By Micil Glennon
Division 1A and 1B table toppers Cork and Dublin look to cement their positions in Saturday's round of Allianz League games.
CORK v CLARE (1A), Páirc Uí Rinn, 7pm
Cork welcome Clare to Ring Park on Saturday night looking to maintain an unbeaten run that includes a comprehensive win over Tipperary and a hard-fought draw against Waterford.
The Rebels trailed by eight at the break in brutal conditions in Dungarvan but led by two in the closing stages.
Indeed, goalkeeper Anthony Nash pulled off a brilliant double-save at the death before Seamus Prendergast settled for a levelling point.
Despite the draw, forward Conor Lehane, who scored two points, said it sets them up nicely for the rest of the campaign.
"We won't be complaining too much about the draw," he told The Corkman.
"It means we are unbeaten after two games which is a good foundation for the rest of the league."
Jimmy Barry-Murphy has made two changes to the side with William Egan replacing Stephen White at wing-back and Brian Murphy coming in for the injured Stephen McDonnell at full-back.
Clare bounced back from an opening day reversal against Waterford with a well-deserved win over Galway last Sunday.
Davy Fitzgerald’s youthful side showed great tenacity and character to deny the Leinster champions who had accounted for Kilkenny in the opening round.
Indeed, four of the side from the Galway win had played in the U-21 club Championship the day before demonstrating a hunger that is exactly what Fitzgerald appreciates.
The 1995 All-Ireland winner is in no way underestimating the size of the task they face on Saturday.
"We are playing a team that will run all over the place, run with ball and were very convincing against Tipperary in the first round. We will have our work cut out," Fitzgerald told the Clare Champion.
With both teams in the middle of rebuilding processes, this could prove a very tight affair.
DUBLIN v LIMERICK, Croke Park (1B), 5pm
Table-toppers Dublin continued their unbeaten run (they also won the Walsh Cup) by negotiating a tricky fixture against Antrim in Casement Park last weekend.
Anthony Daly’s men were more economical than the Ulster men, hitting just five wides for a 3-12 total, although two of their goals were down to defensive mistakes by the Saffrons.
The meeting of the two promotion favourites is one Daly has had his eye on for a while.
He told the Evening Herald: “From talking to [Limerick manager] John Allen earlier in the year we knew that they were looking forward to coming up to Croke Park under the lights. It will be a faster game, a bit closer to Championship pace.”
Alan Nolan is set to make his first start of the league in goals instead of Gary Maguire as Daly wants to give his second choice stopper a run-out.
Liam Rushe is named to start but was substituted last week with a groin strain.
Limerick arrive to HQ on the back of less than convincing home wins over Antrim and Carlow.
But this is the game that will likely decide their promotion fate and they will have to cope without Donal O’Grady who broke his collarbone against the Barrowsiders.
The captain doesn’t need surgery but will miss the rest of the league games.
Goalkeeper Nicky Quaid returns after missing the opening games, while Na Piarsaigh duo Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling start in the full-forward line.
Put simply, Dublin have been the best team in the division so far and, with their footballers in action as well to boost the numbers, all the signs point to a home win.
WEXFORD v ANTRIM (1B), Wexford Park, 2pm
Wexford host Antrim on Saturday afternoon looking to get back to winning ways after losing to Offaly in a bitterly cold O’Connor Park last Sunday.
They led for most of the game but four second-half points weren’t enough as the Faithful County took advantage of the wind and surged over the line.
Richie Kehoe and Paul Morris stood out for the Slaneysiders but their efforts proved fruitless in the end.
Lee Chin is named to start although it was the same last week and he began on the bench in Tullamore.
Eoin Quigley and Podge Doran replace Stephen Murphy and Gary Moore.
Antrim make the long trip south looking for their first points of the campaign after defeats to Limerick and Dublin.
The Glensmen hit 13 wides against the Dubs and also let in two soft goals in the 3-12 to 1-10 defeat last Sunday.
So it’s fair to say that they had enough of the play to make Anthony Daly’s men sweat a bit more on the outcome and the Model County shouldn’t be fooled by the eight-point margin at the end.
At least now the Saffrons have the ostensibly toughest games out of the way and can begin to target results as well as performances.
However, Matthew Donnelly admits that they’ll use the league to gel together as a team.
“Limerick and Dublin [have] been that level higher the past few years, especially physically,” he told the Irish News.
“But you've just got to keep moving on, keep working on it. It's about stepping stones at this stage.”
Once again, home advantage may just swing this one but Antrim will have different ideas.