Monday 19 February 2018

Today's football and hurling championship previews

Emlyn Mulligan, Leitrim
Emlyn Mulligan, Leitrim

Damian Lawlor

Munster SHC semi-final, Leinster SHC semi-final, Ulster SFC semi-final and Connacht SFC semi-final

Munster SHC semi-final,

Cork v Clare

Gaelic Grounds, 4.0

THIS is the hardest game of the day to call; a team with a specific game plan against a side depending on individual flair.

Down through the years, if you told any Corkman that Clare and Limerick stood in their way of a Munster title, they'd start booking their All-Ireland semi-final tickets but times have changed. At underage, Cork are competitive, but not successful, whereas Clare are bringing great under 21 teams (2009 and 2012 champions) through.

With Paudie O'Sullivan gone, Lorcan McLoughlin out with shoulder ligament damages, and Pa Cronin set to play but still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, Cork's job is made even harder.

It should be a decent game. Clare like to keep it short and play a possession game. Cork have many fine hurlers who like to move it swiftly and accurately.

What the Rebels are lacking, however, is the aerial presence and physicality that this young Clare side has. They lost over 30 of their own puck-outs in the relegation final against the Banner.

Clare, who were just average for long stages of their clash with Waterford, have class players in Pa Kelly, the roaming Tony Kelly and John Conlon but they need to stop looking for the perfect ball every time. Darach Honan has been drifting out of games because of the slow supply of ball.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy (pictured) has had his team working hard on their fitness for the past five weeks and that has been the difference between the teams thus far. Should be a cracker.

Cork: A Nash; S McDonnell, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan; S O'Neill, C Joyce, W Egan; T Kenny, D Kearney; C McCarthy, S Harnedy, C Lehane; P Horgan, L O'Farrell, S Moylan.

Clare: Not named.

Verdict: Cork

Leinster SHC semi-final

Kilkenny v Dublin

O'Moore Park, 3.50

Dublin should lift it by a gear or two for today's encounter. They'll need to. Because while Kilkenny are not at full strength, they are still way ahead of the rest and quietly gearing up for another three-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles.

When they last met in the championship many people were talking the underdogs up. Yet, Dublin were blasted out of it. This time around they're expected to ship a hiding. So, that fear alone should ensure a much greater work rate with a tighter end result.

The positives from the Wexford saga? They are well and truly broken into championship mode. They have two classy free-takers in Paul Ryan and Joey Boland. Conal Keaney is showing leadership, while their defence looks reasonably stout.

They're going to have to start taking the right options in attack, however, in particular their two wing-forwards Danny Sutcliffe and Conor McCormack. Dublin look dangerous when they deliver long, diagonal ball to their inside line. But when they shoot aimlessly, or turn into traffic, they run out of ideas.

Meanwhile, Brian Cody will have been delighted that they 'stumbled' home against Offaly. It keeps them focused and alert for today. Conceding four goals against Offaly won't have made Nowlan Park training sessions easy on the eye in the past fortnight. Perhaps it gives other teams a glint of hope but we just feel there is too much in the Kilkenny attack – even without Henry Shefflin – for them to be worried any time soon. Michael Fennelly is back at full throttle. Meanwhile, Richie Power, Richie Hogan and Eoin Larkin – well, they are hard men to stop.

Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, C Fogarty; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, M Rice; C Buckey, R Power, E Larkin; W Walsh, R Hogan, C Fennelly

Dublin: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, P Schutte; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J McCaffrey, J Boland; C Keaney, R O'Dwyer, D Sutcliffe; P Ryan, D Treacy, C McCormack.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Ulster SFC semi-final

Donegal v Down

Breffni Park, 2.0

IT must be one of the most painful sights in Gaelic football – a gifted forward like Benny Coulter, a purist, sprinting back to his own half-back line to clog Down's defensive lines and then trying to speed back up the field to support the attack, where he already should be. He's only scored four points all year because of this new role. That's the way Gaelic football has gone, and after finally relenting and joining the blanket defence crew, Down enjoyed a good first-round win over Derry.

Last time out it took a colossal display from centre-back Kevin McKernan to see James McCartan's men through but this will be a step up. Even with Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher missing, it's hard to see Donegal slipping after their polished dismissal of Tyrone. Both teams were relegated but Donegal didn't even have one eye on the league.

Jim McGuinness comes up against another fine manager here but you'd expect the All-Ireland champions to power onto the final yet again. They can effortlessly go up a gear and their defensive display against Tyrone – as epitomised by the likes of Mark McHugh – has not relented one bit from 2012. Down can still reach the latter stages of the championship, but it may have to be through the back door.

Donegal: P Durcan; P McGrath, N McGee, E McGee; Declan Walsh, F McGlynn, A Thompson; R Kavanagh, R Bradley; David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.

Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, K Quinn; D Rooney, P Turley, R Boyle; K King, K McKernan; A Rogers, M Poland, N Madine; C Laverty, B Coulter, D O'Hare.

Verdict: Donegal

Connacht SFC semi-final

Leitrim v London

Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 3.30

Sligo weren't ambushed in Ruislip – everyone knew an upset was possible. And even at home, Leitrim could suffer a similar fate.

Their corner-back Paddy Maguire misses this semi-final after dislocating his ankle, while the team is already without Wayne McKeon, Tomás Beirne, Shane Moran and Conor Beirne, all of whom were axed from the panel for disciplinary reasons, a decision that has seriously divided opinion in the county.

It all means that Barney Breen and George Dugdale will be missing three of the side that started the quarter-final victory over New York. That certainly doesn't help as they strive for their first provincial final in 13 years.

As usual, it could come down to Emlyn Mulligan (pictured) to fire his side to safety today, but the team has looked strong in recent weeks. They enjoyed good wins against Armagh and Longford in recent challenges which is heartening.

London have been working exceptionally hard under Paul Goggins. They have 15 underage clubs producing fine young talent with three or four feeder schools now established for every outfit. They trained hard during the winter at a private school where Winston Churchill once attended after an Irish caretaker who worked there got them in. The unity is strong, with 35 lads at training for most of the season.

Even with 14 men they hung on to beat Sligo (their first championship win since 1977), having led by seven points at one stage in the second half. One would imagine that Leitrim will be slightly fitter than their opponents but they, too, had a scare when they last met the Exiles.

Leitrim: C McCrann; A Wynne, C Egan, G Reynolds; D Beck, E Williams, B Prior; D Sweeney, B Brennan; P Brennan, E Mulligan, P McGowan; K Conlon, J Glancy, R Lowe.

London: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevey; S Hannon, S Mulligan, T Gaughan; M Gottsche, C Doyle; G Crowley, L Mulvey, B Mitchell; P McGoldrick, P Geraghty, C Magee.

Verdict: Leitrim

Irish Independent

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