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National Football League Division Two South – Round Three Preview

By Matthew Hurley

The concluding week to this exciting mini–Allianz Football League Group Stage is coming to an end, with all 4 sides in contention for a promotion play off spot (albeit Laois need both a big Clare win and a massive victory of their own). Even Clare with two wins in the bag are still at risk of being dragged into a relegation play off, that’s if Cork and Kildare rack up huge wins.

Points difference will play a major part in proceedings if either of those outcomes occur. Currently it’s Clare with the best (+10), then Cork (+4), Kildare (+1) and finally Laois on -15. It’s going to be an exciting conclusion to this group and by around 3:30 on Sunday, we will know who has a chance of going up and who has a chance of going down. This is going right down to the wire.

Clare v Cork

Day: Sunday 30th May

Time: 1:45pm

Venue: Cusack Park

Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary)

Channel: TG4

Colm Collins’ Clare side have been one of the big stories of the National Football League so far with their young talent and tactical expertise from the coach leaving them in a strong position for promotion to Division 1. Joe McGann, Daniel Walsh and Gavin Cooney have all added young energy into the panel, while Cathal O’Connor and star man Eoin Cleary have been superb up to now.

Cleary is many people’s choice for player of the league so far with his miraculous scores and terrific vision propelling the Banner to the top of this Southern Division. They were undoubtedly the better team against Laois and while not being overly impressive against Kildare, they still grinded out a crucial win, showing the sign of a good team.

Clare are the only one of the 8 Division 2 sides not to taste Division 1 Football in the previous 9 seasons. What an achievement this would be for Collins’ team, who have been punching above their weight for years. Promotion to the top Division would be up there alongside their All-Ireland Quarter Final appearance in 2016.

While the table toppers have been brilliant so far, their Munster rivals have not been shooting the lights out. Ronan McCarthy’s Cork have to win this game by 4 points or more to guarantee a promotion play off spot, but judging by their last two performances, it’s not going to be easy. After a poor showing against Kildare, they followed that up with brushing Laois aside with minimal fuss, and this was without playing particularly well.

Ciaran Sheehan and Luke Connolly added much needed experience in closing out that game last week, while Daniel O’Mahony was a star at full back for the Rebels. The youngster will need to be on top form again here when coming up against David Tubridy or Keelan Sexton. The return of both Brian Hurley and long-term absentee Liam O’Donovan will add strength to the Cork bench when needed.

This is an extremely tough game to call, but given the Banner have won the last 3 competitive games against the Rebels and their form is red hot right now, it’s hard to look past Colm Collins’ men in this one. If Cork vastly improve on their performances from the last 2 weeks, McCarthy’s side could edge it, but that is a big if.

Verdict: Clare

Laois v Kildare

Day: Sunday 30th May

Time: 1:45pm

Venue: MW Hire O’Moore Park

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)

Channel: GAAGO

Laois look doomed to finish in the relegation places barring a miracle against rivals Kildare. While this task might seem impossible, they have avoided the drop in dramatic circumstances just last year against Fermanagh. Mike Quirke’s side scored 3-3 in the last 10 minutes to ensure Division 2 status on the final day. Who’s to say the O’Moore county can’t achieve this once again.

They could go about this game in two ways. One, try throw the kitchen sink at a shaky Kildare defence and get as much scores as possible, or two, accept their fate by taking it easy in this game, saving their energy for a relegation play off against either Down or Westmeath. If they go for the former, big improvements is needed from their last two displays.

Yes, they improved against Cork, but didn’t score in the last 20 minutes, allowing the Rebels to win easily in the end. Donie Kingston, John O’Loughlin and Evan O’Carroll have to be on top form for Quirke’s side to pull off the unthinkable, but even still, it’s a very tall order.

For Jack O’Connor’s Kildare, a comprehensive win will almost certainly take them to the promotion play off, given any result in the other game will most likely work in their favour. The word that epitomes the Lilywhite’s league campaign to date is inconsistency. At some stages in games, they look world beaters (minute 30-60 v Cork and the first half v Clare), in others they look pretty ordinary (last 10 minutes v Cork and the last 20 minutes v Clare).

They were outscored in the latter against Clare by 1-6 to 0-3. Granted, Clare have seemed a better outfit than Laois this year, but if Kingston, O’Carroll and youngster Mark Barry find form, O’Connor’s men cannot make the same errors as before.

Jimmy Hyland, Darragh Kirwan and Kevin Feely have been the bright sparks for Kildare thus far, and will have to hit the same form again on Sunday. Hyland in particular has hit 1-6 in the 2 matches v Cork and Clare and will once again be one to watch.

By looking at the table, this should be routine for Kildare, but given the rivalry of the 2 sides and Laois’ past record in getting themselves out of perilous situations, this will be closer than people think. Added to the touchline battle between a manager and his former player for Kerry and this looks intriguing.

Kildare should edge this though given what’s at stake and that extra bit of quality to see them through.

Verdict: Kildare

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