The first ‘Sideline Cut’ podcast here on SportsTalk has certainly created plenty of interest, as Antrim’s Ciaran Johnston joined SportsTalk’s Cóilín Duffy to review and preview the action in hurling’s Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup’s.
There’s 12 games across the four competitions this weekend, and here’s the lads thoughts on how the action will go.
JOE MCDONAGH CUP
Antrim v Laois, Pearse Park, Dunloy, 1pm, Saturday
Antrim-Laois games are very difficulty to predict. There’s a lot of familiarity between the sides and there’s going to be no surprises on either side. Antrim will know what Laois will bring to the table, and likewise Laois will know about Antrim. I think purely when it comes to this fixture it’s about whatever team performs on the day. We’ve gone to O’Moore Park and got results. Obviously Laois more recently have gone to us and got a result. This one is going to come down to it on the day. Laois will be hugely hungry for a win, and you would imagine if Antrim were able to get that third win they will be on their way to a final so there’s a lot on the line for both teams.
Ciaran’s verdict: Antrim
In recent years and in a lot of decisive matches between these counties Laois have come to the fore. There’s nothing more crucial than a win for the O’Moore’s this Saturday, as they aim to avoid relegation. It’s hard to believe one of the pre competition favourites are in this position, and after back-to-back losses, Eamonn Kelly’s charges will be hoping for third time lucky. This hunger coupled with the absence of key Antrim players such Neil McManus and Michael Armstong through heavy injuries picked up last week against Carlow, should help Laois, but one expects plenty from the likes of Nigel Elliott and Conor Johnston upfront, while Eddie McCluskey and Simon McCrory will make it sticky for Laois in midfield.
Cóilín’s verdict: Laois
Carlow v Meath, Netwatch Cullen Park, 3pm, Saturday
Carlow will obviously have a few suspensions after the Antrim game. The likes of Marty Kavanagh and Seamus Murphy didn’t play last weekend and they are more than capable of filling those gaps. I think just with the quality Carlow have they can win. Meath obviously will have the bit between their teeth naturally enough. They have suffered two defeats so far, and you could imagine that if they are beaten this weekend they will be looking at the relegation playoff.
Ciaran’s verdict: Carlow
Carlow will be disappointed with their showing last weekend, not least the defeat to Antrim but also picking up three red cards during the game. The Barrowsiders will be hoping for a much more disciplined performance at home to Meath on Saturday to get their campaign back on track, and they certainly can do this. They had a strong league campaign, in which they finished with silverware, and although Meath still have much of the same squad that won the Christy Ring Cup two years ago, #CarlowRising !
Cóilín’s verdict: Carlow
Kerry v Westmeath, Austin Stack Park, Tralee, 3pm, Sunday
This is a fixture that’s hard call, it’s purely on the day and either side could do it. If Westmeath were to win that would put them in a great position to secure one of the two final spots. Kerry will be rejuvinated after a fantastic win over Laois. It’s going to be a fantastic game of hurling. Both sets of players are going to be well up for it and treat everyone to a fantastic game. That’s the way you want it and that’s why when the competition was designed that’s what we were hoping for.
Ciaran’s verdict: Westmeath
These are two teams who will certainly produce an entertaining battle on Saturday. Kerry showed their eagerness for goals, as they claimed their first win of the competition to date against Laois last weekend, while Westmeath are only one of two teams unbeaten in the competition along with Antrim. Westmeath have responded well to their Allianz Division 2A League final loss to Carlow, and will be eager to keep this going – this will be close to call, but Westmeath should shade it.
Cóilín’s verdict: Westmeath
CHRISTY RING CUP
Armagh v Derry, Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 1pm, Saturday
I think it’s hard not to look past Derry here. As I said before I was surprised when I saw the Derry team were beaten in the first round, but listen these competitions always give you a second chance and that’s good to have another opportunity to redeem yourself. They’ll go to the Athletic Grounds with the likes of Chrissy McKaigue, Cormac O’Doherty and Sé ‘Sparky’ McGuigan in full hope that they are able to put in a solid performance. It’s hard to know where Armagh are at because there’s been so many withdrawals and the management changed. It is going to be a difficult year and you would say that you don’t think the Down result is going to be the last heavy defeat. I hope it’s the last big loss, but I can’t see anything other than a Derry win
Ciaran’s verdict: Derry
Two teams chasing their first win of the campaign, after Derry’s slender defeat to a dogged London side last weekend; and Armagh’s less than memorable display against Down. Armagh are finding it tough at the minute, and it could get even tougher on Saturday, while Derry despite the defeat are on an upward curve after a league campaign that saw many players absent through injury and club committments.
Cóilín’s verdict: Derry
Roscommon v Wicklow, Waldron Park, Athleague, 3pm, Saturday
Wicklow having beaten a team of Mayo’s quality last weekend, will be looking at themselves and saying ‘can we produce another performance and if we can do back-to-back and put in two fantastic performances we are making progress’ Roscommon with the likes of Jerry Fallon and Naos Connaughton will be licking their wounds and hurt from the magnitude of the loss to Kildare. We played them last year in the Christy Ring Cup and on that day they made things very difficult and it was just a really gritty ballsy performance. Albeit Wicklow had a fantastic win against Mayo, but I wouldn’t rule out Roscommon too early.
Ciaran’s verdict: Wicklow
Wicklow somewhat shocked Division 2B League champions Mayo with a win in Joule Park, Aughrim last weekend, but in my book this wasn’t a total shock. I was at the game and Wicklow showed huge dominance, and could afford 14 wides over the game. Wicklow opted to enter two squads into pre-season competitions this year, and it’s paying off. I expect them to have five points at least to spare over Roscommon.
Cóilín’s verdict: Wicklow
Mayo v Kildare, James Stephens Park, Ballina, 3pm, Saturday
Kildare racked up a really big score against Roscommon and they will be coming into this game with their tails up. They will go to Athleague fully in the expectation of taking another two points. It was disappointing for Mayo after having such a good league campaign to lose to Wicklow. They have a good team with the likes of Kenny Feeney and Shane Boland.
Ciaran’s verdict: Kildare
The Lilywhites are back with a bang, as their comfortable win over Roscommon showed, and it’s great to see Martin Fitzgerald, who bagged a hat-trick, once again giving a stunning display in the white jersey. Mayo expect to have Keith Higgins back in the squad and his input should he play will be key. The Westerners have had some injuries recently also, but have shown they can blow hot and cold in this competition at times in the past. Expect them to be sizzling in the sun on Saturday.
Cóilín’s verdict: Mayo
London v Down, McGovern Park, Ruislip, 2.30pm, Sunday
We went to Ruislip and they beat us in the league. It’s a very difficult place to go. Down will look at it and say that ‘if we can go to Ruislip and beat a team of London’s callibre that would push our year on and show we are going in the right direction, and the faith we have put in younger lads’. London will welcome Down in Ruislip and i’m sure they have set their stall out and are expecting another two points.
Ciaran’s verdict: London
Down put Ulster rivals Armagh to the sword last week scoring six goals in the progress. Granted the Orchard County have been weakened following some high profile departures, but I feel Down have got a good balance at present. Down have made the Ards Penninsula a fortress when it comes to winning games, and they’ll find the trip to Ruislip tough. Fergus McMahon’s side had a hard earned win away from home last weekend, and once again the likes of Henry Vaughan and Kevin O’Loughlin will need to be on top form if they are to win.
Cóilín’s verdict: Down
Nicky Rackard Cup
Warwickshire v Monaghan, Páirc na hÉireann, Birmingham, 2pm, Saturday
I think it will be a tester for Monaghan to get a true reflection of where they are at. Warwickshire could be within a shout of winning the competition, so it will provide a good barometer for Monaghan on the progress they have made and what is working for them. With the additions Warwickshire have made to the squad this year, it will be difficult to see anything other than a Warwickshire win.
Ciaran’s verdict: Warwickshire
I’d love for this one to be a tight encounter and I hope it is, but what I’ve seen of Warwickshire of late, they really can put teams to bed when they want too. Tony Joyce’s charges never made it easy for their opponents, and while Liam Watson – the star of their 2017 campaign isn’t around now, they’ve found an adequate replacement in fellow Antrim man Niall McKenna. Monaghan are well drilled under former Monaghan and Louth player Trevor Hilliard and will be well up for this game after a strong win last weekend.
Cóilín’s verdict: Warwickshire
Longford v Louth, Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, 3pm, Saturday
Louth will be keen to get Niall and Gerry Arthur back. They are obviously crucial to how they are going, and their performances through the year, and this was typified by their league form. Longford could make things very difficult for Louth, where they maybe are a bit unsure of themselves. Obviously it was a difficult game against Monaghan conceding 4-19. That’s a very difficult fixture to call.
Ciaran’s verdict: Louth
In what is likely to be his last year in the Louth jersey, Shane Callan will be keen that his final Championship campaign doesn’t end on a disappointing note. The Pearse Óg clubman is their captain this year and is a central figure, while Niall and Gerry Arthur, David Kettle and Gerard Smyth will also need to be in top form. Longford take the bulk of their scores from Joe O’Brien and he got two goals last time out – they’ll need a few green flags if they’ve any chance of a home win.
Cóilín’s verdict: Louth
Donegal v Leitrim, O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny, 3pm, Saturday
Donegal had the luxury of a game last week where they beat Tyrone. Leitrim are going in the right direction. It’s all progress and last year they were unlucky to lose out to Warwickshire in the final powered by Liam Watson. Leitrim will be relishing the chance of a hard tough test with Donegal. It’s hard to look past Donegal for the win having scored 1-26 last week, and I’d love to see them push on with the players they’ve got.
Ciaran’s verdict: Donegal
Leitrim reached the Lory Meagher Cup final last year, and made great strides. Likewise they were unlucky to lose this years Division 3B decider to Lancashire in Ballyconnell after extra-time – a game I witnessed. There’s much to talk about in a positive light from a Leitrim perspective, but Donegal have a well balanced side, and after picking up a comfortable win against Tyrone look on course to take back-to-back victories.
Cóilín’s verdict: Donegal
Lory Meagher Cup
Lancashire v Sligo, Old Bedians Sports Ground, Manchester, 4pm, Saturday
Sligo having to travel to Manchester brings its own difficulties and I’m sure it is unusual territory for them, but they are also progressing. Lancashire have a good team this year and they will be very keen to push on in terms of silverware, having already won the league.
Ciaran’s verdict: Sligo
Sligo have maybe underachieved in recent years, but this Summer have a real chance to make their mark on the biggest stage of them all in Croke Park. Both teams have realistic ambitions of reaching the hallow turf next month, and this game will be crucial in their progression. In fact don’t be surprised if this is the final pairing. Much has been made of Keith Raymond’s contributions for the Westerners in recent years, but they are a well balanced squad. Lancashire come into this game having won the Allianz Division 3B Hurling League and offer an abundance of talent – Ronan Crowley and Nathan Unwin are just two players to watch – this one will be tight and home advantage could prove key.
Cóilín’s verdict: Lancashire
Fermanagh v Cavan, 5pm, Brewster Park, Enniskillen, 5pm, Saturday
It’s been well documented the hurling struggles Fermanagh and Cavan have both endured. Cavan it’s fantastic to see them back playing. As a hurling man I want to see every county progressing and pushing on. Dinny Cahill was in with them last year. When they are back playing everything is a bonus then. They are working hard and lets see where it takes them. We can only applaud and encourage them. Fermanagh are basically one club. I know other counties might work off three or four, but with one you can only progress so far. Fermanagh have had teams like Lisbellaw winning Championships in Ulster, and the likes of Shea Curran played for my own club St Johns in Belfast last year – they are great hurling people.
Ciaran’s verdict: Fermanagh
While Cavan’s return to action last year has been well documented, they actually beat Saturday’s opponents in the league already this year. While it was just by the minimum margin on a 3-8 to 0-16 score-line, it shows there’s potential to do the same in the Championship. It was Cavan’s only win of the campaign, and it ensured Fermanagh finished the league pointless. Goals will again be key in this encounter.
Cóilín’s verdict: Cavan