that crowds the middle third and disrupts Dublin raids from deep is essential to get a foothold. But holding Dublin for the full term, for a team that had eight debutantes in the Offaly game, is a Herculean task.

They won in Celtic Park last year in the qualifiers and that course offers the only realistic hope of another victory or two as the season progresses. Today it is not a question of if Dublin will win, but by how much.

Dublin: S Cluxton; J Cooper, D Byrne, P McMahon; D Daly, J Small, J McCaffrey; B Fenton, D Bastick; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; D Rock, K McManamon, B Brogan.

Longford: P Collum; D Brady, B O'Farrell, C Farrelly; C Smyth, B Gilleran, D Masterson; K Diffley, M Quinn; R Connor, R McEntire, P Foy; B McKeon, B Kavanagh, R McNerney.

Verdict: Dublin

Ulster SFC Quarter-final

Fermanagh v Antrim

Brewster Park, 4.0

After a difficult first season, Pete McGrath appears to be finding his feet, reflected in Fermanagh's promotion charge from Division 3 along with Armagh. Monaghan are favourites to make the Ulster final from this side of the draw but if Fermanagh avoid an upset here they will expect to give them plenty.

They didn't avoid an upset last year, surrendering to Antrim at Brewster Park, falling 12 points down after half an hour and clawing it back to two before almost scoring the winning goal. That was followed by a first round exit in the qualifiers to Laois.

Motivation isn't an issue but Antrim were just outside the promoted teams in Division 4 and put down some good performances. Defeating Fermanagh two years in a row looks beyond them.

Fermanagh: C Snow; M Jones, N Cassidy, M O'Brien; D McCusker, R McCluskey, J McMahon; R Jones, R O'Callaghan; B Mulrone, C Flaherty, P McCusker; T Corrigan, S Quigley, R Corrigan.

Antrim: C Kerr; R Johnston, S McVeigh, C Burke; J Crozier, T Scullion, N Delargy; C Murray, M Sweeney; J Laverty, O Gallagher, P McBride; CJ McGourty, M Pollock, R Murray.

Verdict: Fermanagh

Munster SFC Quarter-final

Tipperary v Waterford

Semple Stadium, 3.30

Tipperary include three of the team beaten in the All-Ireland under-21 final, goalkeeper Evan Comerford, Steven O'Brien and Colin O'Riordan. After the bitterness that followed the loss to Tyrone this allows the county refocus on setting themselves up for a shot at Kerry. They are warm favourites to advance.

Waterford started the year with an encouraging McGrath Cup success but failed to carry that momentum into the league. There are eight players playing from last year's one-point qualifier defeat to Carlow, and two debutants, Sean Barron in goal and midfielder Michael O'Halloran.

Tipperary, who ran Cork to the pin of their collar in Munster, should restore some cheer and buoyancy to the county's football community by posting the victory expected.

Tipperary: E Comerford; P Codd, C McDonald, R Kiely; S Kennedy, P Acheson, A Campbell; S O'Brien, G Hannigan; C O'Riordan, P Austin, Ger Mulhaire; C Sweeney, M Quinlivan, B Fox.

Waterford: S Barron; D Crowley, T O'Gorman, S Briggs; T Ó hUallacháin, L Lawlor, M O'Gorman; T Prendergast, M O'Halloran; M Curry, P Hurney, P Whyte; M Ferncombe, JJ Hutchinson, J Veale.

Verdict: Tipperary

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