Fermanagh might have enjoyed a successful league campaign against the odds, but Christ was it grim. They scored just 69 points in total, goals and all, across seven league games, averaging under 10 points a game.
Adopting an ultra-defensive approach that would make Jim McGuinness proud, Fermanagh stifled opposition attacks to keep games as low-scoring as possible. That certainly worked.
Do not expect anything to change now that the Championship has come around. Surprise finalists last year, Fermanagh were taught a lesson by Donegal, but they have since become more rigid in their defensive structure.
They’ll aim to repeat their league win over Declan Bonner’s team, where they won on a thrilling score of 0-13 to 0-10 in Letterkenny but will find it difficult against a Donegal side that has improved gradually as the year has gone on. The potential return of Paddy McBrearty to the Green and Gold starting 15 gives the 2012 All Ireland Champions a massive boost and they should have too much for their Erneside rivals.
Just don’t expect it to be a classic.
Less than two months since meeting in the Division 3 final, Westmeath and Laois go at it again in the Championship. Westmeath got the better of their Leinster rivals on the two occasions they met in the league, but both games were close, the second meeting in particular.
Laois hit 14 wides in that three-point loss and will feel they left that game behind them. However, with both sides aware they would be playing each other in seven weeks, it is safe to assume that neither side showed their full hand on that day in Croke Park.
Westmeath’s revival has been rapid in recent years, with the Lakeside County picking themselves up off the canvas in Division 4 to get back to Division 2. That progress has increased exponentially under new manager Jack Cooney. However, it feels as though Laois will make it third time lucky this Sunday. They made the Leinster final last year and, with Dublin due to play in the other semi-final, have a good chance to do so again this year.
Kildare have drastically under-performed in Leinster recently. For years, they have been the best placed team to challenge Dublin, as showcased by the Leinster final in 2017, but have failed to mount another serious challenge. In fact, the 2017 final was Kildare’s only final appearance this decade, and they haven’t played Dublin every year so can’t use that as an excuse for not making it.
Carlow, Westmeath, and Meath have all laid waste to the Lilywhite’s Leinster challenge since 2010 and it really isn’t acceptable, especially when you see their performance against Mayo in Newbridge last year.
They are capable of playing thrilling football and, if they reach their potential, should have far too much for a Longford side that performed fairly averagely in Division 3. They were poor against Wicklow in the preliminary round, but Kildare should have now gotten the jitters out of their system and, with home advantage, should be comfortable on Sunday.
*All odds correct at time of posting