Tribesmen and Cats clash in Leinster – last chance saloon for others

GLORY DAYS: But can Cody's Cats keep their fantastic run in Leinster Finals up?
GLORY DAYS: But can Cody's Cats keep their fantastic run in Leinster Finals up?

As well as the LSHC decider it's the final throw of the dice for others as the qualifiers get under way

Wexford v Cork, Innovate Wexford Park, 7.0, Saturday, July 4. Live on Sky Sports

This is a chance for the two sides to redeem themselves and relaunch their All-Ireland ambitions after woeful performances in their respective provincial campaigns.

Maybe Waterford will prove the team of the championship, but in their last two challenges against them, Cork made no headway at countering their innovative but by no means revolutionary style of hurling.

This is the end game for Jimmy Barry Murphy if the Rebels don't maintain their excellent championship record against Wexford, who haven’t beaten the Rebels in championship hurling since the 1956 All-Ireland final.

For Liam Dunne's side it is chance to exorcise the ghosts of a complete system malfunction against Kilkenny.

They simply couldn't be as bad as their performance suggested at Nowlan Park suggested.

The alternative theory is that Kilkenny's next cycle of hurling dominance is up and running.

Form lines though rarely mean much in modern day hurling. Much depends on whether teams are properly focussed and in tune on the day.

Cork needs to get more out of their key forward Patrick Horgan as well as former dual player Aidan Walsh, who has been way below his best this season. The return of Seamus Harnedy gives them extra options up front.

Wexford need to improve dramatically in every sector. There will surely be some reaction to their non-performance two weeks ago. With home advantage they could do it.

But Cork look a slightly better balanced side if they survive the inevitable early onslaught from Liam Dunne's side.

Verdict: Cork


Clare v Offaly, Cusack Park, Ennis, 7.0 Saturday, July 4

Defeat is simply unthinkable for Clare who have a woeful record in knock-out games since their All-Ireland win in 2013 - winning just a single match against Laois in last year's League quarter final.

Pat Donnellan is suspended but three other influential players, Brendan Bugler, Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin are back. Offaly are still reeling from their shock loss to Laois. It could be another long day's journey into night for Brian Whelehan.

Verdict: Clare.


Laois v Dublin, Portlaoise, 7.0, Saturday, July 4

Playing against a strong breeze cost both of these sides dearly against Galway in the Leinster championship.

It took the Tribesmen ten minutes to dismantle a porous Dublin defence. Laois packed their backline with bodies and it took Galway a little bit longer to figure out a way through.

But eventually they did - courtesy of a freak goal - and another rout ensued.

Laois won't fear the visitors but Ger Cunningham's side needs to get the show back on the road after a season that promised a lot but has fallen flat on its face.

The likely return of Peter Kelly to full back will stabilise the Dublin defence and between them Mark Schutte and Danny Sutcliffe are capable of inflicting enough damage on the Laois defence to see the Dubs into the next round.

Verdict: Dublin


Westmeath v Limerick, Cusack Park, Mullingar, 2.0, Sunday, July 5

The Westmeath hurlers are bound to feel the good-will factor sweeping the county in the wake of the footballers' historic success over Meath.

They will feel anything is possible now and team boss Michael Ryan will know the strengths and weaknesses of the visitors from his time as Waterford boss.

Limerick didn't do themselves justice against Tipp but the players still believe they are good enough to be in the shake at the business end of the season.

Verdict: Limerick


Leinster SHC Final:

Kilkenny v Galway, Croke Park, 4.0, Sunday, July 5. Live on RTE 2

The provincial hurling championships have promised more than they have delivered so far in 2015.

Save for an exciting finish in the Galway v Dublin drawn match there have been precious few truly enthralling encounters.

Instead, one-sided matches have been the norm.

We know that Kilkenny will deliver a performance; the big question today is whether Galway will do the same. 

The manner in which they swatted away the challenge of Dublin (in the replay) and Laois in the semi-final suggests they're back on song after two seasons of complete underachievement.

Historically they're team that has caused Brian Cody most headaches over the years.

On reflection Kilkenny's win over Wexford was probably too easy for their own good. They look to have uncovered another gem in Ger Aylward which spells bad news for a Galway full back line that still looks like a work in progress.

On the credit side for Galway Joe Canning is back to the form he showed in 2012 when the Tribesmen demolished the Cats in the Leinster semi-final and nearly repeated it in the drawn All-ireland final before the near divine intervention of Henry Shefflin.

Kilkenny's ability to protect their full back line and create space for their marquee forwards who have goals on their minds all the time are the key elements of their game plan.

Galway must counter this plan with a system of their own which will surely involve attempting to isolate Kilkenny's rookie full back Joey Holden on Joe Canning.

It promises to be a fascinating encounter if Galway manages to bring their A game to the table. They are capable of becoming the first team to inflict four championship defeats on a Brian Cody managed Kilkenny side.

Nonetheless the smart money stays with the Cats.

Prediction: Kilkenny