July 06, 2007
A look ahead to what is a hectic weekend of GAA activity which includes two provincial finals, eight football qualifiers, four hurling qualifiers, Tommy Murphy, Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cup games. Saturday, July 7th Bank of Ireland SFC qualifiers Limerick v. Louth Following their three game saga against Wicklow, the Wee County was brought back down to earth with a defeat to Wexford. This was followed by unrest in the Louth camp that has resulted in them losing five key players for the remainder of the campaign. Travelling to the Gaelic Grounds is no easy task at the best of times and manager Eamon McEneaney will know that. The sides last met in the league semi-final twelve months ago and on that occasion Louth were convincing winners, so they will enter Saturday's clash as favourites. In saying that Limerick have made huge strides over the last year and may sneak a win in a close encounter. Verdict: Limerick Mayo v. Cavan The expected loss of Ciaran McDonald who has a hamstring injury is a blow to Mayo's preparations, but the Connacht side should still prove too strong for Cavan. Last year's All-Ireland finalists have had a long break since their defeat to Galway in the Connacht Championship, and they will be delighted to return to competitive action. Cavan manager Donal Keoghan must plan without Paul Brady, Seanie Johnston and Martin Cahill who opted to go to the US for the summer following the defeat to Down. Mayo have won the recent meetings between the sides and it is hard to see that trend change in Castlebar on Saturday evening. Verdict: Mayo Down v. Meath All is not well in the Royals' camp following the withdrawal of Joe Sheridan from the squad and the 'Graham Geraghty' incident at training over the weekend. Meath showed the rest of the country that they will soon be a force to be reckoned with over the coming years and may yet have a big part to play in this year's campaign. However, even though Sheridan had not been playing well, the talented forward will be a loss, while it remains to be seen what part, if any Geraghty will play in the qualifiers. Both players will be a loss to the forward line, but the Royals have plenty of talent to take over. Down's injury list is easing, but the likes of Ambrose Rodgers, Liam Doyle and Colm Murtagh will not be fit to face Meath. Confidence is high in the Leinster side's camp and even though they must travel North, Colm Coyle's charges should edge through to the next round. Verdict: Meath Roscommon v. Kildare Both these sides will be disappointed with their performances in championship and there is no doubt that both sides will be happy with the draw, although Roscommon will be slightly happier that they have home advantage. The Lilywhites have failed to win a challenge match since their defeat to Meath in the Leinster championship and the mood in the camp has been downbeat in recent weeks. In saying that Kildare have some excellent players in their side and on form should beat Roscommon. Nonetheless, the Rossies are a formidable side at home and if they too find their form, this could well be an interesting clash. There will not be too much separating the sides at the end of this contest, but the Roscommon forwards may just be too strong for a weak Kildare back line. Verdict: Roscommon Westmeath v. Longford Luke Dempsey comes up against his former side for the second time in less than two months as Longford travel to Cusack Park this time around. The change of venue could well have a major bearing on the outcome of this one, although it will almost certainly be a tight affair once again. Talented wing back Derek Heavin has left the panel, but both David O'Shaughnessy and Gary Dolan return from injury and their physical presence is sure to be an asset. Westmeath captain Dessie Dolan has stated that this is a chance for the Lake County to put the record straight following their second half collapse when the sides last met. Longford will not fear going to Mullingar and once again Brian Kavanagh provides their main scoring threat, while the Barden's Enda and Paul are sure to cause the Westmeath defence numerous problems. One could not rule out a draw here, but home advantage may swing this clash in Westmeath's favour. Verdict: Westmeath Leitrim v. Donegal Michael Hegarty returns to the Donegal side after injury, but defender Barry Dunnion misses the game after he underwent hernia surgery in Germany recently. The Ulster side was left reeling after their heavy defeat to Tyrone last time out and will certainly be keen to make amends at the weekend. It remains to be seen how affected Brian McIver's charges were following the Ulster championship defeat, but they have had sufficient time to recover before the clash with Leitrim. Once again the Connacht side were 'nearly' men as they ran Galway close, but just lacked that killer instinct to cause a major surprise. Declan Maxwell will cause the Donegal defence plenty of problems, although he needs more support up front. Leitrim will put it up to the Ulster side, but as has been the case too often in the past, it will be a case of so near yet so far. Verdict: Donegal Tommy Murphy Cup Waterford v. Carlow This competition has had many detractors, but for the teams competing in it, there is a chance to claim some silverware and a day out in GAA headquarters. For either of these sides, winning the Tommy Murphy Cup would be a huge boost to football in their respective counties. It is very difficult to predict what counties will take the competition seriously, but these two should. Waterford showed signs of improvement in the league and will be slight favourites to advance to the next stage. Verdict: Waterford Wicklow v. Offaly Two of the favourites for the Tommy Murphy Cup meet in Aughrim on Saturday as Wicklow host Offaly in Aughrim. The Garden County will be managerless for the entire competition as Mick O'Dwyer recovers from minor heart surgery and the loss of his presence on the line is sure to have an affect on the team's display. Wicklow have no major injury concerns going into the match and they will be confident following their epic three matches against Louth. On paper, Offaly should win this competition with relative ease, however, it remains to be seen how serious they will take the matches, but their footballers are proud men and if the Faithful County put out a strong side, then victory will be ensured. Verdict: Offaly Tipperary v. Clare Paidi O Se's reign as Clare manager may have been questioned in recent weeks, but the former Kerry great will be on the sidelines for this clash at the weekend. Clare have had to regroup following their exit from the Munster championship and they will be hoping to do well. Likewise, Tipp will be confident that with home advantage they can progress to the next round. It could well be a case of who wants this more, but the Premier County should be at full strength and are favourites to prevail. Verdict: Tipperary London v. Antrim Antrim will have learned little or nothing from their preliminary round match against Kilkenny last weekend as the comprehensively trashed the Cats. Manager Jody Gormley will be concerned about the amount of wides that his side hit even though they had more than 30 points to spare at the end. London will certainly provide a sterner test on Saturday and with home the game in Ruislip, the Ulster side would be wise not to take their opponents for granted. Antrim are strong favourites to win, but they certainly will not have it as easy as they did last weekend. Verdict: Antrim Guinness All-Ireland SHC qualifiers Antrim v. Laois A must win game for both sides, if they are to have any chance of reaching the quarterfinals. Antrim can be pleased with their performance against Clare and for the second week running they are at home. The Saffrons have top class forwards in Neil McManus and Michael Herron who will cause problems for the Laois defence and they will take many positives from the match against the Banner. Nonetheless, their defence will have to tighten up and the concession of three goals in their last outing will be a concern for the management team. Laois too, will be buoyed by their display against Galway but once again their reliance on James Young from placed balls was evident for all to see. If Antrim can tighten up their defence and keep the amount of frees they give away to a minimum, then a win for the Saffrons is very much on the cards. Verdict: Antrim Clare v. Galway Ger Loughnane makes a long awaited turn to Cusack, but the former Clare manager will be in the opposition dressingroom as the Banner host Galway. Both sides laboured to opening round wins last weekend, but the important matter is that they picked up two points. Loughnane was critical of his side's performance against Laois and he will be looking for a marked improvement, while Clare will be delighted to get over the first hurdle. The Tribesmen seem to have more strength in depth especially in their forward line, which was evident by their full forward line accounting for 3-11 of their total last Saturday. Clare must up the tempo if they are to have any chance, although Galway will also be eager to lift it a gear and this should prove the difference between the sides. Verdict: Galway Dublin v. Tipperary Dublin have a home game for the second week running and they will look to build on their performance against Cork. The Metropolitans can take many positives from that display and some of their scores were of an exceptional quality to say the least. In Ronan Fallon, they have an excellent centre back, while Declan Qualter, Dave Curtin and Peader Carton showed they can play at the top level. Tipp manager 'Babs' Keating has revealed that he may play a second string side in order to give many of his stars a much needed rest as this will be their fifth game in consecutive weeks but any slip up against the Dubs would mean that the Premier County would have to beat Cork in their last match. Dublin will use this as motivation and may well just cause the shock of the weekend. Verdict: Dublin Cork v. Offaly The Rebels bounced back from their Munster championship defeat to Waterford with a comfortable win over Dublin, although it did take Gerald McCarthy's side some time to settle. The likes of Cathal Naughton, Kevin Hartnett and Cian O'Connor showed that Cork have a stronger squad than most people thought and make no doubt about it, they will have a major say in the outcome of this year's All-Ireland title. Offaly should be going into this match full of confidence and with two points in the bag. Basically, they had Tipp beaten last weekend only to rue a number of wides, while gifting dangerman Eoin Kelly with numerous easy frees to convert. There were many positives for the Faithful County to take from that match, but they certainly look as if they are going into the lion's den at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday. Verdict - Cork Christy Ring Cup Group 2A Kerry v. Down Both sides are level on two points from two matches and a defeat for either will effectively end their interest in this competition. Kerry were hugely disappointing against Meath in a match that they would have had real expectations of winning. The return of Shane Brick has been a huge boost to the Kingdom, but he needs more help up front. Down make the long trip to Kerry with a full strength side apart from long term absentee Paul Braniff and they should make the long journey home with a further two points on the table. Verdict: Down Mayo v. Westmeath Running Down to eight points in Ballycran without the influential Keith Higgins proved that Mayo are not just a one-man show. They host Cup favourites Westmeath in Castlebar and no doubt are confident of causing a surprise against the Midlanders. However, Westmeath are a very experienced side and they needed that experience to dig deep and defeat Down in the second round. Darren McCormack continues to establish a decent reputation for himself at centre back, while up front the evergreen Barry Kennedy and Derek McNicholas can cause any defence problems. It would be a huge surprise if Mayo got something from this match, as Westmeath are expected to make it through to the latter stages of this competition. Group 2B Carlow v. Derry A win for Carlow guarantees them a place in the semi final as at last they seem to be finding their true form following a less than impressive league campaign. Victories over Wicklow and Kildare have left the Barrowsiders in pole position ahead of their last outing in the group. Derry have been disappointing in the competition, but still have an outside chance of reaching the last four. Nonetheless, Carlow's confidence is sky high and it is hard to see anything other than a home win. Verdict: Carlow Kildare v. London The Lilywhites are still in the hunt for a place in the semi-final, but need a win against London to make sure of their place in the last four. The experienced David Kennedy has given Kildare some stability in the half back line, which has helped them to wins over Wicklow and Derry. The latter was an impressive result as they had to travel north. On their day, London can match any of the second tier sides, but that day has not come around often enough and it is doubtful, it will emerge this weekend either. Verdict: Kildare Nicky Rackard Cup Group 3A Tyrone v. Sligo Armagh have already ensured qualification from this group, so the battle for second place sees these two sides go head-to-head. Tyrone put up a better performance against the Orchard County than Sligo did, which was surprising, given the Connacht side's performances in the league. Home advantage may just give Tyrone the edge, but expect a close match. Verdict: Tyrone Donegal v. Leitrim A win for Donegal ensures their safe passage through to the knockout stages following last weekend's defeat of Longford, who beat Leitrim a fortnight ago. The Connacht side faces a tough task travelling to Letterkenny and it looks as if they make the trip home a disappointed bunch. Verdict: Donegal Monaghan v. Roscommon Monaghan surprised many after their win over Fermanagh, which effectively puts them through to the quarterfinals along with Saturday's opponents. Roscommon are favourites for this title and rightly so. Expect a comfortable win over the Ulster to further emphasise their status as the strongest team in the Nicky Rackard Cup. Verdict: Roscommon Cavan v. Warwickshire The battle for a place in the knockout stages continues as these two sides meet in Breffni Park. Both have lost to Louth, who are now qualified, but it remains to be seen who will join the Wee County in the last eight. If Warwickshire are at full strength, then a historic first could well be achieved. Verdict: Warwickshire Sunday, July 8th Guinness Munster SHC final Waterford v. Limerick Munster hurling is alive and well following some excellent matches in the campaign so far. Limerick and Tipperary enthralled all hurling fans with their three-game epic. The Shannonsiders showed great spirit and determination to battle back on each occasion and finally earn a place in the decider. They had many heroes over the course of the three games, but none more so than Ollie Moran, who already has guaranteed himself an All-Star award next December. His duel against Ken McGrath is a mouth watering prospect and whoever comes out on top in this one is expected to be on the winning side. There are certain to be many interesting duels all over the pitch as Stephen Lucey faces off against Seamus Prendergast, while Mark Foley may be handed the task of keeping Dan Shanahan quiet. The Munster final is always special, but the fact that neither Cork nor Tipperary are contesting it is a sign of how strong hurling is in the province. For Waterford to win another Munster title would be a stepping stone for them as they continue on their quest to win the All-Ireland, while winning the provincial championship would mean everything to Limerick and they won't be lacking determination or confidence. The Decies are more experienced and look to be a better balanced side and they may just shade this one, although don't be surprise if another draw is on the cards. Verdict: Waterford Bank of Ireland Connacht SFC Final Sligo v. Galway Galway enter the Connacht final as raging hot favourites and rightly so. They may have struggled against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon, but so have a lot of sides in the past. Peter Ford has searched the length and breadth of the county for new players and has unearthed the likes of goalkeeper Paul Doherty and Diarmuid Blake to name just a few and the Tribesmen are genuine contenders for the All-Ireland title. Nicky Joyce has really come of age this year and has produced some excellent displays in the forwards, while the performance of Joe Bergin at midfield has been a long time coming. The duel between Bergin and Eamon O'Hara will be an interesting match up and Sligo need their All Star to win this battle. Their ability to score long range points helped the Yeats County into the decider after their victory over Roscommon and the forwards need their scoring boots on once again, if they are to prevail here. However, Galway are a stronger outfit all over and should be crowned champions on Sunday evening. Verdict: Galway Bank of Ireland SFC qualifier Fermanagh v. Wexford The Slayneysiders need to pick themselves up quickly following last weekend's Leinster semi final defeat to Laois. Most people will agree that this was a match that the yellow bellies should have won. Centre back David Murphy was sent off during the game, but received two yellow cards and is free to play at the weekend. However, Wexford manager Paul Bealin must wait to see if midfielder Eric Bradley shakes off a dead leg in time for the qualifier. Fermanagh have had a seven-week lay off since their exit from the Ulster championship and it remains to be seen how this will affect them. They are also still without Marty McGrath through injury and his presence will be missed. The Leinster side should come through this one, but Fermanagh proved against Tyrone that they are no pushovers. Verdict: Wexford Armagh v, Derry The second half of the double header in Clones sees two Ulster sides clash. Derry may well be disappointed to have to face such a tough task against Armagh. In saying that the Oak Leaf County have the quality to cause an upset and the likes of Sean Marty Lockhart, Enda Muldoon, Paddy Bradley and Conleth Gilligan have the ability to win matches on their own. Derry will need every player giving 100% for the full seventy minutes, if they are to have any chance of causing an upset. Arguably the best spell of football played this year was a 15-minute spell that Armagh produced during the second half of their narrow defeat to Donegal. If ,and there is no doubt that they can, produce that for a sustained period, then Joe Kernan's charges are set for a long campaign yet. The injury concerns have eased and there is no question that they will be keen to make amends for the Ulster championship exit. Armagh to win this one and send a warning to the rest of the country. Verdict: Armagh

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