Shane Stapleton previews all the weekend's football action, including Galway's crucial match against Mayo.
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There are helpings of poison aplenty with this weekend’s affairs. Derby clashes, grudge matches, men looking to settle scores – all amid a backdrop of knockout football.
There is no more room for missteps as each of the teams who have found themselves in the All-Ireland SFC preliminary quarter-final round will know. Being tripped up in the group stages where three out of four teams qualified was no huge issue, but the safety net is gone and the spikes beneath are sharp.
MAYO v GALWAY
Neighbours who, between them, have been beaten in the last three All-Ireland Finals meet in the game of the weekend: Mayo v Galway.
Kevin McStay and a high-powered Mayo management team featuring Liam MacHale and Stephen Rochford blew Kerry away a few weeks ago but have faded badly since then in the win over Louth and the loss against Cork from six points ahead.
Former Mayo footballer Billy Joe Padden this week condemned the performance against The Rebels as “absolutely atrocious from start to finish”, and they now find themselves sword-fighting on a tightrope away to Galway.
Padraic Joyce’s side were without Damien Comer for the loss to Armagh, and it would have worried the manager to see Shane Walsh miss a first-half penalty before skewing a late free wide that would have levelled things. A lack of composure pervaded much of their display against an Orchard side without Rian O’Neill, and the narrative around Walsh is that last season’s county and club excursions have drained him.
A couple of years ago, the Kilmacud man was injured when on the end of some — what should we call it? — ‘treatment’ by Padraig O’Hora and we can expect that match-up to be reprised here. Expect spice as Walsh later said of their clash: “No one was coached how to play football that way.”
Should Comer and defender Sean Kelly, who limped off last weekend, be fit enough to play to their best, then it is advantage Galway at Pearse Stadium in Salthill – not that home advantage in this rivalry hasn’t counted for much in recent times.
Galway won championship games with Mayo in Castlebar in 2016, 2018 and 2022, while Mayo raided this venue in 2013, 2015 and 2020. The Tribe’s last home championship win over their neighbours in Pearse Stadium was in 2017, so a draw at 13/2 looks tasty.
DONEGAL v TYRONE
Donegal and Tyrone share a huge border and an even bigger love of football. The Red Hands beat their old rivals two years ago en route to the All-Ireland, and by double scores during this year’s league.
That was a different Tir Chonaill outfit, however, as they limped through an NFL campaign that saw new manager Paddy Carr depart, while the retirement of Michael Murphy was compounded by an injury to Patrick McBrearty.
A few months on, Aidan O’Rourke has righted the ship. Since losing to Down in Ulster, they have beaten Clare and Monaghan with a defeat to Derry in between. McBrearty is back, Oisin Gallen is showing signs of his obvious talents and, in general, they seem to be on an upward trajectory.
Tyrone were a whisker from the exit door as John Heslin’s late free whistled just wide, with Westmeath instead eliminated to the benefit of their opponents. Fine margins, but from such a precarious situation can a team be shocked into action.
Expect fireworks here, with Donegal by 1-3 points our tip at 3/1.
What’s not to like about a grudge match? Andy McEntee won’t utter it publicly, but he would love nothing more than to gain revenge on those who felt his services were no longer required in Meath.
After six years in the job, McEntee departed and quickly took up the Antrim post, and will now look to take down Colm O’Rourke’s Royals in the Tailteann Cup semi-final. This would be a dish very much served cold, though Meath -3 at evens is the more sensible bet.
Last weekend, Roscommon manager Davy Burke pondered whether his players had gone soft on him during their one-point loss to Kildare in Tullamore, and a trip to a Cork side buoyed from victory over Mayo is no easy task.
The Rossies by 1-3 points at 5/2 looks good, but John Cleary’s Leesiders won’t go down easily. They could have beaten Kerry, did take down the green over red, and perhaps some of the locals might even turn up for once.
After several months of low-stakes football fare, seasons are now on the line. It’s blood, sweat and tears from here.