Saturday, June 6
7:45 p.m.: Special league final Leitrim vs. Down
Leitrim come back to defend the title that they won against Cavan last season in this compelling contest as they face off against Down. Leitrim will be looking to build on the win over Cork last week and prove that they are in fact the favorites for the championship title this season.
It isn’t easy to win back to back in any competition, but the side has improved this season under the supervision of Paddy Kearney, particularly in the sanction end of affairs.
Pat Madden from Kerins O’Rahilly’s in Kerry is very impressive under a dropping ball and can cover ground quickly when given space. Mark Smith, from Longford Slashers, has loads of potential and may be better suited to 15 a side in the championship.
John O’Neill from Gracefield in Offaly will eventually find a slot in the full forward line, where he was sensational with Sligo two years ago. Add the tenacious Johnny Goldrick, the defensive skills of Dermot Keane, Alan Foley and Lonan Maguire, and Down will have a full hand in their quest for scores.
Dan Doona is having a rebirth under Kearney, and his scoring average is already way up from last year. Down will know the magnitude of the challenge ahead, but they are here on merit.
Some former Leitrim players pepper their ranks, with Drumkerrin natives Gary Cornyn and Shaun Munnelly holding leading roles. Sean Kelly from Drumahaire is at home as a defender or a forward, while Robbie Moran and James Mitchell both played with Leitrim-New York last season.
The tight defending of Down has been a factor in a lot of their games, and they certainly are a second half team, outscoring opponents in their last three games, 3-25 to 2-7. A huge part of this is the defensive presence. Look for Mark Connolly and Packie Downey in town from Drumrath to have a major influence on this encounter.
The battle between Foley and Downey may well be worth the price of admission alone. The end of the day will leave us with repeat or new champions, then. Look for Down to tip the scale with a tight fought two point win.
Sunday, June 7
1 p.m.: Ladies Na Fianna vs. Kerry/Donegal
The first game of Sunday’s program pits two of the favorites for this year’s Ladies championship going head to head.
Two former New York county players and All-Ireland winners have a major say in these teams’ fortunes this season, with John Madden, the Tipperary hurling star, involved with K/D, while Fergal O’Neill, who has a minor championship with Galway in 1986, calling the shots with Na Fianna.
With the influences behind the scenes of managers of this caliber, you will see highly professional approaches by both sides on Sunday. The warm-up drills of both sides are of the highest orders, with the focus very much on a championship run this season.
Na Fianna has a tremendous squad assembled, with premier players like Joanne Monaghan, Karen Henry, Mary O’Rourke and Molly O’Rourke in their ranks. Stephanie Tierney, Imelda Mullarkey and Joanne McKenna add to the mix of a forceful team, with Tierney very impressive for a player so young.
Kerry/Donegal will counter with Una Burke, the Roche sisters, Allie Kelly, who is brilliant on the 40, and the one two punch in the full forward line of Denise Dunnion and Sue Bennett. It promises to be an enthralling outing.
The bank is at plus-95 after Down covered last week. We are going with 30 tickets on Na Fianna to win by four in a high scoring thriller.
2:30 p.m.: SH Tipperary vs. Offaly
The first hurling championship game of the year, with last year’s final participants facing off against each other.
Offaly are on a two-year winning streak as back to back champions and are now looking for the glorious three-in-a- row.
The side will have some very familiar faces lining out for them, with player of the year Richie Gaule, Donal Broderick, Phil Wickham and returning superstar Shane Sweeney on the roster. Sweeney is playing football for Astoria and hurling for Offaly, the side he led to the championship in 2007. A scoring machine, the Ardfinnian, Co. Tipperary native is a former panelist with Tipp in Ireland.
Tipperary has huge aspirations themselves this season, with all eyes on the Holy Grail. Davie Loughnane, Pat Costello, Gerard Magner from Blackrock in Cork and David O’Neill from Kanturk in Cork will line up beside the young Kieran Bergin for the onslaught on Offaly’s title. Bergin ranks beside Sweeney in ability and the scoring of both of these players will most certainly require watching this season.
There was no love lost between these sides when they met in the semifinal of the Brendan Keane seven-a-side competition recently; Offaly won after two extra time periods.
Look for this to be a terrific encounter to open the hurling season. We like Tipp to upset the champs by five in the second of many outings between the teams this season.