Back for more: Kerry and Tipperary clash for the third year running Inpho: Cathal Noonan

Togging out: here’s the weekend’s football championship previews

After last week’s plentiful drama, Ewan MacKenna expects matters in Ulster and Munster this week to be much more subdued and far more one sided.

Munster SFC Quarter-Final

Tipperary v Kerry

Semple Stadium, Thurles, 2.00

Live, RTÉ Two, 1.30

AT THE TIPPERARY open night a couple of weeks back, the media were going about their job until the press officer poked his head in.

He was more subtle in his request but the message was obvious as he wanted some people go and talk to the footballers, even for a minute or two. It summed up all you need to know about the difficulty facing football in the county when they were weeks out from facing Kerry, were All Ireland minor champions, favourites to win Munster at that level again as well as being the best team in the province all the way up from under-14.

Yet still it was the hurlers getting all the attention.

If those that followed the press officer’s request did so out of guilt, they didn’t regret their decision. The Tipp footballers that were there spoke of how this is the third year in a row they will have faced Kerry early in the season, and how on both previous occasions they played really well but were still were taken apart by 11 and eight points respectively. It summed up how they’d need another 10 All Ireland minor titles to be competitive at senior level and it summed up the level of hope they having going into this one.

What’s worse is that before, this was a group who were used to Division Two and Three football. Now they are a Division Four side in turmoil having harshly run John Evans from the scene over the course of the league. On top of that, the last time Barry Grogan didn’t top score for his county in a championship match was in May 2009 while across this league, in the six games he played, he accounted for 49 per cent of his county’s scores.

But now he is in America along with midfielder Brian Jones and those left behind don’t stand a chance. Indeed, what hurt Tipp most when they have run into Kerry in recent seasons is they are running into a side not only more skillful and naturally gifted, but a side that have the physicality to brush them aside as if a little brother.

A lot of talk heading into this has been about Kieran Donaghy being benched but whatever about the rights and wrongs of him attending the Champions League final against management’s request, it’s the perfect time to wake him up after recent seasons where he’s been hit and miss. It may even be the nudge he needs to get back into top form and show again he’s so much more than a midfielder playing close to goal.

Expect him to come on late with the game well over but if the result is a formality, with a view to later in the year keep an eye out for Declan O’Sullivan at full-forward (we think Kerry need him as a playmaker at 11) and for any creaks and cracks in defence where Eoin Brosnan’s pace could be an issue against better teams and where Daniel Bohane gets his chance at three.

Verdict: Kerry by 13

Tipperary: P Fitzgerald; A Morrissey, P Codd, C McDonald; B Fox, R Costigan, A Campbell; G Hannigan, H Coghlan; L Egan, P Acheson, S Scully; A Maloney, M Quinlivan, P Austin

Kerry: B Kealy; S Enright, D Bohan, K Young; T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, P Crowley; A Maher, B Sheehan; P Galvin, D O’Sullivan, K O’Leary; C Cooper, D O’Sullivan, P Curtin

Ulster SFC Quarter-Final

Monaghan v Antrim

St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 3.30

WE KEEP HEARING  from the players in the Monaghan camp how they enjoy the freedom they have playing under Eamonn McEneaney as well as his tactics, his style and his training.

That should bode well but it hasn’t as this is a team that have won a measly four of 16 matches under him, have gone from Division One to Division Three in consecutive seasons and have yet to win a championship match. But that’s where the negativity ends, mainly thanks to factors outside of their control.

Given the draw in Ulster, the stagnation of the opposition here and the fact that Down, their likely semi-final opponents, are riddled with injuries to leaders, Monaghan could end up in an Ulster final. But one step at a time and without Darren Hughes and Tommy Freeman here others will need to step up. As usual, Monaghan winning will be based so much around Dick Clerkin’s ability to dominate midfield and Paul Finley’s ability to kick points from all distances and all angles.

But with Aodhan Gallagher fit and well, Pete Dooney will have to step up for Monaghan in the middle while Conor McManus will need to offer an alternative to Finlay.

Then there’s the other end of the field and while they may not have that spark that saw them reach an Ulster final not so long ago, Antrim still have pace and no team in the top three divisions scored more goals this league. It’s why Vinnie Corey and Dessie Mone will have to hold the spine of the defence steady and if they do that, Monaghan should be alright as, for all Antrim’s ability to raise green flags, they can’t raise white ones.

Verdict: Monaghan by five

Monaghan: M Keogh; D Morgan, V Corey, C Walshe; K O’Connell, D Mone, K Duffy; P Dooney, D Clerkin; M McKenna, S Gollogly, J Turley; C McGuinness, P Finlay, C McManus.

Antrim: C Kerr; A Healey, R Johnston, K O’Boyle; T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughery; M McCann, A Gallagher; C Murray, M Sweeney, M McAleese; P Cunningham, M Magill, T McCann

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