Mayo and Galway are set to meet for the second time since the turn of the year. Evan Logan/INPHO

Connacht giants clash: 5 unmissable matches in the Allianz Leagues this weekend

The Allianz Football Leagues get underway this weekend with no shortage of anticipation across all four divisions.


Division 1: Mayo v Galway, MacHale Park, 7.30pm (RTÉ)

It’s always tasty when these two western rivals meet and there’s extra spice heading into the 2023 Allianz Leagues; Mayo under new manager Kevin McStay up against a Galway side who came oh-so-close to All-Ireland honours last year.

Pádraic Joyce’s men showed that Division 2 can be more than adequate preparation for Championship last year, reeling off six wins before losing their final two games to Roscommon. Back in Division 1, he’ll be anxious to see signs of greater strength and depth in his ranks by holding their top-tier status with the minimum of fuss. The return of 2018 All-Star Ian Burke offers another boost.

A first Connacht League title in a decade and the prospect of a return for Tommy Conroy “very soon” are reasons for some Mayo optimism, although the departures of Lee Keegan (retirement) and Oisín Mullin (Aussie Rules) mean they’ll have to find suitable defensive reinforcements.

If it’s anything like their 2-18 to 3-12 pre-season shootout, this will be worth watching.

Division 2: Dublin v Kildare, Croke Park, 5pm (TG4)

Before they get ready for road trips to Limerick, Cork, Derry, and Meath, Dublin will enjoy the comforts of Croke Park as they start life in Division 2 of the Allianz Leagues. It’s a meeting of the two teams relegated from the top division last year, as well as a rerun of the last two Leinster finals, when they face Kildare on Saturday.

kevin-flynn-and-con-ocallaghan Dublin and Kildare meet again in Croke Park on Saturday evening. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Another cause of excitement for Dublin fans this spring will come in the shape of returns to inter-county football for Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion, although the latter is unlikely to be seen this weekend after playing through injury for Kilmacud Crokes.

The Lilywhites earned a famous win over the Dubs at St Conleth’s Park last February, with Jimmy Hyland scoring 1-5, while they also beat their capital rivals in the Leinster Under-20 final (Naas CBS underlined their underage progress by winning the 2022 Hogan Cup too). It’ll take longer for those gains to be seen at senior level but Glenn Ryan’s side will hope to back up their ’22 performance at HQ.


Division 2: Cork v Meath, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 1.30pm (TG4 online)

Cork have found something of a groove this pre-season, even if their McGrath Cup final victory over Limerick could never quite live up to the five goals they put past an experimental Kerry outfit earlier this month. It’s too early in the season to count for much but it shows Cork are ready to go full steam ahead for the Allianz Leagues.

Having narrowly avoided relegation to Division 3 last spring, Cork are ranked third favourites behind Dublin and Derry for promotion. They appear to already have something approaching a Championship 15 bedding in under John Cleary, with Daniel O’Mahony returning for 2023 at full-back, Seán Powter causing trouble from centre-forward, and Colm O’Callaghan scoring 2-4 against Kerry from midfield.

colm-orourke Colm O'Rourke and Meath travel to Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O’Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

Colm O’Rourke has set out his stall as Meath manager to attack at pace, kick the ball, and keep his forwards close to goal. It’s a style of football that will get its best chance as the weather improves after an O’Byrne Cup that featured victory over Carlow and draws against Laois and Longford. The Páirc Uí Chaoimh pitch will provide a good January benchmark.

Division 3: Westmeath v Cavan, Cusack Park, 2pm

A repeat of the Tailteann Cup final which saw Westmeath produce a late comeback to snatch victory, these two will be eyeing promotion to Division 2. Winning Division 3 won’t bring a place in the All-Ireland series this year due to the lop-sided Connacht Championship draw but that win last July already guarantees Westmeath their place in the top 16. Cavan, like all other Division 3 teams, will have to reach their provincial final.

Down, under Conor Laverty, will be this pair’s most likely promotion rivals but Westmeath and Cavan have a track record as yo-yo sides, capable of producing surprises or slip-ups. Cavan were a Division 1 side in 2019 before three successive relegations took them to Division 4, which they won last year. Westmeath contested Division 1 in 2014 before also enduring three relegations in a row. Since then, they’ve had two promotions and another relegation.

This one could go either way.

Division 1: Donegal v Kerry, MacCumhaill Park, 2pm (TG4)

Unlike last year when they hit the ground running, Allianz League and All-Ireland champions Kerry are only coming up to speed after their team holiday and with players returning from All-Ireland club campaigns.

diarmuid-oconnor Diarmuid O'Connor is ruled out with an ankle ligament injury. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Jack O’Connor has said he’ll go without all of his All-Ireland-winning forward line for the trip to Donegal, with the Cliffords among those getting a well-earned break. He will also be assessing his midfield options after David Moran’s retirement and an ankle ligament injury to Diarmuid O’Connor. Could a bit-part player make a case for a starting position? Sunday will offer a first audition.

It’s all change in Donegal. Paddy Carr is in as manager in place of Declan Bonner, assisted by head coach Aidan O’Rourke. Patrick McBrearty takes over as captain from Michael Murphy, who held that leadership role for the last 12 seasons. In addition to full-forward Murphy, long-time full-back Neil McGee has also stepped away from inter-county football.

Fair to say, this match at MacCumhaill Park carries plenty of the unknown about it.

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