GAA Gaelic Football Qualifiers Preview
With the number of teams remaining in the GAA SFC Championship whittled down to half, we prepare to wave goodbye to four more on Saturday evening.
Victory in these third round qualifiers would see a team one more win shy of a quarter-final day out in Croke Park, if that’s not enough to motivate, what is?
Wicklow v Down:
For the third time in as many games, Wicklow manager Mick O’Dwyer welcomes an Ulster side toAughrim Park. As a player, Micko never had much luck against the Mournemen, but could find Lady Luck shining on his Wicklow side on Saturday evening, as Down set upon the long trip along the east coast to the Garden County.
This is Wicklow’s best Championship run for 23 years, and Down will be gunning to bring Micko’s side back down to earth with a bang.
Down had easy wins over London and Laois to get to this stage, while Wicklow are eyeing up a potential Ulster hat-trick with victory over Down, as they have already seen off Fermanagh and Cavan over the last fortnight.
Wicklow have built this season’s success on a stubborn and rigid defence, and they will be fully aware that containing Down’s Benny Coulter is an imperative for Wicklow if their dream is to be prolonged.
For years, Down have achieved major success at underage level without delivering on the main stage. Can this be the year that the glorious youths of the famous red and black jersey rise to be glorious men?
Donegal v Derry:
Donegal are blessed with a championship home fixture for the seventh time in a row in as they face an in-form Derry side, swimming in confidence after their impressive disposal of Monaghan last week.
Donegal staggered to victories over Carlow and Clare to reach the third round of qualifiers, where 1,188 kilometres were travelled by the pair to meet their eliminations in Ballybofey.
Derry dashed Donegal’s Ulster Championship hopes last year, and with the land’s second top scorer Paddy Bradley in the Derry team, the Oak Leafers will have aspirations to send the men from Donegal packing from the Championship.
Saying that Donegal have been unconvincing this year would be an understatement; they were knocked out of Ulster by minnows Antrim and produced woeful performance in the qualifiers. Derry merit their favourites tag, and have all the power to overcome their near neighbours with ease.
Kerry v Sligo:
In an alternative to football, the Pussycat Dolls will occupy Kerry’s home of GAA; Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney; so Austin Stack’s in Tralee in the venue for Saturday’s encounter.
Last year’s All-Ireland runners-up, Kerry, host Kevin Walsh’s Sligo side, eager to get their season back in motion after a poor showing in their defeat over Longford last weekend.
Kerry will be without key target man, Kieran Donaghy, after “Star” was taken off after breaking a bone in his foot against Longford.
Kerry looked assured when Donaghy was on the field, and his absence will be sorely missed. Kerry, who started the game at 1/50, failed to score for the last 33 minutes of the game at Pearse Park last Saturday, and have no excuses for their non-performance in the latter stages of the match.
Sligo will be happy with their summer so far, they were unlucky not to take anything from their Connacht semi-final against Galway, and regrouped sufficiently to defeat Tipperary in Thurles last week.
If Sligo are to take anything away from this game, the vastly experienced Eamon O’Hara will have to be on top form once again to wind up Kerry’s faltering midfield.
The Yeatsmen know that this is the best possible time to face Kerry. Expectations in the Kingdom are historically low, with manager Jack O’Connor alluding to the fickleness of the Kerry faithful after their narrow victory over Longford last weekend.
Even without key individuals, Kerry will be expected to advance. However, Kevin Walsh has instilled a never-say-die attitude into his Sligo team, so you can be sure that Sligo won’t be rolling over just yet.
Wexford v Roscommon:
Extra time couldn’t produce as winner between the two sides last week at WexfordPark, so the Slayneysiders do battle again with the Rossies again to determine who will face an away tie againstMeath on the 25th of July. Conditions spoiled the game last Saturday, but what it lacked in quality and scores, it made up for in tension, excitement and effort.
Wexford’s 2009 Championship has failed to ignite after their All-Ireland semi-final exploits of last year, they were defeated in their opening game of the Leinster Championship by Kildare, and overcame Offaly by the narrowest of margins two weeks ago.
Roscommon seemed to put the annihilation they received at the hands of Mayo behind them last week as they battled through ugly conditions to claim a draw in their visit to the Model County.
Neither team has shown a glimmer of hope that they will be remaining until the business end of the Championship, so the winner of this encounter faces an unenviable task of facing Meath next week.
The absence of veteran Matty Forde in the Wexford fold is a sucker punch for Jason Ryan and his Wexford team, so home advantage may be just enough to see Roscommon squirm through this one.