Friday 19 January 2018

Today's hurling and football championship previews

Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Dermot Crowe

Munster SHC Quarter-final, Clare v Limerick, Semple Stadium, 4.0

For a championship match between this celebrated pair, forecasts of a crowd of around 20,000 seem unusually downbeat. It might be arguable whether long-term prospects are served by signing off here and entering the qualifiers rather than trying to wade through an extremely tough Munster series that has it necessary to defeat Tipperary next just to reach the final.

How can a team countenance those thoughts, though? It must go against the grain. Clare are not at full strength and if they lose, they can look on that as some measure of mitigation. Conor McGrath is a player who hurls as well uphill as down, a huge loss. The absence of Brendan Bugler and Colin Galvin will also be felt and in the former's case, reduces physical presence, even if the extremes of that presence partly explain his predicament.

The team's form had started to show some upward swing since the league win over Dublin and in the games with Kilkenny, a renewed confidence was noticeable in Shane O'Donnell and the sparkling return to form of the team's outstanding player, Tony Kelly.

Reports from within the group, despite the Davy O'Halloran episode, are positive and this is a team that must be keen to start hurling again to the pitch they set for themselves in 2013 and have never quite reattained.

Limerick left off last season with a hugely impressive performance in the rain against Kilkenny, but their form this spring hasn't been good. Still, they are usually a different team in the championship and in a match against Clare, it is unthinkable that they would not deliver a big show. How they decide to manage Kelly will be interesting, as will the form of Declan Hannon, subdued in the later stages of the league, and how their defence holds up after being their Achilles heel a year ago. A change of goalkeeper is hardly ideal preparation either. Though depleted, Clare can deliver a long-awaiting championship victory.

Verdict: Clare

Clare: Not available.

Limerick: B Hennessy; S Walsh, R McCarthy, S Hickey; T Condon, G O'Mahony, S O'Brien; P O'Brien, J Ryan; P Browne, D Hannon, D O'Grady; C Lynch, S Dowling, G Mulcahy.

Connacht SFC

London v Roscommon

Ruislip, 3.0

There was a time when a Roscommon trip away was laden with temptation and peril. The current ambassadors have higher aspirations and face a London side well below them in the ratings and fielding four newcomers. Roscommon blood one: Mark Healy is named at midfield alongside Cathal Shine.

Having come off a healthy spring, culminating in promotion and a win in the Division 2 final over Down, Roscommon are expected to win comfortably and book a place in the semi-final against Sligo.

Verdict: Roscommon

Roscommon: D O'Malley; S McDermott, N Carty, N Collins; D Ward, N Daly, C Cafferkey; M Healy, C Shine; E Smith, D Shine, C Murtagh; D Murtagh, S Kilbride, C Cregg.

London: D Traynor; B Collins, P Butler, D McGreevey; D McCarthy, C Carty, S Curran; M Gottsche, M Carroll; S Conroy, C Greene, J Moran; A O'Hara, L Mulvey, A Moyles.

Ulster SFC

Cavan v Monaghan

Kingspan Breffni Park, 2.0

The route to the Ulster final for this pair of rivals is cleared of all the big hitters - the winners of Fermanagh and Antrim await - so this has enormous importance as a possible springboard to a really good provincial championship. The corollary of an early dispatch into the qualifiers is quite depressing.

High stakes of this kind in a derby match in Ulster won't promise a feast of attacking football, but each side has talented players and finishers and it won't pass without, one presumes, plenty of incident.

Monaghan have been operating at a higher level and are an experienced side, having won Ulster two years ago and defeated Cavan in a tightly-contested semi-final. Cavan have been waiting to deliver something sustainable after a number of years producing good sides at under 21.

Their form last summer was disappointing, instant elimination in Ulster and then a heavy second-round qualifier defeat to Roscommon. They suffer the costly loss of Killian Clarke, who is ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Drew Wylie and Darren Hughes are both declared fit to return to the Monaghan team and Owen Lennon could make his first appearance since last season's Division 2 final, having been named on the bench.

Monaghan will do well to come out of here in one piece.

Verdict: Monaghan

Cavan: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, R Flanagan; J McEnroe, F Flanagan, D O'Reilly; T Corr, G McKiernan; D McVeety, M Argue, M Reilly; C Mackey, M Dunne, N McDermott.

Monaghan: R Beggan; D Mone, D Wylie, R Wylie; F Kelly, V Corey, K O'Connell; N McAdam, D Clerkin; O Duffy, P Finlay, D Hughes; D Malone, K Hughes, C McManus.

Leinster SHC

Carlow v Antrim

Netwatch Dr Cullen Park, 2.0,

Antrim's capitulation in the second round squandered the morale lift of their opening win over Laois and leaves them in a position where even a win may not be enough. Carlow have still to pick up a win. This could be it.

Verdict: Carlow

Laois v Westmeath

Portlaoise, 2.0

Laois, having slipped up in Ballycastle, won against Carlow without demonstrating conclusively if their form has picked up to previous levels. But this is a winnable match against the team showing form.

Verdict: Laois

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