Lonesharkoy previews some of this weekend's GAA ties and identifies three selections of potential interest.
Like the Tour de France every second year, the championship is getting underway on foreign shores this weekend, with Sligo and Leitrim both facing into very tricky ties against Exile sides. There’s also two Joe McDonagh hurling games on the card, and in at least one of those, there seems to be a bit of value on offer this week – but we’ll start our first previews of the 2018 championship with a look at the last tie to get underway, Leitrim’s clash with New York at Gaelic Park.
New York vs Leitrim
Earlier this week, a small number of firms actually made New York favourites to win this game, such has been the hype surrounding the home side for this tie. The introduction of Jamie Clarke and Neil Collins to their setup has been a huge factor in this, while captain Tom Cunniffe is another player who leaps off the teamsheet on the New York side.
Leitrim are also perceived as vulnerable, which is why so many pundits seem to expect that New York will secure their first ever win in the Connacht Championship on Sunday evening, though this column’s gut feeling is that the visitors are actually in a far better place than a lot of people realise right now.
For several years, Leitrim have struggled to get anything close to their best team on the field, and there are several players not available to manager Brendan Guckian who would certainly be of use if they were available for selection. However results like a 2-15 to 0-10 win over Wicklow in the final game of the league, and their comprehensive win over Sligo in a recent challenge match, would suggest that they’re ready to take on this challenge.
The return of Emlyn Mulligan will be a huge boost to a team that will need experience and cool heads if New York start to get a bit of momentum. Ryan O’Rourke and Mark Plunkett proved they can hold their own in good company by playing leading roles for Maynooth University and DCU in the Sigerson Cup, while Paddy McGuire has been in superb form on the Dublin club scene and it would be a huge surprise if he’s not handed the task of shackling Jamie Clarke at Gaelic Park. If it was Philly McMahon or Keith Higgins who had to mark Clarke, we still wouldn’t presume that the Crossmaglen player would be contained, such is his brilliance, but there are a lot of counties who wouldn’t have anyone as well-equipped to take on the challenge as McGuire.
New York might hold the upper hand in terms of star names, but there’s no substitute for proper preparation and a game against a Corofin side that left at 7am Irish time and took to the field for a throw in 19 hours later is hardly the same as playing proper intercounty opposition in a league or challenge setting throughout the Spring.
Expect there to be plenty of scoring in this one as a youthful and energetic Leitrim side should go well in the heat, so we’re backing Leitrim to win with a little to spare. 6/4 is available about Leitrim minus two points, and that’s our main selection for the week.
Carlow vs Kerry
Marty Kavanagh’s decision to head to San Francisco for the Summer is a huge blow to the home side here, but overall hurling in Carlow is still in a quite good place, unlike Kerry where there has been a clear regression over the last couple of seasons.
It’s not hard to see why hurlers in Kerry might be disillusioned – whatever grievances teams like Carlow, Laois and Westmeath might have about being denied access to the Leinster hurling championship, grievances this writer would consider legitimate, the new system has been completely rigged to ensure that Kerry will need an incredible run of results to secure promotion from the Joe McDonagh Cup. That they will need to win a playoff against one of the five Munster counties to go up, while every other Joe McDonagh team will just have to win this second-tier competition, is a shockingly unfair anomaly and it would be entirely reasonable for Kerry hurlers to ask themselves why they’re bothering. There’s no doubt that if they get a bit of momentum up, they’re capable of hurling well and scoring well. Even though they finished third in Division 2A, only Limerick and Tipperary outscored the Kerry men across the round robin stages in the Spring. But when the pressure was on and Carlow went to Tralee for a crucial game, they only posted 1-11 and lost comfortably to the visiting Leinster County. Another similar result is eminently possible this Sunday.
Meath vs Wexford (Ladies)
We’re going a little leftfield with our last selection of the week, but it’s just impossible to ignore the lopsided pricing that one firm has put up on this game, pricing that makes no sense when we look at the rivalry between these two counties in any meaningful way.
In 2017 there was little or nothing between them. Wexford won the games between the sides in the league and the Leinster group stages, before Meath scored two second half goals to come from four points down and with the Leinster final. Tipperary narrowly beat both teams in the All-Ireland series, so there was little to call between them there either.
Meath did pick up an All-Ireland minor B title last year and many of those players have come through to contribute at adult level. Meanwhile at first glance, the league table would suggest that even though Wexford won the round robin game between the two sides, Meath were the more prolific team, in part because of those new young players.
However much of the scoring differential is down to the fact that they beat Leitrim by 39 points, and the Connacht county had folded up their tent before the Wexford game was played, so Wexford didn’t get the chance to fill their boots in that one. Even allowing for the youth and vibrancy in this Meath team, Anthony Masterson has done a good job with Wexford this year and they remain a competitive side. This should be a tight game, and 15/8 about the Model County cannot be ignored.