TODAY'S NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE GAMES
(2.30 unless stated)
With the bulk of the round four disputes settled last night, there is just one remaining top-flight contest to be decided: Kerry are in draughty Salthill this afternoon to size up Galway.
This fixture has been a reality check for the Tribesmen over the past two years especially, with Kerry showing a flair for exposing their limitations. The bolshie Galway challenge raised in the teeming rain at Croke Park in August 2008 has since been washed down the dreary drainpipe of dispiriting league defeats at home and in the Kingdom. It is not a new issue; Galway haven't beaten Kerry in competitive action since the 2001 league.
Today they face a Kerry team stripped of some big hitters -- foreign fields, suspension, retirement -- and yet they remain formidable, with Kieran Donaghy back spreading his ample wings. They lost the first two and arrested the trend with a win over Derry last weekend. After a poor start to the league, Galway recovered to beat Monaghan, but were more than that two points worse than Cork. Joe Kernan is still finding his range and injury to Sean Armstrong lessens their attacking options.
Nicky Joyce has been passed fit to play which is a major fillip but the reliance on Michael Meehan continues and Kerry will reasonably argue that if they can put manners on Meehan they are half-way there. Galway have often struggled with their midfield -- Paul Conroy continues his apprenticeship -- and against Cork there was much alarm over the wide roads opening down the middle of their defence. They are capable of ending that losing streak to Kerry but you wouldn't put your house on it. The visitors, even with all those losses, still have loads of football.
Today in Division 1: Galway v Kerry, Pearse Stadium.
The most attractive tie is in Crossmaglen, where Armagh host Kildare and welcome back Kieran McGeeney -- with some reservations.
In recent years, the counties have met frequently and there has been little to separate them; this should be no different. The stakes are high with defeat probably ending the vanquished's promotion hopes. Armagh were unlucky to lose their opening match in Navan and have responded with back-to-back wins.
Steven McDonnell's resurgence is central, although Ronan Clarke and Charlie Vernon are big losses. They need to break the Kildare midfield, remembering how Kevin Toner got under Dermot Earley's skin last year. But Kildare look to have the advantage now, with Paul Flood getting his chance in goal.
A midlands derby takes place at Mullingar with neither side setting the division alight, Westmeath worse off, having yet to register a point. The absence of Dessie Dolan is being sorely felt and the lack of underage follow-through after the minor and U21 highlights of the 1990s is also manifest. Some promise in their rallying show against Meath, admittedly, but Laois, flaky as they often are, look the likelier winner today.
Meath were six points to nil clear against Westmeath last weekend but in the end had to claw for survival, trailing near the final whistle before two late points earned a fortuitous victory. They should be smarter in Thurles today. It was likely that Tipperary would cause a surprise along the line and last weekend's draw in Down provided it. They nicked a point with a late comeback. Meath are older hands and can't afford any more slippage.
Today in Division 2: Westmeath v Laois, Cusack Park; Armagh v Kildare, Crossmaglen; Tipperary v Meath, Thurles 12.45.
After last summer's exploits and promotion in the spring, Sligo's plans have come unstuck with two defeats that leave them in desperate need of a quick confidence lift. They must beat Offaly who have won two of their matches and were unlucky not to get something out of the third. At home, they might just manage it.
The classic top-versus-bottom tie takes place at the Hyde, with Roscommon showing some improvement but Antrim in the ascendancy, the best team in the division. If they avoid complacency, the Ulster side can augment their promotion claims. The final match sees Fermanagh, sliding into the slums of lower table, host Louth. In dire need, they might find some relief from the strain.
Today in Division 3: Sligo v Offaly, Markievicz Park; Roscommon v Antrim, Hyde Park; Fermanagh v Louth, Enniskillen.
Wicklow have recovered from a first-round defeat in Ennis to chalk up three wins on the run and mount a promotion push. To maintain it, they need to beat Longford who are aiming to repeat their championship win from last summer. It won't be achieved lightly.
Clare's favourable position is misleading in that their hardest matches are all to come. Fluked a win over Leitrim but they should remain unbeaten after today. The other tie should result in a handy win for Carlow.
Today in Division 4: Carlow v Kilkenny, Dr Cullen Park; Longford v Wicklow, Pearse Park; London v Clare, Ruislip, 1.30.