Lonesharkoy previews the weekend GAA action and his bets are in the qualifiers with Leitrim on handicap against Waterford and Wicklow to beat Carlow.
As a general rule, home advantage tends to be quite significant when teams make their first appearance of the year in the qualifiers. This is the time when sides are most likely to struggle to muster up the motivation needed to go to war in a championship mindset and quite often the prospect of putting on a good show in front of their own spectators is of crucial importance in that regard.
Historically, Galway footballers were always a great team to keep an eye on, with this maxim in mind. Like any good traditional county, their provincial championship meant the world to them, but after that they had a somewhat hit-and-miss approach to the backdoor. If they were drawn to play at home, or against another strong footballing power, or even somewhere local, they tended to put together a half decent showing – but send them all over the country, particularly to a lower division county where only a handful of supporters would travel with them, and they were always capable of phoning it in – seen to the most obvious effect in 2012 when they lost in Casement Park by a single point to Antrim.
Neither Leitrim nor Waterford have much hope of going deep into the championships this year, but the fact that the game has been fixed for Carrick-on-Shannon means that Leitrim are likely to put up a reasonable showing at the very least. Waterford, on the other hand, have fallen back badly over the last couple of years and many of their players will be looking forward to getting back to club duty, both football and hurling. The qualifiers offer them nothing and they know it – and without the spur of playing in front of their own families and friends, they’ll be way off the pace.
Waterford won the league clash between the two counties by the bare minimum in Fraher Field, while both counties ended the league with two wins and five defeats. In ability, they are closely matched – but given the venue, Boylesports’ 13/10 about Leitrim covering a two point handicap looks like the right option here.
This guideline applies far less when there isn’t a lot of distance to be covered between the counties involved and that’s why Wicklow at 8/11 with Betway is the smart play for tomorrow night’s game at Netwatch Cullen Park. Carlow will be at home, but this is one of very few venues in Leinster that is quite accessible to supporters in places like Rathnew and Aughrim.
Both these sides crashed out in the first round in Leinster, but there was a world of difference in the manner of their two defeats. Carlow’s defence was ripped asunder by Louth and they were easily crushed by the Wee County, who themselves looked incapable of defending at the other end of the field. Wicklow on the other hand were excellent against Laois and they deserved to win the match – this column reckoned that they were a good shout plus seven points and they clearly were, but that was no use to backers who didn’t get paid thanks to three Laois goals.
Better freetaking could possibly have gotten Wicklow over the line in that fixture and while there’s no easy answer to their own defensive frailty, Carlow simply aren’t good enough to take full advantage and make them pay.
Recently the website gaelicstats.com released a well-researched table regarding the number of players used by the various counties over the past ten years. Carlow were way out in front with 101 different people having worn their distinctive colours in that time and you don’t have to be a native of Rathvilly or Ballon to know that this isn’t because there is an embarrassment of riches to choose from down in that part of the world.
It’s very simple – playing for a county like Carlow, that hasn’t come close to breaking out of division four, is pure hardship. Player turnover is high because there’s nothing worth sticking around for – and thus every year, the Carlow team has far too many debutants and unproven players. Their current panel is full of workmanlike players that are woefully lacking in the quality needed to compete in any meaningful way and while Wicklow aren’t destined for greatness either, they’re good enough to win this one with a little to spare.
Leitrim (-2 points) to beat Waterford at 13/10 with Boylesports
Wicklow to beat Carlow at 8/11 with Betway