Nigel Dunne, Shamrocks and Sean Pender, Edenderry
THERE will be no big casualties in the group phase of the Offaly Senior Football Championship. With two rounds completed, the third round this Sunday evening will decide who goes into the quarter-finals and semi-finals and the match-ups in the quarter-finals.
However, all the main contenders will be in the knockout stages and the real business will only begin from then on.
The three qualifiers are known in group 1 where the safe passage of Ferbane, Durrow and Rhode is assured and Cappincur are headed for the relegation play off. The big talking point here has been the form of Durrow – they shocked champions Rhode in the first round and then proved that this was no fluke as they drew with Ferbane in the second round, and really should have taken both points there.
The other big discussion topic here has been the form of Rhode. They were very understrength for the Durrow game and easily beat Cappincur in the second round but they have not found top form yet. They play Ferbane in the last round while Durrow meet Cappincur. This opens up the tantalising possibility of a semi-final place for Durrow. If they beat Cappincur and Rhode get a result against Ferbane, they will go straight into the semi-final.
Group 2 is more interesting in that there is a pure knockout game here between Shamrocks and Bracknagh. Tullamore and Edenderry are safely through on three points and the winners of their gane will take the semi-final spot with the loser into the quarter-final. Tullamore will go into the semi-finals if it is a draw. Shamrocks and Bracknagh have one point each – the winner will take the quarter-final place with the loser into the relegatiobn play off while a draw will do Shamrocks.
PREVIEWS (All games in Sunday at 5.00pm)
Ferbane v Rhode: in O'Connor Park
With both teams already through, the result doesn't really matter but this is still a big game for both sides. Rhode need to start finding form and Ferbane have been a mixed bag so far. A win here will probably secure a semi-final berth for Ferbane as their scoring difference is eight points better than Cappincur's.
It is a game that will tell a lot about both teams, particularly Rhode. They look vulnerable but they are still the team to beat. It's a 50/50 one, hard to call and no result will be a surprise.
Verdict – Rhode.
Cappincur v Durrow: in Ballinagar
Durrow have been the surprise packets in the championship so far. History suggests that they can't win the championship but they have a lot of talent, the right balance between youth and experience with the emphasis on youth. They have a lot of players who have played underage for Offaly and they are dark horses.
The clash with Cappincur will tell more about them. At the start of the year, most people expected that this would be a game to decide who went into the relegation play off but the goal posts have changed dramatically. Cappincur would actually have fancied their chances against Durrow before the start of the season and they will fight hard for their pride. They may give them a run for their money but Cappincur have been the worse team in the championship so far and the form book points towards Durrow.
Verdict – Durrow.
Bracknagh v Shamrocks: in Geashill
This should be the game of the weekend as it is knockout and the stakes are as big as they can be. Bracknagh find themselves in somewhat strange territory. They will be with their star player Peter Cunningham for this but he will then be unavailable for a quarter-final or relegation play off as he must go into isolation for two weeks before heading on an Army tour of duty to Syria. This means that their chances of winning a quarter-final are greatly reduced while they will have good prospects of beating Cappincur in a relegation play off without him.
Bracknagh did very well to draw with Edenderry in their first game but were very poor as Tullamore destroyed them in the last game. Shamrocks have also flattered to deceive. They were good as they drew with Tullamore and weren't far off the mark against Edenderry but still didn't convince. Jack Bryant was tightly marshalled against Edenderry but should be back firing on all cylinders here. They have a solid, well-balanced team but this is close to a 50/50 game. At the same time, Shamrocks do look to be a small bit better than Bracknagh and they are favourites.
Verdict – Shamrocks.
Tullamore v Edenderry: in Gracefield
With a semi-final berth on offer for the winners, Tullamore and Edenderry should produce the best football of the weekend. Tullamore were outstanding in their win over Bracknagh while Edenderry did what they had to do against Shamrocks without setting the world on fire.
It is difficult to know what to make of Edenderry. On paper, they should be very difficult to beat, even favourites for the Dowling Cup but they haven't really shown this in their performances to date. Tullamore looked so good against Bracknagh and their young players are really bringing them on. At their age, though, they will have bad days and Bracknagh were very poor. It is 50/50 and it is a very interesting match that will tell a good bit about both sides but won't make, break or define their season. The losers here could very well go onto become champions. Tullamore played the best football of the championship to date against Bracknagh and for that reason, they are slight favourites.
Verdict – Tullamore.
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