Leinster and Munster hurling semi-final preview

Seamus Hickey (left) in action against Kieran Bergin last year
Seamus Hickey (left) in action against Kieran Bergin last year

Both Leinster semi-finals are up for decision while Tipp and Limerick meet in Munster for the third year in a row.

Our man Sean McGoldrick takes you through all three games, and gives his predictions.

Leinster SHC semi-final: Galway v Laois, Tullamore, Saturday, June 20, 5.0 Live on Sky

Even though Laois has never beaten Galway in championship hurling in the Leinster series they have produced a series of decent performances against the Tribesmen. 

Last year, indeed, Anthony Cunningham side had to draw on all their reserves before they edged out ‘Cheddar’ Plunket’s side by just two points (1-22; 0-23) 

A late goal from Joe Canning tied up the game before three late, late points sealed the victory.

Even though Galway won by seven points in 2013 (2-17; 1-13) it took a 64th minute goal from Aonghus Callanan to quell Laois’ resistance.

Laois, of course, will be further buoyed by their meritorious win over Offaly in the quarter final. It was their first championship victory over the Faithful County since 1972. 

The big difference is that this is Galway’s third championship match in the 2015 campaign. Fortunate to draw with Dublin in the quarter final, they annihilated the Dubs in the replay with Cathal Mannion scoring probably the fastest ever hat trick of goals in championship hurling.

Jason Flynn, who had taken over the free-taking duties from Joe Canning in the replay, misses the contest with a broken figure which is a blow to the Tribesmen.

Canning, however, did show a return to his best form in the replay hitting two trademark goals in the rout.

Galway’s big failing during Anthony Cunningham’s reign has been their inability to produce decent back-to-back performances in the championship. This is their ideal opportunity to correct that fault.

Verdict: Galway.

Leinster SHC semi-final: Kilkenny v Wexford, Nowlan Park, Sunday, June 21, 2.0 Live on RTE 2

This fixture has lost a little of its allure since Wexford shocked Kilkenny with a late goal in the 2004 provincial semi-final, with the Cats comfortably winning their last five championship outings against the Model County.

Surprisingly this is their first championship meeting since 2011 when the Cats won by 11 points. Since Brian Cody took over as the Kilkenny boss in 1999 the team have only failed to reach the provincial final on two occasions (2004 and 2013) so the odds are stacked against Liam Dunne’s side, who are bidding to reach the final for the first time since 2007.

Even though six of the squad retired after Kilkenny’s All-Ireland success last September only full back JJ Delaney was a starter in 2014. Nonetheless, there is an unmistakeable feeling that this is the dawn of a new era in Kilkenny hurling.

Without the Ballyhale Shamrock players they struggled during the League, though they exhibited their survival instincts when they beat Clare in a cracking relegation tie to keep their place in the top flight. Still, it is inconceivable that Kilkenny will be as successful in the next decade as they were in the last.

When Liam Dunne took over as Wexford boss four years ago the team had hit rock bottom. He has slowly rebuilt their confidence and they made significant progress last summer when they knocked Clare and Waterford out of the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The absence of Jack Guiney, who was dropped off the squad for disciplinary reasons, is a blow but Dunne will be optimistic that Conor McDonald and Liam Og McGovern will make life uncomfortable for the new look Kilkenny full back line.

Waterford proved that competing in Division 1B is no impediment to success in the championship.

But Wexford are not blessed with as many naturally gifted hurlers as the Deise.

Beating Kilkenny on home soil would fast track Wexford’s progress but it is difficult to imagine Kilkenny losing.

Verdict: Kilkenny.

Munster SHC semi-final: Limerick v Tipperary, Gaelic Grounds, Sunday, June 21 Live on RTE 2

Limerick is bidding for a rare hat trick of championships wins over their erstwhile rivals. Two years ago at the Gaelic Grounds the Treaty County announced they were back in the big time when they beat the Premier County and ended up ending the Munster title for the first time since 1996.

Last year Tipp were tipped to get revenge when the counties clashed again – this time at Semple Stadium. The home side looked likely to prevail until Shane Dowling’s late goal turned the contest on its head. Limerick subsequently surrendered their Munster title to Cork.

In the event both Limerick and Tipp ended up trophyless – both beaten by Kilkenny at the business end of the All-Ireland series both after epic encounters. In Tipperary’s case they brought the Cats to a replay in the All-Ireland decider.

On the basics of that heroic performance they were tipped to go one better in 2015. They’re still the favourites to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup but doubts have emerged in recent weeks about their capacity to justify that tag.

In terms of the All-Ireland series this is a bigger game than the Munster final. 

Today’s winners are guaranteed a spot in the last six of the All-Ireland series. The losers face a hazardous journey through the qualifiers depending on the draw as Tipperary discovered two years ago when they drew the short straw – a trip to Nowlan Park to face Kilkenny!

As is their wont Limerick struggled in the League but their victory over Clare in the Munster quarter final suggested that they’re far from finished and the form of last year’s minor star Cian Lynch has given a much needed impetus to their attack.

Eamon O’Shea’s Tipperary has  been badly hit by deflections. Noel McGrath is definitely out due to illness while there are doubts about the fitness of ace free taker John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and corner  back Cathal Barrett who would have been earmarked for the job of subduing  Lynch.

In the absence of McGrath and O’Dwyer the burden of leading the attack will fall on full forward Seamus Callinan who doesn’t have a good track record in his personal duals against Richie McCarthy. Callinan failed to find the net in either the 2014 and 2013 matches against Limerick.

Tipp are the 8/13 favourites and on the law of averages they are due a win over Limerick. 

But with home advantage, a championship win under their belts and particularly the absence of key players from the Tipp side, TJ Ryan side are well capable of winning and reaching their third provincial final on the spin.

Verdict: Limerick.