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A bumper weekend of GAA means a bumper preview

GAABy Sean McGoldrick
Hill 16 will be packed with Dubs this weekend
Hill 16 will be packed with Dubs this weekend

With semi-finals in Ulster and Leinster, plus a whole host of qualifiers, it is a busy weekend in the Championship.

Ulster SFC semi-final: Donegal v Derry, Clones, Saturday, June 27, 7.0 Live on Sky

Consider this! Sligo was the 33rd and last team to enter the race for the Sam Maguire last weekend.  And after one victory - albeit a meritorious one over Roscommon - they are now guaranteed a place in the last 12 of the All-Ireland series.

Donegal had already beaten Tyrone and Armagh - who between them won every Ulster title played between 1999 and 2010 as well as four All-Ireland crowns - by the time Sligo finally made their debut in the 2015 series.

Yet, Donegal have to beat Derry in Clones in order to reach the Ulster final and secure a place in the last 12 in the race for Sam.

The system is so blatantly lopsided and unfair that it is almost laughable. However, one suspects that if the Donegal County Board was asked to quit the Ulster championship and join the Connacht series it would be overwhelmingly rejected!

So as politicians are inclined to say 'we are where we are.'

From a psychological viewpoint this is Donegal's most difficult game in the championship so far. Few will pay too much heed to the result unless Donegal lose.

Derry now have had an opportunity to study their opponents on two occasions and Brian McIver's side will bouyed up their credible performance against Donegal at Celtic Park in last year's Ulster series.

Donegal blew away Armagh at the Athletic Grounds but having played for the last two seasons in Division 1 Derry will not be as naive. .

As Dublin discovered during the League Derry can construct a very capable blanket defence. Worryingly for Donegal their once impregnable defence is coughing up a lot of goal chances. 

Expect a dour, low scoring affair. But the reason Donegal has only lost one Ulster championship match since 2011 is that they have better players than their opponents. This should be the key factor again.

Verdict: Donegal.

All-Ireland Qualifiers

Armagh v Wicklow,  Athletic Grounds, Armagh, Saturday, 2.30

Armagh are fortunate that they have home advantage. Quite simply they were woeful against Donegal. On the other hand Wicklow rattled Meath in their Leinster clash in Navan.

Kieran McGeeney's side are on a mission of redemption. They will want to prove to themselves and their fans that their performance against Donegal was not a true indication of their real worth.

Wicklow will hope to build on the promise they showed in Navan where they scored a remarkable 3-12. Rest assured it will be altogether more difficult to score today against the massed Armagh defence. 

The home side reached the All-Ireland quarter final via the backdoor last season. They will be hard pressed to repeat that but ought to win this one.

Verdict: Armagh

Wexford v Down, Innovate Wexford Park, 6.30

Wexford are on a downward slope despite the best efforts of rookie boss David Power. Arguably though his counterpart Jim McCorry is under a lot more pressure - the Down fans will not countenance a loss to a team that will be playing in Division 4 next season.

It was only when they were reduced to 14 men in the championship clash against Derry that Down threw off the shackles and actually went on the offensive at Celtic Park.

But their shooting and shot selection was woeful and ultimately it cost them the chance of earning a replay. Realistically they were unlikely to make it to the latter stages of the All-Ireland series but will inflict more misery on the home side.

Verdict: Down

Louth v Leitrim, Drogheda, Saturday, 6.30

As in the other two qualifier ties both sides are managed by rookie managers. So far Leitrim's Shane Ward has had a slightly more productive season as his team finished mid-table in Division 4 and fashioned a credible performance against Galway in the Connacht championship.

Colin Kelly's Louth though were relegated from Division 3 and beaten at home by Westmeath in the Leinster series. The visitors have never warmed to the qualifiers - they have won one match in 14 seasons Home advantage ought to  see Louth through but based 0n recent performances in challenges games this one could produce a result against the head.

Verdict: Leitrim.

Tyrone v Limerick, Omagh, Sunday, June 28, 4.0

This was the draw every other team in the hat wanted to avoid - a home fixture against Tyrone. Much has happened since Mickey Harte's side exited the Ulster series in May.

But Tyrone has consistently shown that they can dust themselves down and prove themselves a handful for any opposition for the qualifiers. This is damage limitation territory for the visitors.

Verdict: Tyrone

Leinster SFC semi-finals

Meath v Westmeath, Croke Par, 2.0 Live on RTE 2

Long gone are the halcyon days of the Celtic Tiger when this double bill would fill Croke Park. Mind you, the attendance will still be the biggest so far in the championship

Unlike the main attraction there is no reason for believing that this won't be competitive, even though Meath hit Westmeath for four goals when they clashed in Navan in the league during the spring.

An injury hit Meath conceded 3-12 against Division 4 strugglers Wicklow at home in the quarter final which suggests that they're not going anywhere fast.

But they had four newcomers in defence while their midfield pairing had clocked up one championship start between them. With several of the more established players expected to return today Meath will be a more potent force.

New Westmeath boss Tom Cribben took a calculated gamble when he launched a scathing public attack on his players after they were relegated from Division 2.

So far, however, it has worked with the team chalking up championship wins over Louth and Wexford respectively. 

The fact that the winners almost certainly face the bogey prize of a clash against Dublin won't deter either of them. 

Incredibly Westmeath have had 22 chances to beat Meath in championshp football since 1935 but has never managed to once get over the line against them. And that sequence of results probably won't change today.

Verdict: Meath.

Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, 4.0 Live on RTE 2

The often maligned Dublin football fans deserve credit for turning up to see these one-sided encounters.  In the quarter final the Dubs were majestic - there was no sign of any 'dirty petrol' in the system as they swatted away the challenge of Longford with more aplomb that anybody had expected.

Kildare will surely prove more formidable opponents. Physically they won't fear the Dubs and they ought to match them in fitness.  Jason Ryan's side are now a more confident bunch in the wake of their two matches against Laois.

Dublin are not without their faults; their full back line looks vulnerable when dealing with a diagonal aerial bombardment, particularly if Rory O'Carroll is absent.

Their starting midfield pairing of Denis Bastick and Brian Fenton is unproven in championship football but Kildare struggled - particularly in the drawn game - to cope with the Laois midfielders John O'Loughlin and Brendan Quigley.

Dean Rock's arrival as a first-team regular has given Dublin even more options up front. Bernard Brogan was at his brilliant best against Longford, though Ciaran Kilkenny was named Man of the Match.

It is difficult to see how Kildare can stop the marauding Dublin forwards. The favourites would really need to have a bad day at the office and Kildare to have exactly the opposite if there was any chance of an upset.

The first quarter is absolutely crucial. For Kildare to stay in the match it is vital that they don't concede any goals at this stage because Dublin has the capacity to put away teams with braces of early goals. 

In a worst case scenario for Dublin they can send on six quality substitutes to change the game if things are not going according to plan. The real issue is whether Kildare can cover the 11-point handicap.

Verdict: Dublin