GAA Gaelic Football weekend preview
As football fixtures take centre stage this weekend, eight teams will be eyeing up sealing their places in three provincial finals.
In Connacht, Galway do battle with Sligo, the prize being a Connacht final with Mayo and up north, Cavan and Antrim lock horns to decide who has the unenviable task of taming All-Ireland Champions Tyrone.
In Leinster, there is a semi-final double header, as Laois and Kildare meet in Tullamore on Saturday, and Dublin are paired with Westmeath.
The first ball of the weekend will be thrown in at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones, as Cavan face Antrim on Saturday evening. Both of these teams were unexpected to reach the latter stages of the Ulster Championship, but both sides will no doubt be focusing on no more than qualifying for a rare final appearance.
The Saffrons make two changes to the side that defeated Donegal by one point a fortnight ago. U-21 goalkeeper Peter Graham comes in for Sean McGreevy, who has failed to recover from the groin injury he sustained in their victory over Donegal. Kevin O’Boyle also comes in for Dermot McCann at corner back. Meanwhile, Tommy Carr has made no changes to his starting XV for this game. He rests with the same team that claimed a 0-13 to 1-09 victory over Fermanagh in the quarter-finals.
Verdict: Expect Cavan to set up a repeat of the 2001 Ulster SFC final. Cavan have the ability to overcome this improving Antrim side, who really have already had their day in the sun when they surprisingly sent Donegal packing from the Ulster Championship. One can only hope that with so much at stake, the quality of the football doesn’t suffer.
The other game taking place on Saturday teatime is the Leinster clash of Kildare v Laois. Laois boss Sean Dempsey keeps faith in the XV that defeated Louth in the quarter finals by four points. The O’Moore County knows that victory over the Lilywhites can see them reach their fifth Leinster final of the decade, their only success being in 2003, which was over Saturday’s opponents.
Kildare manager Kieran McGeeny makes one change to his team, with fit-again Mikey Conway replacing Andrew McLaughlin. Kildare are at practically full strength, and with Dermot Earley, Johnny Doyle and the Smith brothers in terrific form, McGeeny’s side will surely be expecting that they can make their mark in this year’s Leinster Championships.
Verdict: This match looks to be the most competitive of the weekend and there is not much in difference between the sides, but I see a small upset here. Laois have enough in their team to edge out the Lilywhites by a narrow margin.
The winners of Laois v Kildare will meet the team who comes out the strongest from the Dublin v Westmeath encounter. Metropolitans’ manager Pat Gilroy has made three changes on the team that defeated Meath by 14 points to 12 on the 7th of June. Gilroy is lucky to be able to call upon the experience of forward Jason Sherlock to replace Mark Davoren, who injured his knee in the quarter-final win over Meath. Diarmuid Connolly takes over from Paddy Andrews in the half-forward line, while Kilmacud Crokes clubman Rory O’Carroll makes his debut replacing Alan Hubbard at corner-back.
Dublin know they face a tough contest against the Lakesiders, who will again be with without star forward Dessie Dolan in their starting line-up as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Westmeath will find the going difficult with Dolan’s absence as they are far from prolific scorers, so the midlanders will hope that the Garrycastle man can play some part in the cauldron that will be Croke Park on Sunday.
Verdict: Dublin have an excellent record in Leinster and I expect them to dispose of Westmeath on Sunday to reach their fifth consecutive Leinster final. Dublin will be buoyed by their 27 point defeat over Sunday’s opponents in their league encounter earlier this year, and their victory over Meath at the beginning of June, and so they should book their Leinster final place with relative ease.
Finally, the Galway v Sligo affair sees current Sligo manager Kevin Walsh square up against his native county. Neutrals will hope that this game can remain competitive, and maybe even an upset can occur, like the two teams’ pairing in 2007’s Connacht final, where Sligo won their first Connacht Championship since 1975 by defeating the Tribesmen by the narrowest of margins.
Galway, who are gunning for five successive Connacht finals, welcome the return of experienced trio Joe Bergin, Declan Meehan and Matthew Clancy. Gary Sice, Damien Dunleavy and Nicky Joyce all drop to the bench. The Yeatsmen have Eamon Breheny back in the starting XV and his presence alongside the energetic Eamon O’Hara is pivotal if Sligo can pull off a surprise victory over a Galway side with serious title aspirations this year.
Verdict: Mayo annihilated Roscommon in the first Connacht semi-final, and Galway have the potential to serve up a similar mauling on Sunday. The Galway forward line is one of the strongest in the country and will cause many problems for the home team’s defence. Having Walsh on the Sligo touchline will be of obvious benefit for Sligo, but it would be foolish to predict anything other than a straightforward Galway win.