JOE's Championship preview: Part 1 - Sunday's provincial semis
It's a crazy weekend in the GAA, with 14 games down for decision in both codes. Part 1 focuses on Sunday's four big provincial semi-finals from Croker, Clones and Castlebar.
The match: Dublin v Kildare
Where and when: Croke Park, 4pm
The plot: Meath may have gone into 2011 as reigning Leinster champions but there’s no doubt that the two strongest teams in the province go head-to-head at HQ this weekend. Both beaten at the All-Ireland semi-final stage last year, Dublin and Kildare will not be satisfied unless they go one better and make an appearance at Croker in late September this year. That’s a long way away, though, and for now at least the respective camps will be concentrating on Leinster success – and with all due respect to Carlow and Wexford, the feeling that the winners of this game will go on to lift the title is almost impossible to dispute. The Dubs enjoyed a phenomenal league campaign until they ran aground against All-Ireland champs Cork in the final, while Kildare, in the image of their boss Kieran McGeeney, have been cranking up the temperature slowly to peak for the Championship, and they turned in a powerful performance to dispatch Meath last time out.
Star man: Johnny Doyle. Dublin have the defending Footballer of the Year but most Kildare folk wouldn’t swap Johnny for anyone. With Dermot Earley still out of action, one of the game’s best forwards been pressed into action at midfield this year – and the stunning thing is that he’s still been able to get forward and do serious damage in the danger zone. Denis Bastick will be the one detailed to keep tabs on Doyle, and limiting his influence will be key to Dublin’s chances of edging ahead at the final whistle.
JOE’s verdict: Dublin go in as marginal favourites but our fancy is for Kildare to produce the performance to shade it by two points.
The match: Carlow v Wexford
Where and when: Croke Park, 2pm
The plot: With the big guns on the other side of the draw, the way was clear for one of the province’s lesser lights to steal through to the Leinster final. Carlow produced a big performance to knock out Moral Leinster Champions Louth last time out but they will be up against it in the unfamiliar surroundings of Croker on semi-finals day. Wexford have averaged 25 points a game in wide-margin wins over Offaly and Westmeath, Croke Park will suit them – they almost stunned Dublin there last year, remember – and Carlow will struggle to limit their firepower.
Star man: Redmond Barry. With Mattie Forde finally succumbing to the failings of his limbs during the winter, Barry and Ciaran Lyng have been tasked with stepping into the breach and both have performed brilliantly so far. Lyng is the finisher but Barry is the one who pulls all the strings. A classic No 11.
Verdict: Wexford, with something to spare.
The match: Donegal v Tyrone
Where and when: Clones, 3.30pm
The plot: With the performances of Derry and Donegal this year there has been talk that the tide is beginning to turn in Ulster away from the Tyrone-Armagh dominance of the past dozen or so years. Sunday at Clones will tell us a lot more about that particular body of opinion. The reversal of the Michael Murphy red card restores Donegal’s talisman to the cast list, but players such as Ryan Bradley, Paddy McBrearty, Rory Kavanagh and Colm McFadden offer plenty of support while manager Jim McGuinness has put a clear stamp of collective effort on the team. Tyrone are the defending champions, though, and they looked in decent nick against Monaghan, so they won’t be giving up their title without a serious fight.
Star man: Stephen O’Neill. It’s three years now since he retired due to injury but those problems seem to be well behind him and he was in phenomenal form against Monaghan last time out. Donegal’s full back line doesn’t look their strongest line, and O’Neill could be the one to benefit.
Verdict: Donegal are a rising force but for an Ulster championship game in Clones, Tyrone is the safer bet.
The match: Mayo v Galway
Where and when: McHale Park, 2pm
The plot: The lads at Newstalk, who have the radio rights to this one on Sunday, have been bigging it up as the Connacht Clasico. The rivalry is age-old and despite the fact that both have slipped a few notches in recent years - Galway were dismal during the League and Mayo were also hovering around the nether regions of Division 1 in the spring – the temperatures will definitely rise at McHale Park. Defending champions Roscommon await in the final.
Star man: Alan Dillon. The Mayo lads in the office reckon he’s the county’s best player by a distance, and he’s clearly in good nick having scored 1-11 in a club game recently. Andy Moran and Jason Doherty will provide the support, but Dillon is Mayo’s go-to guy.
Verdict: The draw isn’t a bad bet but we’ll give a hesitant vote for Mayo.
For Part 1 of our bumper weekend preview, on the provincial semi-finals, check this out.