Posted on 06 Apr 2011 at 12:31 PM by Lone Shark
Three crucial Under-21 championship games tonight should leave us with a much clearer picture as to who the main contenders are for this year's All Ireland title at this grade and based on the boomakers' odds, it's likely to be Cork scraping home in Munster, Longford by a whisker in Portlaoise and Tyrone to move on to meet Cavan in the Ulster decider.
Taking the Leinster game first, and it's understandable that bookmakers are struggling to separate these two counties. Both sides have dug deep to secure some very hard fought wins on the way to this final and perhaps the only way of distinguishing between the sides is to look at the calibre of opponent they have faced along the way. Longford beat Westmeath in their semi final, due in no small part to John Heslin's destructive cameo when introduced off the bench, while against Meath, Longford overcame the mental trauma of seeing a big lead whittled away to defiantly come through in extra time.
Wexford looked polished and efficient against Louth, albeit a Louth team that didn't come into this competition with a great reputation, and they really had to work hard to get over Kildare. Kildare were highly rated by the bookmakers this year but it seemed hard to justify their elevated position in the betting lists as three of their key players were out in Australia. Still their quarter final meeting with Wexford could have gone either way and it was a huge testament to the Model County that they came through. Carlow were next to fall but without Brendan Murphy, Carlow simply weren't the force that they were in 2010, when they really should have done better.
With both sides having a smattering of good footballers but no stars, it's Longford's wins over better opposition that stand out. They deserve to be favourites here with the betting purveyors.
Cork are also favoured and will enjoy the advantage of playing in the familiar environs of Páirc Uí Rinn tonight, but Colm O'Neill's injury is a blow while there are also questions about quite how fit Aidan Walsh really is. Kerry won this corresponding fixture three years ago at minor level and there is the possibility here that people are looking at Cork taking over at senior level and forgetting that Kerry are still a potent force with plenty of footballing talent.
The early money has been for Cork and there are real question marks over the Kerry midfield, but the injury to Barry John Walsh is not a huge blow as Barry John Keane is a top class replacement, and David Geaney is the kind of player who could have a big impact against a very moderate Cork full back line. With 11/10 available in places about Kerry plus one, they could be the best bet of the night.
Finally to Tyrone, who eventually came through their three game saga against Down. That run of games will have done a lot for team morale, however people seem to have forgotten that Monaghan beat a very good Derry team to get here. Tyrone's preparation will stand to them at 15/8 is probably not quite big enough to justify a punt on the outsiders, but the Red Hand men are still very vulnerable favourites and could be best swerved here.