Monday 19 February 2018

Today's hurling and football previews

Dermot Crowe

Allianz NHL Division 1 Final: Dublin v KilkennyCroke Park, 4.0

In the hail of confetti, the good vibes and felicitations being showered on Dublin as they prepare for their first National League final in 65 years, it is easy to lose sight of Kilkenny's presence and be hypnotised by their recent injury troubles.

Every week seems to throw up a fresh mishap. Aidan Fogarty's absence robs them of a speed merchant and notoriously elusive forward. Richie Power, a player who ran at Dublin last year and burned their defence with his pace, isn't there. Henry Shefflin is absent. Tommy Walsh. For a long time Kilkenny has been envied for its embarrassment of riches. This is now put to the test. Brian Cody will spit on his hands, rub them together and keenly observe how the chosen adapt to the challenge.

The challenge is provided by the team of the League so far: Dublin. They have improved a great deal on last year although the origins of their spring improvements can be traced back to Tommy Naughton's time in charge in 2007. One of their early markers was a home draw with Kilkenny. But the jump from last season to this one has been the most impressive and clear-cut.

The addition of Conal Keaney and Ryan O'Dwyer needs to be factored, for pure physicality as well as hurling, but the collective has undergone a shift in application and attitude; they have upped the bar and kept it there.

As can happen in these situations, once the door is opened, new players suddenly spring from the traps. Daire Plunkett has emerged and nailed down a place, as has Conor McCormack, while Paul Schutte is unlucky to lose his place in defence. There are more options and less dependence on Dotsie O'Callaghan or even Keaney, whose form has slipped in the more recent league games from its initial, admittedly imperious, levels. The side has not been discomfited. Paul Ryan has stepped in and shown an excellent temperament, nerve and instinct for scores. David Treacy is on the brink of a comeback and Alan McCrabbe, their All Star of two years ago, has also recovered fitness. The Dublin team named, however, invites a sceptical response. Unless McCrabbe has done something astonishing in training, it is hard to credit how he has made the side and caused such a series of reshuffles. He has been out of the game a long time and there wasn't enough in the cameo against Cork to convince he's ready for the full shift. Equally, the movement of John McCaffrey to wing-back doesn't ring true; our guess is that Peter Kelly will play there, McCrabbe won't start and McCaffrey will be in midfield. Liam Rushe is a welcome addition after injury. Oisín Gough could play if the team is a deceit; Gough is one of the best corner-backs in the country. Joey Boland also returns, so Dublin are being restored to full health at the right time.

Kilkenny's selection, for all their losses, still has the look of formidability and menace. JJ Delaney is back in defence and for the likes of Noel Hickey, chosen at left corner-back, opportunity knocks. Dublin are likely to use Plunkett out the field, however, as they did against Cork where he has a liking for accelerating runs. Jackie Tyrrell can be relied on to traverse his path.

Kilkenny should be sharper than in their last two meetings in the Walsh Cup and the League and they will relish a shot at a young pretender like Dublin.

League specialists, seeking a sixth title in ten years, Kilkenny are masters of intuition and spotting weaknesses. Running at the Dublin defence is a viable option that yielded results even in their recent meeting when their play generally was uncharacteristically leaden. They retain a goalscoring gift that few can match and Dublin under dropping ball near goal haven't always looked comfortable.

Dublin, too, have taken bad options when in possession and their shot selection and execution has left them vulnerable in matches they should have won comfortably. Against teams like Kilkenny that kind of dilly-dallying is fatal.

This is a wonderful chance to win a League. But Kilkenny, having got here not playing to their potential, are still slightly favoured to spoil the party.

Kilkenny: D Herity; J Dalton, B Hogan, N Hickey; P Hogan, J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney; TJ Reid, M Rice; J Fitzpatrick, M Ruth, E Larkin; C Fennelly, E Brennan, R Hogan.

Dublin: G Maguire; N Corcoran, T Brady, P Kelly; J McCaffrey, J Boland, S Durkan; L Rushe, A McCrabbe; C McCormack, R ODwyer, C Keaney; P Ryan, D O'Callaghan, D Plunkett.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Cadburys All-Ireland Under 21 Football Final

Cavan v Galway

Croke Park, 2.0

If you place much store on underage success providing a vital source of ventilation to a successful senior team, this competition sends confusing signals. Should Galway win today they'll have bagged three titles in the last ten years. That is more than any other county in Ireland, Cork included. But their fortunes at senior grade haven't benefited.

It may happen yet. Their last was fairly recently -- 2007 -- but then Cavan will be hoping that a win today can inspire a county slumped in a depression since the senior team won the Ulster championship under Martin McHugh in 1997. The previous year their under 21s won an Ulster title and their last until this year's exciting win over Tyrone. They have never won an All-Ireland at the grade.

Galway turned over Cork in the semi-final but they had plenty going for them. Cork's steamrolling of Kerry made it hard not to go a little soft and they missed chances that would have seen them out of trouble. Galway's goal, scored by Michael Boyle, was ideally timed and they hit the front with the finishing line in sight. From there they closed out the game.

Having taken out Cork, they are favourites to win here but any team that comes through Ulster earns the respect of their peers. The Tyrone team they defeated won the All-Ireland minor title three years ago. There is a resolute streak in Cavan that could see them make that final leap into history.

Cavan: A O'Meara; M Leddy, O Minagh, D Tighe; K Meehan, D Barkey, M Brady; G McKiernan, F Flanagan; N Smith, N Murray, B Reilly; S MacBrádaigh, N McDermott, P Leddy.

Galway: M Breathnach; G Sweeney, C Forde, A Tierney; J Moore, J Duane, T Fahy; T Flynn, F ó Curraoin; C Doherty, M Hehir, M Boyle; D Cummins, P Sweeney, E Monaghan.

Verdict: Cavan

Connacht SFC quarter-final

New York v Roscommon

Gaelic Park, 8.0 (Irish time)

Galway's ordeal in 2010 and Roscommon's poor showing in Croke Park last weekend, a few like Cathal Cregg (pictured) apart, has created some concern among the Primrose faithful over this fixture, normally a straightforward transaction: little more than a photo-opportunity and a PR exercise for the game abroad.

But the large quantity of complacency that may have lulled Galway a year ago can be subtracted. For the most part, Roscommon football has treated its duties with diligence and they are too good to blow that now.

Verdict: Roscommon

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