Every Friday, Caolán Conroy provides his take on three different sporting developments across the UK and Ireland, and shares his predictions for match-ups ahead. This week he looks at the All-Ireland football final, Ulster Rugby and shares his Ulster-born XI Team of the week.
Will it be Mayo’s year?
Is there anything better or bigger than All Ireland football final weekend? It’s always the weekend you wish you had booked the Monday off work. As a student, it was the weekend that signified the start of Freshers. It brings the Irish diaspora together throughout the world.
This weekend’s final sees Dublin take on Mayo for the second year in a row. Since 2012 both teams have served up three finals and two semi-finals. These games have been exciting, dramatic and breathless. The only constant has been that Mayo are still waiting to win the Sam Maguire cup.
Last year’s final and subsequent replay had everything: own goals, black cards, strange team selections and late heart break for the Mayo men. I do feel that last year was Mayo’s year to beat the Dubs and claim Sam Maguire for the first time since 1951. They matched Dublin physically and had the chances to win both games.
This year I predict Dublin will have too much for them. Mayo have improved with every game they’ve played but they haven’t faced a machine as well-oiled as Dublin. Dublin are ruthless and if Mayo show any sign of weakness they’ll will exploit it. The Dublin attack is slicker than any team I’ve ever seen and they have six quality replacements in reserve. Their midfield and defence is also the most athletic and disciplined out there.
Jim Galvin may not be the most charismatic manager around but motivating this highly successful team doesn’t seem to be an issue.
It would be great to see Mayo end their long-suffering fan’s pain. Let’s hope their management don’t pull out any surprising team selections like they’ve done in previous big games. I think they will be able to put it up to Dublin for 40-50 minutes but then I expect the ‘boys in blue’ to pull away in the last third of the game to claim their third title in a row.
First real test for Ulster
This Friday Ulster take on Scarlets in Belfast at the Kingspan Stadium. It will be Ulster’s toughest test of the season so far after victories against Cheetahs and Benetton Treviso. Ulster will be disappointed to have missed out on the bonus point against Benetton last weekend and face the current champions this weekend.
The Scarlets will be a lot tougher opposition that the teams they have faced in the opening two weeks and they also have returning Lions heroes Jonathan Davies and Ken Owens to pick from. Scarlets have won 10 games in a row and will be boosted by their returning players. Ulster are also without their two star players Marcell Coetzee and Charles Piutau.
It promises to be a great night under the lights in Belfast and hopefully the game lives up to expectations.
Ulster-born XI – Team of the Week
Conrad Logan – Clean sheet in midweek for Mansfield and played in win against Grimsby on Saturday
Conor McLaughlin – Scored his first Millwall goal in the draw against QPR on Tuesday
Aaron Hughes – Clean sheet against Aberdeen last weekend
Shane Duffy – Dominant performance at heart of Brighton’s defence as they picked up first win of season.
Ryan McLaughlin – joins his brother in the team after Oldham picked up their first win of the season against Bristol Rovers on Tuesday
Stuart Dallas – Scored decisive goal on Tuesday night as Leeds went top of Championship
Chris Baird – Impressive performance for Derby as they beat Hull 5-0 last weekend
Eunan O’Kane – Continues to showcase his talents in Leeds midfield as they remain unbeaten.
Daniel Lafferty – Played on the wing in Sheffield United’s win against Bolton on Tuesday
Josh Magennis – Scored in Charlton’s win against Southend on Saturday
Paul Heatley – Goal and assist for Crusaders against Linfield on Tuesday night and now top Scorer in Irish League.
All-Ireland Football Final: Dublin v Mayo – Dublin by 6
All-Ireland Minor Football Final: Derry v Kerry – Draw
Singapore Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel