Preview of all the big GAA games of the weekend as the Dubs enter the fray
The first big double header of the the summer is at Croke Park this Sunday
Leinster SFC Championship
Dublin v Longford, Croke Park, 4.0
Even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion there are significant sidebars attached to the fixture. Top of the list will be the size of the crowd. Unless the 30,000 barrier is broken the argument for staging all of Dublin’s championship matches in Croke Park will be significantly diminished.
From a footballing perspective Dublin already have so many advantages over the second tier teams in Leinster that the idea of them having automatic home advantage in every game in the series is preposterous.
The Leinster Council delegates will have to decide shortly whether they want at least a semblance of a competitive football championship or are they just interested in generating finance.
But the entire debate will be short circuited if the Dubs’ fans don’t turn out today to see what is likely to be a very one-sided match.
It is interesting to note that the last time Longford hosted Dublin in Pearse Park in the 2006 Leinster championship the visitors scraped home by two points with a Mark Vaughan – remember him – goal proving the difference.
In their four clashes since – all played in Croke Park – Dublin’s average winning margin has been 10.5 points. It will be a surprise and a disappointment to Dublin if they don’t win by double digits today.
Longford’s only advantage going into the Lion’s Den is that they have a competitive win over Offaly under their belts. They started well and finished magnificently in Tullamore.
But their performance dipped so much in the middle of the contest that they fell seven points behind before staging a dramatic final quarter revival.
Under the management of former Dublin player Jack Sheedy they play positive football and don’t deploy a blanket defence. But as Division 1 sides Mayo and Monaghan discovered during the spring going man-to-man against the Dubs is a recipe for a tanking.
With James McCarthy and Rory O’Carroll ruled out and doubts over the fitness of Paul Flynn it will be interesting to see what team Jim Gavin sends into battle. The chances are he won’t risk anybody who is nursing a knock.
Not surprisingly given that he has played virtually non-stop since the beginning of the 2013 season Diarmuid Connolly was below his best when he returned to Dublin duty after St Vincent’s exit in the club series.
Alan Brogan is likely to see some action and the composition of Dublin’s midfield will be noted by opponents. Does Gavin expect to win an All-Ireland with a midfield partnership of Denis Bastick and Brian Fenton?
In the absence of O’Carroll the Dublin full back line looked vulnerable when dealing with an aerial bombardment. But Longford’s problem is that they may see so little of the ball that they won’t be able to get their talismanic forward Brian Kavanagh on the ball.
Longford will have unhappy memories of their last visit to headquarters when they lost by 13 points in the Division 4 final to Offaly. They will be doing extraordinarily well if they keep the margin down to 13 points today.
Ulster SFC Championship
Fermanagh v Antrim, Enniskillen, 3.30
On paper this looks a straight forward assignment for Fermanagh. They finished top of Division 3 while Antrim were third in Division 4.
But nothing is predictable in Ulster football. Antrim won the corresponding fixture last year after an enthralling contest which produced 36 scores. Fermanagh, indeed, scored three goals and still lost.
Now managed by ex-Down boss Pete McGrath, Fermanagh’s haven’t won a match in the Ulster series since 2010 and the current side is woefully dependent on the accuracy of full forward Sean Quigley for the bulk of their scores.
The GAA in Antrim is at one of its lowest ebbs ever. Their hurlers won’t be competing in the All-Ireland championship next year having been relegated from the Leinster series last Sunday and the proposed redevelopment of Casement Park has been stalled indefinitely. They could do with a win to lift morale today.
Fermanagh will surely be more streetwise in defence than they were a year ago – they had the second best defensive record on any team in this season’s Le ague which suggests that they won’t concede 20 scores today as they did in last year’s game. Provided Quigley brings his shooting boots Fermanagh ought to advance to the semi-final where they will meet Monaghan.
Munster SFC Championship
Tipperary v Waterford, Semple Stadium, 3.30
No team outside the top two Divisions has more potential than Tipperary. Twice in the last three years they have reached the last 12 of the All-Ireland series via good runs through the backdoor. They have their sights set on a quarter final spot this year, though their failure to secure promotion from Division 3 suggests that they will struggle to achieve that.
Of course, there is a bogey prize for the winner; a semi-final encounter against All-Ireland champions, Kerry – though regardless of who wins today they will have home advantage against the Kingdom on June 14.
Under new boss Tom McGlinchey Waterford began the season in whirlwind fashion winning the McGrath Cup for only the second time in their history. They made a promising start of the League before going off the rails.
The sad reality is that hurling will always take priority in Waterford – virtually all their footballers play hurling and, of course, football at club level. Once the club season begins they are distracted.
Waterford has a good record against Tipp in League football – they took three out of four points off them when they clashed in Division 4. Surprisingly this is their first championship meeting since 2003 while Waterford are seeking their first Munster championship win since 2010. Powered by players from their U-21 team which reached the recent All-Ireland final Tipp ought to win with something to spare.
Leinster SHC Championship
Dublin v Galway, Croke Park, 2.0
By far the most interesting of the weekend GAA fixtures! Surprisingly Galway has never beaten Dublin in the championship. Mind you, this is only their fifth ever meeting and their third in the Leinster series. Dublin beat Galway in the 1924 All-Ireland final and the 1941 All-Ireland semi-final and the 2011 provincial semi-final as well as the 2013 provincial decider.
In terms of the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup the significance of Croke Park showdown cannot be overestimated. For the winners victory over Offaly or Laois in the next round of the Leinster series guarantees them a place in the last six of the All-Ireland series regardless of what happens in the provincial decider.
In contrast the losers have to contend firstly with a five week break; then there is a seventy-five percent chance of them being drawn in the first round of the qualifiers against Clare, the losers of Limerick v Tipperary and the losers of Cork v Waterford.
If they survive that challenge they will definitely have to beat of the Munster heavyweights in the second round of the qualifiers in order to reach the last six.
Dublin started the League in whirlwind fashion beating Tipperary and Kilkenny before enduring a mid-season slump; they hammered Limerick in the quarter final but inexplicably failed to put away Cork have got into a winning position against them in the semi-final.
Galway mixed the good with the indifferent in the League but Waterford’s ultimate’s victory in the competition put some perspective on the Tribesmen’s surprise loss to them in the quarter final.
New Dublin boss Ger Cunningham has shaken-up the squad with newcomers like Cian O’Callaghan, Chris Crummey and Kerry born Darragh O’Connell – who is expected to make his debut today for the Dubs – giving him more options.
Hopefully the game won’t be as tactical as last weekend’s contest between Limerick and Clare. Indeed, given the firepower in the respective attacks the contest could be a high scoring shoot-out with the contributions of the Dublin pair Mark Schutte and Danny Sutcliffe and the Galway duo Joe Canning and Jonathan Glynn being crucial.
Since almost winning the All-Ireland title in 2012 Galway’s only championship wins have been achieved against Laois and their famine may continue.