Its All-Ireland quarter-finals weekend, and there are four great matches on Saturday and Sunday. We preview all the matches and have the latest team news
All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final. Mayo v Down. Croke Park. 5pm.
Mayo and Down clash this Saturday in the first of four football quarter-finals to take place at headquarters over the weekend.
Mayo had a mixed provincial campaign where they trounced Leitrim in their first outing but then struggled for long periods in the final against Sligo. Over recent seasons however they have often saved their best form for the All Ireland series.
In last year’s quarter-final they shocked a highly fancied Cork side and team manager James Horan will be looking for a similar performance on Saturday evening.
Aiden O’ Shea is expected to return for the Connacht side, his physicality and ball carrying ability will be a welcome addition. Defensively Keith Higgins and Donal Vaughan are key performers. Up front Alan Dillon, Enda Varley and Andy Moran all have the ability to hurt opposition defences.
Morale in in the Down camp would no doubt have been low after the Ulster final defeat to Donegal. But they recovered sufficiently to defeat Tipperary six days later and now find themselves in the last eight.
The Mourne men have a tremendous record in Croke Park and this self belief was evident in their surprise run to the All Ireland final two years ago.
Ambrose Rodgers in the middle of the park and veteran marksman Benny Coulter are still performing to a high level. They will be ably assisted by Aiden Carr and the in form Conor Laverty.
This is an interesting tie and Down are a team that can never be written off, especially in Croke Park. But Mayo appear to have a more balanced team and their defence looks much stronger. They should advance to the last four.
Mayo: D Clarke, K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins, L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle, B Moran, D Geraghty, K McLoughlin, C O’ Connor, A Dillon, E Varley, A Moran, J Doherty.
All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final. Dublin v Laois. Croke Park. 7pm.
Dublin and Laois meet this weekend in the second quarter-final at Croke Park on Saturday evening. These two teams will be very familiar to each other, but they rarely do battle outside of the Leinster championship.
Pat Gilroy’s men have shown fragmented form all season and they have struggled to rediscover the hunger and drive that was so evident last year.
Winning the All Ireland in 2011 will have taken a lot of pressure off them and as they now enter the business end of the championship it will very interesting to see if they can play with more freedom and attacking flair.
The Brogan Brothers, Alan and Bernard are key in this regard and most of their attacking patterns are centered around these two men. Eoghan O’ Gara has earned a recall and he brings something different to the table with his huge physique and direct style. Midfielder Micheal Dara McGauley and centre back Kevin Nolan will be expected to launch the attacks from the back.
Laois have slipped into the quarter-finals under the radar somewhat and they have built momentum in the qualifiers after losing to Longford in the Leinster championship.
Their performance against Meath last weekend was impressive and they showed much more attacking adventure than in previous rounds.
Kevin Meaney and John O’ Loughlin led the defence with authority. Midfielder Brendan Quigley and their top scorer Ross Munnelly were also to the fore in that tie.
Laois have nothing to lose and in reaching the last eight they have already achieved a great deal. Dublin have ambitions to regain their All Ireland crown and a win this weekend would edge them ever closer to that goal. They should have enough scoring power to see them safely through.
Dublin: S Cluxton, M Fitzsimons, R O’Carroll, P McMahon, J McCarthy, K Nolan, C O’Sullivan, E Fennell, D Bastick, P Flynn, A Brogan, B Cullen; B Brogan, M D Macauley, E O’Gara.
Laois: E Culliton, C Healy, K Meaney, P O’Leary; D Strong, J O’ Loughlin, C Boyle, B Quigley, C Begley, R Munnelly, G Walsh, D O’Connor, B Sheehan, P Clancy, C Kelly.
All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final. Cork v Kildare Croke Park. 2pm.
On Sunday at 2pm, Munster champions Cork face Kildare in Croke Park, with both sides looking to make up for quarter-final defeats in 2011 by making the last four this year.
The Rebels have been at this stage of the competition every year since 2005, their shock defeat to Mayo in the quarter-finals last year the only occasion they have faltered at this stage of the competition in that time.
Kildare’s quarter-finals record is far less impressive, with their victory over Meath in 2010 the only time in their last four attempts that they have successfully negotiated this particular hurdle.
Speaking about their approach to the Cork match, Kildare captain John Doyle said: “We are where we want to be, but at the start of the year you don’t think like that. It’s an old cliché but it’s all about the next game and that’s the way it is.
“The journey has to start with the first step and then when it’s coming every week you just have to get the result and move on and work hard for the week and learn something.
“You have to try to keep on top of your game because what worked well for us against Sligo (last weekend) won’t necessarily work well the next day.”
Rustiness is a massive worry for this Cork side, having had a lengthy absence from Championship play, with only a routine victory over Clare in the eight weeks since beating Kerry for the Munster crown, but that should largely be offset by their bench depth.
Graham Canty returns for Cork in place of Eoin Cotter, who drops to the bench. The 2010 All-Ireland winning captain is named in his traditional centre-back role, with Noel O’Leary moving to wing-back.
Kildare are unchanged from the side that beat Sligo, which means that there’s no starting line-up spot for Seanie Johnston, who must make do with a place on the bench again, alongside Dermot Earley.
Cork: A Quirke; R Carey, M Shields, E Cadogan; P Kissane, G Canty, N O’Leary; A O’Connor, A Walsh; F Goold, C Sheehan, P Kerrigan; C O’Neill, D O’Connor, N Murphy.
Kildare: S Connolly, O Lyons, P Kelly, H McGrillen, E Bolton, M O’Flaherty, E Doyle, M Foley, R Kelly, E O’Flaherty, M Conway, J Doyle, A Smith, T O’Connor, J Kavanagh
All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final. Donegal v Kerry. Croke Park. 4pm.
At 4pm on Sunday, Ulster champions Donegal and 36-time All-Ireland winners Kerry meet for, unbelievably, the first ever time in the championship.
For many neutrals, the meeting of these two in-form sides is the most eagerly anticipated of all the quarter-final clashes this weekend.
Donegal, for many, have been the best team in the championship so far this year, and according to Donegal forward Leo McLoone “A lot of teams have been working on ways to stop our play and we were definitely underdogs (more often) last year.”
“Maybe teams are watching out for us that bit more after winning Ulster last year. This year we will be under that bit more pressure.
“Our main goal at the start of the year was to retain the Ulster Championship and we have done that. I suppose you always want more when you are winning and of course we want to win every game from now on but that won’t be easy.
Kerry boss Jack O’Connor reckons Donegal will be a huge test for the Kingdom,”(Jim) McGuinness (Donegal manager) has a fantastic system going there. They’re an absolutely serious team, within a kick of a ball of getting to a final last year,” he said.
“It’s a great challenge for us this week to plan our strategy for them. They have certainly moved the goalposts as regards strategy.”
O’Connor says that he is not expecting a lot of open football on Sunday but Kerry will be trying hard “We are not expecting a pile of pretty football in Croke Park and we will be doing our best to keep it open as much as we can. In their semi-final game last year, they played Gaelic football like we have never seen it before. That is a massive challenge for us as coaches, management and players to try and break that down” explained the Kerry boss.
Kerry have named an unchanged team for the game, while Donegal are expected to do likewise, with key defender Karl Lacey set to start after there were some concerns that he might not be able to make it.
Kerry: B Kealy; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony, S Enright; T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, K Young; A Maher, B Sheehan; P Galvin, Declan O’Sullivan, D Walsh; J O’Donoghue, C Cooper, K Donaghy.
We will have live score commentary on all four matches on http://livescores.sportsnewsireland.com/