Hurling & Camogie

Derry out to win in Meath and set up another crack at Kerry

Derry will look to Máiréad McNicholl to get the scores to beat Meath
Derry will look to Máiréad McNicholl to get the scores to beat Meath


(All games Saturday unless stated)

Division 2A round five

Kerry v Laois (Tralee, 12pm) 

Cavan v Westmeath (venue TBC, 2pm) 

Meath v Derry (Sunday, Ashbourne, 2pm) 

WITH Kerry already assured of a place in the final, Derry must win in Ashbourne to get a re-match with the surprise-packets from Munster.

Meath held on to beat Cavan last Saturday and are level on points with Derry ahead of this final group game. However, Derry hold a better scoring difference and that means that a draw will be good enough to see them into the final.

However, I doubt if a draw will cut the mustard for manager PJ O’Mullan. He asked his team to bounce back from the defeat to Kerry when they met Laois in the middle of last week. He got a good performance from his team, particularly during the opening half and they were in charge of the game at the break.

That they allowed Laois back into the game at the start of the second half means that there was more work to do over the past 10 days before they play a Meath side that should also be performing at a higher level than they are.

Just a few years ago, Meath came down from Division One and the senior championship and were a very difficult team to beat. They didn’t manage to reclaim top-flight status in the interim and seem to be slipping down the ranking. Nevertheless they still have a number of players who performed at a higher level and at different times you can see a small burst that can put them ahead.

Derry are potentially the best team in the division but their inconsistency in performance means that they are in danger of missing out on the final.

They need to do as they did in the Laois game – take control from the start – and that means plenty of scores from Áine McAllister, Máiréad McNicholl and Aoife Shaw. 

Kerry will want to continue their unbeaten run and go into the final full of confidence. They will be favourites to beat a young Laois side that has lost all their games, including two over the past 10 days.

None of those defeats have been heavy and neither have Kerry’s victories been emphatic. 

So there is the possibility of an upset here that won’t stop Kerry reaching the final, but could put Cavan into relegation bother.

The Breffni girls have been competitive in this league – even after losing their in-form player Niamh Keenaghan to injury. But should they lose to Westmeath this weekend and Laois win, then they could drop back to Division Three.

Opponents Westmeath are safe from relegation and may use the match to give game time to their substitutes. That might help Cavan’s cause – but unearthing a regular scoring forward would really help the Ulster side.

The formbook suggests wins for Kerry and Derry and if that happens, it won’t matter who wins the other game.

Division 1A round five

Kilkenny v Tipperary (Piltown, 3pm) 

Clare v Dublin (Sunday, Cusack Park, 12pm)

Cork v Galway (Sunday Páirc Uí Chaoímh, 12pm)

CORK will go through to the final unless Galway beat them by around 20 points and that is not going to happen. But if Galway get a draw or a win from their visit to Páirc Uí Chaoímh, they might well make it into the final to play Cork a second time.

It depends on what happens in the derby game in Kilkenny, where Tipperary are hoping to get the win that will guarantee them a spot in the final for the first time since Wexford beat them in 2009.

Even the third game, in Ennis, has a lot riding on it. If Dublin beat Clare by a margin of eight points or better, they can save themselves from relegation and send the Banner down.

Those are the possibilities – what are the likely outcomes?

Cork have been very impressive in all four of their games to date, averaging a winning margin of 11 points in each game. Last Sunday, they overturned the All-Ireland final result from July to win by 10 points in Nowlan Park, hitting 23 points in the process. 

The management has brought through a few from last year’s minor team and all have settled into the team. When you look at the players who still have to return to the squad – the Mackey twins, Aisling Thompson and Orla Cronin – the Rebelettes are building well for the championship.

Galway slipped up in the first game against Tipperary, but have won the last three games. 

Cork, though, will be out to beat them and avoid a second meeting. Cork to win narrowly.

If that happens all Tipperary have to do is avoid a heavy defeat in Kilkenny. Based on their performances in the league, including the narrow defeat to Cork, they are well capable of doing this.

Kilkenny will want to push them, though, and this game will be very competitive. 

If Tipperary don’t win, they will do enough to qualify for the final.

Dublin look doomed to relegation, while Clare will be very disappointed to find themselves in this situation after beating Kilkenny in the opening game. Their performances have dipped as the competition has progressed and they failed to score in the first half of last week’s game against Tipperary.

However, they are at home and should do enough to stay in the top flight for another season.

Division 1B

Waterford v Down (SETU,12pm)

Limerick v Offaly (Rathkeale, 2.30pm)

A WIN or a loss will make no difference to Down. They are already clear of relegation and have no chance of making the league final. Even if they win this game, they are very unlikely to end up with a plus scoring difference.

When they looked at the league programme, Down probably targeted the two home games, while they have a good record against Antrim in competitive games over the last few years.

The two trips down the east coast were always going to be challenging, even though they had beaten Wexford in a Division Two semi-final in 2021 and been unlucky in a first-round championship tie in Waterford the same summer.

They fell on their face in the Antrim game, but won both their home games. Recovery job done and relegation avoided.

Waterford have won their four games so far by a margin of 15 points each. After a narrow defeat in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, they look to have maintained a level of consistency and are strong favourites to land the league crown.

The Déise management didn’t start Allstar Niamh Rockett against Antrim, but she came off the bench after victory was more or less in the bag.

That suggests that the management is likely to throw in a few of the substitutes to intensify the competition for places in the team. If that happens Down may get a chance to settle into the game and give a good account of themselves.

But it will be a shock if the visitors head northwards later in the afternoon with the points.

The other game in the division really matters. Limerick have shipped four straight defeats, while Offaly’s only decent outing was their draw with Antrim. The loser will be relegated and that would not be good for Limerick, who reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals last summer.

They looked a dispirited outfit as they left Liatroim last week and it will be difficult to lift them for this game – but they are playing at home.

Offaly showed a bit of fight in their last game a week earlier, when they travelled to Wexford – and of course they were able to lift their performance against Antrim.

Offaly probably are slight favourites and they only need a draw to survive. But I think that home venue will help Limerick and I expect them to hold their ground in the top flight.

Division 2B round four

Kilkenny v Cork (Piltown, 1pm) 

Tipperary v Wexford (The Ragg, 2pm)

THERE is a top-of-the-table clash between unbeaten Cork and Tipperary. Tipperary have played three games, while Cork have had just two outings. 

Both teams had impressive runaway wins in their opening fixtures, but last weekend’s games were a lot closer.

Cork should edge this one, while Wexford look best placed to win the other game.

Division 3A semi-finals

Carlow v Kildare (Abbottstown, 12pm)

Armagh v Roscommon (Inniskeen, 3pm)

THERE was never any real doubt that these four teams would end up as semi-finalists after the group games. The only issue to resolve was who would finish top of each section. Armagh and Carlow impressed in each game, topped their groups and now are the favourites to make the final.

Armagh are under new management this year and Sean Hughes used the group games to give most of his panel time on the pitch. While they have won all their games with something to spare, they nevertheless have work to do.

An example was the whirlwind start they got against Tyrone last week, scoring 2-9 in the first 17 minutes. Their opponents still hadn’t scored by half-time – but Armagh had not added to their total. In tighter games over the past couple of years that failure to be really clinical in front of goals is one of the reasons why they have lost two All-Ireland finals and a league final.

I cannot see them having a lot of trouble against Roscommon, despite the fact that the Rossies scored 3-21 last Saturday. Yes, Roscommon are improving, but mostly at underage level, as shown with a minor win over Derry last weekend. That improvement has not, as yet, transferred to adult level.

While Kildare did not step up to the mark in the Armagh game, they could cause problems for Carlow, who have not had a hard game to date. 

Both counties have had competitive minor teams in recent years, but it has been difficult for them to get commitment from those good minors at adult level. 

Carlow have built momentum and should reach the final.

Division 3B round four

Limerick v Offaly (Rathkeale, 12.30pm) 

Clare v Dublin (Fr McNamara Park, 2pm)

DUBLIN have had two runaway victories in this league to date, Clare’s two victories less convincing but still good enough to suggest that the winner of their clash will be in the league final regardless of what happens in the last round of games next weekend.

Clare stuttered at the start and end of their St Patrick’s Day clash with Antrim. In between, they showed enough experience and physicality to put themselves in command of the tie.

Dublin haven’t been tested at all. That should change especially as they are on the road for this key game.

The result of the game will not matter to Antrim. If Dublin win, they may not field at full strength against the Saffrons in the final game and if they lose, it may put a dent in the confidence built up by two successive high-scoring wins.

Either way Antrim have a big game ahead of them.

Limerick should win the other game.  

Division 4 semi-finals 

Tyrone v Louth (Inniskeen, 1pm)

Wicklow v Mayo (Rathdowney, 2pm) 

THE main problem for all four teams competing in Division Four is trying to lift themselves after a couple of heavy defeats in the group stages. This is particularly true of Louth and Wicklow, who suffered defeats of 27 and 35 points respectively.

Tyrone also suffered a heavy enough defeat to neighbours Armagh – but they showed enough in the other two games to suggest that they would be competitive enough at this level.

They have a young squad who have enjoyed success at underage and school level. They should win this competition, certainly they will be strong favourites to defeat Louth.

Mayo are also competitive enough at this level and they had a good outing against Kildare last Saturday. Again they should beat Wicklow to set up another head to head with Tyrone.