Ulster Football & Leinster Hurling Weekend Previews

Lonesharkoy previews the Ulster Championship clash between Monaghan and Down and the Leinster Hurling clash between Laois and Offaly.

In our outright betting preview for the year we were happy to tip up Down at 8/1 to reach the All Ireland quarter-finals, yet it should be noted that this was predicated on the likelihood that they would be able to achieve that without ever having to take on any of the elite powers in the game.

Monaghan aren’t quite at the same level as Kerry, Mayo or the mighty Dubs, but they are as good as anything else that’s out there and consequently their status as clear favourites for this Sunday’s clash at Clones is well earned.

If anything, Monaghan still aren’t being afforded enough credit for how far they’ve come. The idea that Roscommon are ahead of them in the betting for the All Ireland title – even allowing for the softness of the Rossies’ draw in Connacht – is nothing short of risible, given the fact that Monaghan have competed at the highest level very capably for several years now, while Roscommon last year came a cropper against Fermanagh at Enniskillen.

Down may prove sticky opponents for long spells of Sunday’s game but we’ve also seen recently how this Down team don’t necessarily stay the course as well as they should – in a few of their league games this year they folded up the tent once it became clear that a positive result was off the table and that’s always a danger with any side that’s low on confidence. Consequently, Monaghan pulling away to win by 7-9 points (9/2 with Powers) is a very realistic outcome here.

There are plenty of other big games taking place, none bigger than the Munster semi-final clash between Clare and Waterford, but our eye was instead drawn to the much less heralded clash between Offaly and Laois at O’Connor Park in the quarter finals of the Leinster hurling championship.

Anyone who was in attendance at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise one year ago, when Laois prevailed by eight points in the corresponding fixture between the two counties, would have been surprised to learn that twelve months later Offaly would start as favourites for a rematch.

Now imagine (with some shock) Offaly going in as favourites one month after losing to Westmeath by fourteen points, and yet that’s exactly what has happened this week with 4/6 Offaly and 6/4 Laois freely available from most firms.

The main reason for this line of thinking from the bookmaking community is widely believed to be the conflicting fortunes of the two counties in the National League, yet it’s hard to get too carried away by those results. First and foremost, attaching a huge amount of significance to the league seems counter-intuitive at the best of times, doubly so when we consider that there were plenty of high profile absentees from the Laois side when the two teams met at O’Connor Park in February. Admittedly there are several players that aren’t available to Laois manager Seamus Plunkett whatsoever this year due to retirement and emigration, yet he still has a young side at his disposal that should thrive in the warmer, drier summer conditions, while the reintroduction of Zane Keenan alone is a huge boost.

Moreover, the result one year ago was also preceded by an Offaly league win in in the first round of that year’s competition, so it’s not as if Laois will be too perturbed by losing out in February this time around.

Home advantage is worth something to Offaly here but not so much that they should be favourites. 6/5 about Laois +1pt (Boylesports & BetVictor) looks like a decent wager here.