Ulster SFC semi-final: Derry v Monaghan, Healy Park, Omagh, 5.0 (Live on GAAGO) – Rory Gallagher’s Derry enter as favourites, and yet they operated in Division Two this season. Indeed, this will be their first competitive game against a Division One side in league or championship since last summer.
To get here, Derry beat Fermanagh in an Ulster quarter-final while Monaghan, Division One’s great survivors, staged a rousing second-half fightback to overcome Tyrone.
Still, Derry have been a top-flight side in everything but name for quite some time now. They remain a team on an upward trajectory, but the same could not be said with absolute confidence about Monaghan. They are very much a here and now outfit, still standing, still fighting. But for how long more can Monaghan continue to produce these heroic displays of defiance that have come to define the county as much as the team?
While they have Conor McManus, anything and everything remains possible. But the metrics of what success looks like this season are different for both camps. And Derry’s sights go way beyond an Ulster semi-final. Verdict: Derry
Leinster SFC semi-finals
Offaly v Louth, Croke Park, 1.45 (Live on GAAGO) – Despite the rip-roaring manner of their comeback against Westmeath last Sunday, Louth’s first-half showing must surely be a cause for concern within the Wee County’s dressingroom.
Louth are not accustomed to entering such games as favourites and the burden of that might have played its part in their stuttering opening showing last weekend. They now enter a Leinster semi-final tipped to win, another uncommon occurrence.
Mickey Harte will be only too aware that he must get his side mentally prepared to begin strongly against an Offaly side arriving to Croke Park riding a wave of euphoria following last Sunday’s win over Meath.
And no Offaly team has ever feared Louth. This is a free hit for the Faithful County, which makes them a dangerous opponent for Louth. Verdict: Louth
Kildare v Dublin, Croke Park, 4.0 (Live on GAAGO) – Dublin put up a total on Laois last Sunday that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Galle International Stadium this week, though Kildare will surely provide the Dubs with a sterner test here than the O’Moore County managed.
Glenn Ryan’s Lilywhites have plodded through a rather indifferent season and nothing in their league form would indicate this is a team that is going to inflict upon Dublin a first Leinster SFC defeat since 2010.
Kildare conceded more than they scored in Division Two. However, they were comfortable winners over Wicklow in a Leinster quarter-final and with such low expectations on them for this game, it could be the kind of contest for which they raise a gallop.
By the time they take to the field the outcome of Louth-Offaly will also have informed Kildare of their championship status (though Down-Armagh also starts at 4pm). Ultimately, they are facing a better team here and one wonders if this Kildare side genuinely retain the belief they can beat Dublin. Verdict: Dublin
Ulster SFC semi-final: Down v Armagh, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones, 4pm (Live on BBC NI) – There is a much better balance to this Down team compared to what we have seen from them in recent years. The coaching ticket is obviously getting a tune from the players and in manager Conor Laverty there appears to be a unifying figure that the entire county is prepared to get behind.
The under-20 success midweek was the latest building block for a county on the rise again. However, their conditioning is not as far progressed as their opponents here.
Armagh have been a work in progress now for several seasons, and as a squad they are further down the road in their development and knowing what they are about.
They’ve also chalked up two championship wins already, victories over Antrim and Cavan, and enter this game on the best run of form they have had all season. Verdict: Armagh