FROM ODHRÁN CRUMLEY
The term ‘Group of Death’ can be used to describe the ‘A’ side of the qualifiers with big hitters Donegal and Mayo occupying the position of big hitters. Both have been dealt home ties as they look to get the wheels back in motion after provincial semi-final losses.
ALL GAMES SATURDAY JULY 1ST
Mayo Vs Derry, MacHale Park, Castlebar, 5pm
For the second year in a row Mayo find themselves in the qualifiers after being beaten in the Connacht semi-final by Galway. A single point separated the sides on the day, the concerns coming from the fact that last year’s result seemed a ‘one-off’. The repeat this year has proved it’s not, it will be interesting to see how last years All Ireland Finalists can react to this.
Derry travel to Castlebar off the back of beating Waterford in Dungarven a fortnight ago. Expectations in the Oak Leaf county are at all-time low, supporters from within the county expecting another considerable defeat.
The Foylesiders suffered a heavy defeat to neighbours Tyrone in the Ulster Championship. Relegation to Division Three coincides with a largely inexperienced and youthful panel after a number of regulars in recent years have opted out of the panel. One young player Danny Tallon showed well in the win over Waterford last time out.
Interestingly, Derry only have one keeper currently on their panel with Thomas Mallon and Conor McLarnon leaving the panel, this leaves questions over what happens if Ben McKinless is injured or dismissed?
The Mayo defence could be seriously under-strength with Keith Higgins serving a suspension and Ger Cafferkey and Chris Barrett rated as doubts. Like last year Mayo find themselves at home to an Ulster side at this stage of the competition. Last year it took a rather dubious penalty to overcome Fermanagh. That said they come up against a weakened Derry side short of confidence and should emerge easy victors and progress to the next round.
Laois Vs Clare, O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, 3pm
It’s a case of déjà vu for both sides as they meet in the very same stage of the competition as they did twelve months ago. Clare emerged victorious that day by the narrowest of margins and will be hoping for history to repeat itself.
Clare beat Limerick before pushing Kerry all the way, going in level at half time before the Kingdom’s class in front of goal reigned supreme. David Tubridy and Gary Brennan hit the form that inspired a run to last years All Ireland Quarter Final, more of the same will cause Laois problems.
Laois were dumped out of Leinster by an impressive free-scoring Kildare side. The result well and truly took the wind out of the O’Moore County’s sails after hammering Longford.
They have gotten things back on track though beating Wicklow last time out scoring 2-16. The concession of 3-10 will worry Peter Creedon however, as his side look towards Donie Kingston for inspiration.
Another close game is expected to unfold, if Clare can stop the home side hitting the net they will give themselves a real chance of success. A shoot out favours Laois, a dog fight favours Clare.
Donegal Vs Longford, Ballybofey, 5pm
Rory Gallagher will be looking for a reaction from his players after the disappointing one sided hammering at the hands of Tyrone last time out. They have been drawn a potential banana skin in Longford who are notorious for sending Ulster teams packing in the qualifiers, accounting for Down and Monaghan last season.
Donegal’s relatively young side were overpowered by Tyrone after easing past Antrim, the fact that their entire midfield was sitting in the stands before the fortieth minute is vindictive of their day.
Longford were dumped out of Leinster shipping four goals against Laois but showed their resolve grafting a tough away win at Louth two weeks ago. They are on the road again travelling North where they dumped out Monaghan at this very stage twelve months ago.
Although a potentially tricky assignment Donegal will favour themselves to advance as would many. They have plied their trade in August for this past six years and will look to once again in 2017.
Meath Vs Sligo, Pairc Tailteann, Navan, 6pm
Arguably the tie of the round with little separating both sides. Sligo were the first team in action this summer overcoming a well fancied New York side before scuppering at the hands of Mayo.
So much was expected of this Meath side as talk turned to could they cause Dublin problems in the Leinster final but Kildare had other ideas. They will look to regroup against a Sligo side fresh off, of a win over Antrim.
Fortunes would favour Andy McEntee’s men to get back on the horse with the aim of reaching Croke Park later in the summer, Mark Breheny will spearhead the Sligo charge but the Royal’s should have the slight edge.