HomeFootballFootball previews: Dublin and Armagh can complete the All-Ireland draw as provincial...

Football previews: Dublin and Armagh can complete the All-Ireland draw as provincial champions

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Saturday

Tailteann Cup

Group 1

Kildare v Longford, Hawkfield, 6.0 [Live, GAAGO] – The most crestfallen of the Tailteann competitors, Kildare, marginal winners over Wicklow, have home advantage for the first time this year, albeit at a training venue, and welcome a Longford team, which lost a high-scoring provincial first round to Meath. Since then, a couple of defensive injuries have weakened them. If Kildare are tuned in, they have the firepower to win the competition outright. Verdict: Kildare

Leitrim v Waterford, Ballinamore, 6.0 – Two sides who have already achieved notable things this year meet in Ballinamore, but in the context of sobering defeats. Leitrim were promoted to Division Three in March but were well beaten by Sligo in Connacht, whereas Waterford had their first championship win in 14 years followed a week later by getting hammered by Clare. This is a competitive group, however. Verdict: Leitrim

Group 2

Sligo v Wexford, Markievicz Park, 3.0 – Sligo look one of the stronger contenders having nearly beaten the new Connacht champions Galway. But Wexford have also been impressive of late and were competitive against Leinster finalists Louth. Verdict: Sligo

Group 3

Fermanagh v Wicklow, Brewster Park, 3.0 – Very different championship exits for this pair. Fermanagh took a shellacking from Armagh whereas Wicklow nearly nudged Kildare into the Tailteann a fortnight early. The home side have better in them however, and can edge what looks the closest of the first-round matches. Verdict: Fermanagh

Group 4

Offaly v London, Glenisk O’Connor Park, 2.0 – Again, two teams coming off a thrashing. Offaly fought the good fight against Dublin but were thoroughly overwhelmed and something similar happened to London against Galway. Offaly though have a promising team and could have a decent tilt at this. Verdict: Offaly

Down v Limerick, Newry, 4.0 – Down were the assumed winners of the Tailteann a year ago until Meath got in their way. Limerick had quite a good run 12 months ago, topping their group. The intervening league hasn’t been kind, ending in relegation to Division Four whereas Down are back in top 16. Verdict: Down

All-Ireland U20 FC semi-finals

Meath v Kerry, FBD Semple Stadium, 3.0 [Live, TG4] – Meath bring their minor All-Ireland-winning cohort to Thurles to take on Tomás Ó Sé’s Kerry, who despite a comfortable win over Cork in the Munster final, gave up a few goalscoring chances. Verdict: Meath

Tyrone v Roscommon, Kingspan Breffni, 5.0 [Live, TG4] – Roscommon had a really impressive win over Galway in the Connacht final but are outsiders against Tyrone, who survived an epic provincial shoot-out with Derry, which went to penalties. Verdict: Tyrone

Sunday

Leinster SFC final

Dublin v Louth, Croke Park, 1.45 [Live, RTÉ 2] – Louth will hope to have learned from last year’s rout, but identifying what went wrong and remedying it are distinct tasks. They started well a year ago, and led after a quarter of an hour. But an unanswered 1-10 in the second quarter, built on pillaging the Louth kick-out and blistering runs down the wing by Jack McCaffrey – who is poised for a return this weekend – put the match to bed by half-time. A goal rush in the second half added emphasis. Under new management after Mickey Harte’s abrupt departure, Louth have underlined their status as the number two team in the province by reaching their first back-to-back finals since 1958, when Dublin deposed them as All-Ireland champions.

Under Ger Brennan, Louth have modified the approach of last year, going with a more orthodox goalkeeper. But in the semi-final against Kildare and to an extent the quarter-final against Wexford, they were distinctly second-best at centrefield, which is no way to limit damage against the champions.

There have been encouraging performances from Ciarán Downey and Ciarán Keenan, who has been consistently creative. Sam Mulroy will kick frees all day if Dublin’s discipline is poor.

There is a sense that Louth are more focused on the chance of reaching the All-Ireland knock-out stages than the long-odds prospect of winning a first Leinster in 67 years. Dublin will be glad to win comfortably and not pick up any injuries. Verdict: Dublin

Ulster SFC final

Armagh v Donegal, Clones, 4.0 [Live, RTÉ 2] – The counties who brought us a turgid enough Division Two final re-engage on a bigger stage. Donegal looked simply better in March and have since gone on to shock league winners Derry and defeat Ulster constants Tyrone – who await the winners here in the group stages.

Two years ago, Armagh effectively brought down the curtain on the 2012 All-Ireland winners with a big showing, also in Clones. Many of the moving parts of that operation are still in place but, under Jim McGuinness, Donegal are transformed.

The demands of the new game plan were implicitly on view when they had to play Tyrone a week after beating Derry and were probably blessed that their opponents were also on a second successive outing, both going to extra-time.

If Donegal have been stress-tested so far in Ulster, Armagh have been less so. But they survived a decent attempted ambush by Down and have Rian O’Neill coming back into form, which is transformative for the team.

Ethan Rafferty is named on the bench but rumoured to be a likely starter, which would be a step change after Blaine Hughes’s more conventional goalkeeping and a bit of a target for Donegal after the success in dismantling Derry goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch’s expansive movement.

Ryan McHugh has been in exceptional form and has had good back-up from a more focused and energised Donegal side. Armagh, though, went through all of this a year ago and were unlucky to go down against Derry on penalties.

Their arc of improvement and more desperate need for a title they haven’t won for 16 years should tip the balance. Verdict: Armagh

Tailteann Cup

Group 2

Antrim v Tipperary, Corrigan Park, 2.30 – Antrim were surprise packets last year, pushing all the way to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners, Meath. Tipp are coming off a bit of a horror season, including a first championship loss to Waterford since 1988. Verdict: Antrim

Group 3

Laois v Carlow, Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 3.0 – Laois must have almost regretted reaching last year’s semi-final, given the blitzing Down gave them but they might have a more consistent shot this year. Carlow reached the quarters but were well beaten by Wexford last month. Verdict: Laois

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