Munster hurling final, and Qualifiers, preview

GAABy Sean McGoldrick
Maurice Shanahan will be the key man for Waterford on Sunday
Maurice Shanahan will be the key man for Waterford on Sunday

All eyes on Semple Stadium for three blockbuster games in the hurling championship

All roads lead to Thurles this weekend as all three games in the hurling championship take place on the hallowed turf.

The highlight is the Munster final on Sunday, one of the great days of the Irish sporting summer but Saturday sees two monster clashes in the Qualifiers.

All-Ireland SHC qualifiers: Limerick v Dublin, Thurles, 5.0, Saturday, July 11 Live on RTE 2

'Last Chance Saloon' time for these two teams and their under pressure bosses, TJ Ryan and Ger Cunningham. The latter lost the services of utility defender Michael Carton earlier in the week and he will require nerves of steel to survive in the job if Dublin crash and burn.

The two teams harboured realistic ambitions of reaching the last six but failed to rise to the challenge in the provincial series.

At least Limerick secured a notable scalp, beating Clare, before bowing out to Tipperary in the Munster semi-final. Dublin have been on the slide since throwing away a winning lead against Cork in the league semi-final.

They were blown away by Galway in the Leinster semi-final replay and badly need a win to rescue their season. Ger Cunningham has realigned the team with Liam Rushe returning the centre back. But in Mark Schutte and Danny Sutcliffe they possess two of the most capable young forwards in the game.

TJ Ryan hardly needed reminding that Anthony Daly is looking over his shoulder in Limerick and his team has not followed on in the wake of their epic performance against Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

The outcome is a toss-up. Dublin maybe.

Verdict: Dublin.

Clare v Cork, Thurles, 7.0, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Saturday, July 11, Live on Sky

So far this summer the majority of the hurling matches shown on Sky have been woefully one-sided. It could well be one-sided between this unpredictable pair, but at least they can hype the build-up to the maximum level.

This is a repeat of the 2013 All-Ireland final in which Clare prevailed after an epic replay. Strangely enough neither side has prospered since, though Cork did win the Munster title last summer but bombed out against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.

Clare's fall from the top table has been far more spectacular. Amazingly their qualifier win over Offaly a week ago was the first championship game they won since the 2013 All-Ireland final replay.

Still, the signs are that with a near full strength squad available the Banner has regained their mojo.

Cork beat Clare in last year's Munster semi-final and they're coming off a decent win over Wexford - though their second half fadeout raises questions about their real worth.

Clare will be tactical and much depends on how Cork copes with whatever scheme Davy Fitzgerald comes up with. The Cork management team don't have a good record of thinking on their feet.

Against that they have a good record against the Banner and the players know that exiting the championship on the second weekend in July will bring the curtain down on Jimmy Barry Murphy's second coming as team boss.

This could be the game of the season.

Clare to get the win and build momentum towards having a cut at the big two, Kilkenny and Tipperary.

Verdict: Clare.

Munster SHC Final: Tipperary v Waterford, Semple Stadium, Thurles, 4.0 Live on RTE 2

A long departed colleague used to rile another colleague, who was a devotee of the Munster championship, by proclaiming that the Munster final was a great occasions until the game started!

There is no doubt that a Munster hurling final in Thurles is special. The atmosphere in Liberty Square is often as good as it is in the ground.

Nobody knows for sure what the quality of the hurling in the 2015 encounter will be like but what's certain is that it will be a tactical encounter.

Decisions made on the sideline could have as big an influence as what happens inside the white line. So far in 2015 Waterford hasn’t put a foot wrong. They are unbeaten and are thoroughly comfortable with the game plan that Derek McGrath has devised for them.

Essentially it involves flooding their own half with defenders when they don't have the ball and then designated 'runners' taking off at pace when the ball is played to the team's target man Maurice Shanahan.

Tipperary couldn't cope with it in the league semi-final; Cork failed miserably on two occasions to deal with it.

However, in the first quarter of their championship clash the Rebels showed how they system can be beaten - but the inaccuracy of their long distance shooting meant that Waterford escaped unpunished.

Waterford will have to adjust their tactics against Tipperary. Padraic Maher, Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher - who wore the number 11 jersey against Limerick but spent most of the game in his own half - are capable of hitting long range points.

So Waterford cannot leave them free and allow Darren Gleeson puck out go straight to them.

At the other end of the field Waterford will make life as difficult as possible for Tipperary's key forwards Seamus Callinan and John Bubbles O'Dwyer.

But with Tadgh De Barra concentrating on his sweeping duties there will be space for the Tipp centre forward to make an impact and Brendan Maher could actually play as a conventional number 11. In truth there are endless sub plots to the contest.

Tipp boss Eamon O'Shea will bow out when Tipperary's interest in this year's championship ends. The players want him to go out in style.

He has never managed Tipperary to win a Munster title - indeed he has only managed them to win one match in the competition - but the Premier County might just do it for him on Sunday.

Verdict: Tipperary.