Oddschecker hurling

GAA Fixtures: This weekend

(Extra-time if needed]
All-Ireland SFC semi-finals

Castlebar Mitchels (Mayo) v Dr Croke s (Kerry), O’Moore Park, 3pm – On paper the Kerry champions have the advantage of experience and the hunger of having lost semi-finals in the previous two years. Yet the club championship moves on and Crokes are not guaranteed success.

They’re a good club team and have the right amount of star wattage in several Kerry players plus the most celebrated footballer of his generation, Colm Cooper. But there’s a sense that opponents figured them out in previous semi-finals. Ballymun bottled them up and gave their rated attack no room, whereas Crossmaglen put a stop to the surges through centrefield that had established an early lead.

Castlebar can bring a bit of both approaches. Their defence has been very tight and Barry Moran has manned the middle effectively so Crokes won’t have it all their own way there. There’s been an impressive calm about the Mayo champions and away wins against two big names in Connacht football – Corofin and defending All-Ireland champions St Brigid’s – exhibited that clearly. The Killarney club deserve to be favourites but they wobbled against Cratloe in the Munster final and will find this a sterner test than the bookies anticipate.

Ballinderry (Derry) v St Vincents (Dublin), Newry, 5pm – It’s a while since Derry clubs have maintained a consistent challenge in the championship and they haven’t won it since Ballinderry themselves 12 years ago, but the current standard bearers have a decent shot at it. Some of the players are familiar from 2002 – Conleith Gilligan, Enda Muldoon, most obviously – but there have also been some talented additions. Their customary composure was seen in the Ulster campaign when two men down against Crossmaglen’s conquerors Kilcoo and having shipped the early goal against Glenswilly.

Vincent’s have also shown great calm in surmounting similarly tricky challenges, losing Ger Brennan to a red card early in the Leinster quarter-final with Diarmuid Connolly already suspended, and have the priceless knack of finding important goals.

There’s been significant input from former county stalwarts Eamon Fennell in the middle and especially Tomás Quinn up front.

The long break hasn’t been good to the Dublin champions. Ruairi Treanor, the county hurler and one of the goal scorers in the Leinster final, is out with injury and there is speculation Brennan mightn’t be fit either. Vincent’s have made things difficult for themselves this campaign, conceding the initiative or handing it back, before winning out in the end. That modus operandi is going to come under pressure from the Ulster champions, who can ultimately crack it.

Ballysaggart (Waterford) v Creggan Kickhams (Antrim), Mullingar, 2pm – Creggan once again demonstrated how hard they are to put away in last week’s goal-blitz. In the end Ballysaggart had to save the match in extra-time and they can capitalise on that reprieve.

Division One
Tipperary v Waterford, Semple Stadium, 7pm [Setanta Sports 1] – Tipp’s selection doesn’t exactly correspond to the new broom everyone was expecting but the mood in the camp is good. Cathal Barrett, at corner back, is the only debutant but highly regarded Ronan Maher might see action.

Shane Fives is given a run in the troublesome number three jersey for Waterford, although a previous crack at it didn’t work out brilliantly. Their problem remains developing an attack that can win ball. Tipperary should be targeting the league and in a competitive division of only six teams, every win counts. This should be the home team’s comfortably.

Division One B
Cork v Limerick, Páirc Uí­ Rinn, 7pm [Setanta Ireland] – A stand-out fixture and high stakes now that promotion depends on topping the division, this revisiting of the Munster final has many angles. It gives football All Star Aidan Walsh his first competitive start for the seniors against the county that provided the opposition in his most famous under-age hurling performance, the 2011 provincial under-21 final. Limerick have injury troubles with both Séamus Hickey and Declan Hannon out long term. Under Jimmy Barry-Murphy Cork have started the league well at home. With a strong selection available, they can maintain that trend.

(2pm unless stated)
Clare v Kilkenny, Cusack Park [Live TG4] – A fascinating match pitches the All-Ireland champions against their predecessors and league holders. David Fitzgerald was talking Clare down during the week and after the tumult of last year’s success, they’re likely to be a bit less settled than Kilkenny, who were back training early after their fastest championship exit in decades.

In the Walsh Cup final they looked lively and sharp against Dublin with a fairly experimental team. Manager Brian Cody said he’d be giving newcomers a chance in the league and although his counterpart has a young team, he also has deep reservoir of under-21 talent he’s yet to trial extensively. Kilkenny tend to react badly to losing the All-Ireland and a purposeful campaign can be expected. It should start positively tomorrow.

Galway v Dublin, Pearse Stadium, [Deferred, TG4] – Another provincial final re-run, this gives Galway a shot at restitution after the summer’s humiliating beating. Dublin looked short on dexterity against Kilkenny a fortnight ago but battled very well even if they couldn’t quite catch their opponents. Mark Schutte suggested he might be ready in the forwards and Cian O’Callaghan built on his emerging reputation at the back. Joey Boland is out with injury and Paul Ryan is doubtful although named.

Galway are missing the Portumna players, most critically captain Joe Canning, as well as a couple of injuries to Cyril Donnellan, Shane Kavanagh and Niall Burke. Dublin won’t want to fall into the old alternating season syndrome and can begin their return to the top division on a successful note.

Antrim v Wexford, Ballycastle – Wexford were competitive in the Walsh Cup and for all their poor record in Antrim, know any notions of challenging Cork or Limerick will be still born without a win here. They can get it.

Offaly v Laois, O’Connor Park – This would be an interesting renewal of the midlands’ big hurling rivalry on Laois’s return to the division were it not for Séamus Plunkett’s extensive injury list, which makes a solid start likely for Brian Whelahan in his first year.

Derry v Kerry, Owenbeg, 2.30 pm – Kerry to make a profitable but lengthy journey.
Londonv Westmeath , Ruislip, 2.30 – Having missed out on promotion last year, Westmeath will get this season off to a winning start.

Kildare v Carlow, Newbridge – Hurling remains buoyant in Carlow with Mount Leinster Rangers’ heroics. Losing the MLR players won’t help but they should still win here.

Mayo v Fingal, Beckan; Wicklow v Meath, Arklow; Armagh v Down, Athletic Grounds.

Donegal v Fermanagh, Ballyshannon; Monaghan v Longford, Inniskeen; Louth v Roscommon, Darver.

Connacht v Munster, Tuam Stadium – Munster will be a straightforward Cork-Kerry combination in the absence of the boycotting players from the other counties whereas Connacht await their first success in 45 years.

Leinster v Ulster, Páirc Tailteann – Leinster have provided most of the resistance to Ulster’s modern domination and with a number of Dublin All-Ireland winners named, they will be challenging strongly again but Joe Kernan’s side are more likely winners.

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