GAA PREVIEWS: Rebels v Kerry gets top billing in great day of action

SportBy Sean McGoldrick
Kerry have room for improvement - which should give them the edge over Cork
Kerry have room for improvement - which should give them the edge over Cork

This is a defining weekend in the race for the Sam Maguire Cup with three provincial titles up for grabs as well as two fascinating matches in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers:

Tipperary v Tyrone

Semple Stadium, Thurles 3.0, Saturday, July 18, Live on Sky

This is a fascinating match for a variety of reasons. Even though Tipperary have made steady progress over the last couple of seasons they have yet to knock a football powerhouse out of the championship.

Though Tyrone's glory days are in the distant past they remain a significant force in Gaelic football. So it would represent a huge scalp for the home side if they could defeat Mickey Harte's charges.

Memories of what happened in this year's infamous All-Ireland U-21 final between the counties will still be fresh in the memory of the Tipp players who featured in the final - and the fans, of course.

There were allegations that Tyrone players engaged in wholesale sledging and Tyrone boss, Fergal Logan, was barred from entering the Tipp dressing room for the customary after-match speech.

However, the players on the field cannot afford to get distracted and the need to focus on the match. It has been an exhausting week for one of Tipp's key players, Colin O'Riordan, who featured in their demolition of Louth last Saturday, and then scored two goals for county U-21 hurlers in their loss to Limerick in the Munster semi-final on Thursday night.

So far in the championship Tyrone have operated on two cylinders. Significant improvement is required, though a win here could set them up for the summer. Alternatively, a loss to a Division 3 team could herald the end of Mickey Harte's reign as team boss.

Tyrone might just have one big performance left in the tank.

Verdict: Tyrone.


Galway v Derry

Salthill, Saturday, July 18, 5.0 Live on Sky

All the indications are that that these two counties have recovered from their respective provincial semi-final losses.

But it was Kevin Walsh's side that achieved the more impressive win last weekend - an eye-catching away success over Armagh. Derry, meanwhile, disposed of Wexford in miserable conditions at Owenbeg.

Given the weekend's weather forecast and the venue for the game it will certainly be windy and probably wet as well in Salthill.

Crucially, Galway appear to have acquired the necessary mental fortitude to complement their football skills.

Even though Derry played in Division 1 this season whereas Galway campaigned out of Division 2, home advantage could prove crucial. Galway look on course to reach the last 12 and perhaps emulate last year's achievement when they contested the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Verdict: Galway.



Munster SFC Final Replay: Kerry v Cork

Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, 7.0 (ET if required), Saturday, July 18. Live on RTE 2

This is by far the most significant game so far in the 2015 championship. The fact that the Munster title is at stake is almost a side issue. Instead, it is the implications the result could have on the race for Sam which makes the outcome so important.

For the winners the prize is a place in the quarter-final of the All-Ireland series where, almost certainly, their opponents will be the winners of the final round qualifier match between Fermanagh and Westmeath.

So, with due respects to the two minnows, the odds would be overwhelmingly stacked against them in a clash with either Kerry or Cork.

In contrast the losers face Kildare next weekend in a qualifier, with the winners then facing an All-Ireland quarter-final date with Dublin on the August Bank holiday weekend.

Nearly every assumption about the two super powers of the Munster championship were turned on their head in the drawn game. The big question is whether the Rebels will live to regret not burying Kerry when they had the chance.

They have a good record against the Kingdom in Munster replays - but most of the replays they won were in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The last time they beat Kerry in a championship replay in Killarney was in 1987, and haven't won a championship match at the venue since 1995.

Brian Cuthbert has named the same team that started but don't be surprised if there are changes before the start with Paddy Kelly, in particular, likely to be in the frame.

There is no room for sentiment at this level of football. If in doubt just ask Fionn Fitzgerald. He was the Kerry hero in the drawn game with his outrageous last-gasp equalising point. But his failure to perform his defensive duties has resulted in him losing his place in the full back line to veteran Aidan O'Mahony.

Elsewhere, Paul Murphy, Anthony Maher and Paul Geaney return though Colm Cooper is still on the bench. Veteran Cork midfielder Alan O'Connor looks certain to be the focus of much Kerry aggression as he was perceived to have bullied the home side in the drawn match.

The Kerry defence lacks pace but up front James O'Donoghue continues to torment Cork when he gets on the ball.

On the basis that Kerry have much more room to improve than Cork do, Eamon Fitzmaurice's side get the verdict.

Verdict: Kerry.


(Check back tomorrow afternoon for our previews of Sunday’s Ulster and Connacht Finals)