FL previews: Huge clashes in Ballyshannon and Castlebar

February 23, 2018

Can Mayo finally get one over Dublin when the side's meet at MacHale Park, Castlebar on Saturday evening?

There's a full schedule of fourth round fixtures in the Allianz Football League and here we preview all 16 games taking place.


Saturday, February 24th

Allianz FL Division 1 round 4

Mayo v Dublin, MacHale Park, 7pm - eir sport 2

MacHale Park will be rocking and rolling for this one on Saturday as two of the genuine heavyweights of the modern era bite on their gumshields and go at it - possibly literally. A re-telling of their recent histories is unnecessary; suffice to say, their stories are interwoven together and there must be some ill-feeling there at this stage, as would only be natural between such fierce rivals.

In light of that, fireworks are likely - neither team will want to give an inch.

Dublin have smashed Mayo's dreams too often with last year maybe the cruellest blow given that Stephen Rochford's men played so well yet still came up short. It has been business as usual for Jim Gavin and his think tank - minus the dealings with the national broadcaster, curiously - as they have steamrolled all before them in the opening rounds and are showing no signs of slippage.

They are in the priceless habit of winning games - they've put another dozen success' together since their long unbeaten run was ended by a point in last year's league final by Kerry - but what makes this one intriguing is that Mayo are the one side who tend to trouble them.

Then again, troubling and beating are two different verbs. Mayo's last win over Dublin in Allianz Football League or Championship was in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final (0-19 to 0-16). The sides have met twelve times since then, with Dublin winning nine while there were three draws. 

They are long overdue a win over the Dubs but it's hard to make a case for this Saturday being the night for it, especially given they have lost their last two, against the Kingdom and the bruising battle with Galway.

Verdict: Dublin

Monaghan v Tyrone, Castleblayney, 7pm - eir sport 1

The Farney men welcome their neighbours to 'Blayney this weekend for what is sure to be a typically feisty Ulster derby. Monaghan have been, well, Monaghan in this league so far - mean, lean, committed, giving little away and getting the ball to marksman Conor McManus.

We are joking - just a little - but once again, Malachy O'Rourke's side have punched above their weight. A one-point opening day loss to Mayo was put right with narrow wins over Kildare and Kerry as Monaghan move closer to securing their status.

The Red Hands, meanwhile, always garner more attention than any other side in the province. The Ulster champions lost to Galway and Dublin in their first two games before defiantly coming from behind to beat Kildare in Newbridge with a late Mattie Donnelly screamer.

Mickey Harte was clearly annoyed by a question recently about whether they need to tweak their attacking system of play (they were the highest-scoring Ulster champions in history last summer, to be fair) and that crankiness is an asset.

Tyrone want to win every game they play and it's a testament to their excellence that they are judged by the loftiest standards possible. They may not get the credit they deserve but a team has a good day's work done by the time they beat them. Monaghan are not shy in that department - honest endeavour - but the O'Neill men get the nod this weekend.

Verdict: Tyrone

Allianz FL Division 2 round 4

Tipperary v Meath, Semple Stadium, 7pm

Meath were stung by an unexpected defeat against Cavan last Sunday and will face a stern examination by a fresher Tipperary side.

While Cillian O'Sullivan had his moments in Kingspan Breffni, as did sharpshooter Graham Reilly, overall Meath didn't seem to know how to break down a sticky Cavan defence.

The Royals are unlikely to meet the same massed rearguard action in the wide open spaces of Semple Stadium and that will suit a pacy attack, where Eamon Wallace will relish the extra room.

Tipp, for their part, surprisingly failed to beat Clare last time out and had to be happy with a point which, following their home loss to Roscommon, undid the good work of their opening night win against Cork down by the Lee.

So, consistency is an issue for both sides but a tentative nod goes to Andy McEntee's men to bounce back in what could possibly be one of the higher scoring games of the weekend.

Verdict: Meath

Allianz FL Division 3 round 4

Fermanagh v Derry, Brewster Park, 7pm

Damian McErlain's men finally got off the mark last week against Offaly in Celtic Park, having shipped disappointing losses against Westmeath at home and bogey team Longford away in the opening two rounds.

While they have been minus the services of the Slaughtneil cohort, the new bainisteoir has introduced some fresh young talent as he attempts to put his own stamp on the side.

In the opposite corner, Rory Gallagher has his Erne outfit positively humming. They have picked up three successive victories.

They have a wide spread of scorers, with wing-backs Barry Mulrone and Declan McCusker landing 0-6 between them last week, Aidan Breen going well and cult hero Seamie Quigley back in the fold.

Verdict: Fermanagh

Allianz FL Division 4 round 4

Waterford v Carlow, Carriganore, 4pm

This Saturday, Carlow travel to Carriganore to take on a decent Waterford outfit knowing that a win will help them take one step closer to promotion. Under manager Turlough O'Brien and highly-rated coach Steven Poacher from Down, Carlow have made great strides of late. 

They missed out on promotion by a single point last season and their graph has been very much on the rise in recent years, with three championship wins last summer (against Wexford, London and Leitrim, albeit all of them in Division 4 at the time) and a creditable showing in defeat against Monaghan.

With Brendan and Sean Murphy in fine form, this looks like the best Carlow side of the last decade and more; they are unlikely to slip up, even in this tricky-looking trip south against a Déise side who picked up a good draw in Belfast last time out.

Verdict: Carlow


Sunday, February 25th

Allianz FL Division 1 round 4

Donegal v Kildare, Ballyshannon, 2pm

Donegal take on Kildare in Ballyshannon in what is a must win game for both counties. Three defeats from three have left Declan Bonner and Cian O'Neill's sides propping up the division and a fourth failure on Sunday will surely spell relegation for either side. 

After an encouraging performance against Dublin in Croke Park, Donegal impressed in outgunning Tyrone in a highly entertaining encounter in Armagh last weekend to claim their first Dr. McKenna Cup title since 2010, and end Mickey Harte's side's quest for seven-in-a-row. 

Aside from impressive performances by youngsters Niall O'Donnell, Conor Morrison and Daire Ó Baoill, the late return of Neil McGee and the continuing rehabilitation of Michael Murphy have given Donegal supporters cause for optimism ahead of Sunday's clash at a ground where Donegal have proven extremely tough to beat in recent years.

Kildare travel North on the back of successive single point defeats at the hands of Tyrone and Monaghan, having started their campaign with a spirited, but ultimately futile effort against Dublin. The Lilywhites have shown that they are worthy top flight opposition, but have yet to see the fruits of their labour. 

In what promises to be a fiercely contested affair, Kildare will look to the powerful Kevin Feely at midfield to be the driving force once again, aided with the experience of Paul Cribbin and the athleticism of the ever-improving Daniel Flynn. 

The most likely match winner, however, is Donegal's Patrick McBrearty. The Kilcar man has continued the form that saw him All-star nominated in 2017, and has arguably been the player of the league thus far. With Bonner having the luxury of close to a full deck to choose from, more of the same from McBrearty could leave Kildare fans facing a long drive home with division two looming on the horizon.

Verdict: Donegal

Kerry v Galway, Austin Stack Park, 2.30pm

This is a game the purists will want to see - two of the aristocrats of the game, old money rising above what Jack O'Connor famously termed the 'nouveau riche'. If you believe that, you will believe anything...

While both of these sides are blessed with silken-skilled ball-players, they each have an iron fist in a velvet glove, too. That's what it takes to compete at the highest level, in the modern game and long ago, in the ancient one, too, if we ignore the nostalgia.

Kerry boss Eamon Fitzmaurice will have been happy enough with the resilience his new-look young side showed to rally well against Monaghan last week and as he re-introduces more seasoned, established players, they should pick up pace towards the end of the league.

Galway, meanwhile, are off to a flyer but they must avoid 'doing a Roscommon' and leaving their best form behind them while targeting the league. With three wins in the bag (and the scalps of Tyrone, Donegal and Mayo are fairly prized, too), the canny Kevin Walsh may not be too perturbed by a loss here, with one eye on the big dance down the road.

Verdict: Kerry

Allianz FL Division 2 round 4

Cork v Cavan, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 1pm

Confidence in the Cavan team among many of their notoriously demanding supporters was very low after relegation and just one championship win - a low-key Sunday evening qualifier against Offaly - last season and a poor McKenna Cup in January which culminated in a record 21-point home defeat to Tyrone, after which manager Mattie McGleenan refused to speak to the media.

Now, all has changed. There was some luck involved in that their opening two games pitted the Breffni men against possibly the weakest sides in the section, Clare and Louth, but they capitalised, trouncing the Wee County and riding their momentum to a big win over Meath in last Sunday's derby.

With Dara McVeety and Caoímhín O'Reilly playing well up front, they will fancy their chances of picking up a win on the road but this enigmatic Cork side won't give up much easily.

New Rebels boss Ronan McCarthy has had to start more or less from scratch this year. Three All-Ireland winners in Michael Shields, Ken O'Halloran and Alan O'Connor retired over the winter and injury rules out James Loughrey and Aidan Walsh at present, with Donncha O'Connor yet to feature.

Luke Connolly, Paul Kerrigan, Stephen Cronin and Barry O'Driscoll will be in action with Nemo on Saturday and are unlikely to play any part.

Verdict: Draw

Down v Clare, Pairc Esler, 2pm

This is an interesting one. Are Clare as good as they seemed in the draws against Cavan - whom they probably should have beaten, squandering a hefty second-half lead - and Tipp or as poor as they were when losing by 14 points against Meath?

The truth is probably somewhere in between. Under Eamonn Burns, Down bottomed out around this time 12 months ago before beginning to ascend again. They have a long way to go but their big championship wins over Armagh and Monaghan last year were balm for their sores and they certainly look to have a bit of a swagger back now, personified in the likes of the brilliant Caolán Mooney and last year's 'find of the season' Connaire Harrison.

Down, who currently sit on four points, to win it and properly kick-start their promotion bid.

Verdict: Down

Louth v Roscommon, Gaelic Grounds, 2pm

The third coming of Pete McGrath as a senior inter-county manager looks like it will be a difficult one. Louth lost over a dozen panellists in the off-season and have been poor to date in this campaign.

The Rossies, meanwhile, probably still see themselves as a Division 1 side and not without reason - they were comprehensive winners over Galway in the Connacht final last year and were a kick of a ball from an All-Ireland semi-final subsequently.

Manager Kevin McStay was furious at their dismal showing against Down at 'the Hyde' last time out. Expect a backlash.

Verdict: Roscommon

Allianz FL Division 3 round 4

Westmeath v Sligo, TEG Cusack Park, 2pm

After the high of an opening day win against Derry away, Westmeath came crashing back down to earth against a powerful Armagh side in round 2.

However, the Lake men bounced back with a gritty win away to Wexford last time out and come into this one looking up the table from fourth place.

Sligo, for their part, are idling a little, having suffered a heavy loss against Armagh and a home defeat versus Fermanagh last weekend. Their only win so far was against Wexford, who sit bottom.

Verdict: Westmeath

Longford v Wexford, Pearse Park, 2.30pm

Longford boss Denis Connerton blasted the officials last time out; he felt his side should have taken a win against unbeaten Armagh.

The Midlanders have struggled for consistency in recent years, staying in the division on score difference last year (they were sixth and had drawn with seventh-place Antrim), they were well beaten in the Leinster championship by Laois but turned that form on its head to trounce Louth next time out.

They seem to have clicked in this campaign, however, racking up 3-18 against Offaly, 1-13 against Derry and 1-10 in the defeat to Armagh. Wexford are in transition and have it all to do at Pearse Park.

Verdict: Longford

Offaly v Armagh, O'Connor Park, 2.30pm

Sunday's game in Tullamore will tell us a lot about the calorific value of pride as a motivational fuel, when Offaly attempt to take a scouring pad to the stain on their record that is last year's 6-22 to 0-10 league defeat to Armagh at the Athletic Grounds. Certainly, causes for optimism on strictly footballing grounds are hard found.

The Faithful men's full-back line is capable when measured by Division 3 standards, and there is plenty of scoring power in an attacking unit containing Nigel Dunne, Bernard Allen and Gallen Community School student Cian Johnson.

However, in between those two lines, pickings are slim. Up until last week, Tullamore captain John Moloney was one of a handful of players in the Offaly panel that played Sigerson football for any of the competitive colleges, but his departure from the panel weakens Stephen Wallace's hand even further.

Armagh's shooting may have been comically bad against Longford, but they'll get plenty of chances here too. If Kieran McGeeney's side can avoid another episode of spectacular inaccuracy, they'll expect to win with plenty to spare.

Verdict: Armagh

Allianz FL Division 4 round 4

Wicklow v Laois, Aughrim, 2pm

The picturesque Aughrim, in the Wicklow mountains, is a famously difficult place to get a result, as club giants St Vincent's found out when they were well beaten by Rathnew just a few short months ago.

Laois, however, have the look of a side who just have too much quality for the division they are in. The O'Moore men were operating in the top flight as recently as 2012 and have plenty of firepower in the form of Donie Kingston, veteran Ross Munnelly and free-taker Gary Walsh, who scored 0-10 (8f) last time out.

Verdict: Laois

Leitrim v Limerick, Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, 2pm

Limerick have one point to show for their troubles - a draw against London - while Leitrim have yet to secure a positive result. The pair sit seventh and eighth in Division 4 respectively.

Leitrim in particular have been shipping a lot of scores and have the worst defensive record in all four divisions. The Shannonsiders get the nod to extend it.

Verdict: Limerick

London v Antrim, Ruislip, 2.30pm

The Division 4 race will really heat up from Round 5 on when the early pace-setters - big hitters Laois, Carlow and Antrim - begin to meet. In the meantime, all three are unbeaten although the Saffrons did drop a point at home against Wicklow last time out.

They have been going well under St Gall's man Lenny Harbinson, with the Murrays and Paddy McBride lighting up the attack and the defence - which has conceded on average just 0-9 per game - the meanest in the division.

London and Antrim last met two years ago when the Ulster side came away with a three-point win. The Exiles have improved since and are enjoying their best league campaign of the last decade (twice they managed four points but those were years when Kilkenny played and lost all their games).

Antrim are favourites but there will be nothing easy at McGovern Park.

Verdict: Antrim


Follow our Match Tracker on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon as we bring live coverage from the Allianz Football League.

Most Read Stories