National League Round 2 & Club Hurling

Lonesharkoy previews Round 2 of the National League Football and he has bets on Roscommon total points against Kerry, Kildare against Offaly and a bet on Bennetsbridge in the All Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Final.

Neither Kerry nor Roscommon got the result they were hoping for in round one of the league, though chances are there will be a lot less soul-searching done in the South West of the country, given the tradition they now have of starting the league very slowly. Not a lot of sleep will be lost on account of their defeat. However past experience will tell them that it’s not always ideal to fall into an early hole by losing three or four games out the gate.

The Rossies, on the other hand, put a lot of emphasis into their clash with Monaghan, as it was perceived that their survival hinged on taking at least three points out of their home clashes with Down and the Farney men. Mayo’s sluggish start may possibly open another route to survival for them – the Connacht champions are also slated to travel to Roscommon during this campaign and head to head results are usually critical in the relegation dogfight – but the tight finish in Kiltoom last week couldn’t mask the fact that Monaghan were a real cut above their hosts for the majority of the fixture, particularly in the second half when playing with the wind. In truth they should have been out of sight long before Conor McManus made the win safe with his opportunistic goal.

Roscommon’s issues at midfield have been flagged up several times, even by joint manager Kevin McStay earlier this year. Ian Kilbride and Niall Daly, who will make up the central partnership today, are committed, physical footballers who will never give less than 100% to the cause and both men would be worthy of their place on the team. However neither man is be a natural fielder, or even a box-to-box athlete in the mould of Seán Cavanagh, Michael Darragh MacAuley or Anthony Maher. Roscommon are making do here, and on a wide open field in Killarney where simply crowding the sector won’t always be an option, that might not be enough.

Defensively, Roscommon are quite well equipped. Neil Collins is an elite player when on form, David Murray is small in stature but rarely outdone, while Niall McInerney has been a real find so far this year. It’s at the other end where the problems exist – so when we factor in the weather as well, the conclusion we arrive at is Roscommon to score under 12.5 points at 4/5 with Ladbrokes.

Further down the divisions, the bet that leaps off the page is Kildare to score the first goal against Offaly, priced at 4/5 with Paddy Power. Both these sides enjoyed good wins in round one but there’s no question that an away win in Mullingar looks a lot better on paper than a home win over Longford – even though two points is still two points. Daniel Flynn’s wonder goal against Westmeath has gained plenty of plaudits and rightly so, and it also highlighted that Kildare have rediscovered something of a goal threat. Neither side raised a green flag in the O’Byrne Cup, however this writer was in attendance when the sides clashed at O’Connor Park and Kildare created a lot more chances than Offaly. The simple fact of the matter is that Offaly aren’t creating openings right now and while they probably have a better chance of winning this game than match odds of 5/1 would suggest, if they do so it’s likely to be by a scoreline of 0-14 to 0-12, or similar.

When looking back on Flynn’s wonder goal, it was also notable to see him powering down the central channel, as is his style. If Offaly centre back Johnny Moloney was fit to start – a player whose form earned him selection on the interprovincial panel last December – then Flynn would have a much tougher afternoon, but the Tullamore man misses out through injury and right now, as the only nailed on championship starter along the spine of the team, he’s arguably one of the most significant absences possible. Kildare will fancy their chances of driving through the middle in his absence.

Finally, and this is the type of prediction that often comes back to haunt a pundit but we’re going to go ahead and make it anyway, there is every possibility that we could be in for a thrashing in the final of the All Ireland Intermediate club final today where Bennettsbridge look like a magnificent 8/1 shot with Paddy Power to win by 16 points or more.

A few shrewd observers of Kilkenny hurling have suggested that it’s a matter of time before this young ‘Bridge team are one of the leading contenders to win a senior title in the county. They’ve a very young panel having won their county, provincial and All Ireland Junior titles last year, and based on what I saw in their semi-final win over Wolfe Tones, that prognosis is very fair. They hurl with power, purpose and at a good tempo, while Nicky Cleere’s freetaking is just one top class ingredient in a potent forward line. They scored 0-15 in miserable conditions in Banagher in that semi-final and didn’t shoot a wide until second half injury time.

Abbeyknockmoy, in contrast, are one of the weakest Galway IHC winners for some time. They limped over the line against Four Roads in the Connacht final when it’s customary for Galway sides to make short work of their Roscommon/Mayo opponents at that stage, and they lack the intercounty class that they’ll need in this tie. The handicap is a little on the low side, a line of eight or nine would be my choice, but the real value could be in the landslide win, which is eminently possible.