The proliferation of qualifiers and quarter-finals again this year have delayed competitions in numerous counties, but this weekend sees the quantity and the quality of club games take a significant step up.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Meath, where four SFC quarter-finals are to be decided. The pick of the bunch is undoubtedly the meeting of perennial giants Dunshaughlin under Colm Coyle and champions Blackhall Gaels at Páirc Tailteann.
Elsewhere, surprise boys Cortown, tipped for relegation at the start of the season, take on Mick O’Dowd’s Skryne, Simonstown Gales play Kilmainhamwood, while a hugely impressive Trim will need to continue their good form when they tackle Seneschalstown, who boast Graham Geraghty and Joe Sheridan. In Laois, there are two SFC quarter-finals to be decided. O’Dempseys and Stradbally meet in the first of tomorrow’s action at O’Moore Park (2pm), though the meeting of St Josephs and Portlaoise is the headline act in the midlands at 3.30pm.
Next door in Offaly, matters are more advanced with Rhode and Gracefield due to meet in the senior final at O’Connor Park.
Rhode have been knocking on the door unsuccessfully since their last title success in 1998 while Gracefield, under the guidance of Pat Brophy, will be looking to atone for a final defeat in 2002 and win the Dowling Cup for the first time since the mid-1980s.
In Dublin, six more clubs will be hoping to add their name into the hat for the semi-finals alongside the St Mary’s club.
Hotly-fancied Kilmacud Crokes take on Division Two side St Mark’s at Parnell Park, while the final clash of the weekend again involves a lower division side, St Sylvester’s. They face an unenviable task against Ballyboden-St Enda’s tomorrow evening.
There are four quarter-finals to be played in Tipperary. Declan Browne’s Moyne Rovers take on Galtee Rovers tomorrow before reigning champions Cahir tackle Commercials in a double header at Ardfinnan. Elsewhere, Aherlow and Fethard meet in New Inn, with Grangemockler and Loughmore-Castleiney completing the line-ups.
In Galway, there is just one senior football game to be played. Mountbellew/Moylough and Carna/Caiseal drew in last week’s SFC quarter-final and will have to do it all over again tomorrow.
The action isn’t restricted just to the football either. In Limerick, Patrickswell put their SHC title on the line when they play Knockainey tomorrow. Adare, who preceeded Well as county champions in 2002 and 2001, take on Garyspillane, while Kilmallock and Na Piarsaigh also square off.
As is par for the course by now, the situation in Tipperary is the usual confusion of divisions, play-offs and replays, but still interesting for all that. Toomevara await the winner of this weekend’s replay between Loughmore-Castleiney and Boherlahan-Dualla in one quarter-final, while Mullinahone are already through to the semi-final as winners of both the South final and Group One of the league section of the championship. Got all that? The rest is more straightforward. Roscrea take on Holycross-Ballycahill tomorrow, while Éire Óg/Golden face Séamus Butler’s Drom & Inch in the remaining two quarter-finals.
“Most eyes would be on Toomevara and Mullinahone at this stage of the championship,” said Donnelly. “The other four teams in the two quarter-finals aren’t as familiar with this stage as those two. But then again, you never know how any game can go.”
Offaly are also in the midst of their quarter-finals, two of which go ahead this weekend. St Rynagh’s and Drumcullen meet in the first of them today at 5.45 with the winners progressing to the last four to take on Birr, while Clare and Kilcormac/Killoughey meet just over 24 hours later. The winners there will meet Coolderry.
The final touches to the Clare SHC round robin stage will also be made over the weekend with two games in particular grabbing the attention. Wolfe Tones and Crusheen meet at Cusack Park today and it is a game the Tones must win to stay afloat. Unfortunately, they will have to do so without the help of the injured Brian Lohan. The other tie sure to be of interest to hurling folk in the county is the clash of old rivals Newmarket and reigning champions Clarecastle tomorrow, Like Wolfe Tones, ‘Castle must win to stay alive in this year’s competition.