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Dublin to ease past Westmeath and into seventh straight Leinster final

18/9/2016 Dublins diarmuid connolly pic Seamus Loughran

WEEKEND GAA MATCHBOX

TODAY

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Down v Monaghan (Athletic Grounds, 7pm)

MONAGHAN manager Malachy O’Rourke is aiming to take the county to a fourth Ulster final in five years, but they will have to be on guard against a Down side that will have taken lots of confidence from their win over Armagh. The Mourne county have not been helped by injury concerns over Niall Donnelly and Kevin McKernan while Barry O’Hagan is out. Gerdie Collins is available for selection though. O’Rourke, meanwhile, has chosen to stick with the 15 that saw off Cavan in the quarter-final, but it wouldn’t be a major surprise if Darren Hughes was drafted in before throw-in.

Odds: Down: 4/1 D: 10/1 Monaghan: 1/4

Verdict: Monaghan

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers Round 1B: Limerick v Wexford (Gaelic Grounds, 3pm)

LIMERICK enter this all or nothing class on the back of a spirited one-point loss to Clare in Munster while Seamus McEnaney’s Wexford side failed to hit the heights in a surprise loss to Carlow. Billy Lee’s side are actually fancied to inflict more pain on the Model men, but Wexford showed enough in the League, including a three-point win over Limerick, to suggest that they have the resources to bounce back here. McEnaney must do without midfielder Colm Kehoe after he suffered a hamstring injury against Carlow but they can get some forward momentum here by leaving with a spot in Monday’s draw secured.

Odds: Limerick: Evens D: 15/2 Wexford: 11/10

Verdict: Wexford

TOMORROW

Leinster Senior Football Championship semi-final

Dublin v Westmeath (tomorrow, Croke Park, 4pm)

WESTMEATH manager Tom Cribbin has said they have learned a lot from their last two losses to Dublin in Leinster, and considering those were 13- and 15-point defeats, we can only hope he’s correct.

Those losing margins aren’t even that noteworthy when you consider that since Jim Gavin took charge of Dublin ahead of the 2013 season, only one team – Meath five years ago – has managed to lose to them by less than double digits. Westmeath entered the 2015 Leinster final against Dublin as a Division Two team and last year’s decider from Division Three. Tomorrow they enter as a Division Four side, albeit with promotion secured earlier in the year.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, and there are very small signs that this match could be slightly more competitive than expected.

For a start, Cribbin’s men enter the game on a back of an 11-point quarter-final replay win over Offaly. The first encounter between the two counties was a dour encounter with attacking effort in short supply. John Heslin and Kieran Martin may have struck goals late on in the replay to bolster the winning margin, but from the off Cribbin had clearly given them license to be more direct and to break forward in greater numbers.

Dublin, meanwhile, have already struggled with bottom tier opposition as Carlow gave them a thorough examination in their opener in Portlaoise.

Twelve points may have separated the sides at the end, but it was a scoreline that did not reflect the nature of the game.

Only four points separated them when Carlow’s Brendan Murphy was dismissed going into the final quarter – a red card later overturned – and that numerical advantage allowed the Dubs to tag on a series of scores as the game petered out.

Westmeath will have studied Carlow’s disciplined defence that worked hard, and successfully, to slow down the Dublin players coming through. It wasn’t a case of forcing turnovers, but rather just stopping the run and forcing the player to reconsider his options.

Cribbin will also have noted that Carlow’s Sean Murphy caused huge problems rampaging through the middle. Martin looks the ideal candidate to try and replicate that for Westmeath while Heslin is physical enough to also be a battering ram on top of his undoubted class.

The big news from the Dublin camp, of course, is that Diarmuid Connolly will miss out through suspension as a result of a 12-week ban handed down for an altercation with linesman Ciaran Brannigan in the Carlow game.

For most counties, losing a player of that quality would a huge impact on their chances, but Dublin have a squad like no other. Bernard Brogan and highly-rated youngster Conor McHugh were amongst the attacking substitutes introduced last time out, so Gavin has more than enough options.

Dublin have only lost two Leinster games since 2005 and there’s no way that they don’t make it 37 wins from 39 in that period at Croke Park tomorrow.

Odds: Dublin: 1/100 D: 33/1 Westmeath: 18/1

Verdict: Dublin

All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifying Round 1B

London v Carlow (McGovern Park, 1pm)

AFTER beating Wexford and performing admirably against Dublin, it would be a major comedown for Turlough O’Brien’s Carlow side if they were to lose in Ruislip tomorrow. Their chances have been boosted significantly though as Brendan Murphy successfully appealed his red card against Dublin. Murphy will be the elite player on show, and the Exiles will need to limit his influence if they are to have a chance. London actually won in Carlow in the League but they failed to sparkle at home to Leitrim in Connacht. Team captain Liam Gavaghan did impress in the three-point loss while Owen Mulligan should see some more game-time under manager Ciaran Deely. A narrow away loss looks likely here.

Odds: London: 11/4 D: 15/2 Carlow: 2/5

Verdict: Carlow

Offaly v Cavan (O’Connor Park, 6.30pm)

CAVAN should be fairly optimistic heading into the Qualifiers as they battled well against Monaghan with Conor McManus, not for the first time, proving their undoing. Indeed, if Ryan Connolly’s late goal effort had not crashed against the post, who knows what would have happened? James McEnroe is a doubt with a knee injury, but even if he missed out they should have too much for a poor Offaly outfit. The Faithful county avoided Division Four football with a last-day win over Laois, but they have been conceding, on average, two goals a game all season. Westmeath managed three against them in their Leinster quarter-final replay and while Cavan aren’t exactly noted for their goal-scoring abilities, they should be looking for green flags in Tullamore.

Odds: Offaly: 4/1 D: 10/1 Cavan: 1/4

Verdict: Cavan

Armagh v Fermanagh (Athletic Grounds, 6.30pm)

IT’S a pivotal match for Kieran McGeeney as he attempts to turn around his championship fortunes as Armagh boss. The side fluffed their lines in the two-point loss to Down and McGeeney has reacted by dropping Stefan Campbell, Joe McElroy and Oisin O’Neill for Gavin McParland, Niall Grimely and Anto Duffy. The inclusion of Grimley in place of McElroy suggests that McGeeney may adopt a slightly more attacking approach tomorrow. Fermanagh may have been out-classed in the second half of their defeat to Monaghan, but they must smell blood against an Orchard side devoid of confidence. News that Ruairi Corrigan could play some part gives them a timely boost. Frustrate Armagh and remain in the game going into the last five minutes and they will have a chance – but Armagh’s forward line may finally get their act together after the no-show against Down.

Odds: Armagh: 4/9 D: 15/2 Fermanagh: 5/2

Verdict: Armagh

All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship preliminary round

Laois v Carlow (O’Moore Park, 3.30pm)

CARLOW’S reward for beating Antrim in the Christy Ring final was not only the silverware itself, but a spot in the Leinster Championship. Play like they did in the first half of that final, when they went in 3-12 to 1-7 in front, and they will have a serious chance of progressing. Although they continued to score at will in the second half, they did concede 3-8 in those second 35 minutes, and that’s a concern. James Doyle’s 4-1 tally was extremely eye-catching, but he had plenty of space against the Saffrons – something unlikely to happen at O’Moore Park. Laois have beaten Carlow four times in the last six years in the Championship, but they will need to have recovered from their recent 14-point hammering at the hands of Wexford.

Odds: Laois: 8/13 D: 10/1 Carlow: 13/8

Verdict: Laois

 

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