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All You Need to Know

FIXTURES

SATURDAY

Division 3

Down v Westmeath, Croke Park, 7.15pm

Division 4

Laois v Leitrim, Croke Park, 5pm

SUNDAY

Division 1

Derry v Dublin, Croke Park, 4pm

Division 2

Armagh v Donegal, Croke Park, 1.45pm

ONLINE

Live blogs each day on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app.

RADIO

Live commentaries and updates on RTÉ Radio 1’s Saturday and Sunday Sport.

TV

TG4 will have live coverage of all four finals, while Ciaran Whelan and Tomás Ó Sé join Allianz League Sunday for highlights from the games at 9.30pm on RTÉ2 on Sunday night.

WEATHER

Saturday: A largely dry start with sunny spells but blustery showers will spread northeastwards across the country during the morning and afternoon, some turning heavy with hail. Highest temperatures of 9 to 12 degrees in moderate to fresh southerly winds.

Sunday: Quite cloudy with continued showers, turning heavy in some places. Milder with highest temperatures of 10 to 13 degrees in light to moderate southeasterly winds.

For more, visit met.ie.


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Can Derry deliver a win for all contenders?

Derry head to Croke Park this Sunday hoping not only to beat Dublin for their own reasons, but also to deliver a psychological boost to their fellow Sam Maguire competitors.

The importance of league finals has long been debated, but this weekend’s result will resonate no matter the outcome.

Dublin head into the match seemingly as an unbeatable force – and another comprehensive win would only add a further layer of invincibility heading into the championship – but an Oakleaf triumph would maybe give the likes of Galway, Mayo and Kerry a sprinkling of confidence.

It’s a plotline that just didn’t look likely a few weeks ago.

Roll back to the 4 February league table: Derry had won in Kerry and had swatted Tyrone aside to sit on four points whereas Dublin had been turned over on their own turf by a severely weakened Monaghan and had lost a battle against Mayo in Castlebar.

The early-season form looked bleak for Dessie Farrell’s side with their game missing a real pizzazz, but it would be provided by a reliable spark the next day.

Con O’Callaghan has been in majestic form

That was Con O’Callaghan, who was rampant against Roscommon before the whole team reached massive heights against Kerry to set them up for a cruise to the finish with Derry, Galway and Tyrone – with 5-18 racked up against the Red Hands – swatted aside with little or no fuss.

And how about this for salt in the wounds? Farrell confirmed last weekend that Stephen Cluxton, James McCarthy and Mick Fitzsimons are all back training hard as they chase a 10th Celtic Cross – but they won’t feature this weekend.

If Dublin appear a lock for number one in the rankings, there’s no denying that Derry have stolen a march over Kerry to move into second spot – and maybe this Sunday they will deliver a message to show that they can be top dogs later in the year too.

Mickey Harte’s controversial arrival as manager was met with a lukewarm response in some Oakleaf corners, but winning is one of the most persuasive arguments in Gaelic games and everything is rosy now.

Until Dublin visited Celtic Park in round five, Harte had won 10 out of 10 as manager and had annexed a 13th McKenna Cup title, putting him level with Derry on the roll of honour.

He’s made no secret that his teams are hell-bent on winning every competition they enter so, while they rested some key players in the earlier clash with Dublin, it will be a full hand here.

Much of the scoring pressure will fall on Shane McGuigan who has been in incredible scoring form with 2-61 to his name. Paul Cassidy is next on the scoring list with 1-15 – all but one point coming from play.

A Croke Park win over a major player would also be a first for this team that lost their footing when heading down the straight with Kerry in last year’s semi-final.

Shane McGuigan will be key to Derry’s chances

For the likes of Conor Glass, Ciaran McFaul and Ethan Doherty, the All-Ireland club final win with Glen over St Brigid’s gave them a taste of a big win at HQ, but the Derry group are still waiting.

For all their success, Dublin are actually looking for their first on-the-field Division 1 title since 2018. They won the Division 2 title last term thanks to four goals against Derry while in 2021 they shared the top league crown with Kerry, albeit Covid meant that no final was played.

Derry’s last triumph came in 2008 over Kerry at Parnell Park on a day when Colm Cooper was sent off and Paddy Bradley led the line.

The debate in Derry recently has been about whether or not McGuigan is as good as Bradley was, a fine Croke Park performance would go a long way to backing up the Slaughtneil man’s case.


Ulster derby to get pulses jogging

Blood and thunder? There may not be too much of it in Sunday’s curtain-raiser as Donegal and Armagh meet for the third time this season.

Game one was McGuinness’ first competitive match of his second stint as Tir Chonaill manager, although the word competitive shouldn’t really apply as they won by 16 points on a night when Kieran McGeeney sent an under-20 side to the north-west for a McKenna Cup opener.

McGuinness ended up earning an eight-week suspension from that game – overturned on appeal – for fielding an ineligible player in the form of then 17-year-old Finbarr Roarty.

Their earlier league match was, on reflection, exactly what you’d expect between two sides who were pretty confident that they’d be meeting again in the final – decent albeit fairly tame stuff.

Jim McGuinness (L) and Kieran McGeeney last crossed paths at Croke Park in 2014 when ‘Geezer’ was Armagh head coach under Paul Grimley

The likelihood is that it will be similar enough stuff this weekend with the Ulster championship looming. The positive of that is with the intensity dial turned down a notch, a good game of football might break out.

Donegal face the might of Derry in their provincial opener so their eyes are definitely elsewhere and Armagh certainly won’t be taking their trip to Fermanagh lightly.

Only a few players remain from McGuinness’ first spell with Donegal and two of those may not appear this weekend. Paddy McBrearty has been ruled out by his manager while Ryan McHugh is a major doubt.

Armagh are not without their injury worries either.

In normal circumstances, the four Mackin siblings would be representing their county in league finals at Croke Park over the next nine days, but Blaithin is definitely ruled out of the women’s Division 1 final against Kerry with Aimee set to lead the line.

Brothers Ciaran and Connaire are doubts for this weekend, the former picking up an injury a few weeks ago and the latter feeling the impact of running into team-mate Aaron McKay in the draw with Cork last Saturday.

The big team news will centre around whether or not Rian O’Neill is handed a place in the Orchard team. He made his first start of the season against the Rebels but struggled to get into the game. On form, he’s likely to be kept to the bench, but someone of his class can really light up Croke Park and it may just be the game to get him firing again.

Donegal ace Paddy McBrearty will miss out through injury

“As we said last year, they really need silverware this season. Specifically, it has to be Ulster. A Division 2 title, not unwelcome, will not be near enough,” Lee Keegan said of Armagh in his RTÉ GAA column on Thursday.

That can be extended to McGeeney specifically too. The 2002 All-Ireland winning captain has made great progress in the last few seasons, but the lack of trophies on his CV is always something that will be held against him. A Division 2 title is unlikely to move the needle too much, but it’s still a shot at a good title against strong opposition – and could be a real confidence-booster to the side.


Down out to end the wait

It’s now been 16 years since Down last won something and 30 years since their last piece of major silverware, which just happened to be the Sam Maguire in ’94.

That took them to five titles and confirmed their place as a footballing heavyweight, but it’s been barren ever since, apart from that pre-season McKenna Cup win in 2008.

They’ve been getting to finals, just losing them. Since that ‘08 success, they’ve lost Division 2 and 3 finals, two Ulster deciders, the 2010 All-Ireland final and, of course, last year’s Tailteann Cup final against Meath.

Promotion has been achieved, perhaps the main goal of the season for Conor Laverty’s side, but ending that wait for silverware will be a real target for a man so used to winning it with his club, Kilcoo.

Dan Gordon was the last Down captain to raise senior silverware – back in 2008

Underage success has been evident – they won two Under-20 Ulster titles under Laverty – and there is a really exciting young squad emerging.

Odhran Murdock, who drew attention from AFL clubs in recent months, is undoubtedly the star of that new generation, but players like Danny Magill and Oisin Savage are other promising players.

Throw in the brilliant form of Ceilum Doherty and Daniel Guinness and the accuracy of Pat Havern and it’s no surprise that they averaged over 20 points per game en route to the final.

Westmeath’s average points for was much lower, down below 14 in fact, and they haven’t exactly been spell-binding in booking a Croke Park date.

Manager Dessie Dolan has been giving his take on the debate over scheduling, and he has fair reason to grumble as win over Wicklow next weekend in their Leinster opener would mean the side will be out five weekends in a row.

“We’re hoping to get more lads back but the schedule is very difficult. Jason Sherlock [coach] is on our bus, I’m not sure he has done five weekends in a row possibly and that’s what Westmeath could face,” he told RTÉ Sport after last weekend’s loss to Sligo.

Westmeath’s John Heslin returned in the loss to Sligo

That result may have been poor last weekend, but it did provide the timely return of John Heslin who came on as a half-time substitute. It’s quite possible that he will be tracked by Ryan McEvoy in Dublin.

With Luke Loughlin, Kieran Martin, Senan Baker and their top scorer from play this season with 17 points, Ronan O’Toole, all on board, they can make hay against a Down defence that does give up scores – it’s just difficult to see them limiting the Ulster side enough at the other end.


A rare Leitrim Croke Park outing

Leitrim face Laois at Croke Park on Saturday in what will be only their sixth appearance at HQ, with Laois hoping to beat them to Division 4 honours.

Leitrim were here five years ago too, and their opposition that day was a certain Derry side who have made rapid progress in the meantime and could claim Division 1 success on Sunday. Only four points separated the sides that day with the Ulster side’s team-sheet containing the likes of Shane McGuigan, Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue and Emmett Bradley.

The Leitrim team-sheet has witnessed massive change from that day, indeed only Aidan Flynn, Mark Plunkett and Ryan O’Rourke started both that Derry match and last week’s win over Tipperary that sealed promotion.

For manager Andy Moran, that victory over Tipp must have felt incredibly sweet. The Mayo man came in for a lot of slack last year as he oversaw history as New York won a championship game for the first time ever. It was coming for years, but it was Leitrim and Moran who were part of an unwanted landmark moment.

Leitrim defender Jack Casey made his debut against Tipperary last weekend

Even though they defeated Laois in the league, Justin McNulty’s side must be heavily fancied to win a competition they last won in 2018.

They looked imperious in the group stages – bar that Leitrim loss – and hit 5-19 against Waterford last time out to get the shooting confidence boosted ahead of this final. Jack Lacey made his debut at full-back and acquitted himself well, and maybe his second appearance will come in the famous surroundings of Croke Park.

The side will certainly be hoping for a happier visit than their last trip to the ground. That was last year’s Tailteann Cup semi-final when they conceded eight goals to Down in a complete capitulation. A chance to bury some ghosts awaits.

Follow live updates on the Allianz Football League Division 1,2,3 and 4 finals and watch highlights on Allianz League Sunday, 9.30pm, RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player


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