A busy weekend beckons

Compiled by Jackie Cahill

THE 2024 Lidl National League champions will be crowned over the coming weekend – as Galway and Waterford battle it out to avoid the drop from Division 1 on Sunday.

The Divisions 3 and 4 Finals are fixed for Grant Heating St Brendan’s Park, Birr, on Saturday, with Carlow and Limerick getting the action underway at 2pm in the Division 4 Final, followed by the Division 3 Final meeting between Clare and Roscommon at 4pm.

Attention switches to Croke Park on Sunday for the Divisions 1 and 2 Finals, with Kildare and Tyrone, both promoted to Division 1 for 2025, clashing at 1pm for Division 2 honours, before holders Kerry meet first-time Finalists in Armagh in the Division 1 decider at 3pm.

Also on Sunday, Galway and Waterford meet at Duggan Park, Ballinasloe (2pm), with the winners assured of Division 1 football again next year, while the losers will be relegated to Division 2.

 Saturday April 6 – Grant Heating St Brendan’s Park, Birr

2024 Lidl Ladies National Football League Finals 

Division 4 – Carlow v Limerick; 2pm – Live on Spórt TG4 YouTube
THE general consensus was that Fermanagh and Leitrim would be playing in Saturday’s Lidl National League Division 4 semi-final – but Carlow and Limerick were determined to rip up the script.

When the dust settled on the group phase of the competition, Fermanagh were top of the pile on 19 points, followed by Leitrim on 18, and Limerick and Carlow on 11.

That left Fermanagh to play Carlow in the semi-finals, with Leitrim up against Limerick.

Leitrim were left disappointed by defeat in last year’s Division 4 Final against Antrim, when promotion was the big prize for the winners, while Fermanagh had lost out to Leitrim at the semi-final stage.

Ahead of the recent last-four clashes, Fermanagh and Leitrim were big favourites but Carlow and Limerick performed heroics to win and secure promotion to Division 3 for 2025.

Maeve O’Neill scored a last gasp winning goal as Carlow claimed a dramatic victory over Fermanagh, with Iris Kennelly striking a late, late goal for Limerick as they got the better of Leitrim in another wonderful finish to that game.

Now, both of Saturday’s Finalists can enjoy the occasion and the expectation is that this will be a tight game.

The counties met in Round 7 of the group phase and that game resulted in a two-point victory for Limerick.

Deborah Murphy led the way with 1-3 for Limerick and she’s one of Limerick’s leading attacking lights, along with the likes of top scorer Kennelly, and Caoimhe McGrath.

There’s been a good spread of scorers throughout the Limerick team to date and that should stand them in good stead.

Carlow are in a similar position and they have Clíodhna Ní Shé, a wonderfully talented player now fully recovered from previous injury issues, leading the line up front.

Rachel Sawyer and Sarah Doyle are other forwards of genuine quality who have chipped in with key scores for the Barrowsiders.

These are two counties who will harbour high hopes, too, of making real inroads in the summer’s TG4 All-Ireland Junior Championship.

Limerick were beaten Finalists last year but have managed to erase that disappointment with a sense of renewed focus in 2024.

Carlow, for their part, have been knocking around the penultimate stages of the All-Ireland series in recent years without success but perhaps this League breakthrough will provide a Championship springboard.

There’s nothing quite like snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and that’s a feeling both Carlow and Limerick experienced in their League semi-finals.

Now, they can march forward with real optimism and victory for either side here will provide another huge confidence boost.

Carlow are sailing into uncharted territory, getting ready for a very first Division 4 Final, while Limerick have previous experience of winning this competition, back in 2016.

The Munster outfit will be conscious, however, of the fact that they’ve suffered defeat in the 2022, 2015, 2012 and 2010 Finals, as they prepare for their sixth fourth tier decider.

Unlike last year, when only the winners would be promoted, there’s less pressure on both teams in that sense as they get ready to do battle.

But knowing the competitive spirit that exists within both camps, defeat in a national Final won’t be countenanced in the respective dressing rooms ahead of throw-in.

Carlow: N Hanley; A Carroll, A Roche, S McCullagh; R Berminghan (capt.), N Murphy, N Forde; E Hayden, R Bailey; B Nolan, R Sawyer, S Doyle; E Molloy, E Coogan, C Ní Shé.

 Limerick: C Bateman; J McGuire, Y Lee, F Bradshaw; G Lee, C Mee, M MacNamara; R Ambrose (capt.), L Ryan; K O’Leary, D Murphy, K Heelan; E Woulfe, A O’Sullivan, I Kennelly.

Division 3 – Clare v Roscommon; 4pm – Live on Spórt TG4 YouTube
THERE’S huge motivation within both camps ahead of Saturday’s Lidl National League Division 3 Final.

Clare were stung by defeat in the 2023 decider, when the Banner County lost a thrilling decider against Kildare at Parnell Park that went all the way to extra-time.

Roscommon, meanwhile, are aiming to win Division 3 silverware for the second time in three seasons.

After landing the title in 2022, the Connacht outfit suffered relegation last year but have bounced back at the first attempt to the second tier.

The fact that both of Saturday’s Finalists have already achieved promotion should ensure that the shackles are off and they’ll play an expansive game in search of the silverware on offer at Grant Heating St Brendan’s Park in Birr.

Recent form suggests, too, that there will be very little to separate them.

When they met in February in Round 3, the counties played out a draw, 1-7 apiece.

This was the proverbial ‘seesaw’ battle that saw the pendulum swing both ways before a stalemate ensued at the full-time whistle.

Clare were seven points down at half-time but, wind-assisted, they rallied in the second half.

Roscommon inched ahead late on but Clare claimed a merited draw in the dying moments when Fidelma Marrinan, ZuCar Golden Boot winner for 2023, nailed the levelling point.

On the day, it was Marrinan (1-4) and her attacking sidekick, Chloe Moloney, who accounted for all of Clare’s scores.

For Roscommon, Aisling Hanly scored 1-1, Laura Fleming (Roscommon’s top scorer in the League) contributed 0-3 from frees, Aisling Feeley landed two points from play, and Lauren Shanagher was also on target.

Marrinan is top scorer in Division 3 to date and she won’t be caught at the top of the charts.

The return of Ailish Considine to the Clare ranks this year is another major boosts and undoubtedly makes the team stronger.

Looking at the bigger picture and what lies in store come championship time, these are two teams who will fancy their chances of glory.

Roscommon failed to make it out of the group stages last year but they look a far better outfit this year, while Clare will aim to go one better.

When they met Kildare again, this time on TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Final day at Croke Park, it was just a one-point margin separating the sides.

Captain Caoimhe Harvey has mentioned how the hurt from those defeats has been fuelling Clare this year and they look like an extremely good team and a team very much on a mission.

Both of Saturday’s opponents are assured of promotion to Division 2 for next year but they’ll be keen to finish their League campaign with the trophy – a feat which would provide a huge pre-championship boost.

Looking at the roll of honour, Clare have previous historical form in this competition.

Clare were Finalists last year, as referenced above, and they won’t want to lose a second successive Final.

They were, however, successful in Final appearances in 2011 and 2006, while Roscommon, along with 2022, have also lifted the trophy in 2009 and 2001.

Roscommon’s first Division 3 Final appearance was back in 1997, when they lost out to Longford, but they have a 100 per cent record in Division 3 Finals since then.

 Clare: A Lenihan; A Keane, S Ní Chonaill, G Harvey; L Ryan, J Doohan, R Considine; S Considine, A Reidy; L Griffin, C Harvey (capt.), A Sexton; T Collins, F Marrinan, A Considine.

 Roscommon: H Cummins; A McGrath, E Irwin (capt.), J McDermott; R Fitzmaurice, S Wynne, C Cregg; L O’Rourke, K Nolan; L Fleming, L Shanagher, S Farrell; A Hanly, A Gavin, A MacAuliffe.

Sunday April 7 – Croke Park 

2024 Lidl Ladies National Football League Finals 

Division 2 – Kildare v Tyrone; 1pm – Live on TG4
WITH promotion to Division 1 achieved for 2025, silverware is the name of the game for Kildare and Tyrone in Sunday’s Lidl National League Division 2 Final.

On paper, and known form, there will be very little to separate two excellent sides at the final whistle.

Kildare may start as slight favourites by virtue of the fact that they topped the Division 2 standings with 19 points from seven outings, with Tyrone two points further back, but both teams are unbeaten to date in 2024 and they drew when they faced each other in the group stages.

In what was a Round 6 dress rehearsal ahead of Sunday’s League decider, there was still a keen competitive edge.

The Lilywhites extended their long unbeaten record, and without the services of top scorer Róisín Byrne, as Maria Canavan’s penalty secured a draw for Tyrone towards the finish.

Canavan has led the way in the scoring stakes all season for the Red Hands, with the likes of Chloe McCaffrey and Emma Conroy also making significant contributions, while Byrne’s efforts for Kildare have been aided and abetted by team-mates such as Ellen Dowling, who scored 1-4 in that previous meeting with Tyrone, and Neasa Dooley.

Kildare’s progress in recent times has been quite remarkable. They were crowned Lidl National League Division 3 champions last year before going on to land the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate title.

Now, Kildare can look forward to Lidl National League Division 1 football next year and before that, a TG4 Leinster Senior Championship campaign that also features Dublin, Meath and Laois, after which focus will switch to the TG4 All-Ireland series.

Tyrone will be hugely encouraged by their recent form, too. They finished well down the pecking order in Division 2 last year, winning three and losing four of their group fixtures, but have been revived in spectacular fashion.

Sunday will provide a real indicator of just how far Tyrone have come, however. When they met Kildare in the quarter-finals of the 2023 TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship, the Ulster side lost out by 0-5 to 1-12.

Kildare were dominant on the day before going on to achieve Croke Park glory and Senior status for 2024.

Tyrone will hope to embark on a similar path in the Championship during the summer and after watching Antrim clinch Ulster Intermediate glory at their expense last year, the Red Hands will also be anxious to get back on top in their province.

That’s in the future, however, as both sides focus in on the immediate prize at stake.

For Kildare, Sunday represents a fourth Division 2 Final appearance. They won this competition in 2004, and were runners-up in 2006 and 2010, while Tyrone are aiming for their second Division 2 title, following victory in their sole previous appearance in a second tier Final against Dublin back in 1999.

Looking even further ahead, both teams only need to look at Armagh’s example to give them confidence ahead of the step up to Division 1 next year.

Armagh won this Division 2 title last year and will appear in a Division 1 Final on Sunday afternoon.

There’s plenty of football to be played before 2025, of course, and, for now, we wait to see whether it will be Kildare’s Grace Clifford or Tyrone’s Aoibhinn McHugh climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand to accept the Division 2 trophy.

Kildare: A Dunlea; F Troute, A Clifford, M Doherty; L Murtagh, R Sargent, L Gilbert; G Clifford (capt.), H McLoughlin; T Duggan, E Dowling, C Sullivan; N Dooley, R Byrne, A Rattigan.

Tyrone: C Donnelly; J Lyons, J Barrett, E Quinn; C Campbell, E Mulgrew, M Corrigan; A McHugh (capt.), M Mallon; E.J. Gervin, E Conroy, A Horisk; M Canavan, Z Loughran, S Byrne.

Division 1 – Armagh v Kerry, 3pm – Live on TG4

BOTH teams have rung the changes ahead of Sunday’s Lidl National League Division 1 Final – as Armagh prepare for their maiden appearance in a top-flight decider against the Kingdom, who are the current champions.

With a Final place already secured, Armagh rung the changes against Dublin for their Round 7 group game, which resulted in a heavy defeat.

Team manager Gregory McGonigle has recalled Anna Carr between the sticks in place of Brianna Mathers, while there also recalls for Róisín Mulligan, Cáit Towe, Dearbhla Coleman, Niamh Coleman, Caroline O’Hanlon, Aoife McCoy, Aimee Mackin and Niamh Henderson.

McGonigle’s starting line-up will show nine changes in personnel from the Dublin outing, with Maeve Ferguson, Laura Kavanagh, Ciara Garvey, Eimear O’Brien, Sarah Quigley, Megan O’Callaghan, Maeve Lennon and Niamh Reel also listed on the bench.

The Kerry side that accounted for Galway to book another Final slot shows four changes in personnel, with Cáit Lynch, Deirdre Kearney, Niamh Ní Chonchúir and Hannah O’Donoghue coming in for Kate O’Sullivan, Ciara McCarthy, Danielle O’Leary and Katie Brosnan.

Kerry, chasing a 13th top flight title and back-to-back crowns, were once undisputed Division 1 League queens. From 1980-1985, they won six successive titles and followed that up with five-in-a-row from 1987-1991.

The long wait for a 12th title ended in 2023 when the team managed by Declan Quill and Darragh Long got the better of Galway in impressive fashion at Croke Park.

Armagh, meanwhile, are preparing for their first Division 1 Final and recent progress for the Orchard County has been rapid as they were Division 2 Finalists in 2022, losing to Sunday’s opponents on that occasion, before going one better and landing second tier silverware and promotion last year, with victory over Laois.

Any worries that Armagh might be overwhelmed by Division 1 football were quickly allayed as they scorched through the group phase of the competition, winning six games in a row before the Dublin loss.

If recent form is a barometer, both sides are in good shape heading into this one and it’s Armagh who have the psychological pre-match edge after winning against Kerry in early March.

Kerry made the trip to the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds and suffered their first, and only, defeat of the campaign.

Division 1’s leading scorer, Aimee Mackin, was in scintillating form on the day and she’s a player Kerry will need to keep tabs on.

But Kelly Mallon is also in excellent form in attack, while Kerry have Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh leading the way in the scoring stakes, with the likes of Emma Dineen, captain Niamh Carmody and Hannah O’Donoghue also contributing handsomely to date.

Indeed, it was O’Donoghue’s impact off the bench that helped Kerry get past the challenge of Galway in Round 7, and book a place in Sunday’s Final.

The scoring prowess of Mackin and Ní Mhuircheartaigh will prove crucial to Sunday’s result.

Mackin scored 2-6 when the sides met earlier in the League, with Ní Mhuircheartaigh, used sparingly to date, coming off the bench midway through the second half to register a point.

Going back to 2022, when the sides last met in the Senior Championship, the lethal pair were very much to the fore on that occasion.

This time, it was Ní Mhuircheartaigh who scored 2-6 in Kerry’s quarter-final victory, with Mackin producing a majestic display of her own that yielded 0-11, six of those from play.

These are two of the very best in the business, All Star calibre forwards with the ability to hurt any opposition.

And on current form, they’ll have big roles to play for their respective counties in their provincial championships and into the All-Ireland series, the latter to commence in June.

As a pre-championship appetiser, and with national silverware at stake, Sunday’s Lidl National League Division 1 Final is a tasty dish.

The next hour or more will determine whether it’s Armagh’s Clodagh McCambridge or Kerry’s Niamh Carmody climbing the Hogan Stand steps to accept the coveted silverware.

Armagh: A Carr; G Ferguson, C McCambridge (capt.), R Mulligan; C Towe, L McConville, D Coleman; N Coleman, C O’Hanlon; E Druse, A McCoy, C Doyle; A Mackin, N Henderson, K Mallon.

Kerry: M.E. Bolger; C Lynch, D Kearney, E Lynch; A O’Connell, C Murphy, K Cronin; M O’Connell, A Galvin; N Carmody (capt.), N Ní Chonchúir, L Scanlon; H O’Donoghue, E Dineen, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh.

2024 Lidl Ladies National Football League – Division 1

Galway v Waterford; Duggan Park, Ballinasloe, 2pm 

THIS winner-takes-all clash in Ballinasloe will determine who plays Division 1 football again next year – and who will drop down to Division 2 for 2025.

Two proud footballing counties meet at Duggan Park and with so much at stake.

Cork are already relegated and the big question now ahead of throw-in is who will join them?

The winner of this clash will stay up but if the game finishes in a draw, the team finishing higher in the table, and securing Division 1 football again, will be the team that registers the highest number of points (scores converted over the bar) in Sunday’s game.

If they still can’t be separated, the county with the best scoring difference will be safe and, ahead of throw-in, that’s Galway, who are -5 compared to Waterford’s -13.

As both teams fight for survival, Galway have made one change to the team that lost out to Kerry on March 24, with Meabh Walsh handed a start in the half-forward line in place of Emma Reaney.

Waterford’s previous outing saw them fall to defeat against Mayo, with the Westerners allaying any lingering relegation fears in the process.

For Sunday’s do-or-die clash, Waterford have named an unchanged starting team.

Galway have been a Division 1 outfit since winning the Division 2 title in 2014, while Waterford have played in the top flight since winning second tier silverware in 2019.

Galway: D Gower; M Jordan, S Ní Loingsigh, E Gavin; K Geraghty, N Ward, A Ní Cheallaigh; M Glynn, A Davoren (capt.); O Divilly, S Hynes, M Walsh; L Coen, A O’Rourke, R Leonard.

 Waterford: E O’Brien; H Power, E Power, A Murray; K McGrath, A McNulty, A O’Neill; E Murray, K Hogan (capt.); C Walsh, C Carroll, M O’Brien; M Comerford, K Murray, L McGregor.

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