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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
INPHO/PRESSEYE/Darren Kidd
# Showtime
Togging out: here’s the weekend’s football championship previews
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… if you love Gaelic games. This is how we see the games going on Sunday.

Leinster SFC Quarter-Finals

Longford v Laois

Pearse Park, Longford, 3.30

HERE’S THE PROBLEM for the home side. For all they have achieved — and again gaining promotion and again winning a trophy for the second-consecutive year is key to their long-term development — the county is really desperate for a provincial championship win.

Speaking to centre-back Michael Quinn earlier in the week, he said the pressure on a county of their size, population and player-base is because good teams come along rarely and when they do you need to maximise potential, performances and victories.

So, for all Glenn Ryan has achieved so far, he has yet too win a Leinster Championship game and they know they won’t get a better chance than this.

They’ve momentum, they’ve home advantage in a ground where Tyrone and Kerry just about escaped from in recent years and Mayo didn’t, they have Quinn himself guarding the defence from the six jersey and they have Seán McCormack’s free-taking ability added to the threat of Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh. On top of all that they’ve Laois in the other corner, a side already cut and bruised before the fight has even started.

But there’s expectation too and a midfield battle Longford will not win and that’s where the trouble starts. Plus, don’t underestimate Laois against a fellow mid-tier team. Considering the level they’ve been playing at all year, this will be like a race at sea-level after a Himalayan marathon. The visiting inside-forward line will bother Longford if they give up too much possession while the physicality of John O’Loughlin and Brendan Quigley may well trouble the home side too. But, while it’ll be close, there’s the feeling of destiny about this one.

Verdict: Longford by one

Longford: D Sheridan; D Brady, B Gilleran, D Reilly; C Smith, M Quinn, S Mulligan; B McElvanney, J Keegann; D Barden, P Barde, N Mulligan; D McElligott. B Kavanagh, S McCormack.

Laois: D Culliton; C Healy, K Lillis, P O’Leary; D Strong, S Julian, C Boyle; J O’Loughlin, B Quigley; K Meaney, B Sheehan, C Begley; R Munnelly, P Clancy, G Walsh

Louth v Westmeath

Páirc Tailteann, Navan, 3.30

BOTH WERE OVERACHIEVERS this league, and the fact they are both still in Division Two says a lot about their character. Westmeath achieved despite losses to hurling, to injury and to teams you’d have thought they had to beat to stay up. Louth achieved against Meath of all sides and finally released all that baggage and emotion that’s been crippling them since Joe Sheridan rolled into a Croke Park net.

While both sides are limited, there will however be one of the best high-fielding battles you’ll see all year. Paddy Keenan is close to being the premier attacking midfielder in the country right now while John Heslin has the weight of the county on his young shoulders and while he may not have natural size, he has a leap and timing that compensates. That duel will be key because if Louth get possession, between Keenan and Darren Clarke closer to goal, they’ll not only score but keep the ball away from a defence that has been conceding 17 points a game this league. But if Heslin holds his own, Westmeath can no longer be faulted for being overreliant on the absent Dessie Dolan.

This league they averaged seven different scorers a game with Kieran Martin, Dennis Glennon, David Glennon and Ger Egan all looking competent at times. The problem for a side that are essentially the visitors though is that injuries to Darragh Daly all season have meant Heslin has had to do so much alone.

The last time Peter Fitzpatrick was in Navan he was close to tears when putting the past to rest. Now it’s time to get on with the future and while it’ll be as close as it will be open, it’ll be a winning start to the championship for Louth too.

Verdict: Louth by three

Louth: N Gallagher; P Rath, L Shevlin, G Hoey; R Finnegan, J Carr, D Byrne; P Keenan, R Carroll; D Crilly, M Brennan, A Reid; D Maguire, J McEneaney, D Clarke.

Westmeath: G Connaughton; M Curley, J Gaffey, K Maguire; D Harte, M Ennis, D McDermott; P Bannon, J Heslin; K Martin G Egan, J Dolan; Dennis Glennon, David Glennon, P Sharry.

Munster SFC Quarter-Final

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Limerick v Waterford

Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 3.30

THE YAWN DOWN the back of the classroom will go unpunished here and let’s be honest, you’d hear a pin drop in the ground if anyone was there to bring one.

It’s a sign of the times in Limerick that what, not so long ago, would have been seen as a chance to get into a Munster final the easy way and then rattle a thoroughbred means nothing this time around. They aren’t even confident of getting over Waterford and Clare at this point in time and little wonder.

The league was dreadful and the panel is shallow with, season-definingly, John Galvin out again and Stephen Kelly struggling. Jim O’Donovan and Tom Lee both missed the league, not only age but miles on the clock have caught up with Stephen Lucey but there are some positives. In Stephen Lavin, Johnny McCarthy and Seanie Buckley they have leaders and if Ian Ryan and Ger Collins both to find form and Seamus O’Carroll, Eoghan O’Connor and John Riordan push on from last year things might start looking up, just a little, although the management has yet to convince us.

At least it’s Waterford they are facing though and this year has seen John Owens’ side sadly regress and slither and slide back towards the bad days. It’ll take a while to get all that way but a heavy defeat here would be a very destructive force. Without Gary Hurney, it could just be that.

Verdict: Limerick by five

Limerick TBC

Warerford TBC

Ulster SFC Preliminary Round

Cavan v Donegal

Breffni Park, Cavan, 3.30

AT LEAST THERE are other games this weekend to grab the attention of punditry’s doomsday group because in past years, this is the sort of fixture that would have been televised, been compared by past players with All Ireland finals of yesteryear and led them to the conclusion that the game is dying unless we do something drastic. It’s not dying even if this won’t be particularly attractive.

First of, Cavan will not win. Second of all, they are at least on an upward curve if they can now settle on a starting team and grow from there. They have five debutants here, that’s 72 in the past 12 championships and that chopping and changing has to stop and they need to put in place a team that will be backboned by those under-21 success stories, particularly Gearoid McKiernan and to a lesser extent David Givney. Also keep an eye of for Killian Clarke though and Niall Smith might well break the sound barrier if he gets any quicker.

But today is all about learning and even if it won’t be a nice experience, the home side must take in what they can. In terms of the top teams we still think Donegal are overrated and don’t have the forwards to go as far as last year. Michael Murphy of course is a star, although for another day as he missed out here, but Colm McFadden is one footed and after those two you are into an abyss of untested youngsters for the most part who haven’t yet proven anything.

But here they will bully and bruise a young Cavan team and while it make take a while, there’ll eventually be a submission before Donegal kick on in the second half and win more comfortably than the scoreboard will suggest.

Verdict: Donegal by five

Cavan:J Reilly; P O’Reilly, D Reilly, R Flanagan; K Meehan, J McCutcheon, R Maloney-Derham; D Givney, G McKiernan; F Flanagan, M McKeever, N Smith; J Brady, E Keating, B Fitzpatrick

Donegal: TBC

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