Sunday 18 March 2018

Today's football and hurling championship previews

Damian Lawlor

Munster SHC semi-final

Clare v Waterford

Semple Stadium, 4.0.

We have to say that odds of 9/1 on a draw are very tempting in what should easily be the game of the day.

Clare first. Davy Fitzgerald will have his boys buzzing since early this morning. In fact, they'll have been ready to tog since last night. These men have been primed since January 1 for today's encounter.

Their tactic of dropping an extra man to defence will mean that a greater onus is placed on the likes of John Conlon to win ball -- Conlon should alternate between full- and wing-forward.

Darach Honan will also play some part late in the game and his impact could be telling. He recently returned to training following a long lay-off after surgery on his hip, played in the Clare 'B' game against Galway and also made an appearance in last week's challenge against Cork.

Teenager Tony Kelly also played well in the 'B' game against Galway but whether or not he will be play any part remains to be seen.

Clare are not totally without experience either -- Brendan Bugler, Pat Donnellan and James McInerney have been part of the squad for a number of seasons, while Nicky O'Connell, Conor McGrath and Conlon have been in the side for the past three years.

And they are well geared up for this one -- Fergal Lynch was handed a training programme to undergo during his two-week honeymoon in New York and he knew his place would be gone if he didn't follow orders.

Waterford have the edge in experience even if they field four championship newcomers in Stephen O'Keeffe, Stephen Daniels, Philip Mahony and Gavin O'Brien. Tony Browne is not starting a championship match for the first time since 2004.

Michael Walsh, Browne (when he comes on), Eoin Kelly and John Mullane have years of understanding of what this level of championship fare is all about whereas, in the league semi-final, Clare were wiped out against Kilkenny who brought them to a tempo they hadn't seen before.

Waterford have recovered well after a poor start to the year and the addition of Ken McGrath and Seán Cullinane to their backroom looks to have settled them down immensely.

They haven't played competitively at inter-county level for almost two months but they did beat Limerick in a challenge match last weekend.

Clare will hold onto the ball as much as possible and will employ a short-passing game. They'll try to grind down Waterford with hunger and work-rate. They haven't won a championship game of consequence since 2008 but this could be their day.

Waterford: S O'Keeffe; A Kearney, L Lawlor, Stephen Daniels; Richie Foley, M Walsh, P Mahony; K Moran, S Molumphy; M Shanahan, S Prendergast, E Kelly; J Mullane, S Walsh, G O'Brien.

Clare: P Kelly; D O'Donovan, C Dillon, C Cooney; B Bugler, J McInerney, P O'Connor; N O'Connell, P Donnellan; J Conlon, S Collins, E Barrett; J Clancy, C McGrath, C Ryan.

Verdict: Clare

Leinster SFC quarter-final

Kildare v Offaly

Portlaoise, 4.0

PáDRAIG FOGARTY came on for Kildare in the Division 2 league final, turned the game by shooting three points to help them clinch a win over Tyrone, and he doesn't make the starting 15 for today. That shows how competitive the battle for places on the Kildare team is.

Still, it might not be the beating that many are predicting for Offaly. They scored 6-22 in a challenge match against a far from full-strength Waterford but that result will have done wonders for confidence in the camp. Morale was certainly low after they lost to Tipperary in the final game of the league.

Manager Tom Coffey, who has worked hard to raise spirits since taking charge, has four championship newcomers -- John Moloney at full-back, Michael Brazil at centre-back, Eoin Rigney at left half-back and Daniel Currams at centre-forward. Niall McNamee is expected to feature in the last quarter of the game.

To try and reach the level necessary to challenge Kildare they have been extremely busy on the challenge match circuit. Coffey has enjoyed a good response from his players and given them all game-time -- they are certainly better equipped to deal with Kildare now than they were six weeks ago. However, Kieran McGeeney's men are better conditioned than anyone else they will have faced this year. That will surely be vital in deciding the outcome.

Eoghan O'Flaherty has started 24 successive league and championship games and notched an impressive 38 points in eight league games this year and in John Doyle Kildare have a player of undoubted class. We can see nothing but a victory for McGeeney's men.

Kildare: S Connolly; A McLoughlin, H McGrillen, P Kelly; E Bolton, M O'Flaherty, O Lyons; M Foley, P O'Neill; J Doyle, E O'Flaherty, A Smith; J Kavanagh, T O'Connor, M Conway.

Offaly: A Mulhall; S Sullivan, J Moloney, S Pender; B Darby, M Brazil, E Rigney; A McNamee, R Dalton; R Brady, D Currams, N Smith; K Casey, G Guilfoyle, A Sullivan.

Verdict: Kildare

Leinster SHC semi-final

Galway v Offaly

Portlaoise, 2.0

It's a landmark day for Rory Hanniffy, who makes his 100th appearance for the Offaly senior team today. Not that he'll recognise many of the opposition -- in total, 13 of the players who featured in Galway's two championship games with Offaly two years ago aren't in today's panel.

This rivalry has always been intense. They have played nine times in the championship with one draw and four wins apiece. And following Galway's laboured win over Westmeath and Offaly's plucky display against Wexford, the gap might be as narrow as ever. One major plus for Anthony Cunningham's young side is that Joe Canning and David Collins are fit, even if Collins is on the bench. Canning showed flashes of genius against Dublin in the league relegation play-off. He has recovered from his shoulder injury and will join his club colleague Damien Hayes in attack. Expect Hayes to revert to the half-forward line to go at Offaly at every opportunity.

Galway beat Tipp in a challenge last week and insiders say Jonathan Glynn and Joseph Cooney impressed even if the defence struggled to get to grips with Lar Corbett. It should be an intriguing clash. Offaly will have no fear whatsoever of their rivals, who are more mobile and blessed with a little more class up front.

Offaly: J Dempsey; D Morkan, D Kenny, D Franks; D Horan, R Hanniffy, J Rigney; C Mahon, K Brady; J Bergin, C Egan, B Murphy; S Dooley, C Parlon, B Carroll.

Galway: J Skehill; N Donohue, K Hynes, F Moore; J Cooney, T Óg Regan, J Coen; I Tannian, A Smith; D Burke, N Burke, C Donnellan; D Hayes, J Canning, C Cooney.

Verdict: Galway

Ulster SHC quarter-final

Armagh v Derry

Morgan Athletic Grounds, 3.30

Despite the fact that they live life in a higher division in the Allianz League, we think that Derry will find it difficult to cope with today's opponents who are on a high after winning their second Nicky Rackard Cup in three years last Saturday at HQ.

Derry were beaten by London in the Christy Ring Cup a few weeks ago and while that result was a setback, they did have 29 players training the Tuesday after that defeat which says something about the spirit in their camp.

Armagh reached the Ulster final last year and they never looked troubled as they won in Croke Park again, thanks to an 11-point win over Louth. Declan Coulter, Conor Corvan and David Carvill are all in scoring form. We take Armagh to cause a slight shock.

Verdict: Armagh

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