Provincial races heat up as Ballygunner begin defence of their All-Ireland crown

Hurling champions face Tipp kingpins Kilruane while defeated All-Ireland football finalists Kilmacud square up to Naas in a rerun of last season’s Leinster final


Ulster club SFC preliminary round:

Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) v Ballybay (Monaghan), Athletic Grounds, 7.15 [Live, RTÉ2] – Cross’ ended the ‘famine’ in the Armagh final after losing the previous two finals. They’ve a decent, young team who blitzed first time finalists Granemore and are now back in the hunt for a provincial title – they’ve only won one in the past 10 years.

Ballybay deserved their long-awaited Monaghan championship – although not at their best in the final when finally dethroning Scotstown – and have a chance in this, given their core of experienced county players from the Wylies in defence to the McGuinness’s backboning their attack. All-Ireland champions Kilcoo await the winners. Verdict: Crossmaglen



Leinster SFC quarter-finals (Winner on the day)

Palatine (Carlow) v Portarlington (Laois), Netwatch Cullen Park Carlow, 3.0 – Palatine sprang a surprise on St Patrick’s in the first round and looked well-drilled and confident. This is a step up though against the side that came closest to stopping Kilmacud in last year’s championship. Verdict: Portarlington

Ratoath (Meath) v Rhode (Offaly), Páirc Tailteann Navan, 2.0 – Ratoath edged the Meath final to regain a third title in four years. Rhode bounced back from last year’s disappointment against Tullamore but aren’t getting any younger even if Niall McNamee continues to defy the clock. Ratoath have some experience at this stage and home advantage.

Verdict: Ratoath

The Downs (Westmeath) v St Mary’s Ardee (Louth), TEG Cusack Park Mullingar, 2.0 – The Downs sprang a surprise in the Westmeath final when beating St Loman’s and can build on that despite the club’s poor record against Louth teams in the province, zero from three. St Mary’s have the advantage of having played already, defeating Longford’s Colmcille.

Verdict: The Downs

Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin) v Naas (Kildare), Parnell Park, 3.30 [Live, RTÉ2] – A rematch of last year’s Leinster final in Croke Park. Naas were very disappointing, especially in the second half when they allowed the Dublin champions to disappear over the horizon.

Kilmacud were missing Paul Mannion but Naas were without Darragh Kirwan, their best forward in the recent county final win over Clane. He’s back and Mannion is again out but Crokes have Shane Walsh on board this year.

Speculation is that Eoin Doyle will go after him but Walsh is on form this year and proved critical in the Dublin final. Both teams have excellent defences: Naas were extremely strong in the tackle against Clane whereas Rory O’Carroll continues to call the shots for the champions.

James Burke and Alex Beirne will put it up to Kilmacud at centrefield but up front the Dublin champions look a bit better with better bench options. They’d have preferred Croke Park to Parnell Park but at least have the experience of digging out results in Donnycarney. Verdict: Kilmacud

Munster club SHC quarter-final

Ballygunner (Waterford) v Kilruane MacDonagh’s (Tipperary), Walsh Park, 1.30 [Live, TG4] – Two teams coming in off different preparation. Ballygunner haven’t played since winning a ninth county title on the bounce all of eight weeks ago. Kilruane, however, have spent the past two weeks scrapping out a replayed win for a first Dan Breen in 37 years.

That and the celebrations that followed means their preparation for this is not exactly ideal. They will be buoyant and up for the challenge of taking on the All-Ireland champions and, after all, bucked all presumptions in the two Tipp finals.

Ballygunner though have practice at navigating long periods of idleness, such as last year when they emerged also after eight weeks and gave Ballyea a walloping. Kilruane have to be tired and are unlikely to find the Waterford club as inclined to tune out as Kiladangan.

Verdict: Ballygunner

Limerick SFC final

Adare v Newcastle West, Kilmallock, 3.0 – The two dominant teams of recent years since Adare came up from intermediate and won their first senior title. This will be a sixth successive championship for either of the two clubs and will be a seventh win in eight years between them. Adare are missing Hugh Bourke with long-term injury but will be hoping for a less lacklustre outing than last year.

Verdict: Newcastle West

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times