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8 May 2008 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column

Matt Treacy

Matt Treacy

Prediction time

THE Senior Championships start on Sunday and so it is time for me to make my famously accurate predictions for the months ahead. First up are New York and Leitrim in the Connacht football quarter-final. The winners get to play Galway or Roscommon in the semi-finals. Leitrim to advance but most likely only to a defeat by Galway.
The Ulster hurling championship is being run on a unique basis this year with ten teams including London taking part. The outcome will be a 48th win for Antrim but with some potentially interesting encounters on the way. The only teams to recently contest Antrim’s dominance have been Derry and Down, and before that you have to go back to 1932 when it was won by Donegal.
Ulster begins with two games involving neighbours more commonly associated with football rivalry. Cavan play Monaghan and Fermanagh take on Tyrone. On the basis of league form, I would take Monaghan and Fermanagh (just about) to go on to meet Donegal and London respectively.

THE big football game of the weekend is the meeting of Longford and Westmeath in Pearse Park. Longford began the year brightly in almost beating Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup final but had a bad league beating only those teams that finished below them in Division Three.
Westmeath, on the other hand, won Division Two and their confidence will be high. Longford do have a good record at home but the odds of 4/7 on Westmeath look about right and they should advance.
The question is will they advance any further?
The winners meet Offaly next and then either Dublin or Louth in the Leinster semi-final. Dublin, despite all the doubts, still have enough to see them all off but a meeting with Westmeath should be a lot closer than their most recent encounters.
The other side of the Leinster draw is made up of Meath and Carlow, who meet in Croke Park on Sunday week in a double-header alongside Kildare and Wicklow, and Wexford and Laois, who play the respective winners. Wexford are the form team, albeit from the lowly level of Division Three, but they have been threatening to throw some sort of a shape in Leinster for several years now. I take them to reach the final before probably succumbing to the Dubs.

MUNSTER is the most predictable province.
Both quarter-finals, Limerick v Tipp and Clare v Waterford, could be close but academic given that the final is almost beyond any shadow of a doubt going to be Kerry and Cork. Kerry, I imagine, will want to pursue Route One this year and you could find worse short odds favourites than themselves to retain Munster.
Sligo have greatly disappointed since winning Connacht last year, and unless they manage to turn their form around pretty quickly it would appear that the final is likely to be contested by old stalwarts Galway and Mayo. Mayo would also seem to have missed the boat and have lost too many of the players who made them competitive at the top level a few years ago. Galway under Liam Sammon seem to have regained some sort of shape and are fancied to come through.

ULSTER is the most difficult to divine. There are at least five teams who could win it and another two who might fancy their chances on a good day.
Tyrone are still the bookies’ favourites, based mainly on their record, but one feels that the weaknesses exposed in the qualifiers last year will emerge earlier. They face Down in the first round and Armagh, Antrim or Cavan in the semi-final.
Most likely their old orange nemesis who have been showing some signs of late that they might not be ready just yet to throw their hat at it.
The other side of the draw is tougher.
Monaghan face Fermanagh in the first round and play the winners of Donegal and Derry in the semi-finals.
A few months ago, Monaghan were most people’s favourites to come through that side but Derry look stronger and more dangerous at the moment and have struck form at the right time.
In truth, though, any of the four could reach the final but I will give the nod to Derry and that they will beat Armagh in the final.

OF COURSE, the fun only really starts after the provincials, when the winners come up against the teams that have navigated the qualifiers to reach the quarter-finals.
So far, I am predicting that Kerry, Dublin, Galway and Derry will reach that stage. Of the likely beaten provincial finalists Cork and Armagh are most likely to reach the quarter-finals.
Given the unpredictable nature of the draw it is difficult to foretell which of the earlier losing teams might  successfully negotiate the treacherous waters of the ‘back door’ and some of it depends on luck. It is all the more precarious because of the exclusion of the eight Division Four teams so there are few easy games any more.
With that qualification, I would reckon that teams like Westmeath, Wexford, Meath (with a stronger panel later on) and Monaghan and perhaps Tyrone or Donegal could feature in the latter stages of the campaign. After that, I won’t dare make any forecasts other than that Kerry, as the old cliché goes, will take all the beating.
Dublin are on a Blues Brothers-like mission but one feels that they will need to ride their luck all the way. Paradoxically, given that Kerry are odds-on to be the other finalists, I feel that much of the pressure would be off Dublin if they were to get to that stage and that the burden would shift, for once, to their opponents who would be attempting to attain what many thought to be unattainable in the modern game: the three-in-a-row. Then again, Kerry do pressure well and Dublin are just as likely perhaps to slip up before that.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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