Galway v Mayo, Saturday at 7pm, Limerick
Beaten Connacht finalists Galway and league champions Mayo will go head-to-head in Limerick on Saturday with the winners joining Donegal and Kerry in Group 1 of this year’s Super 8s.
That round robin phase will get underway next weekend and The Kingdom will kick things off with a home game in Killarney against whichever side prevails in the Gaelic Grounds tomorrow evening. That Kerry v Mayo/Galway game will take place next Sunday, July 14 at 4pm.
It will be a keenly anticipated opener regardless of the opposition, although for obvious reasons the prospect of taking on Mayo in the Fitzgerald Stadium in a big championship match will be particularly appealing to the green and gold faithful.
Mayo are the only team to have beaten Kerry so far this season and James Horan’s men managed that feat twice, first in the league in Tralee and then in the league final in Croke Park in March. They also put paid to Kerry’s All-Ireland aspirations in 2017 when they defeated Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s charges at the semi-final stage.
Revenge would be sweet, especially at home, but given the recent history between the sides you would imagine that Mayo would fancy their chances.
Of course, Kerry also have some scores to settle with their other possible opponents in Round 1, Galway. The Tribesmen’s shock victory in the opening fixture of last year’s Super 8s left Kerry scrambling and they were subsequently eliminated after failing to pick up enough points in their remaining two games.
An opening day loss could well prove fatal again this time out, especially with Ulster champions Donegal up next the following week, so whichever team Kerry face on July 14 they will have to be at their best.
If things don’t go to plan, the last (and kindest) fixture, which will be against either Meath or Clare, might be of little consequence.
Galway have had the upper hand against Mayo in recent times but they were far from impressive in their Connacht quarter-final win against London. A facile victory over Sligo was followed by defeat to Roscommon in the final so it’s possible that confidence within the camp might not be all that high.
Mayo, on the other hand, have rolled on through the Qualifiers, despite facing potential banana skins and a mounting injury count along the way.
That packed treatment room is a huge worry for James Horan. Midfielders Tom Parsons, Séamus O’Shea and Matthew Ruane are all long-term absentees and Mayo must now make do without Diarmuid O’Connor (broken wrist) and former Player of the Year Lee Keegan, who hurt his ankle last Saturday against Armagh.
It’s sure to be a bruising encounter in Limerick tomorrow evening. From Kerry’s point of view, the more bruising the better.
Verdict: Mayo by 1.
Tyrone v Cavan, Saturday at 5pm, Clones
Last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Tyrone are on the cusp of a return to the Super 8s following last weekend’s impressive 2-22 to 1-15 over Kildare in Newbridge.
Mickey Harte’s men dominated proceedings in Kildare as their recent return to a more cautious style of play reaped plenty of dividends once again. Tyrone packed numbers behind the ball and then attacked at great speed, finding their dangerous target man Cathal McShane time and time again. McShane registered five points in total (two frees) and Darren McCurry added 1-2, while the ever-reliable Peter Harte tacked on 0-7 (three frees) for the Red Hand County.
Having ran a strong Donegal side quite close in the Ulster semi-final, Tyrone have also caught the eye in the Qualidiers and they will be fancied to go at least one step further and join the Dubs in Group 2 of the Super 8s.
Cavan, meanwhile, have taken a lot of people by surprise in this year’s championship. They knocked last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan out of Ulster and also handled Armagh after a replay in the last four.
The worry for Cavan is that the nature of their defeat to Donegal in the final (they were flattered by the 2-17 to 1-24 scoreline) has halted their momentum. Tyrone, on the other hand, look like they’re moving through the gears.
Verdict: Tyrone by 4.
Cork v Laois, Saturday at 5pm, Thurles
Not many people believed in Cork at the start of the championship but encouraging performances against Limerick and Kerry have changed all that.
With players like Killian O’Hanlon, Ruairí Deane and Brian Hurley having a big impact, The Rebels have exceeded expectations to date and optimism is understandably high over the border. Not that Cork’s supporters will be expecting their side to make too many waves this summer – it’s a bit early for that kind of talk – but the signs do seem to suggest that they will be taking part in their first ever Super 8s in a week’s time.
Of course, a relatively friendly draw against Laois (as opposed to Tyrone or Mayo) has helped many observers to arrive at that conclusion.
Ronan McCarthy has made two changes for Saturday’s game against Laois as Thomas Clancy and Kevin O’Driscoll come in for Tom Clancy and Paul Kerrigan.
For their part, Laois have recovered well from their 11-point hammering at the hands of Meath to defeat Derry and Offaly in the Qualifiers.
The reward for victory in this one? An away tie seven days later against Dublin.
Verdict: Cork by 3.
Clare v Meath, Sunday at 2pm, Portlaoise
Clare gave Kerry a right good rattle in Munster and they have also done well in the Qualifiers, beating Leitrim and Westmeath en route to Round 4.
Influential midfielder Gary Brennan was particularly inspirational down the stretch last weekend, fetching a crucial high ball in additional time to secure a huge mark and all but kill the tie as a contest.
Like Cavan and possibly Galway, Meath are another team who had the wind well and truly taken out of their sails in the provincial final. Their demoralising 1-17 to 0-4 defeat at the hands of Dublin will go down as one of the worst in the history of the Leinster Championship.
Their form prior to that had been decent, however. They topped Division 2 of the National League before successfully navigating the earlier rounds of Leinster, beating Offaly, Carlow and Laois along the way. They also defeated Clare in the league in March on a scoreline of 1-12 to 1-7.
Verdict: Meath by 2.