previews the weekend's GAA fixtures.
It’s funny how a prolonged build-up to a game makes optimists of many.
Would the growing sense that Nemo Rangers have a real chance of exacting revenge for one of their lowest days in March of 2018 be the same if this game had taken place in December soon after their provincial exploits? The build-up has breathed real belief into their backers.
Everyone knows Nemo weren’t Nemo two St Patrick’s Days ago.
They weren’t let be Nemo either by a simply stunning Corofin side, mind.
That 15-point reverse is sure to have maimed even an institution as assured as the Trabeg club and if there is scar tissue it will be evident soon enough in Ennis.
Almost on his own Cork star Luke Connolly has the ability to end this Corofin odyssey but the Galway club’s back unit are so cohesive that they could tie him up to the point he is a passenger.
Nemo do look more dangerous from deep than 22 months ago and that’s where they could land more hits on Corofin, but then they themselves have Kieran Molloy and Liam Silke to raid like that too, not to mention Dylan Wall.
Should they name the same teams that began their provincial final wins, Nemo will go with 12 of the side that lost in 2018 with Corofin fielding 14, Dylan McHugh for Ciaran McGrath being the only change.
That lends itself to the theory that Corofin are sticking with their old reliables.
However, many of them are hardly veterans with the exception of the likes of Kieran Fitzgerald, Gary Sice, and Micheál Lundy.
Corofin’s now usual blip in Galway has again been held up as a reason why they might be on the wane but then Nemo weren’t exactly perfect in Cork and struggled at times against Newcastlewest.
Saturday afternoon should be nothing like the 2018 All-Ireland as Nemo look to exorcise themselves of one awful day but the result should be repeated.
Corofin have not shown enough signs of depreciation to claim otherwise.
That Mickey Moran magic has brought the best out of Kilcoo in recent months and for all Ballyboden’s powerful sprints to the finishing line they have to be so vigilant here. There’s a wiliness and a wizardry about Kilcoo and they know if they are efficient enough they can pull off a surprise.
All the same, it’s difficult not to be impressed by how Ballyboden have put together those late forays to see off teams. It’s they who have the superior blend of youth and experience and if the Basquels don’t fire there are others who can step up to the plate.
Ballyboden St Enda’s.
Fr O’Neills must treat this as a step into the unknown rather than a novelty. They will have lost a lot of momentum since winning Munster and can’t afford to think they will pick things up straight away. They should win through but there may be a bit of spadework required in the early part of the game.
You can’t but fancy the Walsh brothers and cousins to guide Tullaroan to Croke Park but again it has to be treated like a banana skin.
Kilkenny clubs have had such success in these competitions but if there is a time to get it’s now. Conahy Shamrocks must tread carefully.
A nice test for Jack O’Connor but they can start the year with victory.
Davy Burke is still finding his feet in the Garden County.
Paul Galvin will hope for a less stressful January than December although Offaly should win.
Jack Cooney will be keen to build on what was a decent 2019 season.
Meath have other things on their mind but at least want one win from this campaign.
Offaly to start the year as they mean to go on.
Complacency shouldn’t be a factor when Henry Shefflin is at the helm but you can never say never and with Slaughtneil able to fully focus on the smaller ball code for the last few months they will be sharper than ever.
The conditions, the venue and the cold could be a real leveller and Ballyhale may find that their superiority in areas like skill are blunted a little as a result.
This fine Ballyhale team have been on the road for quite a while now but this shouldn’t be the time when things grind to a halt.
That both teams will have trained under floodlights since their respective county and provincial wins will serve them well but then there is nothing quite like playing a game under lights and it could add some spills and thrills.
The intelligence Johnny Ryan will have on St Thomas’ will be invaluable to Borris-Ileigh because if they are to again surprise they will have to perform shutdowns on a couple of players such as Conor Cooney and David Burke. Brendan Maher may return to midfield to square up against Burke in what could be a fascinating duel.
Experience usually tells at this stage of the competition and for that we give the nod to the St Thomas’ men. But the confidence in Borris-Ileigh is that high it will likely take a lot from the Burkes and Cooneys to prevail.
Russell Rovers have been ticking every box up until now and they won’t be the only ones ruing the break when they had built up such a head of steam in Cork and Munster. It shouldn’t prohibit them from securing a final place, though, at a venue just across the border.
There will be plenty of interest in this not just because the winners go through to face Cork in the final but there should be a real cut about it. The Tipperary teams they beat had their minds elsewhere but these two will know a little more about themselves after Sunday.
A run-out for both groups and Liam Cahill will look to trial more of his players before focusing on the start of the League. Kerry would love a scalp but Waterford should keep them at bay.
A dead rubber as far as the McGrath Cup goes. Both are depleted although Clare have that added quality.
Another game of no consequence for the competition but Tipp will want to see off Kerry youngsters.
There will be few sorer teams than Dublin after the 2019 season and it should show every time they tog out.
If Laois are going to share the spotlight with the bigger teams they have to take care of those that want their place in 2021.
So much uncertainty around Tyrone at the moment yet they can win here in a competition they usually prosper in.
Monaghan showed well the last day but this is a different encounter in notoriously difficult venue for visitors.
Not a great start for Fermanagh against Down but it may have served them well for this.
Roscommon have lost the Murtaghs for 2020 but shouldn’t lose this.