This weekend we have four finals to look forward to, one in hurling and three in football.
The Division 1 National Hurling League Final between Munster rivals Limerick and Waterford takes place on Sunday. This game will be shown live on TG4.
In football, we have the Division 1, 2 and 4 Finals taking place across the weekend. The Division 2 and 4 Finals are on Saturday and the Division 1 decider precedes the hurling showpiece on Sunday afternoon. The three football finals this weekend will be televised on TG4 also.
All of the above finals will be played at Croke Park.
For the Division 3 NFL it’s a little more complicated. The postponed game from the 16th of March between Louth and Westmeath will now be played this Saturday. This game will decide who plays Laois in the Division 3 decider next week, which means of course the final will be played in April (Club Month). This is far from an ideal scenario for all concerned.
NFL Division 1 Final – Kerry v Mayo (Throw-in @ 4pm, live on TG4, on 31/03):
These two sides played each other only two weeks ago when Mayo sprung a surprise and beat the high-flying Kerry down in Tralee.
Apart from Mayo’s mid-league blip where they suffered disappointing defeats to Dublin and Galway, they along with Kerry have been the two front-runners from the get-go.
The only game the Kingdom have lost was that encounter with Mayo a fortnight ago, which to be fair was played in atrocious weather conditions. In every other game they have been outstanding and everyone is now taking notice of this talented young Kerry team.
Against Roscommon last week, Seán O’Shea continued his brilliant form as he put in another “Man Of The Match” display. They also welcomed back another young star in David Clifford to their starting fifteen. 2014 “Footballer of the Year” James O’Donoghue also got some game-time from the bench so it is all looking extremely positive for Peter Keane’s charges ahead of Sunday’s final.
The big question for James Horan’s men is, which Mayo are going to turn up? The team that turned over the then unbeaten Kerry, or the team that were brushed aside by the Dubs in Croker a number of weeks back?
As we all know Mayo’s record in finals in Croke Park is dismal. However, you always have to give them a chance because of the quality players they possess. They played very well last Sunday against a solid Monaghan team. Aiden O’Shea seems to be forming a very effective partnership at midfield with newcomer Matthew Ruane at the moment.
I feel that there will be a number of key battles around the field that will decide this contest. I expect Jack Barry to tag Aiden O’Shea for the 70 minutes. Something similar to what he did to Brian Fenton in Tralee in the early stages of the league.
With Ger Cafferkey out injured, it is expected that Stephen Coen will pick up Kerry target man Tommy Walsh on the edge of the square. This will be a huge test for Coen because Walsh has been executing the offensive mark brilliantly throughout the league.
Kerry have earned the favourites tag with some excellent performances so far but I do think there price of 8/15 is a bit short, especially against a dangerous Mayo team.
In my opinion, Mayo are a big price @ 21/10. I think this is more of a 50/50 game than that. So I suggest taking Mayo with the four point head start @ 4/7 which is great value.
Verdict: Mayo +4 (Handicap Betting) @ 4/7
NHL Division 1 Final – Limerick v Waterford (Throw-in @ 2pm, live on TG4, on 31/03):
Last weekend Limerick and Waterford battled past Dublin and Galway respectively to reach Sunday’s final.
I was very impressed at how Limerick picked off Dublin last week. Even though the Dubs did stifle the All-Ireland Champions somewhat by deploying a sweeper, I still felt that Limerick managed the game quite well without getting into their usual rhythm. John Kiely has a serious panel to pick from with Limerick and they look like they have progressed even further this year.
In the absence of key players, they seem to be able to slot someone else into the team that can do as good a job.
For example, Dan Morrissey has played very well at centre half back at different stages in the league when inspirational captain Declan Hannon wasn’t available. Hannon is expected to return this Sunday which will further bolster their starting fifteen.
Waterford to their credit, have been impressive in their own right also. Páraic Fanning has to be commended for how well he has got the Déise playing. There has been no sign of a post Derek McGrath hangover and the new Waterford boss dereves huge credit for this.
In the semi-final last Sunday against Galway, Waterford never led the game until the 61st minute. A couple of minutes before this, centre half forward Mikey Kearney was given his marching orders after a second yellow, but this seemed to spur the Déise on.
When you consider that Galway didn’t score between the 49th minute and the seventh minute of additional time, this will show you the resilience and tenacity Waterford demonstrated during this period.
In the past number of weeks there have been brilliant Waterford performances from the likes of Austin Gleeson, the Bennett brothers, Stephen and Shane and dynamic midfielder Jamie Barron.
Barron in particular has really caught the eye. He has an unbelievable engine and on top of this he is also a highly skillful player. Last Sunday he chipped in with two points from play as part of a “Man Of The Match” display. He will be a pivotal figure if Waterford are to go home with silverware this weekend.
Limerick are favourites for this one, and in my opinion, rightly so. The Waterford backs could have a real job on their hands handling the treaty forwards. Aaron Gillane in particular will take some watching.
I have already mentioned Waterford’s dynamic and skillful midfielder Jamie Barron, but Limerick have got one of their own in last year’s “Hurler of the Year” Cian Lynch. Lynch’s catch and pass for Seamus Flanagan’s goal last weekend was pure class.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) March 24, 2019
If these two pick each other up, their battle could be worth the Croke Park admission fee alone. Whoever comes out on top in the middle third could go a long way to determining the outcome of this game.
I fancy Limerick to get the job done this weekend. As good as Waterford are, I think the Treaty have more match winners that will help them shade this one and add to this team’s medal haul.
Verdict: Limerick @ 8/13
NFL Division 2 Final:
Donegal v Meath Verdict Donegal @ 8/15
NFL Division 4 Final:
Derry v Leitrim Verdict Derry -3 (Handicap Betting) @ 10/11
NFL Division 3 Postponed Fixture:
Louth v Westmeath Verdict Westmeath @ 4/6