This weekend's inter-county football previews
Saturday 13 January
McGrath Cup Final**
CORK v CLARE, Mallow, 4pm
Cork have made eight changes to the side that comfortably beat Waterford last weekend for Saturday’s McGrath Cup Final against Clare.
Eight players come into the team as Mark White replaces Ryan Price between the posts, while Padraig Clancy, Sam Ryan and Cian Kiely come into the defence.
There’s a new midfield paring of Daniel O’Callaghan and Jamie O’Sullivan, while Michael Hurley, Kevin Crowley, and Sean White are included in the forwards.
Clare have blooded some new faces so far in the competition, and the likes of Cillian Brennan, Jonah Culligan, Gearoid O’Brien, Aaron Fitzgerald, and Eimhin Courtney are likely to be given a chance to impress again.
Sunday 14 January
Connacht FBD FL round 4**
ROSCOMMON v MAYO, Dr Hyde Park, 2pm
Roscommon have been the most impressive team thus far in the FBD League, beating Leitrim by 2-14 to 1-3 and then Sligo by 3-19 to 2-10.
Kevin McStay has built a strong looking panel for 2018, with players like Conor, Niall, and Ronan Daly returning to the fold along with Cathal Cregg after opting out last season.
Mayo will be coming off the back of a match against Galway two nights earlier and some of their leading players are likely to be still ring-rusty after returning from a team holiday to Malaysia this week, so Roscommon could have an edge here.
GALWAY v LEITRIM, Clonbur, 2pm
The depth of Galway’s panel will be tested by this match because Kevin Walsh is likely to name an entirely different starting XV to the one that plays Mayo on Friday night.
Leitrim drew with Mayo last time out thanks to a late goal from Brendan Gallagher, but it’s a testament to the ambition within the group that manager Brendan Guckian said afterwards they were disappointed with the result because they were targeting a win.
They’ll go into this match with a positive mindset again, but the spread of young talent that Galway currently have at their disposal makes them favourites.
O'Byrne Cup Semi-Finals
WESTMEATH V OFFALY, TEG Cusack Park, 2pm
Offaly’s teenage attacker Cian Johnson has been living up to his considerable hype thus far in the O’Byrne Cup.
The star of last year’s Offaly minor team, he’s made a seamless transition to the senior county side, scoring 0-6 against Dublin and 1-3 against Wexford.
He’ll be their go-to guy again on Sunday, but Westmeath have an in-form player of their own in the shape of Callum McCormack who hit a whopping 3-4 from play last time out against Laois.
Expect a high-scoring, end to end encounter. Westmeath’s home advantage and greater experience may be decisive.
MEATH V LONGFORD, Pairc Tailteann, 2pm
Following the retirement of stalwarts like Brian Kavanagh, Dermot Brady, and Diarmuid Masterson, Longford have used the O’Byrne Cup to give some fresh faces a chance to impress.
The fact that they’ve managed to beat Louth away from home and Kildare at home while doing so is very impressive. This is Denis Connerton’s third year in charge of the team and by now they’re a nicely geared outfit.
They’ll need to keep things tight at the back if they’re to pull off a surprise here because the Meath attack looked sharp in their 18-point win over Wicklow last time out.
The likes of Graham Reilly, Mark McCabe, David Toner, Joey Wallace, Paddy Kennelly, Sean Tobin, and Donal Lenihan all impressed in that game, and with some of the aforementioned likely to be sprung from the bench on Sunday, Meath could have an edge down the home straight.
McKenna Cup Semi-Final
FERMANAGH V TYRONE, Brewster Park, 2pm
These two have been the most impressive teams thus far in the McKenna Cup so this should be a serious contest.
Tyrone have been shooting the lights out of late – they hit 2-22 against Cavan, 1-16 against St. Mary’s University, and 4-20 against Antrim.
Rory Gallagher’s tenure as Fermanagh manager has gotten off to a good start with wins over Monaghan, Queen’s University, and Donegal.
He didn’t experimented quite as much as other managers did with his selections in the group phase, and will need to name another experienced side if they’re upset Tyrone here.
McKenna Cup Round 2
ARMAGH v DERRY, Athletic Grounds, 2pm
Derry’s last-gasp win on Wednesday night against Down courtesy of a Niall Toner goal sealed their place in the McKenna Cup semi-finals so there’s a good chance that manager Damian McErlain will experiment with his selection here.
That could leave the door open for Armagh to qualify themselves for the semi-finals as a best runner-up from the three groups because they’re already in pole position in that regard with a win and draw from their first two matches.
Another win here would definitely see them through.
MONAGHAN v DONEGAL, Clones, 2pm
This is a must-win game for both teams if they’re to have any chance of qualifying for the McKenna Cup semi-finals.
Donegal have fielded a very young team against Fermanagh on Wednesday night and will need to recall a few familiar faces if they’re to beat Monaghan on their home patch.
Monaghan looked strong on Wednesday night when comfortably overcoming Queen’s University, so will start as slight favourites.
The result will be immaterial though if Armagh manage to beat Derry.
DOWN V UUJ, Burren, 2pm
This game is pretty much a dead rubber. Though if UUJ were to win by a very big score, Armagh to lose to Derry, and Monaghan to draw with Donegal, then there's a slim but very unlikely mathematical chance that UUJ could make it through to the McKenna Cup semi-finals.
O'Byrne Cup Semi-Finals