Connacht big guns begin Championship bids

There is also football action in Leinster and Munster over the weekend

Colm O'Rourke said the only surprise about Meath's €76,000 bill for their six-man management team this year is that it wasn't higher. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Colm O'Rourke's Meath start their Leinster Championship bid against Longford Picture: Margaret McLaughlin


Connacht Senior Football Championship quarter-final

London v Galway (Ruislip, 3pm, live on GAAGO)

A FEW years back, there was a real buzz about London football. Manager Michael Maher had begun to reap the rewards from building a largely London-based playing group, with London-born footballers comprising a lot of his playing squad.

Maher, himself London-born, spoke to the GAA in 2019 on the matter:

“Probably going back 10 or 12 years that pathway was never there and you might have one London-born player on the panel every couple of years. Whereas now without the London-born players we wouldn’t really have had a squad this year.”

Maher remains at the helm, but the feelgood factor has stymied somewhat. Last year was described as “frustrating”, with Sligo ending their Connacht campaign, while they only picked up a point in the League.

This year began with a shock win over Mayo in the FBD League that promised so much, but again, all the Exiles could muster was a second-from-bottom finish in Division Four.

Galway were hardly in tip-top condition themselves this spring, but given their injury crisis, they would have been satisfied to stay up in the country’s top tier for 2025.

Captain Seán Kelly will intriguingly come up against fellow Maigh Cuilinn man Eoin Walsh, who skippers London. A great day for the parish as they say.

That’s about as much as the neutral could get excited about, however. Galway will be keen to get the likes of Robert Finnerty firing in an effort to rediscover their form of 2022.

It’s a big ‘if’ whether or not they can get their main men all back on the pitch at all this season, but there is a long way to go, and you’d be surprised if Galway don’t have some sort of say at the business end.

Odds H: 20/1 D: 33/1 A: 1/300

Verdict Galway


Connacht Senior Football Championship quarter-finals

Leitrim v Sligo (Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diaramada, 3pm)

IT’S funny how a year changes things. 2023 saw a crucial clash between these two sides in Carrick-on-Shannon, essentially a shoot-out for promotion.

It’s obvious now Sligo came through that challenge, but the means are likely forgotten. Leitrim Live’s John Connolly said at the time that Leitrim’s dreams were “shattered” in a “cruel, cruel” 2-11 to 1-15 home defeat.

The hosts had overturned an eight-point deficit to hit the front with just four minutes to go, but the Yeats’ men regained the initiative to come out on top by the bare minimum, and that’s all she wrote.

Perhaps one of the biggest influences on Sligo’s heavy favouritism this time around is the absence of Leitrim talisman Keith Beirne, who has opted out for the year.

That didn’t halt Andy Moran’s men in their promotion run however, sealing the deal on the final day in a grudge match against Tipperary.

Ryan O’Rourke has largely filled the void, with the ace attacker even registering a hat-trick in a key win over Wexford.

Sligo, to their credit, looked a team on the up in making it to a 2022 Tailteann Cup semi-final. The Connacht draw last year probably left them in the All-Ireland group phase a year or two too soon, but they do look to have improved from that experience.

Their stand-out result was undoubtedly the win over Westmeath. Alan McLoughlin and Coolera-Strandhill legend Niall Murphy kicked 0-5 each that day, with Seán Carrabine continuing a steady rise that brings him to national prominence.

There promises to be a bumper crowd in attendance for this clash of rivals, with the pressure firmly on Sligo and Tony McEntee.

Defeat here, and you’d question how beneficial last year was at all for their development.

Odds H: 9/2  D: 10/1 A: 1/5

Verdict Sligo

New York v Mayo (New York, 8pm, live on GAAGO)

MARTIN McNally was bound to be the smuggest man in the referee’s Whats App group when the fixtures were assigned for the Championship’s opening round.

Mayo fans too will be heading over in their droves for a taste of The Big Apple and maybe a little football too.

Leitrim found out the hard way that an away day isn’t all fun and games, however. New York, New York, home of the Empire State building, Al Pacino and Connacht Championship penalty shoot-out wins.

For years under James Horan, Mayo dominated the western province. In fact, only John O’Mahony has more Nestor Cups than Horan’s six as manager.

In recent times, they’ve fallen before the going gets tough, and got back up as the going gets tougher. Of the last eight finals (since Mayo’s five-in-a-row), the green-and-red have only contested two, winning them both.

Galway’s win over Sligo last year saw Pádraic Joyce’s charges overtake Mayo in the all-time stakes (49 v 48 titles), although Kevin McStay did get revenge in the Championship preliminary quarter-final.

The disappointing quarter-final exit to Dublin was all too easy in the end, and it certainly put a dampener on last year. So much so that it feels no one is talking about Mayo after what was a decent spring campaign once again. They’re fifth favourites currently for Sam, behind Galway in fourth.

McStay’s men have yet to peak, and they won’t be anywhere near top form in the States, but they won’t have to be. They have bigger fish to fry, and they’re going about their business so quietly it’s borderline suspicious by their own raucous standards.

Odds H: 11/1 D: 20/1 A: 1/66

Verdict Mayo

Leinster Senior Football Championship round one

Wexford v Carlow (Chadwicks Wexford Park, 2.30pm)

THE first weekend of the Championship can remind you as to why the League has flourished so much in recent years. It’s hard to see many of these fixtures not going to script.

Wexford finished their Division Four campaign with a thumping win over fellow promotion candidates Longford. It wasn’t enough, and many reminisced on what might have been by cursing a last-minute penalty call in the Leitrim defeat weeks before.

There were 10 points between the sides in this year’s League, which was a surprising margin, even factoring in Wexford’s 18 minute spurt that delivered 1-7.

Carlow are not that poor. In fact that win was all that separated the two in the final standings.

What’s more, their League was over before the final round against London, meaning this match has been on their horizon for longer.

That is a small advantage, but we also know how difficult it is to beat the same side twice in one season, particularly two sides that are fairly well matched.

If there’s going to be an upset, this one looks the best bet.

Odds H: 2/7 D: 8/1 A: 7/2

Verdict Carlow

Longford v Meath (Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 3pm)

COLM O’Rourke’s tenure as Meath manager really hinges on this year. Royals fans won’t be basking in the glory of the Tailteann Cup for much longer, if they ever did at all.

Last year’s League was average, bordering on poor, which is what guided them into the trap of second tier football in the first place. When their fate was confirmed, it would be easy to forget the doom and gloom with which it was met.

There was even an air of snobbery that Meath were too good for the Tailteann Cup. Historically yes, in reality, probably not, but maybe by winning the thing there is some truth to it.

Which takes us back to the present. Dublin are lying in wait, and even for a young Meath outfit, recent times haven’t been without lasting scars.

Anything other than a victory by eight plus will bring doubt, both internally and externally. A poor performance here and defeat to Dublin and you could be looking at a short summer.

The likes of Longford may respect Meath after last year, but the big boys don’t. This year, with guaranteed Sam Maguire football, they get a chance to change that.

And it starts tomorrow. No finer time than the present.

Odds H: 11/2 D: 12/1 A: 1/8

Verdict Meath

Westmeath v Wicklow (Laois Hire O’Moore Park, 3.30pm)

OISIN McConville, speaking on the BBC GAA Social podcast, reckoned that Westmeath were one of the few sides during the League to show signs of incremental progress week on week, culminating in a Division Three title.

The Tailteann Cup has certainly been an experiment that has paid dividends. If you look at the Lake County, even as the best team in the third tier there’s a fairly decent chance they’ll be in the lower tier for Championship.

They saw the reward last year for winning the thing out in 2022. Equally they won’t want to end up there again having come so close to progressing to the final 12 in the race for Sam in 2023.

Wicklow had a decent Division Three campaign that ultimately saw them relegated by Antrim on the final day.

The form of full-forward Kevin Quinn has been a real plus, but in the absence of goalkeeper Mark Jackson and 2021 Wicklow Player of the Year Andy Maher, the step up was always going to be a challenge.

Jackson, like Rory Beggan, is back however, which is a real boost for McConville’s men. With only six points separating the sides during the League, this may not be a cakewalk some anticipate, but Dessie Dolan’s charges will come through.

Odds H: 1/10 D: 14/1 A: 13/2

Verdict Westmeath

Munster Senior Football Championship quarter-finals (2pm)

Waterford v Tipperary (Fraher Field)

THIS year’s Division Four was arguably the most exciting of the lot. A mad final day saw four teams having a shot at promotion.

Unfortunately for Tipperary, all they could control was whether it was Leitrim or Wexford. In the end, The Premier Gods decided to sacrifice the Yellowbellies.

Four points from seven matches is a poor tally for Tipp, they will know that themselves. Ironically, they beat two of the four sides above them, only managing a draw against lowly London and weary Waterford.

In a topsy-turvy bottom flight, that Waterford draw was perhaps the most striking result of all.

Football’s basement boys earned their only point of the League against their Munster rivals. That will give them hope ahead of a rematch.

Make no bones about it, there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose for Tipperary, but that doesn’t mean they won’t bag a Munster semi-final slot against Clare, where the winners are guaranteed perhaps the easiest qualification route for the Sam Maguire.

Odds H: 4/1 D: 11/1 A: 1/5

Verdict Tipperary

Cork v Limerick (Supervalu Páirc Uí Chaoimh)

YOU’D scarcely believe these two operated in the same division last year. Limerick have plummeted like a skydiving walrus with a faulty parachute. It’s difficult to point towards any positives when the table reads no wins from seven for the second year running.

For Cork, there has been steady progression without tearing up any trees. They threatened to do that last year, with a Championship win over Roscommon particularly impressive.

It’s easy to forget they also beat Mayo and put it up to Kerry in the group phase, while their ultimate undoing was just a four-point defeat to Derry in the end.

In a sense, that renders their League a little disappointing. The defeat to Donegal made them look miles off the pace, while they struggled with relegated Fermanagh and suffered a home defeat to Cavan.

It transpired that they never really had a shot at promotion in the end, which was more than likely their target in January, albeit in a tricky division.

At the very least, they are almost certain to be playing Sam Maguire football. Their Munster campaign has little to do with this affair. It’s all about if they can rattle Kerry.

Unfortunately for Limerick, they haven’t shown enough to prove that they can test The Rebels.

Odds H: 1/50 D: 20/1 A: 12/1

Verdict Cork

Ulster Senior Football Championship preliminary round

Monaghan v Cavan (St Tiernach’s Park, 4pm)

Odds H: 8/15 D: 7/1  A: 21/10

Verdict Monaghan

Odds from Toals