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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Here's hoping some sparks fly in Leinster

Michael Newman of Meath in action against Eoin Rigney of Offaly during the opening match of the Leinster SFC in Navan. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Newman of Meath in action against Eoin Rigney of Offaly during the opening match of the Leinster SFC in Navan. Photo: Sportsfile

Dublin's drive for five starts next Saturday with their provincial opener against Louth - and curiously, the game is on in Portlaoise as part of a double-header with Meath and Carlow.

There was a time when this double-header would have to have been played at headquarters but the predictable nature of the competition has seen a huge fall-off in attendances.

It is worrying times for Leinster GAA. However, they have no option but to suck it up until such time as the format changes.

Having said that, there should be a good atmosphere in Portlaoise but I'm not so sure the punters will get the type of championship games witnessed in this ground over the years.

First up is Meath and Carlow. On paper, at least, this looks like a banker for Andy McEntee's men but the performance against Offaly last time out was the type of reality check that will ensure they arrive next Saturday fully focused and aware that a similar performance would open the door for Carlow.

Meath are certainly making progress under McEntee's management and have secured Division One playing rights for next season.

The next mark on their progress chart is to get to this year's provincial final and if they managed to get to the Super 8s it would go down as a very positive campaign.

Appetite

I think the appetite is there in this Meath squad but they will know that their display against Offaly wasn't good enough and this Saturday gives them the opportunity to improve all areas of their game.

Carlow will be stubborn and difficult to break down. They make no apologies - nor should they - for the way they set up and, in fairness, their defensive system has enabled them to be competitive over the last few seasons.

I don't like the game they play and would never coach it but they know their limitations and shortcomings and have adopted the same system that Donegal patented in 2011.

Meath will have long periods in possession, mainly in their own half, so it will take patience and smart football to get into good scoring positions. When they do manage this, they need to take a high percentage of those opportunities.

If they do breach the Carlow rear-guard early in the game, then I would expect them to push on and win comfortably. But if Carlow get their game plan working and the game is close going into the last quarter, then Meath nerves will be tested again.

Dublin have what looks like a straightforward game against Louth in the second game at Portlaoise. The footballing world will be looking closely to see if there are any signs of tiredness in the Dubs' camp.

Dublin know that this is game one on the schedule and the players will be professional in their approach and will take nothing for granted, despite the fact that their opponents are operating at a much lower level.

Dublin will win this game and their attitude on the day will decide by how much.

The other two quarter-finals next weekend see Longford take on Kildare and Westmeath against Laois in a repeat of last month's league Division Three final, in which Westmeath came out on top.

Westmeath have had a really good season so far, winning the O'Byrne Cup in Parnell Park against Dublin and winning the league.

They will fancy their chances in this game but that result will have hurt Laois and all their focus since will be about getting revenge.

Laois have a good winning tradition against Westmeath and that can sometimes be the difference on championship days. I am giving the nod to Laois in this game - but only just.

The last of the Leinster quarter-finals see Kildare and Longford squaring up and this is possibly a potential banana skin for the men in white.

Longford football has been on an upward curve over the last few seasons but this is going to be a huge test for them.

Kildare struggled to get anything going in their opening game against Wicklow but they have a game under their belt and that can be a huge advantage in the early rounds of the competition.

The Kildare team is full of very talented players and I expect them to do enough to set up a last-four meeting with the All-Ireland champions.

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