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4 football plotlines to whet the appetite this weekend

Conor Breslin runs through the four biggest Gaelic football stories of the weekend as we enter the final round of the group stages

The phoney wars are over, and here comes the jeopardy that we have long been waiting for in the football championship.

Last-chance saloon for McGeeney as Armagh seek revenge
In his 15th campaign as an inter-county manager, Kieran McGeeney is yet to secure championship silverware.

It could be argued that the Armagh boss has been one of the unluckiest managers in the modern era, but you make your own luck.

In his 70 championship matches in charge, he has won 40 — a winning return of 57.1%.

Victory against Galway this weekend will put his side top of the group and straight into an All-Ireland quarter-final.

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Failure to win — with the expectation that Tyrone will defeat Westmeath — and Armagh will finish third and play away in the preliminary quarter-final.

Last year, the Orchard County and the Tribe knocked the living daylights out of each last year in a match containing a brawl, three red cards and which was decided on penalties.

It is not often a GAA match is condemned by the Taoiseach of the day, Micheál Martin, while the former Minister of Justice Charles Flanagan asked for a Garda investigation.

With the pressure mounting on their manager, Armagh must keep their heads to deliver against the most in-form team in the country, and this without the talents of the suspended Rian O’Neill.

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Harte has a history of conquering the Kingdom
Mickey Harte’s side cannot finish top of the group but that doesn’t mean they can’t spring the biggest upset of the summer against Kerry.

This has been a season of huge progress for a Louth side that followed up qualification for a Leinster final with strong performance against Cork and Mayo, with The Wee County tightening up their defence since the provincial mauling by Dublin.

Harte has a history of breaking Kerry hearts from his Tyrone days while, for the Kingdom, 2023 has been up and down with a high level of reliance on David Clifford.

They finished fifth in the league and won the Munster championship last month but since then have been beaten comprehensively by Mayo and struggled against Cork.

For Kerry to blitz, Louth they need to improve on their tactic of breaking down a blanket defence.

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For the Wee County, if they have learned anything from Kerry’s previous two matches, it’s that victory can come from pressure.

Forcing Kerry long on kickouts, taking the sweeper (Tadhg Morley, most likely) out of the game, and cutting off quick supply to the Kingdom attack line.

Jack O’Connor’s men look vulnerable just now, and Louth need to take advantage to keep their dreams alive.

Tailteann Cup blown wide open
If you were picking the winner of the Tailteann Cup at the start of this campaign, it may have been a flip of a coin between Cavan and Down who meet this weekend.

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These two Ulster sides met last March in the league in another do-or-die match, with promotion from Division 3 at stake.

That day, the Mourne men started the better with an early goal from Miceál Rooney, but Cavan finished superbly with Paddy Lynch scoring 2-5 from full-forward to secure victory.

The biggest talking point from a Down perspective is the absence of former skipper Niall McParland, who is still out due to injury.

There was hope that he would be back in time for this quarter-final clash, but that appears unlikely.

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He played a pivotal role against Donegal in the opening round of the Ulster championship and no doubt would’ve been the man to mark Lynch.

However, credit cannot be taken away from Cavan, with victories over Laois, London and Offaly by 12, six and 16 points respectively allowing them to clinch a home quarter-final.

Time for Donegal to turn their season around
If we were today writing a review of Donegal GAA in 2023, not many would look upon the season too favourably.

Resignation of their manager Paddy Carr, the collapse of the underage academy, and an external examination from Croke Park all point to a county in turmoil.

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In the not-so-distant past, an eight-point defeat at the hands of Derry would’ve been considered unacceptable.

And yet, there are positives to take from that match.

Oisín Gallen – who is by no means new to the county scene – displayed one of the best individual performances Donegal has seen in a long time, and that against Chrissy McKaigue.

And with the return of Patrick McBrearty to the inside line, allied to the talents of Conor O’Donnell and Jamie Brennan, it points to a team full of potential.

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However, Monaghan have been a thorn in Donegal’s side for a long time, most recently with their 1-20 to 0-15 point victory in the league back in February.  

Should Clare cause an upset against Derry, then Donegal could still top the group with a win over the Farney.

If the 2012 All-Ireland winners wish to be taken seriously in this championship, there can be no excuses when they clash with their old foes.

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