First national titles of the year up for grabs at Croker
29/04/2012 - 11:16:13
PREVIEW: By Shaun Cronin, Sports Reporter
It’s fitting that all four provinces are represented in the finals of Division 1 and Division 2 of the National Football League today.
In the Division 1 decider Cork and Mayo meet in a repeat of the 2010 League final while Mickey Harte’s Tyrone meet Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare to sort out who will lift the Division 2 crown.
Mayo snuck into the last semi-final spot thanks to a final day draw with Kerry, picking up seven points in their League campaign and were drawn to meet the Kingdom again in the semi-final.
They needed extra-time to seal a pulsating encounter in a nearly empty Croke Park as goals from Pat Harte and Colm Boyle, aided by seven points from Conor Mortimer helped them into this final with a 2-15 to 1-17 win over the Kerry.
Conor Counihan’s Cork seemed to be scratching around for form at the start of the League with two wins, two losses and a draw in their opening five contests but a last second victory in McHale Park coupled with a success at home against the Dubs helped lift them comfortably into a semi-final meeting with Down.
However, the Mourne men were not match for the Rebels as they ran out 2-17 to 1-12 winners with Colm O’Neill hitting an impressive 1-6 in the contest.
Cork will be looking to be the first team since the early 70s to pick up three-in-a-row in Division 1, although they will need to come out on top in today’s game and repeat the trick next year if they are to emulate the achievement of the Kerry team that won four League titles in-a-row from 1971 to 1974.
2001 was the last time the New Ireland Cup resided in the Yew County when Mayo took out their greatest rivals Galway to win the National League by a single point.
Ballintubber’s Cillian O'Connor comes in for Jason Doherty in the only change to the team that started against Kerry but the bad news for James Horan’s men is that talisman Aidan O'Shea faces up to six weeks on the sidelines with a groin injury while Trevor Mortimer confirmed his intercounty retirement during the week.
Cork fans will be happy to see their captain Graham Canty return at centre back in place of Eoin Cotter who’s spot at corner back goes to dual-star Eoin Cadogan and Noel O’Leary moves to wing back.
Kanturk’s Aidan Walsh stays on to the edge of the square while the county has been boosted by the recovery of Daniel Goulding who again is amongst the substitutes.
The loss of O’Shea is massive for Mayo as Cork are so dominant around the midfield area so primary possession might be a struggle for the men from the west.
Indeed the recent history between the two sides should spice up the encounter as Cork will be all out to avenge their defeat to Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland quarter final when an injury ravished Rebels outfit were dumped out of the Championship.
Mayo for their part will not want to roll over and let Cork tickle their bellies like in 2010 and of course they will be eager to win a National title at headquarters something many people have doubted they can achieve for some time.
It will be interesting to see how the Mayo backline deal with the so-called ‘Aidan Walsh experiment’ while on the flip side the question will be are Cork going direct to Walsh or if they will work it up as has been their style in the past.
Mayo will be looking to Conor Mortimer to keep up his excellent form which has seen him kick 0-36 in the League to date so it’s not a surprise Cadogan has moved to corner-back to mark him.
For Cork its essential they tie up Andy Moran, he was instrumental in everything Mayo does and was given the freedom of Croke Park last year by the Rebels backs and they were made to pay dearly.
The early contest sees Kieran McGeeney make a single change from the promotion winning draw in Galway with Gary White coming in at half back for Brian Flanagan.
Harte for has part has had to make five changes to his charges from the fifteen that played against Monaghan last time out.
Jonathan Curran comes in between the sticks for Pascal McConnell, a hamstring problem rules out Justin McMahon so Conor Gormley takes up the number three jersey, Ryan McMenamin gives up the wing back position to Damian McCaul while Aidan Cassidy will patrol the centre of the park in place of Mickey Murphy and finally Niall McKenna replaces the unfortunate Kyle Coney who could miss the whole season with a torn groin.
In a lot of ways either side has already got what they wanted out of the League considering they will both be operating at Gaelic Football’s top table next year but you never pass up the chance to pick up a national trophy.
You only have to look at the evolution of Cork in recent years to see what winning Division 2 can do for an intercounty team.
You can expect the Lillywhites and the Red hands to play similar styles packing the defence and breaking quickly, looking for the shortest route to raising the umpires respective flags.
Sean Cavanagh has been named at wing forward but don’t be surprised to see him in the thick of it in midfield looking to win the kick-outs as he is probably the most effective fielder north of the border.
McGeeney’s men won’t roll over too easy though as he as instilled the same determination that defined him as a player into his side and watch out for that man Johnny Doyle who can score from anywhere and pop up in the smallest of gaps.
Hopefully the two finals can provide fitting conclusions to the League season and lets face it the GAA could use a good lead into the summer Championship given the threats from Euro 2012 and the Olympics but these four sides are well equipped to provide us with plenty of drama and intrigue.
Division 2 final: Kildare should be well in it but Tyrone have been in sparkling form in the League and carry a more dangerous forward unit. Tyrone win by 2-4 points.
Division 1 final: Mayo are the form side for sure but I have a feeling they will be ground down by a physically superior Cork outfit. Cork win by 3-5 points.
CORK v Mayo : A. Quirke; R. Carey, M. Shields, E. Cadogan; N. O'Leary, G. Canty, P. Kissane; P. O'Neill, A. O'Connor; F. Goold, P. Kelly, P. Kerrigan; C. O'Neill, A. Walsh, D. O'Connor.
MAYO v Cork: D. Clarke; K. Keane, G. Cafferkey, K. Higgins; L. Keegan, D. Vaughan, C. Boyle; B. Moran, J. Gibbons; K. McLoughlin, A. Moran, A. Dillon; C. Mortimer, C. O'Connor, M. Conroy.
KILDARE v Tyrone: S. Connolly; P. Kelly, H. McGrillen, O. Lyons; E. Bolton, M. O'Flaherty, G. White; M. Foley, P. O'Neill; E. O'Flaherty, M. Conway, J. Doyle; A. Smith, T. O'Connor, J. Kavanagh.
TYRONE v Kildare: J. Curran; A. McCrory, C. Gormley, P.J. Quinn; C. McCarron, P. Harte, D. McCaul; A. Cassidy, C. Cavanagh; R. McNabb, M. Donnelly, S. Cavanagh; O. Mulligan, N. McKenna, S. O'Neill.
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