Wexford vs Meath Leinster Football Championship Quarter-Final 7pm Saturday
Whether teams admit it or not, being on the opposite side of the Leinster draw to Dublin and Kildare gives an added incentive to the provincial games. It’s now between Meath, Wicklow and Wexford for a place in the Leinster Final and a guaranteed last 12 spot in the All Ireland Series.
Meath travel to Aughrim on Saturday evening for their first game of the summer, 41 days after the championship officially began. Wicklow have the luxury of a championship game under their belt after surprising Longford in Aughrim three weeks ago.
Wicklow do possess the ‘Aughrim factor’ but Meath will be confident after they nullified that during the Division 3 league meeting between the two in February, winning on the day by 0-16 to 0-08. That game was a microcosm of both sides overall league form, Meath were promoted and lost to Monaghan in the final. Wicklow were relegated without winning a game, drawing two against Antrim and Roscommon and losing the five others.
This match has a lot of similarities to last week’s game in Drogheda. A home side with an unexpected win under their belt, welcoming recent Leinster finalists on their first outing of the summer. Wexford survived last week and Mick O’Dowd will have to have his side well prepared if they are to avoid an ambush.
Rarely both corner forwards on a team are championship debutants but Meath have bucked that trend by naming Eamon Wallace and Mickey Newman in the full forward line. New by name and nature but Newman is still a player entering the championship scene as the third highest scorer in Ireland during the league. Over the three months he scored 4-31, only one point behind joint top scorers Sean McCormack and Bernard Brogan.
Statistically interesting is the fact that Stephen Bray is the only forward playing senior club football in Meath, with the other five coming from junior and intermediate clubs. They also have a potent bench with Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell available if needed. The Meath team scored an average of 0-16 per game over the course of the league.
What they also boast is a full back line filled with potential. There is a phrase in American Football – ‘a shut out corner’ which defines a player who ‘locks down’ the oppositions danger man. Dónal Keoghan is that man for Meath, beside him are Kevin Reilly and also Bryan Menton who showed how good he can become when he deputised for Reilly against Kildare last June. Too often either the attack or the defensive unit has clicked for Meath, rarely both. If they can work in tandem they are a very dangerous entity.
What Newman is to this Meath attack, Seanie Furlong is for Wicklow. He scored 1-5 against Longford, 1-4 of which came from play. His scores were key as The Garden County drove into an early first half lead. If stats are to be believed then repeating that early burst is key to success on Saturday. Of the six Leinster Champiosnhip games played so far this year not one team has come from behind to win. Each team, Westmeath (vs Carlow), Louth (vs Laois), Wicklow (vs Longford), Kildare (vs Offaly), Dublin (vs Westmeath) and Wexford (vs Louth), led by a reasonable margin at half time. The graft for the surprise victories – Louth and Wicklow, were done in the first 35 minutes.
While Meath have played there already, Aughrim can be discomforting for an opposition and the first 20 minutes of the game can be spent acclimatising to the atmosphere. This is when Wicklow can capitalise by being economical up front and then relying on their dogged, hardworking aura to see the game out in the latter stages.
Hugh Gallagher - @HughGallySport
Having to wait until the third Sunday in June is not ideal preparation for the Rossies as they have not played in 10 weeks, since the final round of league games in early April. This is something the GAA is going to have to look into as every year there is a Connacht county left twiddling their thumbs while other teams get two or even three games under their belt.
Roscommon finished in mid-table respectability in Division three this year while their hosts, Mayo, finished in the top four of Division One and reached the semi-finals before succumbing to a strong Dublin outfit.
So far this season we have seen a massive gulf between the top division and the rest as Mayo, Dublin, Cork and Kerry (twice) have recorded facile victories. On top of that Donegal, Down and Kildare all had relatively comfortable victories in their first outings.
John Evans, in his first championship match in charge of Roscommon, will be hoping that Sunday's game does not follow the form book. Evans is known for getting the best out of lesser lights, he brought Tipperary up to Division Two of the league and pushed his native Kerry on more than one occasion, and in Roscommon he has much more potential to work with. The 2006 All-Ireland winning minor team and recent U21 Connacht winning sides make up the spine of the current squad. Add in the players from the recent All-Ireland sinning St. Brigids team and Roscommon have a wealth of talent coming through.
Mayo's James Horan is now in his third championship as an intercounty manager and has never failed to win the Nestor Cup as Mayo manager. He also knows he is working with much more than just potential. He is working with a possible All-Ireland winning group of players. The group Mayo football has been craving since 1951.
On their last outing Mayo overcame the old enemy, Galway, by 17 points and looked full value for that victory. It could even have been more had they not taken their foot off the pedal following half time.
Andy Moran made a goalscoring return that day and Alan Dillon saw 60 minutes of action. With both of those players closer to full fitness following four more weeks of training and recuperation MAyo should be even better against their rivals on Sunday.
Speaking last week Horan touched on the subject of expectations surrounding this Mayo side; "We're not in a Connacht final, we're in a Connacht semi-final, never mind an All-Ireland quarter-final. That's the game that we have to play, that dictates then what happens next. Any of that kind of talk is just daft. It's natural but it's daft in terms of our preparation. But, thankfully, we have a lot of smart guys that can just see through that and are really focused on each session we have." (Irish Independent)
James Horan knows that there is pressure on his team to come through Connacht without much trouble and trying to keep the players from entering that mindset will have been his number one concern in the past few weeks.
Cillian O'Connor's injury may have gone someway towards knocking the expectation down a level or two but seeing Donie Shine's name missing from the Roscommon team sheet will have sent it straight back up towards 10 once again. Both players are huge losses for their respective sides, not just in terms of their free-taking abilities but as leaders in the front six. But this gives both sets of players the opportunity to stand up and be counted as leaders for their sides and for somebody to come into the side and stake a claim for a regular starting place.
All roads in Connacht lead to Castlebar this Sunday and all eyes will be fixed on how this Mayo team perform. They trounced Galway and had that performance met and raised in subsequent weeks by Donegal, Dublin, Cork and Kerry. This is their chance to prove that they do belong in the same breath as those teams when talking about All-Ireland contenders.
With London or Leitrim waiting on the other side of the draw, this could potentially be Mayo's stiffest test of the Connacht campaign. The players and management will want to send out a serious message to the rest of the country!
Mike Kelly - @kellymike87
Dublin vs Wexford Leinster Hurling Championship Quarter Final Replay 7pm Saturday
Liam Dunne must be the only man in Ireland that thought the Wexford/Dublin replay should have been held in Croke Park. This must have been an attempt to create a siege mentality, that, even the recently returned ‘Special One’ would struggle to peddle. That or Dunne has never endured a Celtic League match hosted by Edinburgh in an empty Murrayfield. One way or another, ten thousand people lost in Croker, is not the way to promote the game of hurling.
The anxious Dublin shooting in Wexford Park, coupled with the non show against Tipperary, indicates that there may be some underlying issues with this Dublin outfit. It was surprising to see Daly re-emerge as Bainisteoir for another year. But having seen Dublin regain Division 1 status, it seemed, he was the man for the job. The performance against Wexford raised fresh questions as to whether or not Daly has taken Dublin as far as he can... He was vilified for placing Conal Keaney at centre back last weekend on RTE, but, if his forwards had displayed the composure of even senior club standard, the move would have been heralded as, at the very least, a qualified success. Surely his placement at centre back is preferable to the withdrawal of one attacker to make up a block of 7 defenders? Stephen Hiney returns to the Dublin defence, which may free up Keaney to be the ball winner this Dublin forward line lacks.
The media’s annoyance at ‘dummy teams’ has waned a little in the recent past. It’s just not a discussion people are having and I’m sick of reading/ hearing about the general public’s disgust at it. Rather than taking from the occasion, it can add an element of intrigue to the pre match discussion. I can’t shake the feeling that Liam Dunne just didn’t know his best team last week and not because of the 7 personnel changes before the match. If he can get Paul Morris (ill for the drawn match) on the pitch, with Guiney, Sinnott & Jacob, Wexford will have the scorers to hurt this Dublin defence. Include Lee Chin from the start and this Wexford team looks open to the kind of improvement that will be required to beat Dublin. If the Dublin half back line is as dominant as it was in the drawn match, there is just no way Wexford can win this game. The introduction of movement in the half forward line under the puck out is a must and Mark Fanning must have the nerve to deliver some short puck outs, even after the inevitable, odd stray.
The excuses are fast piling up for this Dublin team; the Tipp performance in its entirety & the capitulation of the forward line against Wexford. Providing an indication, that they are not as good as their 2011 form suggested. In fact, the ‘one game at a time’ mentality which emerged from the Dublin camp before the Wexford game, suggests that this Dublin team thought they were a whole lot better than they are! If you have to publicly state that you’re not underestimating your opponents, the chances are, you are doing just that.
Dublin shot fourteen wides and were left off the hook by Wexford, who should have been more ruthless when on top. The Model County were rightly praised for the level of their performance, but was this coloured by our perception of their relative strengths. Was it a good performance? Or was it a good performance for Wexford? If it is indeed the latter, the fear now for Wexford is that they have missed their opportunity. The Dublin forward line will bounce back and lead them to a victory. But, as ever with this Dublin team, expect more questions than answers.
Mark Fives - @MFives86