Saturday, May 30

6 p.m.: SF Special League Down vs. Donegal

The first semifinal of the senior football special league. This is a 13 a side competition that was run on a group basis this year, and we are now down to four left in of the eight that started. Sligo opted out and did not participate.

Down will be the favorites in this one as they continue in the strong way that they had last season. Robbie Moran and James Mitchell have proven to be valuable pick-ups, with Moran in sparkling form.

The big man Brendan McGrourty who hurls with Offaly and plays centerfield for Down has also made telling contributions. They love to carry the ball out from the back in the hands, with Mark Dobbins and Shaun Munnelly a huge part of the transfer from defense to offense.

Donegal will counteract the ball carrying with a side that features four players from the New York squad, John McNicholas, Aiden Downes, Bobby McDonald and James Huvane. The battle between Down and Michael Sloan may well decide this contest, while James Huvane possibly will have the task of Moran for the evening.

A two headed monster in the full forward line will be Kevin Lilly and C.J. Molloy, both possible game winners. Look forward to an excellent start to proceedings.

The bank is at plus-65 after Cork again took care of business last week. We are on a four game win streak. 

This time we go with the hot hand of Down. The Mournemen to succeed by three with 30 All-Ireland tix riding on their back. 

7:30 p.m.: Leitrim vs. Cork

The second game on Saturday has all the makings of a brilliant contest. Indeed, Saturday may be a far better option if you’re only headed to the park once over the weekend with these two games on the card.

Leitrim were by far the highest scoring side in the group, with facile wins over Cavan and Four Provinces. The new arrivals to the side have greatly improved the squad and they are certainly firmly entrenched as one of the favorites this season.

They are the holders of this cup, and players of the caliber of Alan Foley, Johnny McGoldrick, Pat Madden, Scott Conwright (we will get the correct spelling this Saturday!) John O’Neill and Mark Smith will make it very difficult for Cork.

The midfield battle between Alan Rafferty, Rory Stafford, Madden and Adrian O’Connor may well be one of the best we see in the park this season. All four have played inter-county football and it will decide the game.

Evan Byrne and Pa Ryan are long drivers of the ball so all the big men will have opportunities to shine. Byrne is, if possible, getting better as the year progresses and is the top keeper in New York at the moment.

Conor Hunter and Paddy Harrington will have their hands full in Dan Doona and Donal Hartnett. Doona loves to drift out the field but is better suited to stay close and punish defenses with scores.

Cork is a running team that will use the two pronged hit team of Francie Cleary and J.P. Boyle to create and get scores. Boyle has been on fire with 15 points in his last two games.

It all leaves us with a brilliant game on the cards. Leitrim may have too many weapons, and look for them to make the first major statement of the year. A four point win for the cup holders. 

Sunday, May 31

2:30 p.m.: Cavan vs. Kerry

The first round of the championship proper pits two long time rivals going head to head in the latest date to start the championship in history.

The New York championship is headed the way of our friends across North America with the sanctions having a major say in its direction as all the games will be played while they are in town.

It is not the perfect solution by any stretch of the imagination as Chicago will attest too I am sure. Some of the demands from across the pond are very hard to live and adhere to in this day and age.

That said, here we go with game number one. Kerry and Cavan both had tough outings in the last round of the special league, with tough losses for both.

Kerry are still the reigning champions and they have major help on the way. Damien O’Reilly, Martin Coady and Shane Kavanagh from Galway will give them a major boost when combined with Bingo Driscoll, Vinnie Gavin, Eoghan O’Mahoney and Ross Donovan. It will make all the earlier results just memories as they look to go back to back with championships.

Cavan will counter with five men from the New York panel, Paddy Smyth, Alan Caralon, Brendan Reilly, Kevin McGeeney and Conor Brady as their foundation. Garth Kelly and Michael Smith are also in the mix, with Michael tremendous thus far for Cavan.

If all the men are not in from Ireland then a draw is on the cards in this outing.

4 p.m.: Sligo vs. Four Provinces

Our first view of Sligo as they sat out the special league. All the other sides participated.

The Yeats Men will be an unknown quantity then as any new faces will be playing for the first time. Kevin Caffrey, Nester Allen, Thomas Maher, Denis Kilkenny and Dermot Fleming will be delighted to finally hit the ground, and their first outing may not be the most difficult they could have had.

Four Provinces have had a difficult spring with tough losses in the league. They have a core group in place, however, with David Doyle, Michael Grimes, the Moores, Steve Robinson and Michael Higgins all well capable of playing at this level. Most already have senior medals from their championship side.

The two drafts they have in Justin O’Halloran and Eoghan Kyne have both made contributions; all other clubs have eight. Despite the early season defeats, Four Ps will be the favorites in this outing before the ball gets thrown in.   

The out of towners to prevail by four.