Ryan Murray calls on Antrim to bring their A-game
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers round one: Louth v Antrim (tonight, 7pm, Gaelic Grounds)
ANTRIM star Ryan Murray believes that the Saffrons must bring their A-game against Louth or their season will be over.
Lenny Harbinson's men face a trip to the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda tonight to face the Wee County in the first round of the Qualifiers.
The two counties come into this game in similar positions having been comprehensively beaten by last year's All-Ireland finalists - Tyrone ending Antrim's Ulster interest while Louth were obliterated by Dublin.
“Louth are in a similar position to ourselves, both teams coming off large defeats. It can be quite difficult to know exactly where each team is at," said Murray.
“I don't think you can look into the opening provincial games too much and make a prediction for this weekend's game. Both teams will be planning on bringing their A-game and it will come down to who takes their chances and gets some luck on the day.”
Antrim and Louth have quite a bit of history in recent years. They met at the same venue and at the same stage of the All-Ireland six years ago, and also shared some memorable battles during the 2016 National League, when both earned promotion from Division Four.
“Both teams know each other pretty well," Murray continued.
"Over the past five years or so we have played each other in League campaigns and at the same stage as this in Qualifiers in 2013.
“In 2016 they beat us in the Division Four League final when we both got promoted but since then they pushed on to play in Division Three and Two, whereas we didn't really kick on from that promotion.”
The Saffrons lost out by 14 points to the Red Hands last time out, but were praised for a much-improved second half performance.
As a result, Harbinson has named the same starting 15 and Murray, who scored six against Tyrone, feels the potential is there for Antrim to kick on and improve.
“We have a young panel. I think the average age for the starting team against Tyrone was around 24, so the aim is to get momentum behind the group from getting a win on Saturday and a run in the back door.
“There were some glimpses in the Tyrone game of what we are capable of. Matt Fitzpatrick, Paddy McBride, Ricky Johnston, young Pat McCormack; I don't care what anybody says, those boys would make it on to any team in Ulster.”
However, Murray recognises that Louth will be hoping to get their summer up and running in Drogheda tonight.
He said: “Louth will be aiming for a run of their own and it should be a real close Championship encounter.
“If we bring our A-game, we will have every chance of coming back up north with a win. If we bring anything less our season is over, it's as simple as that.”
Antrim: P Nugent; P McCormick, R Johnston, P Gallagher; P McBride, D Lynch, N Delargy; C Duffin, S Beatty; J McAuley, M Fitzpatrick, K Quinn; R Murray, J Smith, E Walsh
Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final
Tyrone v Donegal
(Kingspan Breffni, 5pm, live on BBC2 and RTE2)
DONEGAL boss Declan Bonner has ramped up the pressure on the officials leading into this game as the Tir Chonaill county aim to avoid a fourth straight Championship defeat against their neighbours. Mickey Harte has made two changes from the Tyrone side that defeated Antrim with Connor McAliskey and Michael McKernan coming into the first 15.
Odds: Tyrone: 8/13 D: 7/1 Donegal: 15/8
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers round one
Wexford v Derry
(Innovate Wexford Park, 4.45pm)
DERRY have a real chance of their first Championship win since they eased past Waterford in June 2017. Wexford half-forward Barry O'Connor, who started in the Leinster loss to Louth, will not play after signing a two-year deal with AFL club Sydney Swans this week.
Odds: H: 4/1 D: 10/1 A: ¼
Leitrim v Wicklow
(Avantcard Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, 3pm)
THIS feels like a game where home advantage will play a major role given how well Leitrim did in the League in Carrick-on-Shannon. Both sides have made two changes, Oisin McCaffrey and Aidan Flynn coming in for Terry Hyland's side while Wicklow boss John Evans has drafted in Rory Finn and Chris O'Brien.
Odds: H: 8/15 D: 15/2 A: 21/10
Offaly v London
(Bord Na Mona O'Connor Park, 1.30pm)
OFFALY are hot favourites for this tie but London did perform really well against Galway before losing by four points. Offaly were excellent against Meath and had Niall McNamee converted a golden goal chance in the second half, they surely would have shocked the Royals in Navan. John Muaghan's side should keep their season alive here.
Odds: H: 1/8 D: 14/1 A: 13/2
Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final replay
Armagh v Cavan
(St Tiernach's Park, 4pm, deferred on BBC2)
SUSPENSION will rule out Armagh's Brendan Donaghy – who lost an appeal in the lead up to this game – and Cavan's Ciaran Brady. The Breffnimen will also be without the injured Gerard Smith who picked up a hamstring injury in last week's drawn encounter. Cavan look like they have the most room for improvement.
Odds: Armagh: 13/10 D: 15/2 Cavan: 5/6
Leinster Senior Football Championship semi-finals
Meath v Laois
(Croke Park, 2pm)
MEATH know that they are fortunate to be here after finishing strongly against Offaly, and they will need to be much improved against a dangerous Laois outfit. The sides haven't met in the Championship since 2012. The O'Moore county won that clash and they should push their opponents all the way tomorrow.
Odds: Meath: 1/2 D: 15/2 Laois: 9/4
Dublin v Kildare
(Croke Park, 4pm)
PAUL Mannion is free to play for Dublin after winning his appeal against his early red card against Louth but injured trio Dean Rock, Jonny Cooper and Eoin Murchan look set to miss out again. A small attendance is expected at Croke Park but Kildare boss Cian O'Neill has been bullish about his side's chances. A hammering looks most likely though.
Odds: Dublin: 1/80 D: 40/1 Kildare: 20/1
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers round one
Monaghan v Fermanagh
(St Tiernach's Park, 1.45pm)
MONAGHAN will aim to make amends for last year's surprise Ulster semi-final loss to the Erne county while they will also aim to make up for their Ulster loss to Cavan last month. Fermanagh forward Sean Quigley has been rated “80 percent” fit for the clash and they really need his physicality to stand a chance.
Odds: H: 1/4 D: 9/1 A: 4/1
Down v Tipperary
(Páirc Esler, 2pm)
DOWN should be wary of a Tipperary side that will be hell-bent on making up for their humiliating loss to Limerick in Munster. Most of the chat will focus on Michael Quinlivan, but Conor Sweeney is another top forward the visitors will be able to call on. Suspension rules out Down livewire Caolan Mooney.
Odds: H: 4/6 D: 15/2 A: 13/8
Westmeath v Waterford
(TEG Cusack Park, 3pm)
MULLINGAR should hot the most straightforward of Qualifiers this weekend with Westmeath expected to have far too much for Waterford. The visitors, managed by Benji Whelan, are not the whipping boys they once were, but there is still a big gap there.
Odds: H: 1/10 D: 14/1 A: 15/2
Carlow v Longford
(Netwatch Cullen Park, 2pm)
LONGFORD are fancied here but this game is ripe for a shock. Carlow's Brendan Murphy remains suspended – as do manager Turlough O'Brien and selector Steven Poacher – but the return of Paul Broderick will give them a real threat up front.
Odds: H: 7/4 D: 15/2 A: 8/13