National Football League – Week 1

Lonesharkoy previews the opening weekend of the 2016 National Football League and picks out three bets of interest from Sunday's games.

Advised Bets: 

Tyrone by -3 Points on Handicap, v Cavan:  2 Points @ 6/5 with Paddy Power.

Galway to beat Wexford: 1 Point @ Evens generally.

Wexford by -2 Points on Handicap, v Leitrim:  1 Point @ 5/6 with Ladbrokes and Coral.

Already this week the market has swung heavily towards Dublin for the glamour fixture tonight at Croke Park; a move which ties in with Kerry’s disgracefully poor record on the first weekend in February. Just three times since the turn of the millennium have we seen the Kingdom avoid defeat in the first round of league action, with one of those wins coming against Wicklow in what was Division 2A at the time, so in general, going against Kerry at this time of year makes good sense.

Against that, Eamon Fitzmaurice has named a comparatively strong side for tonight’s opener, and while there are a lot of big names missing from the forward line (Cooper, O’Donoghue, Sheehan, Donaghy, Geaney x2) the standard of attacking player available to the former All Ireland winning centre back is such that there is still no shortage of firepower in the side.

That said, we’d still fancy Dublin to prevail, but not at the prices available now, with all the odds against minus two hoovered up very quickly.

Instead this week, the bet that leaps off the page for us is Tyrone at 6/5, minus three points, with Paddy Power. Mickey Harte has named a comparatively experimental side for this game, but such is the dynamic in the Red Hand County at the moment that we’d nearly prefer to see a hungry cohort of young footballers lining out than a plethora of McMahons and Cavanaghs with nothing to prove. It’s not as if the young footballers in the county have a lot of ground to make up in terms of ability either – for all the furore about the manner of their victory over Tipperary, last year’s under-21 triumph was fully merited and there is a fine new generation growing up in Tyrone right now.

People have said that Cavan were a coming team for some time and without doubt they are a competitive group that will hold their own in Division Two, but they have yet to prove that they can take points off sides that are in the top ten sides in the country, much less a team like Tyrone that are arguably in the top five.

This isn’t a bet based on McKenna Cup form, though that certainly hasn’t put us off – it’s that this is a young Tyrone group that will be relatively close to peak fitness already, and that will bring them a long way against a Cavan side that will do well to hold their place in this division in 2016.

The second bet we really like this week is Galway at Evens for their clash with Laois at O’Moore Park. The midlanders have enjoyed plenty of success in this fixture over the past few seasons but Galway look quite advanced at this stage of the year and have an age profile that would suggest that real improvement is in store over the coming season.

For Laois to do well in games, they depend on dominating the middle third of the field but they’ll struggle in that regard this week with Brendan Quigley suspended, and with Galway fielding three powerful players in the shape of Tom Flynn, Paul Conroy and Fiontán Ó’Curraoín in that sector. Donie Kingston too will find the going tough against Gary O’Donnell, who’s a naturally defensive centre back, and Laois can ill afford their talisman to be at anywhere less than his best, given the lack of scoring power that there is in the side elsewhere. Meanwhile younger footballers like Johnny Heaney, Damien Comer and captain Adrian Varley all showed up really well for Galway in the FBD League and they will cause Laois plenty of problems.

Looking further down the divisions, the standout bet would have to be Wexford, minus two points, against Leitrim at 5/6 with Ladbrokes. Even allowing for the fact that Leitrim tend to be at their strongest at this time of year and that they will improve considerably for the return to action of Emlyn Mulligan, the Model County are by far the strongest side in this Division on paper. Factor in their strong record at home – and the sheer logistical nightmare that is getting from somewhere like Manorhamilton or Dromahair to Wexford Park – and the case for a comfortable Wexford win becomes very strong.