With the summer sunshine encouraging growth, will there be anyone waiting in the long grass to spring a surprise
This weekend’s return of the Football Championship to our screens promises an increase of pace and intensity. Talking points rather than action have dominated the championship so far. Dublin’s destruction of Longford, returned the debate surrounding the structure of the championship to the headlines. While Donegal’s victory over Tyrone brought issues such as sledging and cynical play to the forefront. However this weekend offers Galway and Armagh the opportunity to test themselves against Mayo and Donegal respectively. It also provides us with an early inspection of Cork and Kerry, as they begin their campaigns against Clare and Tipperary. While in Leinster, Kildare replay against Laois, Westmeath meet Wexford and Meath take on Wicklow.
Galway V Mayo
The Connacht power houses have between them won 90 provincial titles, 45 apiece. While Sundays clash is no guarantee of tipping the balance in their favour, given Roscommon’s resurgence, it will go a long way in doing so. Not only are Mayo gunning for their fifth provincial title in as many years, but an equal number of consecutive victories over the tribesmen. However, there is a sense coming out of Galway that they may be beginning to turn the tide against their western neighbours. Many of the players who won Under 21 All Ireland titles with Galway in 2011 and 2013 are now emerging into the senior team. The county can also boast this years Club All Ireland winners, Corofin. However in order to beat Mayo both Michéal Lundy and Gary Sice will have to bring their club form into the county team and Tom Flynn and Fiontáin Ó Curraoin will have to match Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea in midfield. They will also have to deal with the physicality Aidan O’Shea will bring to the Mayo half forward line. Ultimately, what could tip the balance in Mayo’s favour is the return of their key forward Cillian O’Connor and the loss of Galway’s equally important Shane Walsh.
Armagh V Donegal
The clash between Armagh and Donegal promises to be the most intriguing of the weekend. The Tír Conaill men come into this fixture having won 15 of their last sixteen contests against Ulster opposition. Their only defeat coming against Monaghan in 2013 provincial decider. Despite Donegal’s dominance, they came within two minutes of being overturned by Armagh in last years quarter final. Points from Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty, in the 68th and 69th minutes respectively, saw Donegal’s passage into the semi finals. Standing against Kieran McGeeney’s men could be the fact that, playing in division three, they have not come up against the same quality of opposition Donegal have had. Donegal by contrast, qualified for the division won semi final and have already played Tyrone in the Championship. Nonetheless an expectant, sold out, crowd awaits the beaten All Ireland finalists in the Athletic Grounds. However Donegal’s extra fire power in the form of Christie Toye, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden should see them get over the line in what will be a tight tense encounter, if last years quarter final is to go by.
Tipperary V Kerry
This game is of interest, so as far as it will gauge how far Tipperary have come in transitioning their successful under age teams to senior level. Despite possessing a number of players, such as Stephen O’Brien, who have never lost to the Kingdom, a victory for the Premier county seems out of reach just yet. This is despite Kerry coming into the fixture missing the likes of David Moran, Paul Murphy and James O’Donoghue, who is starting from the bench. Most intriguingly of all for Kerry is the return of Colm Cooper to the starting fifteen and the inclusion of Tommy Walsh on the bench. In their last Championship encounter, Kerry won on a scoreline of 2-19 to 0-8. In what could be the beginning of a revival in Tipperary football, such a winning margin is not to be expected this year.
Cork V Clare
On the other side of the Munster Championship draw Cork take on Clare. Cork’s season suffered a bit of a set back by the manner in which they lost the division one final to Dublin. Reacting to the defeat Rebels boss, Brian Cuthbert, has made six changes to his starting line up. Alan O’Connor’s return to midfield should add the experience and leadership that helps prevent the sudden collapses Cork have become synonymous with. Without Podge Collins for Clare, it is difficult to see anything other than a significant Cork victory. Anything other and further questions will be asked of this Cork team.
Kildare V Laois
Following last weekends draw, arguments could be made for both sides. Although Kildare only earned the replay with a late point from Tommy Moolick, they led for most of, what was, a sloppy game. Nevertheless both sides will have to go for this one as the loser will play Antrim in the qualifiers in just seven days time. For the winners its a place against Dublin in the Leinster Semi Final. Going by last week, discipline will be key, eight of Laois’ scores came from free’s and seven of Kildares. Although both teams are well matched, Laois, through Brendan Quigley and John O’Loughlin dominance of midfield could see them win.
Westmeath V Wexford
This fixture is difficult to call. Although Westmeath looked solid at times, they were ultimately relegated from division two of the league. Wexford though dropped down to division four. Acting as an incentive no to lose is the fact that, awaiting the loser is, Down, while the winners play either Meath or Wicklow. Therefore a Leinster final is not beyond either of these counties. However they will need to reverse their league. With home advantage, the Lake County may just edge it.
Meath V Wicklow
Meath play a championship game in Pairc Tailteann for the first time in twenty years, having played their home championship games in Navan during that time. Despite missing Kevin Reilly, Conor Gillespie, Bryan Menton, Micky Newman and Shane O’Rourke, the Royals will favourites. For their part Wicklow come into this game on the back of only one victory in division four of the league. Nonetheless all the pressure is on the Royals as defeat will consign them to a qualifier against either Armagh or Donegal.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena