Posted by Mickey Harte

Kildare should get the chance to avenge last year's controversial defeat to Dublin with the odds stacked heavily against Meath and Kildare upsets

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The championship really kicks into gear this weekend with a number of important provincial games and qualifiers to be decided. There will be a number of close games but things look more clear-cut in Leinster.

We’re obviously happy we’re in the semi-final. To go to the Athletic Grounds and get a victory was no easy ask. It was a pretty open game of football which maybe people didn’t expect it to be. It was high-scoring and 19 points will generally win most games.

Donegal are a different proposition and have been developing their system over the last year. They were berated very much for being too defensive last year but all the indications are that they have moved on from that. They’re still fairly mean at the back but are getting some very nice scores.

We played them this time last year in the semi-final and started very well. We had them on the run for the first 25 or 30 minutes but we didn’t finish them on the scoreboard. They pushed on from that not only to beat us but to enjoy a very good season.

I think we will be meeting a much more developed side than we did a year ago so we are very conscious of that. They’re the defending champions and most people will have them favourites for the game. It’s unusual for them because when they would have played us over the last decade it was the other way around.

Donegal appear to be committing more players forward and supporting their inside men much better. Last year a lot of their attacks depended on Colm McFadden and sometimes Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy were high up the field with the rest of them retreating well behind the ball.

They probably didn’t concentrate as much on getting up to support those men. Now, though, the cavalry arrives much quicker so those forwards don’t seem to be as isolated as they were last year. These are all factors that will come into play this weekend. Can they cope with that pressure? Can we succeed in spite of retirements and the injuries that we will carry into the tie? When the game is over on Saturday evening a lot of those questions will be answered.

IT’S HARD NOT to see a win for Kildare in their clash against Meath. However, if you look back to the league it went right down to the wire. Meath went into it having won two games and Kildare had lost two.  And from that game on both counties’ seasons went in different directions. Kieran McGeeney’s side didn’t lose a game after it and went on to win the Division 2 title whereas Meath endured a turbulent campaign that left them in the bottom two in the league table.

The Royals will look back to that game and believe they could, and should, have won it. They could point to a very dubious decision when one of their players appeared to be fouled going forward. It wasn’t given and the ball went down the field for Kildare to plunder the winning score.

Knowing that they’re near neighbours and knowing that they have had lots of encounters in the past, Seamus McEnaney’s side will not be looking at it as the foregone conclusion that, perhaps, form would suggest. Ultimately, though, you would have to believe that Kildare have developed their team enough to be able to withstand Meath’s best efforts. But I think it will be a much closer encounter than results indicate.

DUBLIN ARE STRONG favourites to beat Wexford and get through to yet another Leinster final. Wexford have run them close in the past and have been playing excellent championship football over the last number of years, right back to when we met them in the All-Ireland semi-final in 2008.

They have been developing nicely as a team but I think this weekend is just too big of an ask for them. When you look at how Dublin overpowered Louth in the first round and the fact that they have the confidence that came with making the great breakthrough with this group of players, they won’t want to give up any of their titles at this stage.

While you can’t dismiss Wexford and you have to admire their resilience, I would expect Pat Gilroy’s side to be contesting the Leinster final against Kildare.

QUALIFIER BRIEFS

In the qualifiers, Tipperary and Offaly is an interesting clash. The Leinster side are at a low ebb at the moment while Tipperary are an emerging football county. They have a good nucleus of young footballers coming along and I would expect them to make it through to the next round.

Everything in the Longford-Derry clash points to a home win but John Brennan may be able to use that to his side’s advantage. They are going in as underdogs when two or three years ago that would have been unheard of.

Glenn Ryan’s side are striding up through the leagues and are a formidable outfit in their own back yard. They’d had several major scalps there in the recent past and gave us a tough battle there last year. It’s a tight pitch and they relish the qualifiers.

It’s a huge day for Derry. If they could go there and get a win it will kick-start their season for them. If they go along with the attitude and body language they displayed in Ballybofey, however, there will only be one winner.

Fermanagh will be expected to beat Cavan so it’s a difficult one for Peter Canavan. Cavan will believe they can win it after the recent success of their under-21 teams. They played well against Donegal for the first 20 or 25 minutes but just lost out in the experience stakes. They lost their way a bit before half-time and conceded a penalty when they had been well in the game up to that point.

Fermanagh, though, had a very good league campaign. They lost the final to Wicklow, which dented their confidence to a degree, and then had a poor day out against Down after that early sending-off. That left them with no chance of winning the game and it was only a damage-limitation exercise after that. When all those factors are considered I think this one could go all the way to extra time.

It’s going to be hard for Louth to rouse themselves after that big defeat against Dublin. They’ve also lost a number of important players and, with Westmeath at home, it’s going to be a tall order for Peter Fitzpatrick’s side. 

Armagh will go to Roscommon full of confidence. In days gone by, going to Hyde Park would be a serious threat and even in the last few years Roscommon were very much a side on the up. But the big defeat against Galway will have hit them hard. It’s going to be difficult for them to raise their game this weekend. You need high levels of confidence to take on a team such as Armagh so I think it’s a good draw for the away side.