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Big Preview: Allianz Football League Round 3

It’s that time of the week again – here’s our big preview of every Allianz Football League game this weekend.

Saturday 9th February

Allianz FL Division 1

Kerry v Dublin, Austin Stack Park, 7pm (Eir Sport 1/RTÉ 2)

A tie this Saturday night that could well be a prelude to another game further down the stretch. Kerry, the hunted for so long throughout the decades, become the hunter as they look to have a say in stopping Dublin’s drive for five.

Hosting the Dubs down in Tralee will be a good indicator of where they are at this early in the year. They’ve been very good so far, winning two from two. Beating Tyrone in the opening round raised some eyebrows, but evidently Tyrone are far from the dominating pack they were last year with two losses in their first two games. Kerry were made work for their rewards last week against Cavan, who stayed right in the game up until the last minutes when the Kingdom began to turn the screw.

Dublin returned to victorious form with an imperious win over Galway, leaving nothing to chance with a domination from start to finish in Croke Park. Jim Gavin’s spring preparation will have the 1st of September in mind, but that doesn’t make the league a write-off for his dynasty and will be keen to temper Kerry’s hopes with a win in their own back yard. Kerry will keep it close, with a more assured defensive structure benefiting the score-takers on the opposite end of the field, but Dublin’s arsenal from one to fifteen is just so strong, and the competition for places keeps the hunger lingering.

Verdict: Dublin

Mayo v Cavan, MacHale Park, 7pm (Eir Sport 2)

We wrote about Mayo’s growth earlier this week and without getting too ahead of ourselves, they do seem to on the right track. James Horan’s return, intended on grinding a few more years out of this immensely talented group of players, while simultaneously integrating some fresh blood – many of which from his own club in Westport – is reaping early rewards. Fionn McDonagh has been a highlight, scoring 1-3 against Tyrone, and his opposite wing forward Ciaran Tracey nailed two points. Moy Davitts’ Brian Reape has been catching also, with a goal on the opening night.

Cavan were dogged against Kerry last week, keeping the game within arms reach for much of the contest until the Kingdom’s class helped them to pull away near the end. Galway also had to dig deep to overcome the Breifne men, winning by two points in Pearse Stadium. MacHale Park on a Saturday night will create a cocoon of atmosphere in Mayo’s favour, who will be in roaring form given the county’s string of wins.

Verdict: Mayo

Allianz FL Division 2

Fermanagh v Kildare, Brewster Park, 7pm

Rory Gallagher’s men are still unbeaten going into round three, having drawn both of their games thus far. They rescued a point against Cork having been well down at half-time, and were a kick away from beating Tipperary in Semple Stadium, leading into the final seconds thanks to a late Seamus Quigley penalty before Liam McGrath pointed an equalising free.

Their lack of scoring prowess may be their undoing against Kildare, who backed up a draw on the opening weekend against Armagh with a fine win in brutal conditions down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Brewster Park will be a stern test for the Lilywhites, but you should expect them to have more scoring in their locker to keep them near the top of Division 2.

Verdict: Kildare

Allianz FL Division 3

Down v Westmeath, Pairc Esler, 7pm

Down steadied the ship after an atrocious opening round loss to Laois by beating Sligo by two points last weekend. It was a decent game, with Caolan Mooney’s late goal getting them over the line. Down were also able to spring Ryan Johnston and Donal O’Hare from the bench, who together contributed six points of their 1-12.

Westmeath had to share the spoils with Carlow last week, but were down to 14 men mid-way through the second half after captain Kieran Martin picked up two bookings. This is a good opportunity for Down to peg another two points to the table and put them on track for promotion back to Division 2.

Verdict: Down 

Sunday 10th February

Allianz FL Division 1

Roscommon v Tyrone, Dr Hyde Park, 2pm (TG4 deferred)

This could be a fiery one in Dr Hyde Park, given the sides fortunes thus far. The Rossies failed to get out of the traps in Castlebar on the opening night, but were much better on their way to a two point win over Monaghan last weekend thanks to a late Enda Smith penalty. They’ll be boosted by the return of Donie Smith into action after his one game suspension, and with Tyrone struggling thus far feel like they can take a scalp out of the Ulster side. Former Kerry player Conor Cox showed what he was capable of with a five point showing against Monaghan.

Indeed, last year’s All-Ireland finalists just haven’t got going in the league so far. A dreary loss to Kerry on the opening night was followed up with a nine point loss to Mayo. You’d expect some form of retribution from the Red hands, otherwise they’ll be deep in the mire of a relegation battle.

Verdict: Tyrone

Monaghan v Galway, Inniskeen, 2pm (TG4)

Monaghan were brought back down to size with that loss to Roscommon last week. They weren’t far off though, and finished the game without young Stephen O’Hanlon who received his marching orders after getting involved with Evan McGrath off the ball. Monaghan have been experimental with their starting fifteen so far, including springing their talisman Conor McManus from the bench. Drew Wylie was another who started in the dugout, so it will be interesting if they see this game as a chance to start with their strongest unit after two weeks of action.

Galway got blown away by Dublin in Croke Park, scoring just seven points as Dublin blitzed them for 1-15. But the Tribesmen are without a horde of players through club commitments, as Corofin prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final next weekend. That includes duo Liam Silke and All-Star Ian Burke, in addition to the powerhouse Damien Comer. Given the absentees, Monaghan could field a side more than capable of picking up another fine win in Division 1.

Verdict: Monaghan

Allianz FL Division 2

Clare v Cork, Cusack Park, 2pm

Two teams in badly need of a win, with just a draw each propping them up in the table. There was a time when you wouldn’t give Clare a chance against the Cork footballers, but the Bannermen enter this game as favourites according to the bookies and it’s easy to see why. Cork are far from the side they once were and were disappointing against Kildare last weekend, with soft ground underfoot not helping anyone. An opening weekend draw to Fermanagh is all they can account for thus far.

Clare, meanwhile, are going from strength to strength in the football department. They’ve got decent talent in forward positions, Keelan Sexton and David Tubridy – scorer of 1-7 against Armagh – make for a classy full forward line. Cork badly need a win, but Clare are genuinely the stronger side at the moment and are capable of getting the two points.

Verdict: Clare

Meath v Armagh, Pairc Tailteann, 2pm

Armagh are still chasing their first win of the campaign, yet are also unbeaten. Kieran McGeeney will be relatively pleased with their current positioning in the middle of the Division 2 table, but the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain will still have a sour taste after last week, when they really should have claimed the two points over Clare, relinquishing a four-point lead in the closing stages. Having to give up home advantage in that game due to a breach in overseas training regulations, and some questionable refereeing decisions did not go in their favour, and the Orchard county will be hopeful of getting something out of their trip to the Royal County this Sunday.

There’s nothing easy about a February trip to Navan, and Meath, off the back of a victory over basement side Tipperary and a narrow loss to unbeaten Donegal, will be optimistic that they can make a serious move towards the more prominent echelons of this Division. It could be a crucial game in deciding who progresses to the final, and is a particularly tricky one to call.

Verdict: Armagh

Tipperary v Donegal, Semple Stadium, 2pm

The Premier County just about rescued a draw in Semple Stadium last week, a late Liam McGrath free earning them a point in what was far from a classic. Having been soundly beaten in the first round, Tipperary are at risk of slipping into the relegation mire should the fall to Donegal this weekend. Liam Kearns’ men are without a cohort of big names, not least their talisman in the forwards Mikey Quinlivan. For a side that’s been decimated by travel and the allure of hurling over the years, injury hits can be very costly.

Donegal on the other hand are two from two and looking sharp under Declan Bonner in his second year in charge. They did need a fortuitous goal to help get them past Meath, but 0-16 and 1-13 in their two outings so far is good scoring and Tipp will find it difficult to match something similar.

Verdict: Donegal

Allianz FL Division 3

Carlow v Longford, Netwatch Cullen Park, 2pm

It’s the clash of the two table toppers in Division 3. Longford claimed a point from a draw with Offaly from their last outing, and were unlucky not collect all 2.  They are injury-plagued, and missing several other panellists for various reasons, which certainly hands the Barrow-siders an advantage. The momentum is with Carlow across the spectrum currently, and they are always a force at home. They will feel somewhat aggrieved that they did not come away with a win against Westmeath, but look poised to continue to build on the feel-good factor currently in the county.

Verdict: Carlow

Offaly v Louth, O’Connor Park, 2pm

The Faithful were fortunate to come away with a point against Longford with a late free, while Louth come into this game brimming with new-found confidence, having upset the odds to beat Laois in Croke Park. Offaly were defeated narrowly in their opening game against Westmeath, and will be keen to stop the rot in the county at home this weekend, making them far from an easy proposition. It’s an incredibly tight division, and this game is particularly tricky to call.

Verdict: Draw

Laois v Sligo, O’Moore Park, 2pm

Shocked by their defeat to Louth, you would expect Laois to come into this game against rock-bottom Sligo fuelled and ready for action. Sligo’s snazzy new white kits have not offered them much in the way of league points, as they were comfortably beaten by Carlow, and then lost out to Down by 2 points at home last weekend. It’s difficult to see them coming away with anything in Portlaoise.

Verdict: Laois

Allianz FL Division 4

Waterford v Derry, Fraher Field, 12.30pm

Derry were, and indeed still are, expected to cruise through the basement division, but their train was almost derailed in the first round against a determined Antrim, whom they just about got past. It is likely that this will serve as an adequate wake-up, and they followed this up with a relatively comfortable seven point victory over London. Waterford are without a point following the opening two rounds, and the feel-good factor surrounding their magnificent championship win over Wexford last season seems to have evaporated. They are at home, but are unlikely to cause an upset.

Verdict: Derry

Leitrim v Antrim, Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, 2pm

The best team in the country have the chance to make it three wins from three against a struggling Antrim side. They’ve put up 3-15 and 1-16 in the league thus far, the highest in all four divisions with the best scoring difference. Antrim suffered defeat to Wexford last week and lost to Derry by a point in week one. It’s going to difficult to keep pace with Leitrim’s scoring potency.

Verdict: Leitrim

London v Wexford, McGovern Park, 2pm

Wexford were unlucky in having to face Leitrim, the in-form side of the Division, first this year, and shipped a demoralising defeat. They have bounced back, and claimed a crucial two points over Antrim. They travel to Ruislip to face a plucky London outfit, who were beaten by seven away to Derry, whom many regard as being several divisions higher in standard. This won’t be one-way traffic, yet the momentum should swing the way of the Slaneysiders.

Verdict: Wexford

Wicklow v Limerick, Aughrim, 2pm

Unbeaten Limerick travel to the original fortress of the South-East. Wicklow were narrowly beaten by Leitrim last time out, and claimed a valuable two points over Waterford in the initial rounds. There is precious little between the bottom six teams in this Division, and this could make for an intriguing encounter. Confidence will be higher than it has been previously in Limerick, but this trip is likely to see their unbeaten run come to an end.

Verdict: Wicklow

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