Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final
Waterford vs Limerick, Sunday 31st, Croke Park, 2pm
A novel pairing, a novel venue. Sunday’s clash will provide a fascinating insight into how both sides are shaping up ahead of the championship. A win leaves the victor with a real pep in their step going into the club-only month of April. While not an out-and-out disaster for the loser, a solid performance is key. A capitulation by either side at this point would spell a period of discontentment and concern in the camp, hardly an ideal time for that to happen, given the break that is about to ensue,
Waterford last claimed league honours in 2015, and are, without question, a different proposition to last season, even at this point. Plagued by injuries, bad luck, and shoddy performances, they finished bottom of Munster and were largely written off by the hurlers’ on the ditch heading into this season. Paraic Fanning has turned their fortunes around, and resurrected the coolness, style and vigour associated with Déise teams of old. The Ballygunner contingent play a vital role in this side, with a rejuvenated Austin Gleeson likely to wreak some havoc on the open spaces of Croke Park. Expect this to be a tactical, high scoring battle, with an equally high amount of wides. There’ll be pockets of space, and a jam-packed middle, essentially boiling it down to whoever misses the least.
Limerick will be keen to rewrite some more history, and attain their first league title since 1997. Though not as horrifying as the 1973 curse, it’s still a stat they will be anxious to put to bed as their period of dominance continues. Their only trip up so far in this campaign has been, somewhat bizarrely, to Cork at home, in a game, at the time, they would have been expected to win. It’s not the easiest of commutes for either side, yet for both counties, complainants against trips to Croke Park clearly have short memories and their devotion questionable. The roadworks on the N7 promise a slow trip home. It’ll go substantially quicker for supporters of the victor.
Verdict: Limerick +2
Allianz Football League Division 1 Final
Mayo vs Kerry, Sunday 31st, Croke Park, 4pm
They say Kerry fans don’t acknowledge the league. Perhaps in bygone eras, when their pockets were so overladen with gold that they didn’t have to, that was the case. These days, humble pie (such as it is) has to be eaten and a national title, well, is a national title. Widely expected to bring the smallest crowd of the four men’s teams represented on Sunday, it’s a victory that the Kingdom could do with, as it’s now a substantially more prestigious piece of silverware to them than a Munster title, given the journey required to claim it. Their young protegés have stolen the headlines, with good reason, of late, and they have given fans every reason to be optimistic, particularly with the normally unflappable Dublin showing glints, narrow, narrow glints, of weakness in the early season.
They played out an entertaining game with their opponents in the latter stages of the league, coming out on the wrong side of the contest in Tralee, something they will be anxious to make amends for. Tommy Walsh has made exceptional use of the advanced mark – something he won’t be able to do in championship, but his presence as a focal point in the attack has added another dimension to their game, while the returning David Clifford brings obvious benefits.
Mayo have halted premature rumours of their demise in their tracks during this campaign, with the return of James Horan having a calming effect, resulting in some excellent football, and largely positive results overall. All-Star keeper David Clarke looks set to miss out, but when you have someone of the stature of Rob Hennelly in reserve, it shouldn’t be a defining factor in the game. Kerry are slightly favoured by the bookies, but we here at GAA Wrap reckon the massive Mayo support expected in Croker will have a bearing, and they will continue to build on the feel-good factor out west.
Verdict: Mayo +1
Allianz Football League Division 2 Final
Meath vs Donegal, Saturday 30th, Croke Park, 5pm
The Royals’ have been fairly unstoppable so far in the league, auguring well that their championship form may follow a similar pattern. They will be very keen to claim some silverware to back up their consistency, but in their way stands an intimidating gold and green wall. Donegal were victorious in the earlier meeting of the sides, although only just. It has the makings of a fantastically entertaining spectacle, and one that is exceptionally difficult to call.
Donegal remain without the services of Paddy McBrearty, a huge loss, undoubtedly, yet still hold onto the favourites tag. It’s Meath’s first time gaining promotion to Division 1 since 2006, the same year Leitrim last graced the hallowed turf in Croke Park, and one gets the sense that that may have been their main goal achieved. They’ll give it socks, but the O’Donnell men should prevail.
Verdict: Donegal +3
Allianz Football League Division 4 Final
Leitrim vs Derry, Saturday 30th, Croke Park, 3pm
It sounds very much like the tumbleweed will be rolling around Carrick-On-Shannon on Saturday, with the county’s football fans descending on Croke Park for Leitrim’s first trip there in some thirteen years. Last year it was Carlow rising, this year, so far, has been about the county with the smallest population in the country. There’s no denying that Derry are strong favourites for this, having dismissed Leitrim’s challenge in the round game, but, as they admit themselves, this is Leitrim’s championship, and nothing will be left out on the field.
Both sides have already gained promotion to Division 3 next season, so the silverware is what’s on the line. It is likely that most neutrals will be cheering for the westerners, and while an upset is improbable, we’re a sucker for an underdog.
Verdict: Leitrim +1
Camogie League Division 1 Final
Galway vs Kilkenny, Sunday 31st, Croke Park, 12pm
Kilkenny are going for their fourth National League title in a row – a feat that would leave them one short of Cork in the overall roll of honour. Couple that with their victory over All-Ireland champions, Cork, in the semi-final, and it’s easy to see why they go into the game as warm favourites.
Galway, equally, have had an impressive campaign, culminating in a hammering of Limerick in the semi-final. They’ll fancy their chances of causing an upset, and will be be pleased to be getting some game time in HQ so early in the year.
Verdict: Kilkenny +3
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