We’re on the verge of the first big weekend in the GAA calendar as the Allianz League Finals are set to take centre stage in Croke Park on Saturday and Sunday.
The action kicks off on Saturday with a fantastic double-header. A huge crowd is expected in for the Division 4 final as minnows Leitrim pit their wits against Derry at 3 pm.
Following this is the Division 2 meeting of Meath and Donegal (5 pm) which given the Royals impressive league form to date is extremely difficult to call.
On Sunday, the Division 1 final takes centre stage at 4 pm as the country’s two form teams go hammer and tongs for early season silverware. Following a near flawless Allianz Football League campaign, Kerry travel to Croke Park to take on the only team that has managed to beat them so far, Mayo.
The game is the top billing on what is a triple-header at HQ with the Camogie League Final between Galway and Kilkenny throwing in at 12 pm before Limerick and Waterford do battle in the Allianz Hurling League Final at 2 pm.
In case one has been living under a rock, Louth also host Westmeath on Saturday at 2 pm in what is effectively a semi-final to see who will take on Laois in the Allianz Football League Division 3 Final next weekend.
Here are our six players to watch across the three Allianz Football League Finals taking place this weekend.
Matthew Ruane (Mayo)
The big Breaffy man has taken to senior inter-county football like a duck to water in 2019 and has forged an excellent partnership with club mate Aidan O’Shea at midfield so far this season.
Ruane is a great fielder of the ball and has an incredible engine, his ability to get up and down the field will be vital to the Mayo cause on Sunday.
Was the county’s only bright spark when they visited Croke Park in Round Four and fell to Dublin on a night where James Horan’s men just didn’t show up.
He also pooped up with a vital goal against Kerry in Killarney two weeks ago that was the catalyst for Mayo to go on and claim a big victory. Ruane is clearly a big game player who will need to be on form this weekend if Mayo are to capture a first league title in 18 years.
David Clifford (Kerry)
Returned to the Kerry starting line-up last weekend following shoulder surgery and scored 0-5.
As we all know, Clifford is a phenom, while he may not be the best player in the country now, the general consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before he is.
His return could not have come at a better time for an already high-flying Kerry outfit.
Defeat to Mayo two weeks ago while possibly a good thing, showed the Kingdom’s young stars they weren’t yet the finished product but with Clifford in at full forward and Sean O’Shea feeding him the ball, they might just be now.
Michael Murphy (Donegal)
The Glenswilly man is still one of the best footballers in the country when he is on form and he has proved that over the past month.
Donegal were expected to make the jump straight back into Division 1 following a somewhat unfortunate relegation last season, however, following back-to-back defeats against Tipperary and Fermanagh it looked as though promotion may slip by them.
Then Michael Murphy returned…
The Donegal captain was named among the substitutes for their Round Five clash with Armagh and was brought into the fray after just 20 minutes with the Tir Conaill men struggling.
Donegal would go on to win by a single point and although they only scored 1-3 from play, 1-2 was scored by Murphy and he set up the other score.
The following week he caused havoc against Cork as Donegal got their league back on track. It’s mission accomplished now as they are heading back to the top flight with the added bonus of this weekend’s league final which no doubt they will want to win.
Mickey Burke (Meath)
A GAA legend, simple.
After 15 years of service with the Royal County, Mickey Burke can finally look to Division 1 football next season. He is last remaining link to the great Sean Boylan and whilst he may not get a start in this weekend’s final he will no doubt have a role to play in both the build-up and on the field of play.
Meath defender, Shane McEntee paid tribute to Burke at the Allianz League Finals launch on Monday;
“Mickey’s a brilliant character, he’s such a diehard, avid Meath man.” said McEntee.
“He works just as hard, he’s so meticulous, he’s so precise with all his work so while he mightn’t have got as much game time as he would have liked so far this year, you knew by him straight after that this was a big deal for him and he really, really valued it so it was great for someone like him.”
Speaking to Pundit Arena following Round Two of the Allianz League, Burke highlighted the need for Meath to get promoted to Division 1;
“We’d love to get to Division One. I think that would be key, I know everyone talks about the Championship but, we’ve got to be Division One and be playing the best teams week in, week out.” said Burke.
“Of course you want to do well in championship, don’t get wrong and you want to get as far as you can, but I really do think that trying to get to Division One is almost more important.”
Mark Plunkett (Leitrim)
The Leitrim midfielder will be vital to their cause on Saturday as they look to overcome the underdogs’ tag one final time before the championship.
Plunkett has been a rock all season long on Leitrim’s quest for promotion and was instrumental in helping them achieve that goal.
It’s all roads to Croke Park now where no doubt the Aughawillan man will rise to the occasion on what will be his first playing experience in HQ.
Plunkett told us how big a deal this weekend’s game in Croke Park is for him.
“Yeah, this is my first time. I’ve always dreamt of playing in it and wondered if the day will ever come but thankfully it has we’ve got a great opportunity now to perform on the big stage and we’re really looking forward to it.” Plunkett told Pundit Arena.
Chrissy McKaigue (Derry)
Derry’s leader and inspiration.
McKaigue can play anywhere and any code, but this season he has been the driving force for Derry from centre-back as they looked to make their ascent back up the divisions.
Will once again be vital this weekend as Derry look to lock down some early season silverware and his experiences playing in national finals in Croke Park with Slaughtneil will be vital to the Oak Leaf cause.