Kerry have the edge in Munster showdown - even if Gooch doesn't start
The age old battle between Cork and Kerry is the Gaelic football highlight of the weekend but there is a feast of qualifier action too
Cavan v Roscommon, Kingspan Breffni Park, 5.0, Saturday, July 4
In the 1940s Cavan and Roscommon won two All-Ireland titles each and between them appeared in a total of eight finals. Those days are but a distant memory. Nonetheless, the importance of this contest cannot be over-emphasized.
Cavan fashioned a credible performance against Monaghan before fading at the business end of the contest. They learned little from their facile win over London but it does appear that they are putting more emphasis on attacking football.
Roscommon ran straight into a well-executed ambush set by Sligo at Markievicz Park which ridiculed suggestions by the Rossies’ boss John Evans that the team could challenge for an All-Ireland title.
His job is now on the line and it will be interesting to see how his players respond.
They hammered Cavan in last year's qualifiers but the teams drew in the League. On paper Roscommon have more potent forwards but they are handicapped by injuries to key player. Home advantage could tip the balance in favour of Cavan who are surely in a place physiologically than the visitors.
Offaly v Kildare,
O'Connor Park, Tullamore, 2.0, Saturday, July 4
It is ironic that three Kildare natives, Tom Cribbin, Niall Carew and Cian O’Neill are involved in the management of Westmeath, Sligo and Kerry - all still involved in the provincial series.
Meanwhile, the Lily Whites are licking their wounds after last weekend's mauling from the Dubs. Essentially Jason Ryan is fighting for his managerial future here.
It has been a traumatic season for Kildare; they were relegated to Division 3; should have lost to Laois in the Leinster quarter final and offered only feeble resistance to Dublin. More players are packing their bags and heading to the States and it will take a miracle to turn their season around.
Offaly's form at home has been pretty patchy all year as evident by their final quarter collapse against Longford. But this is a rare opportunity for them to knock their neigbhours out of the All-Ireland series – they last beat Kildare in the championship in 2006.
They are handicapped by the absence of their marquee forward Niall McNamee but could still pull off a minor shock.
Clare v Longford,
Cusack Park, Ennis, 5.0, Saturday, July 4
Clare ought to have decent support, particularly at the business end of the contest as the game is a curtain raiser for the hurlers' qualifiers against Offaly.
Injury hit Clare produced a decent performance against Cork and have been playing football at a slighter higher level than the visitors.
This is a first-ever championship clash between the sides.
Longford showed no ill effects of their collapse against Dublin when they eased past Carlow in the first round of the qualifiers and probably have slightly better form.
But home advantage is generally a key factor in these early round qualifying matches.
Fermanagh v Antrim,
Brewster Park, 3.0, Sunday, July 5
Fermanagh would probably have preferred to avoid the team they beat in the quarter final of the Ulster series. The failure of Ryan McCluskey to have the red card he received in the Monaghan game rescinded is a big blow to the home side.
Antrim received a massive boost when they staged a remarkable recovery to beat Laois in Portlaoise. But it could be back to reality in Enniskillen.
Munster SFC Final: Kerry v Cork, Killarney, 2.0, SUnday July 5, Live on RTE 2
This is one of the great summer sporting events in Ireland: the Munster final in Killarney. The build-up and atmosphere is often better than the match, though if the football gets boring the scenery is breath-taking.
At Kerry's pre-match press conference in Killarney a week ago Eamon Fitzmaurice repeatedly emphasised that like Brian Cody in Kilkenny he picks his team based on form shown in training.
Everybody just assumed that Colm Cooper, so long the talismanic figure in attack, would play. So unless Fitzmaurice has launched a curved ball with his selection, a fit Cooper will not start a championship game for only the second time in his career.
Mind you, he will be sitting among exulted company on the bench alongside Anthony Maher, Paul Murphy and Paul Geaney who were key figures in last year's unexpected All-Ireland triumph. Between
Fitzmaurice could yet prove the most astute Kerry boss in history. He dropped Marc O Se for last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo and the latter still made a huge impact on the game – he was introduced as a substitute after the first quarter - and in the final against Donegal.
There is absolute logic in what Fitzmaurice has done. Cooper lacks big match experience after his cruciate ligament re-construction. His performances since he returned suggests he is slightly hesitant when challenging for the so called 'dirty ball' which is entirely understandably.
In modern day football most big championship matches are decided in the final ten minutes.
Cork is expected to flood their defence with extra bodies and keep the game as tight as possible for as long as possible. But invariably legs will tire and then it will be time to spring Cooper from the bench.
Essentially the Rebels have nothing to lose; even their own fans don't expect them to win at a venue where they last tasted victory in 1995. Even a draw is of little use because due to the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh it will also take place in Killarney.
Since Brian Cuthbert took over as Cork boss Cork has hammered Kerry in their two league outings but three big match collapses casts doubts over the intestinal fortitude of the team.
The return of veteran midfielder Alan O'Connor will help to address a chronic absence of on field leaders and if given enough possession Colm O'Neill and Brian Hurley are capable of hurting a less than assured Kerry full back line.
This could be more like an Ulster final than a Munster final. In theory in should be a low scoring encounter but both defences are prone to concede goals. Kerry should get over the line with a little assistance from the Gooch off the bench.