The big talking points for all this weekend’s football and hurling league finals

Croke Park hosts the matches this Saturday and Sunday.

1. Mayo look to bridge 18-year gap

FOR ALL THE talk from both camps that this is bonus territory, Mayo won’t need reminding that they’ve come away from their last ten national finals (seven All-Ireland finals and three league finals) at Croke Park empty-handed. 

Mark Griffin and Gavin Crowley contest a high ball against Matthew Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea Mayo and Kerry players contest a high ball in their league meeting earlier this year. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The Westerners haven’t delivered a national trophy at the venue in the senior grade since their 2001 Division 1 victory. David Clarke is the only member of the current panel who was part of that success 18 years ago.

Sunday represents a major chance for James Horan’s group to address their poor record in finals at headquarters. A victory against this talented young Kerry crop would send Mayo heading into the championship full of confidence.

Aidan O'Shea Aidan O'Shea has enjoyed a strong run of form in a midfield role. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

2. Limerick keep on winning

The last county outside of Kilkenny to follow up an All-Ireland hurling success with a league victory the following spring was Galway 20 years ago. Limerick’s previous Liam MacCarthy victory in 1973 saw them reach the league final in 1974, only for them to be well-beaten by Cork. 

John Kiely’s side haven’t missed a beat since they ended the famine last August. Their first top-flight campaign since 2010 has been mightily impressive and Kiely has been able to rotate his squad and give fringe players game-time without sacrificing results.

Most of Limerick’s key players have picked up where they left off in 2018, with Cian Lynch, Gearoid Hegarty, Diarmaid Byrnes and Aaron Gillane all in fine form once again.

Limerick stand for a minute's silence Limerick stand for a minute's silence before their win over Dublin. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

3. Keane searches for first trophy as Kerry boss

Kerry’s young core are well used to winning at underage level and a number of Peter Keane’s group arrive into Croke Park searching for a first national title at adult level.

The likes of David Clifford, Jason Foley, Diarmuid O’Connor and Tom O’Sullivan have all won two All-Ireland minor crowns at Croke Park in the past, while Peter Keane has been successful in each of the six times he brought minor teams to Jones’ Road.

Keane is bidding to win his first major trophy as manager of the Kingdom and he’s brought them this far with a reinvigorated panel.

That includes former AFL player Tommy Walsh, who gave one of his greatest displays in the green and gold at this venue in the All-Ireland final a decade ago. Walsh often enjoyed his best days on the big occasions in the Drumcondra venue, and another strong performance here would be a good sign for the summer ahead. 

Peter Keane Kerry boss Peter Keane. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

4. Fifth-time lucky for Waterford?

Waterford surprised a few by making it this far in the competition, but the Deise players will be keen to put an end to their losing run in finals. They’ve lost four deciders in succession — the 2015 and 2016 Munster finals, 2016 Division 1 decider and the 2017 All-Ireland final.

They boast some of the finest hurlers in the country — Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson among them — and will be determined to dispel any notions of mental fragility on the big occasions.

Paraic Fanning has enjoyed a bright start to his debut tenure in charge, with the form of the Bennett brothers Stephen and Shane a particular highlight. Their come-from-behind win over Galway in the semi-final was a major boost and beating the reigning All-Ireland champions would be a huge result for Fanning and his team.

Colm Roche with Jack Prendergast after the game Colm Roche with Jack Prendergast after the semi-final defeat of Galway. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

5. Donegal and Meath hunt for silverware

The primary focus for Meath and Donegal at the outset of this campaign was to secure promotion to the top-flight. Division 1 football in 2020 has already been sealed, but the prospect of winning a trophy at this stage of the year is not to be sniffed at.

Donegal, the reigning Ulster champions, view themselves as All-Ireland contenders but they’ll face a tricky test in Andy McEntee’s side, who ran Tyrone so close in the qualifiers last June. 

Donegal have reaped the benefits from the addition of Stephen Rochford to Declan Bonner’s backroom team. The return of several veteran players from injury boosts their hand, although the game will come too soon for cruciate victim Paddy McBrearty who’s returned to training.

Jamie Brennan celebrates scoring a goal Jamie Brennan celebrates scoring a goal against Kildare. Evan Logan / INPHO Evan Logan / INPHO / INPHO

6. Leitrim set for first Croke Park game in 13 years

Leitrim return to headquarters for the first time since the 2006 Tommy Murphy Cup final and the county are expected to have a big crowd behind them on Saturday.

These sides met a fortnight ago when Derry prevailed by 2-16 to 1-12 at Celtic Park, although both teams made a number of changes to their starting teams.

The free-scoring Oak Leafers will be warm favourites having won seven games from seven so far this campaign, although they’ll have to keep a close eye on key Leitrim attacker Ryan O’Rourke at the far end. 

The Leitrim team warm down with the final score from the penalty shoot out on the scoreboard The Leitirm squad. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Croke Park hosts four football and hurling league finals this weekend. Specsavers are proud sponsors of Hawk-Eye at Croke Park. To make sure you don’t miss a point, book an appointment online today at specsavers.ie   

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