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Friday 15 December 2017

Down set to punish depleted Donegal

DOWN v DONEGAL

(Páirc Esler, Tonight, 7.0 Live Setanta 1)

JAMES McCARTAN knows all about 'second season syndrome' after watching his All-Ireland finalists of 2010 endure a painful crash to earth last summer.

The question now is whether his Donegal counterpart Jim McGuinness is about to suffer something similar.

Obviously, it's far too early to be making definitive judgements -- Donegal may have lost all three McKenna Cup games but they were without a raft of regulars.

But they won't be at full strength tonight, either, especially up front (if you'll pardon that loose description) where Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden and Mark McHugh are all sidelined.

Suffice to say, especially without their two most potent scorers in Murphy and McFadden, there is a reduced chance of racking up a winning tally and even less chance of winning over the critics who decried their blanket defence last summer.

For Down, it's a case of life after Marty Clarke. They might still sneak it, though.

ODDS: Down 4/6, Draw 7/1, Donegal 17/10

VERDICT: Down

LAOIS v MAYO

(Portlaoise, Tonight, 7.0)

BEFORE a ball is kicked, Laois are odds-on for the drop -- no surprise there, given how last year's spring promise withered on the vine of a wilting championship. To avoid an instant return ticket to Division Two, this is exactly the type of game they must win -- at home, against a long-established and yet beatable top-flight rival.

For all that, Mayo look the marginally safer bet. They've hit the ground running in the FBD League, with Conor Mortimer showing very few signs of rustiness after his season-long lay-off. All Star Andy Moran also returns from his broken leg, the towering Barry Moran is given another chance to establish his claims (at full-forward).

For Laois, January began badly -- losing to UCD compounded by Donie Kingston's central role in their downfall -- but form picked sufficiently for them to win the O'Byrne Shield in a canter. Still not enough to convince us just yet ...

ODDS: Laois 6/4, Draw 15/2, Mayo 8/11

VERDICT: Mayo

ARMAGH v CORK

(Athletic Grounds, Tomorrow, 2.30, Live TG4)

EVERY year is a big one, they say, but even more so for Cork after their tepid surrender of Sam last summer. Typically, they won the McGrath Cup without a host of marquee names and now most of the above have returned to the starting 15.

Graham Canty starts at centre-back while Colm O'Neill also features at corner-forward after his cruciate-ruined 2011. Armagh are at home but otherwise it's hard to be overly sanguine about their prospects in the ongoing absence of their Crossmaglen contingent.

ODDS: Armagh 11/4, Draw 8/1, Cork 4/11

VERDICT: Cork

BY FRANK ROCHE

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