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Today's football and hurling previews

Allianz HL Division 1 final

Kilkenny v Tipperary

Nowlan Park, 3.30

A nice appetiser before summer's main course is served, today's league final features the two teams that have dominated the game in recent years.

Big-name players are missing from both sides. Tipperary are without Paddy Stapleton and Paudie Maher and Michael Cahill may not be fully right, while Kilkenny take to the field with no Richie Power or Henry Shefflin, though 25-year-old TJ Reid is back in the ranks after an horrific knee injury.

Still, there is plenty of emerging talent for a bumper crowd to look out for. Lester Ryan, for instance, has really made his name this spring. Only a year younger than the multi-decorated Reid, Ryan was right half-back with the under 21s in 2008 and 2009 but with Tommy Walsh dominating that position Ryan's game time was limited.

Such has been his influence at midfield so far, however, that the favoured pairing of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly has been broken up – for the time being, at least. Another player to impress has been 'keeper Eoin Murphy.

Tipperary have been introducing new blood too. Jason Forde, John O'Dwyer and Thomas Hamill have all been gelled slowly into the set-up and look set to make their names over the coming years. Football panelist Kieran Bergin gets a debut at wing-back but is likely to switch to midfield where he impressed for DIT in the recent Fitzgibbon Cup. This line-up literally has every Tipp player on his toes and gives them an exceptional bench.

At home in a final, however, it's impossible to go against Kilkenny, even if Brian Cody is not around to marshal his troops. Tipperary will throw a lot at them but a big performance would be the main target for Eamon O'Shea here.

They have been inconsistent in this league, against Cork and Waterford in particular, and when they are not in the zone they can look ordinary at times.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Leinster SHC

Westmeath v Antrim

Cusack Park, 3.0

Home advantage will be a massive help to Westmeath this afternoon for sure. They will also be looking to capitalise on Antrim's continued inconsistency.

The Saffrons can push a Wexford or Offaly on a good day but often fail to perform against teams they should be beating. Last year was a good example when they fell to Westmeath at this same stage of the championship.

But Kevin Ryan is a good manager; he's had three weeks since the Carlow relegation play-off win, and surviving the drop will have been character-building for his young team who played with their clubs until a fortnight ago.

Brian Hanley, meanwhile, has also put a very young Westmeath side together – last year they fielded seven under 21s on the senior side and this year the focus on youth is just as strong, even if there are 11 changes to the 2012 set-up.

There's a new backroom in place too as Hanley looks to cement their structures.

Still, despite last year's famous win and some good scoring against both Galway and Wexford, they were well beaten in the Division 2A final by Laois when they had just one point from play in 70 minutes.

Verdict: Antrim

Connacht SFC

New York v Leitrim

Gaelic Park, 3.0 (8pm Irish time)

By now this fixture is a potential banana skin for almost every team in Connacht and it's just as well that Leitrim's preparations for the trip have gone according to plan.

Barney Breen and George Dugdale saw their men face Offaly in a challenge at Walsh Island on Thursday week and claim a morale-boosting 0-14 to 1-8 victory. Considering that Offaly – who were almost at full strength – had beaten them in the league and went on to win promotion to Division 3, this was a decent result.

Once more, though, Leitrim leaned way too heavily on captain Emlyn Mulligan, who kicked eight points.

The Exiles have a small number of New York-born players in their team which is great to see, and they include Rory Woods from Monaghan, plus other top players like Conor Lynam and Keith Scally. Manager Connie Molloy's son, CJ, and corner-back Paul Lambe are the only survivors from the team that suffered a 24-point drubbing from Sligo 12 months ago.

It should be a lot closer this time and while Leitrim might have a few sticky moments, they should pull through. While this game kicks off the championship with the softest of whimpers, it's still a massive fixture with the winners standing just one step away from a Connacht final.

Verdict: Leitrim

Irish Independent