Championship Watch with Seamus Duke

Looking Back Game of the Weekend: Fermanagh v Derry: A clear choice between the Wexford v Laois game and the Ulster semi-final. Wexford’s achievement in reaching the Leinster Final for the first time in 52 years was a massive one but there was a lot of very loose football played in that game. The Fermanagh/Derry game was a tough, hard, but clean championship game that was almost ruined by a terrible refereeing performance – but fair play to Fermanagh, they were by far the better team all through. Although I was very disappointed by Derry, Fermanagh were sensational and if they can straighten out their shooting and their propensity to give the ball away, they will give the Ulster Final a real go. Player of the Weekend: Barry Owens (Fermanagh): There were several good and memorable performances all over the country.  Jonathan Clancy had a mighty game for Clare against Limerick in the Munster hurling semi-final and Colin Lynch was not far behind. Adrian Morrissey was brilliant for Wexford as they beat Laois in the Leinster semi-final in Croke Park and big Tom Parsons was the Mayo star against a very disappointing Sligo in the Connacht semi-final in Castlebar. There were several brilliant Fermanagh performances against Derry too, but you couldn’t make up the Barry Owens story. The 2006 All-Star full-back had a serious heart complaint at the start of the year. He underwent a serious operation. He came on last Saturday as a sub and scored the decisive goal within 30 seconds of being introduced. Talk about Roy of the Rovers! Fantastic stuff. Talking Point: Here in Connacht, the poverty of the challenge mounted by Sligo against Mayo was most surprising. I work in Mayo every Saturday and I know that Mayo people were very worried about the Sligo challenge on Sunday last, but it never materialised at all. There was also a very small crowd in Castlebar and while I know that the weather was very poor at the weekend, the crowds at the Connacht Championship games this year are well down. However there should be a full house at the Connacht Final. Referee Watch: I was impressed with Rory Hickey of Clare who was in charge of the game between Wexford v Laois at Croke Park. John Bannon made a few mistakes in the Mayo/Sligo game but overall he did a good job and the hurling games were almost without controversy. However Richie Bennis was none too pleased with Eamonn Morris, who I actually thought did fairly well. I thought that Syl Doyle from Wexford had a very poor game in the Fermanagh v Derry match. He issued no less than 10 yellow cards in a game that was devoid of any nasty play at all. He almost ruined what was a very entertaining and clean game of championship football! Soon there will be no physical contact allowed at all in the game if Mr. Doyle and his friends get their way. Looking Forward All-Ireland SHC qualifier: Antrim v Galway (on Saturday at Casement Park at 3.30 pm) The GAA pay their annual lip-service to the hurlers of Antrim by placing them in this qualifier against Galway. The script for this game is easy to write. Antrim will hold Galway for about 20 minutes with enthusiastic play and great heroicism. Galway will stretch their muscles and score a couple of goals and it will be all over. Neither team will learn anything. Bookies Odds: 8/1 Antrim, 1/20 Galway, 16/1 Draw. Prediction: Galway, easily. Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin v Westmeath (on Sunday at Croke Park at 2 pm) The Dubs must be viewing the happenings in the Leinster Championship so far this year with great interest. Westmeath and Wexford now lie between them and a fourth title on the trot. I am not convinced about this Dublin team who will be under pressure to deliver not only another Leinster title this year but an All-Ireland title too. This Sunday if they take the challenge of Westmeath for granted they will be in serious trouble. Westmeath have now perfected a system which is very ‘northern like’ in its make-up. They get plenty of players behind the ball and depend on Dennis Glennon and Dessie Dolan to do the damage on the scoreboard. However Dublin were well warned in the Division Two league final when Westmeath were the worthy winners. I am predicting a tough, hard battle and believe there will only be a few points in in at the end. I expect that Dublin might scrape though to another final. Bookies Odds: Dublin 2/5, Westmeath 5/2, Draw 8/1.  Prediction: Dublin, narrowly.  Ulster SFC semi-final: Armagh v Down (in Clones on Sunday at 4 pm) A very interesting tie between the two old rivals. Down have been very disappointing in Ulster and in the league over the past few years, given their great underage successes. This year they seem to have come of age. They were very good against Tyrone and the two tough games against Mickey Harte’s men will bring them on a ton. Armagh have been going very well this year and they have something that’s a very valuable asset to any team –  scoring forwards. They were clinical against Cavan and they are still a very good side. This looks like being a tough game and it’s a very difficult one to call. Having seen Armagh live twice this year, I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt but I fully realise what a motivated Down team are like in any big championship game. It might just be a year too soon for them, but they are a coming team. Bookies Odds: Armagh 4/6, Down 6/4, Draw 7/1. Prediction: Armagh to win narrowly.