SFC previews: Big guns at home for championship openers
19 May 2017
Supporting your county this weekend? Pre-purchase your tickets and beat the queue!
The All-Ireland senior football championship really kicks into action this weekend with six games down for decision. Here are our previews:
Saturday, May 20th
Ulster SFC preliminary round
Monaghan v Fermanagh, Clones, 7pm – RTE
The 2017 Ulster senior football championship officially gets underway on Saturday evening when Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan side welcome Fermanagh to Clones.
Having won in visits to both Mayo and Kerry before running Dublin close at home, Monaghan’s stock has run up since last year’s shock qualifier defeat to Longford and much of it has to do with the welcome return of Jack McCarron.
The classy Currin full-forward demonstrated some sensational form during the league, hitting 1-9 in his county’s defeat to the Dubs, and his partnership alongside Conor McManus in the Farney front lines looks set to put the Fermanagh defence firmly to the test this weekend.
Priced as 6/1 outsiders, the Ernesiders have some aces of their own up front in Sean Quigley and Tomas Corrigan that could trouble the hosts, with Eoin Donnelly capable of consistent supply from centre-field, but the match-ups seem to favour the 2015 champions in this one.
Monaghan’s record in this competition under O’Rourke has been an impressive one to say the least, having just missed out in their first final in four years last July, and they should up their winning percentage up north under the Fermanagh native this weekend.
Sunday, May 21st
Connacht SFC quarter-final
Mayo v Sligo, MacHale Park, 2pm – RTE
The battle for the JJ Nestor Cup gets back underway on Sunday when Sligo travel to Castlebar looking to cause an 8/1 upset against Mayo.
Two weeks ago saw Niall Carew’s side put New York’s dreams of a long-awaited championship victory on the shelf for another year and now they face a colossal task in trying to topple Stephen Rochord’s men on their home turf.
These two last met out west in the 2015 final when Mayo dished out a 6-25 to 2-11 hammering to the Yeats County and that’s a large part of the reason why the Westerners are ‘unbackable’ for Sunday at 1/14.
Factor in that Brendan Harrison is the only injury concern in regards to regulars for Mayo and you begin to understand the reason for such a gulf in the odds. Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea are amongst the All Stars available for the Westerners and they should get the job done to set-up a semi-final date with old foes and defending champions Galway on June 11th in Salthill.
Full-back Kevin McDonnell looks set for a return to action for Sligo, after exams saw him missing out on the New York trip, and while they’ve plenty of experience in the likes of Mark Breheny, Charlie Harrison, Ross Donovan, Brendan Egan and David Kelly they still face a tall order on Sunday.
Ulster SFC quarter-final
Donegal v Antrim, Ballybofey, 4pm
Antrim will have it all to do this Sunday when they make the trip to Ballybofey looking to cause an early championship upset against Donegal.
Rory Gallagher’s side have been installed as second favourites in the race for The Anglo-Celt Cup at 11/4 and will no doubt be looking to go one step further after having lost last year’s final to Tyrone late on.
The Tir Chonaill men done away with the notion that they are a spent force over the past few months, incorporating in some young talent which impressed mightily during the National League, and it seems they’ve more to come with their U21s having dominated Ulster so convincingly.
Antrim, on the other hand, were relegated from Division 3 on score difference and have doubts over key defenders Kevin O’Boyle and James Laverty for Sunday’s quarter-final.
Bookmakers are offering 9/1 for an away victory in Ballybofey and it’s not hard to understand why, as Donegal have featured in the last six Ulster finals, winning three and losing two by narrow margins.
Leinster SFC first round
Louth v Wicklow, Parnell Park, 3pm
The 2017 Leinster senior football championship commences on Sunday afternoon and the meeting of Louth and Wicklow at Parnell Park will be one of three games taking place out east.
Beaten in the Division 3 final by Tipperary last month, Louth made sure of back-to-back promotions in the National League by the end of March and they’ll be fancied to get back to winning ways when they come up against Wicklow at Parnell Park.
Ryan Burns and Eoin O’Connor have been amongst the danger men for Colin Kelly’s side so far this season and they’ll no doubt be looking to try and lay down an early marker against the Garden men.
Division 4 did not prove a happy hunting ground once again for Johnny Magee’s charges during the league campaign gone past and Sunday sees them ranked as 9/2 underdogs against the Wee County.
The winners of this one advance into a provincial quarter-final meeting with Meath on June 4th.
Laois v Longford, O'Moore Park, 3pm
When these two met in March it was a 0-9 haul from Donie Kingston which gave Laois the edge but the conclusion of the league campaign painted a different picture.
In the end, the O’Moore men made the drop down to Division 4, to the surprise of many, while Longford narrowly escaped relegation from the same tier, and the general feeling is that there won’t be much to separate them come Sunday.
With home advantage in their favour, Peter Creedon’s men are at odds of 4/7 against the 15/8 Midlanders and after a nightmare league campaign you get the feeling that they’re in need of a good summer.
Last year saw Longford spring the upset of the championship when they defeated Monaghan in Clones in the qualifiers and with an experienced front line of Robbie Smyth, Mickey Quinn and Sean McCormack they’ve the potential to cause the hosts plenty of problems this weekend.
Likewise, Laois also have plenty of options in attack, which suggests this one will be going down to the wire at O’Moore Park on Sunday.
Carlow v Wexford, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm
Wexford face a potential banana-skin when they travel to face Carlow on Sunday with the Barrowsiders having only finished a point behind them in the Division 4 league table last month.
After earning a coveted league promotion, Seamus McEnaney’s side endured a 13-point hammering to Westmeath on league final weekend at Croke Park and will be keen to bounce back from that loss when they visit Netwatch Cullen Park this weekend.
Ciaran Lyng, Ben Brosnan and PJ Banville offer the Model men plenty of experience in attack, but their opponents aren’t short of quality options either, particularly in the likes of Brendan Murphy and captain Darragh Foley.
This year has saw Turlough O’Brien’s men put together their county’s best league campaign in 10 seasons and they’ll no doubt be looking to mount some momentum in early summer to make 2017 one to remember.
In the build-up to this provincial opener McEnaney has been quoted saying: “if we could beat Carlow by one point after a replay I would be a very happy man”.
You get the feeling that both sides are heading into this one fairly confident of making a good start to the summer.