Preview of all the weekend's big GAA clashes
The replay of the Allianz Hurling League final between Waterford and Cork in the Munster Hurling Championship is the pick of weekend's action.
Leinster SHC Quarter-final Replay
Dublin v Galway, Tullamore, Saturday, 4.45 Live on RTE 2
Galway’s record in championship replays under Anthony Cunningham doesn’t make happy reading. They were beaten by Kilkenny in both the 2012 All-Ireland final replay and the Leinster quarter-final last season. On Saturday they are bidding to avoid an unwanted hat trick.
In contrast Dublin fashioned a memorable replay win over Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final in 2013 on their way to capturing their first provincial title since 1960. This is only the sixth ever championship clash between the counties. Galway has yet to record a win which hands Dublin another psychological advantage.
Ger Cunningham’s side will feel that they ought to have closed out last Sunday’s replay having recovered from a woeful start. Had David Treacy converted what appeared a relatively straight forward free near the end they would surely have prevailed.
All Dublin hurling teams have developed an alarming habit of not closing out matches. It happened to the senior side against Cork in the League semi-final and again against Galway while their U-21 side suffered a sickening defeat at the death against Kilkenny in the Leinster quarter-final on Tuesday night.
The two U-21 players on the senior side, Cian O’Callaghan and Colm Cronin are facing their third big matches in the space of five days which is far from ideal. And Dublin could be without two thirds of their first choice full back line if Peter Kelly and Paul Schutte are ruled out through injury.
Galway will surely feel that they have more to give. Joe Canning was mostly a peripheral figure in the drawn game – even his free-taking was less assured than usual.
Johnny Coen failed to come to grips with Mark Schutte in the first half whereas rookie Padraig Mannion did much better to curtail Schutte’s influence in the second period.
Dublin boss Ger Cunningham has key selection decisions to make. Does he persist with Conal Keaney at centre back and leave Chris Crummy at centre back? It is worth noting that the playing area in O’Connor Park is marginally larger than Croke Park.
Arguably Keaney no longer has the legs to cover the ground or chase after a rejuvenated Cyril Donnellan. At the other end Liam Rushe did his best hurling when he moved to centre forward in the latter stages of the contest.
The two teams looked incredibly nervous last Sunday which underlined just what’s at stake, even though it was only a provincial quarter final. The winners face either Offaly or Laois in the semi-final where a victory will guarantee them a place in the last six of the All-Ireland series.
But there is a 75 per cent chance of the losers being drawn against either Clare, the losers of Waterford and Cork or the losers of Tipperary and Limerick in the first round of the qualifers!
Perhaps the two teams will throw caution to the wind and produce a game which truly reflects the quality in their respective squads. On the basis that they have more room to improve Galway get a cautious vote.
Leinster SFC quarter-final
Kildare v Laois, Tullamore, Saturday 7.0 Live on Sky
Kildare didn’t win any significant silverware during Kieran McGeeney’s six-year reign but he did make them competitive at the highest level. Since his departure their decline has been rapid - they have dropped from Division 1 to Division 3 in the space of two seasons.
Laois have been far more consistent, even if they have faltered on more than one occasion and suffering an embarrassing defeat to Tipperary in last year’s qualifiers. Ironically, this came in the wake of a credible performance against Dublin the Leinster semi-final.
The winners will have the dubious honour of challenging the Dubs again in Croke Park so it could be a case of being careful of what you wish for.
Jason Ryan’s Kildare squad has been depleted by injuries and the unavailability of Daniel Flynn. For all their travails, however, it should be noted that were it not for the dismissal of Emmet Bolton in their championship encounter with Monaghan last year they would have reached the All-Ireland quarter finals.
But they haven’t followed on, though they did beat Laois when they clashed in the League this spring. So Tomás O Flaharta’s (above) side could fashion their first championship win over Kildare since 2005.
Munster SHC semi-final
Cork v Waterford, Thurles, Sunday, 4.0 Live on RTE 2
Five weeks after they suffered an embarrassing loss to Waterford in the Allianz League final Cork put their Munster title on the line against the Deise. Waterford’s honeymoon after their historic League triumph – only the third in the county’s history – lasted less than a week.
Their ace marksman Pauric Mahony broke his tibia in a club game which ruled him out of the season while another key forward Maurice Shanahan is extremely doubtful. Even if he plays his match fitness will be questionable.
Veteran Cork defender Brian Murphy has come out of retirement and returns to corner back but Cork’s real problems lie elsewhere.
Even though they knew exactly how Waterford would set up against them in the League final but failed miserably to react. A similar laissez faire attitude from the team management in this one will see the Rebels in the first round of the qualifiers.
In order to overcome Waterford’s massed defence Cork need to hit points from long range and they could explore the option of bringing their chief marksman Patrick Horgan out the field. He was double teamed in the League final and his primary marker Noel Connors has an excellent record against him.
Cork needs a bigger contribution from midfielder Aidan Walsh but Waterford’s fate could hinge on the calibre of Mahony’s replacement. There is speculation that teenager Stephen Bennett might get the free taking job.
It has been overlooked that Waterford were on the brink of beating Cork in last year’s Munster quarter final until an over enthusiastic Austin Gleeson committed a late tackle on Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash which gave Horgan the opportunity to slot the equaliser.
Cork hammered Waterford by 14 points in the replay, a loss which effectively ended the Deise’s season. Derek McGrath’s side could make amends for that loss defeat today.
Leinster SHC quarter final
Laois v Offaly, Portlaoise, Sunday, 3.30
Offaly have been idle since their defeat in the Allianz League quarter final on March 29 whereas this is Laois’ fourth championship game in five weeks! So the home side ought to have a competitive edge particularly in the early exchanges.
There are signs that Offaly have begun to improve under Brian Whelehan but is a long road ahead.
Laois have patched up their internal problems for the moment with ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett returning as team boss. But they gave no indication during the League that they’re on the cusp of a breakthrough.
It would be a huge setback for Offaly to lose at this stage of the championship so they should repeat the hard earned win they achieved over Laois in the first round of the League.
Westmeath v Wexford, Mullingar, Sunday, 3.30
Westmeath hurling is on a high right now with the senior team through to the quarter finals of the Leinster series and their minor side in the provincial semi-finals. They will have no fear of the visitors.
This is a must win game for Liam Dunne’s side. Even though they ultimately crashed and burned in the All-Ireland quarter final against Limerick last summer they did make significant progress during the campaign having sensationally knocked out defending All-Ireland title holders, Clare.
While they didn’t follow on in the League they will relish the prospect of taking on All-Ireland title holders, Kilkenny in the semi-final in Nowlan Park later this month. First, however, they have to beat Michael Ryan’s side.
Ultimately Conor McDonald (above) and Liam Og McGovern will surely break loose and get the key scores for the visitors.
Ulster SFC quarter final
Derry v Down, Celtic Park, Sunday, 2.0 Live on RTE 2 and BBC 2
So far the 2015 Ulster championship has exceeded expectations in terms of the quality of the football produced. One suspects, though, we could see a returned of the dreaded ‘double’ blanket in this contest.
Traditionally these counties produced high-scoring matches when they clash in the championship but this will be the exception. Respective managers Jim McCorry and Brian McIver both favour packing their defence and attacking on the break.
Incidentally this is the 21st anniversary of their famous 1994 clash at Celtic Park in which the home side, then the defending Ulster and All-Ireland title holders lost their crowns against Down who went on to win the All-Ireland title later that year. How times have changed. Progress now for both counties would be ONE win in the Ulster series.
Given their lack of physique deploying the blanket defence which invariably delays the delivery of the ball to their forwards does not suit Down. As Dublin discovered Derry can operate their blanket defence very effectively but this is counterbalanced by a poor return from their forwards.
But in a low scoring encounter Derry might prevail, though on the law of averages we are due a draw any time soon in the Ulster series.