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Pat Spillane: Big game verdicts ahead of Sunday's GAA matches

GAA legend gives us his run-down on the key clashes

23 April 2023; Jack McEvoy of Offaly celebrates at the final whistle after his side's victory in the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Offaly and Meath at Glenisk O'Connor Park in Tullamore, Offaly. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

23 April 2023; Liam Kerr of Down during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Down and Donegal at Pairc Esler in Newry, Down. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

22 April 2023; Conor Turbitt of Armagh during the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship quarter-final match between Cavan and Armagh at Kingspan Breffni in Cavan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat Spillane

Ulster SFC semi-final

Armagh v Down

Clones, 4.0 BBC NI

Down have been a revelation this season, and are probably the most improved team in the country. They certainly got a big bounce from the new management team headed by Conor Laverty.

The Kilcoo players are back and they have a well-defined game plan. What impressed me most about their performance against Donegal was their energy, pace and work rate. They have momentum – and its significance cannot be underestimated.

Armagh’s first-half performance against Cavan was impressive. They had been criticised during the league for being too defence, but they looked better balanced last Saturday. There was more front-foot, attacking football – and more players ahead of the ball.

They kicked some brilliant points under pressure. Andrew Murnin was superb as a target man, while Conor Turbitt has been a revelation in this year’s championship.

On the other hand they let Cavan back into the game in the second half. They only scored four points after the break, and failed to score in the last 18 minutes.

Kieran McGeeney badly needs to win a trophy and an Ulster title is an attainable goal. While Down are improving they are still a Division 3 side, whereas Armagh, though relegated this season, have three Division 1 campaigns under their belt.

Prediction: Armagh

Leinster SFC semi-finals:

Louth v Offaly

Croke Park, 1.45 GAAGO

Remarkably, it has been 13 seasons since Louth featured in a Leinster semi-final while Offaly’s last semi-final appearance was in 2007. Louth are already assured of a place in the All-Ireland series unless they lose today, and Kildare and Down win.

The bottom line is that today’s winners will feature in the Leinster final and the All-Ireland series. Though I didn’t envisage that happening both have reached the last four on merit.

Offaly have won two championship games on the spin. Their first-half performance against Meath was spectacular.

They led 1-8 to 0-2 at half-time. Meath’s first score came after 23 minutes. Admittedly, they were hanging on in the second half – and only scored three points.

With Louth it is impossible to ignore the influence of Mickey Harte. He was brought them from Division 4 to third in Division 2 since his arrival in the autumn of 2020.

They are brilliant on the counter attack, but I believe the key factor is the belief that Harte has instilled in the players.

Their cause looked hopeless when they trailed by eight points at half-time against Westmeath. But they outscored Westmeath 2-6 to 0-2 in the second half - a remarkable turnaround. Having played at a higher level than Offaly, I fancy them today.

Verdict: Louth

Dublin v Kildare

Croke Park, 4.0 Live GAAGO

Here’s the good news for Kildare – they have now won three games in a row. I was impressed at the way they closed out the quarter-final against Wicklow. This is a huge match for Kildare, because unless the win they are depending on results going their way elsewhere to secure their place in the All-Ireland series.

They have been carrying mental baggage since last year’s final, when they leaked five goals in first 27 minutes to Dublin and lost 14 points. I’m not sure they ever recovered from that mauling.

As I alluded to earlier Dublin have their mojo back and are purring along nicely. Eleven different scorers, contributing 4-30, is exceptional.

They have got the x-factor again with Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion back. Better still, there is huge competition or places. The margin might be less, but it will be another routine wins for the Dubs.

Verdict: Dublin

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