By Senan Connell | Paddy Power GAA pundit
The games are, as always, not that easy to call this weekend. Some of the teams are coming in with just a six-day turnaround and we know what the stats say.
In the past 11 years only one team has lost a provincial final and won the following weekend. That was my old side Dublin who beat Sligo in 2001 after losing the Leinster Final to Meath.
Twelve sides have lost provincial finals and then have lost the following week. This stat should be taken on board by provincial losers Meath and Down as they face into the weekend action.
They may be up against so-called weaker teams but these side have built up some momentum coming into these qualifier clashes. It’s a mental block rather than any lack of skill. All the effort goes into a provincial Championship campaign is geared towards reaching the final.
To then have to turnaround six days later and play in what is effectively a knock-out competition can take a lot of adjusting to. The nature of the defeat matters too.
Two years ago Sligo were firm favourites and expected to beat Roscommon in the Connacht final. They lost and were then hammered by 18 points by Down the week after.
But what of this week’s games?
Meath ran relatively Dublin close in the Leinster final and can take heart from that. I expect them to be good enough to win but Laois will make life very hard for them especially with the dreaded six-day turnaround. Have they the mental strength? It’s their sixth game in the Championship and they’ve got momentum. I haven’t been convinced by Laois at all this year. They’re a big, strong side and they’ll compete but I’m not sure they’ve the top-class forwards to go on and win the game.
I think Meath might break the hoodoo though and win the game but the best bet might be to take Laois +2 on the handicap at 11/10 or even-money the draw.
Cian Ward is someone to look for as the Royals’ first goalscorer while Colm Kelly could do the same if Laois are to get a goal.
Tipperary are on the upgrade and their GAA scene is thriving. This might look like an easy win for Down but these side have had many League clashes, even though it’s their first time meeting in the Championship. Tipp will benefit from the game not being in Newry.
It was a heavy defeat for Down against Donegal and it might be harder for them to recover. They barely made it past Clare last year. They have quality with Benny Coulter but Tipperary have momentum.
Kerry beat them by six points early on in the Championship and we presumed that Kerry underperformed but the Premier County have since beaten Offaly, Wexford and Antrim.
Peter Creedon’s side have six clean sheets goal-wise and I have a feeling that Tipperary again at +2 on the handicap at 11/10 might be the bet here.
My best bet for the weekend is Sligo +4 on the handicap at 5/6. This wager sticks out for me. While Kildare might win the match, it’s going to be very tight, I think.
The Lilywhites just haven’t shot the lights out this season but they have an excellent qualifier record. This is a tough match as Sligo know Hyde Park very well. The Westerners pushed Mayo hard in the Connaught Final and could have the edge. I really fancy them in the handicap with that four-point lead.
Adrian Marren at 15/2 to get the first goal looks the value and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sligo win it outright either.
I’ve learned the hard way not to write Kerry off, even from my playing days. Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper was stung by Joe Brolly’s comments saying he had ‘fluffed his lines’.
I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Kerry might be a little flatter and Clare will push them all the way. They’ll be massively up for this game and Clare +9 in the handicap at evens catches my eye.
For goalscorers I can’t ignore Cooper’s record of 29 goals in 49 Championship appearances. At 5/1 he’s an interesting proposition. Kieran Donaghy will be playing at the edge at the edge of the square fielding high ball and making room – and this will help Gooch’s cause.
Meath, Down, Kildare, Kerry.
H’cap Best Bet:
Sligo +4 at 5/6
Tipperary +2 at 1/1
Don’t look beyond the big three of Dublin, Cork, Kerry. Donegal could be dark horses because they’re scoring now as well as defending well.