Tailteann Cup: Four Ulster hopefuls still standing as knockout stage is reached

Tailteann Cup: Four Ulster hopefuls still standing as knockout stage is reached

Ultan Kelm is one of the most talented forwards in modern day gaelic football
Ultan Kelm will hope to help Fermanagh overcome Laois in Saturday’s Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final at Brewster Park

Following the completion of the round robin stage, the Tailteann Cup moves to the knockout phase on Saturday with Down and Fermanagh involved in preliminary quarter-finals, as Antrim and Cavan have a week off after topping their groups.

On the face of it, Kieran Donnelly’s men should be good enough to beat a Laois side that needed a last-gasp draw against London last weekend to maintain their interest in the competition.

It’s not that many years ago that Laois were a side capable of troubling the country’s best teams but times have changed and they were unable to get out of Division Four during the spring.

In contrast, Fermanagh secured promotion to Division Two after a campaign which included victories over also promoted Cavan, Down and Westmeath.

After a creditable display in their Ulster SFC defeat by Derry, Fermanagh’s form did dip somewhat in their Tailteann Cup group with a 1-19 to 2-7 success in Leitrim their only victory following an opening home draw against Wexford.

However, they should be able to kickstart their season once more by clinching a home victory this weekend.

Offaly v Wexford Tullamore, 16:00
Carlow v New York Dr Cullen Park, 17:00
Fermanagh v Laois Brewster Park, 18:00
Down v Longford Pairc Esler, 19:00

Down will be even stronger favourites in their preliminary quarter-final against Longford in Newry although they will be mindful that Paddy Christie’s side were competitive in all their Group Three games, losing narrowly to Limerick and Carlow in addition to handing an 11-point hammering to Oisin McConville’s Wicklow, who secured promotion to Division Three earlier this year.

The Mournemen will be frustrated at not securing direct passage to the quarter-finals after their 16 wides in Saturday’s narrow defeat by Group Two winners Meath.

It would not be a surprise to see Conor Laverty’s side take that out on Longford this weekend by racking up a big win.

Saturday’s other preliminary quarter-finals sees Group One runners-up Offaly hosting Wexford in Tullamore and Carlow with home advantage for their contest against New York, who enter the competition at this stage.

Armagh man Johnny McGeeney’s Exiles side defeated Leitrim in a penalty shootout to earn an historic first ever Connacht Football Championship win and his side that day included former Down players Michael Cunningham and Niall Madine in addition to ex-Galway player Johnny Glynn.

Suffice to say, Carlow are unlikely to underestimate the visitors.

Antrim will face one of the preliminary round winners in the quarter-finals
Antrim had a 100% record in Group Four as they defeated Leitrim, Wexford and Fermanagh

Antrim’s form standout feature of group stage

Group winners Cavan, Meath, Limerick and Antrim will host the victors of Saturday’s games with a further draw taking place to confirm the quarter-final contests which will take place on the weekend of 17/18 June.

While last year’s beaten finalists Cavan remain the competition favourites with the bookies just ahead of Meath and Down, Antrim’s form was the standout feature of the group stage.

Last year, there were wholesale defections from the Saffron County camp for the inaugural Tailteann campaign after their hugely disappointing defeat by Cavan in Ulster but Andy McEntee, in his first season in charge, has been able to keep his panel largely intact since the Easter Saturday provincial series loss to Armagh.

Antrim’s prospects of an extended run in the second-tier championship didn’t look promising that day at the Athletic Grounds, but their performance at the same venue in beating Fermanagh last weekend suggested genuine progress has been made.

Knockout football will bring the pressure up a notch or two for the Saffrons but their recent results will give them belief that they can go all the way to the final at Croke Park on 15 July.

Quarter-Finals 17/18 June Venues: tbc
Semi-Finals 25 June Croke Park
Final 15 July Croke Park

Cavan wouldn’t be operating in this season’s Tailteann Cup if they had managed to beat Westmeath in last year’s inaugural competition decider and Mickey Graham’s side look well placed to go one step further this summer.

The Breffnimen looked particularly impressive last weekend as they racked up 2-25 in a 16-point demolition of Group One runners-up Offaly, with James Smith the only notable departure from the squad in recent weeks.

Following the quarter-finals on 17/18 June, there will also be a semi-finals draw unless the avoidance of repeat pairings from earlier in the competition makes this redundant.

The last-four contests will take place at Croke Park on Sunday 25 June with the final at headquarters on 15 July.

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