Tailteann Cup semi-finals: All You Need to Know

James McMahon James McMahon | 06-21 16:15

All told, this 11th-hour call to flip the schedule also adds to the view that the current championship calendar is really not fit for purpose, with pressure points all too visible.

The hurling family, incensed that some of this year's championship crackers were behind a paywall, will also point to the number of high-profile games being played at the same time. And with Jarlath Burns willing to listen to Wexford's request and then have it before central council, it was seen that the Armagh native was being true to his word in wanting to push the hurling gospel.

And so in this calendar squeeze, the Tailteann Cup keeps its prized Sunday semi-final slot. It's what the competition was promised some three years ago. It looks 2025 and beyond will see changes in the schedule, but football's secondary competition will hope to keep that prime slot. Maybe in early July?

Antrim, Laois, Down and Sligo will look to do their best in showcasing the best of it on Sunday afternoon. And then the two remaining will have another day out with more attention on them on the 13 July.

Antrim and Laois head to Croker on the back of satisfying wins

After getting to the semis last year, Andy McEntee's Antrim now look to go one better, with Laois, managed by Justin McNulty, standing in their way. It's not the pairing we envisaged, with most expecting Kildare, despite their league and Leinster woes, to reach the final and offer Glenn Ryan and co respite.

However, goals in either half from Mark Barry and Evan O'Carroll helped Laois inflict their first Championship win over the Lilywhites since 2005. A deserved success; joy unconfined afterwards for the O'Moore County, while Ryan was informing the Kildare players that he was stepping down.

For Justin McNulty, it's another positive in his first year back at helm in this his second stint in charge of the Midlanders. Promotion to Division 3 was achieved in the spring and while there was disappointment at their loss to Offaly in Leinster, they regrouped for this competition, saving their best display for last Sunday in Tullamore.

Laois players, from left, Mark Barry, Evan O'Carroll and Kieran Lillis after the win over the Lilies

Mark Barry, Evan O'Carroll and Eoin Lowry lead the scoring charge, and the onus on them and the rest of the squad will be ratcheted up another level against the Saffrons.

Andy McEntee's men no doubt had a few regrets after losing to Meath at this stage last year. They then watched on as the Royals lifted the trophy.

After losing to Down in Ulster, a match devoid of much quality, Antrim dusted themselves down and accounted for Tipperary and Wexford, before drawing with Sligo in their final group game. Not enough to top the section, but credit in the way they kicked the last four points to gain parity against the Yeats County.

Fermanagh v Antrim highlights

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There was less to catch the eye in the subsequent win over London. And then the trip to Enniskillen last weekend. Just after half-time, Fermanagh lead by seven points; Antrim looked lost and and confused.

McEntee looked to the bench. On came Peter Healy, Dominic McEnhill, Conor Hand and Eoin Hynds. Between them they would score six points in the Saffron revival.

Midfielder Cathal Hynds would find the net with three minutes left. In the end, Antrim were a goal to the good in a classic game of two halves.

Ruairí McCann did not score on Saturday evening last, but remains a key presence for Antrim as they look build on the promise they've shown under McEntee. A slight nod here goes to the Ulster side.

Battle Royale likely as Down and Sligo square up

Down manager Conor Laverty could yet end up pitting his wits against four of the Armagh class of 2002.

The Ulster semi-final saw him come out the wrong side of a narrow defeat to Kieran McGeeney's Armagh. Last weekend saw the Mourne County account for a Wicklow wide, managed by Oisín McConville. And now he's up against Tony McEntee, before a possible face off against Justin McNulty should Down and Laois meet in the July decider.

From the get-go, Down have been bestowed with the favourites tag here to right the wrongs of last year and deliver long-awaited silverware to the county. After the loss to Armagh at the end of April, the Tailteann group they were drawn into was handy; they were never tested against Limerick and London in securing their passage to the quarters.

Wicklow did give them a few moments of concern the last day but Down eventually found their groove to win comfortably, though nothing eye-catching in the performance. A case of Laverty's side doing what they had to do, with the manager more than happy with the performance and the squad he has at his disposal.

Down v Wicklow highlights

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"I was happy with our points tally and I thought our bench made a massive impact coming in," Laverty told reporters.

"It's probably the strongest 26 that Down have named in my time. In my two years, I think that’s the strongest panel that we’ve named.

"That's what the group stages of the competition was for, to try and blood players. Jamie Doran came in after the U20s and got game time, Finn Murdock started the last day after a good run for the U20s," he said.

"So we felt that we got a lot of players opportunities and that’s what keeps your squad healthy."

Down, a county with a strong footballing pedigree, winning five of the six All-Irelands they have played in, no doubt long to be back amongst the big boys in the Sam Maguire mix. Two more wins will guarantee them that, though they are set to face their toughest task to date in dealing with a Sligo side, who have chalked up some big scores en route to this stage.

McEntee's men hit 2-20 against Limerick, this after 0-20 in the draw with Antrim. Seven players got in on the scoring act against the Shannonsiders, with Seán Carrabine again impressing, while Pat Spillane got some game time after a lengthy injury lay-off.

Sligo, Tailteann semi-finalists in 2022, have improved since then, winning Division 4, contesting a Connacht final, playing in the All-Ireland group stage, and then this year running Galway close in the Connacht semi-final. While accepting the quality of the opposition since has not been at Galway's level, McEntee feels the side have improved.

Paddy O'Connor watches on after scoring Sligo's second goal against Limerick

"From my angle, we are making less mistakes, we are shooting from better angles on the field, and are converting more chances, he told The Sligo Champion after last weekend's victory.

"In our training sessions, we can see where we make mistakes and we want to improve on that. So I think better teams will force more mistakes on us, that is for sure. But I think we are in a better position since the Galway game."

The latter remark will be put to the test against Down. Both sides here should relish the wide open spaces of Croker in what could be a high-scoring affair. The Mournemen are a little more advanced in their desire to scale greater heights. That looks like being the difference here.

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