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National Football League Division Two South- Round Two Preview

By Matthew Hurley

We had 2 enthralling games in this Division last weekend and with it came brilliant individual moments, whether it was Darragh Kirwan’s 2 assists or just sheer class from Clare’s Eoin Cleary. We’re now moving on to week 2, and the excitement levels reach fever pitch as Laois host Cork while Clare travel to Kildare. These matches will tell us who is at huge risk of relegation and who could potentially have an advantage in topping this mini group. All the permutations will be clearer at the conclusion of these exciting ties.

Laois v Cork

Day: Saturday 22nd May

Time: 7pm

Venue: MW Hire O’Moore Park

Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo)

Channel: GAAGO

For both these sides, there’s a chance of much needed redemption. While Cork looked devoid of ideas against Kildare, their opponents for this Saturday Laois looked slow and lethargic against Clare. Both sides will be looking for major improvements.

Their last meeting ended in a comprehensive win for the Rebels, winning by 4-20 to 1-15 in 2019. Ronan McCarthy’s side played outstanding football that day, and the performance they put in against Kildare last Saturday was a pale shadow of that.

Brian Hartnett’s suspension adds to the woes the Rebels have in midfield, with Killian O’Hanlon already out for the season. This leaves Ian Maguire as the only recognised midfielder coming up against John O’Loughlin and Kieran Lillis, 2 strong players in the middle of the park. Ronan McCarthy will also be hoping for a return of both Luke Connolly and Mark Collins, now that Brian Hurley is most likely out for Saturday after a hefty collision last week. Leadership was badly missed at a critical stage of the game v Kildare, and it will be undoubtedly required for this game coming.

Unlike their counterparts, Laois seem to be lucky in the injury and suspension department, but their lacklustre performance last Sunday is a cause for concern for boss Mike Quirke. Up to the 60th minute, they scored only 3 points from play and without experienced forward Donie Kingston’s placed kicking, it would’ve been a lot worse. Their build up play throughout the game was way too slow, which was a surprise considering the 2 midfielders that they have, as well as players such as Mark Barry and Evan O’Carroll, who usually bring urgency to their play.

Cork used a sweeper system last Saturday which not only got them relegated twice in the past, but slowed their play down considerably. Yes, Kildare were much improved defensively, but the Rebels made it too easy for them with their slow approach and unforced errors, such as a misplaced kick pass at one end, ending in a Kildare goal down the other end.

The outcome to this game will depend on how the Leesiders approach the contest. If they play the same system as last week, they’ll struggle. However if they play the style of football they’ve played in recent years, by putting pressure on their opponents, attacking with pace and going man on man, they’ll win this easily. I think it will be a draw however, given that we don’t know what Cork team will show up.

Verdict: Draw

Kildare v Clare

Day: Sunday 23rd May

Time: 2pm

Venue: St Conleth’s Park

Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)

Channel: GAAGO

And so, onto the 2 impressive sides of last weekend. Both sides played without fear last time out, and if both sides repeat that feat, we should be in for a treat in Newbridge.

The last meeting between the sides ended in a one-point victory for the Banner, with Keelan Sexton scoring 0-4 in February 2020. However it was his fellow teammate claiming the headlines last Sunday against Laois. Eoin Cleary was absolutely superb, scoring 0-10, capped off with a delightful sideline kick over the bar.

Other forwards such as Joe McGann and Gavin Cooney might not have scored the last day, but certainly ran their markers ragged all game long. Wing Back Daniel Walsh was also phenomenal for the Munster men, bagging 1-2 in an impressive showing. The worry for Colm Collins’ men is the injury All-Star nominee Jamie Malone sustained at the start of that game, expected to rule him out for the rest of the league.

Judging by the Cork performance, Jack O’Connor seems to have worked out a winning formula in his second year in charge. Forwards Darragh Kirwan and Jimmy Hyland were electric as ever, while old head Neil Flynn was reliable on free taking duty. Defenders David Hyland and Kevin Flynn were resolute last Saturday, something not seen in a Kildare defence in a very long time. However, they did concede 5 points in the last 10 minutes v the Rebels, which will be worrying for O’Connor in closing a game out. This is going to be a whole new challenge for them though. While Cork were slow, ponderous and sloppy for the majority of the game, Clare will be going at this defence all guns blazing, with players like Walsh, Cathal O’Connor and Darren O’Neill making clever runs from deep, while Cleary works his magic in a playmaking role. This is going to be a huge challenge for the Kildare men.

An interesting selection by O’Connor was the inclusion of Kevin Feely at Full Forward. As it turned out, he was utilised as a target man, almost like Kieran Donaghy was for O’Connor back 2009. Injury to star man Daniel Flynn could be a huge blow to the Lilywhites as they need more than Hyland and Kirwan for scores to beat this energetic Clare side.

This will be extremely close to call, but given Flynn’s injury for Kildare and the fact their defence has still a point to prove after Cork’s drab showing, Collins’ men will be going into this game with an attacking approach, like the Laois game. The younger players such as Walsh, O’Neill, McGann and Cooney could have too much guile for this Kildare defence this time, and that could be the blueprint for the Banner to win this game.

Verdict: Clare

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