Carlow could struggle for scores as another fairytale looks unlikely
Best bets for Saturday's action
Tipperary v Armagh
Sky Sports 5, 4pm Saturday
Carlow v Monaghan
Sky Sports 5, 7pm Saturday
There might not be room for another chapter in the Carlow fairytale as their prolonged stay in the football championship looks set to come to an end at Dr Cullen Park at the hands of a Monaghan side whose season will be branded a disappointment unless they reach an All-Ireland quarter-final.
No matter what happens, Carlow have done something remarkable in 2017. They won a rare game in Leinster, were not embarrassed by Dublin when they changed their style to stay in contention and have since beaten London and Leitrim in the qualifiers.
But, the back-door draw can only be kind for so long and a top team is always on the horizon. Carlow would have preferred to meet Mayo or Tipperary or any side outside Ulster but they have been drawn against Monaghan and there has to be a concern that they will really struggle for scores.
Malachy O’Rourke’s charges conceded just 5-82 in seven league outings in Division 1, an average of 13.85 points per game. Their defence has done reasonably well against Fermanagh (1-11), Cavan (0-15) and Down (1-14) and it is hard to envisage Carlow doing damage to a rearguard unit who know how to defend.
Carlow scored 2-14 in their win over Leitrim but only 0-13 in the victory over London and 0-7 against Dublin so the standout bet on the coupon is for Carlow to score 14 points or fewer at a generous 4-5 with Paddy Power.
Monaghan made a shock exit from the Ulster championship against Down, but they dusted themselves off and walloped Wexford by a scoreline of 3-23 to 1-11. Despite the open nature of the contest, they still conceded only 14 points. It is hard to envisage Carlow getting more than that.
The win over Wexford should have installed some confidence into fragile forwards like Jack McCarron who scored three points and a wide-margin success looks on the cards. The eight-point handicap could be bitten into by half-time and a double-figure success is the anticipated outcome.
The other 3B qualifier showdown should be more competitive but Armagh are taken to come out on top and continue their progress under Kieran McGeeney.
Armagh have been low on confidence for the last number of seasons and they were hit with a massive blow when a last-gasp Tipperary goal denied them a place in the Division 3 final of the league and promotion to Division 2.
McGeeney's men will need absolutely no motivation after that smash-and-grab raid and it is worth remembering that they outplayed Tipperary for long periods of that league clash. They were the better team and deserved to win.
Since then, Armagh bowed out of Ulster with a whimper at the hands of Down but that form does not look so bad now and they did well to come away from Mullingar with a five-point success over hosts Westmeath.
This Armagh team, who scored a colossal 15-103 in seven league outings, are threatening to deliver a big performance when it matters and it could come in this game as their forwards are expected to flourish in the wide-open spaces of Semple Stadium.
With injury doubts surrounding Michael Quinlivan, the stage is set for Armagh to make their first statement of intent in some time.
Ciaran O'Hanlon, Jamie Clarke, Andrew Murnin and Gavin McParland are all in form and that quality quartet are fancied to score enough to get Armagh over the line.
Under 14.5 Carlow points
3pts 4-5 Paddy Power
2pts 10-11 Betway, Hills
2pts 13-5 Paddy Power