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dark horses Powerful Cats are set to pounce against Galway today and Cork will beat Clare

There's one big, dangerous predator quietly waiting in the wings which may disturb this status quo - Kilkenny.

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TJ Reid will be so difficult to stop even if Galway know what to expect

TJ Reid will be so difficult to stop even if Galway know what to expect

TJ Reid will be so difficult to stop even if Galway know what to expect

Leinster SHC Round 3

Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Std, 2.0, RTÉ2

Most of the commentary on the Championship so far has centred on Limerick and Waterford, with the expectation they'll meet again in the Munster and All-Ireland finals.

But there's one big, dangerous predator quietly waiting in the wings which may disturb this status quo: Kilkenny.

Today, the Cats face their first key test of 2022 and I expect them to pass with flying colours. Why?

The first reason is Conor Whelan. His absence could be fatal to Galway's chances - he's a player as important to them as Aaron Gillane is to Limerick.

Galway set up well against Wexford a fortnight ago, with Whelan and Brian Concannon inside, an extra man in midfield and a strong central defence in Daithí Burke and Gearóid McInerney (inset). All looked perfect.

But then they hit 10 wides in 25 minutes, allowing Wexford to stay in the game despite their mediocre challenge. A comeback was inevitable playing the way they did, and Galway will be punished badly if they repeat it today.

Kilkenny have added four new starters and have a settled, experienced central spine. They also have TJ Reid.

He might second-guess himself today, given Henry Shefflin knows his game inside out, but whoever wins the battle between Burke and TJ on the edge of the square will be halfway to victory.

The sideline clash between Shefflin and Brian Cody is intriguing. Kilkenny rightly backed Cody to stay in the job as long as he likes, which left his former players with little choice but to jump ship.

Once that decision is made, there are no divided loyalties.

Just like Liam Cahill meeting Tipp or Davy facing Clare, Henry will do whatever he can to help Galway win. Knowing the Kilkenny and Ballyhale players will help, but knowing what side to stand when TJ is going to catch a puck-out is one thing - stopping him catching it is down to the players.

Ultimately, this will be decided between the white lines by players, and not the managers. You sense Kilkenny are at their best since that 2019 semi-final win, and I see the Cats getting one over on Galway before they meet again in the Leinster final.

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Verdict: Kilkenny

Munster SHC Round 4

Cork v Clare, 2.0, Semple Std, GAA GO

Hopefully, a decent crowd will show up but it's no guarantee given attendances so far in the Championship have been lower than expected and this match is on neutral territory.

Cost is an issue for many, as a disappointed Tipperary supporter explained in the pub last Sunday: "I can pay for Sky to watch the matches or I can go to them, but I can't do both!"

For Cork, the financial imperative to host concerts in the middle of the championship is a disadvantage to their teams - all so they can pay for a stadium that's only filled twice a year. With Garth Brooks headed for a week in Croker, the costs of building and maintaining massive stadia is questionable for a supposedly amateur organisation.

With the €95 million purchase of Clonliffe College, it's worth asking if the GAA is a property-development company, a concert promoter, a pay-per-view sports service or an amateur sporting body? Maybe we're all four.

Regardless, a wounded Cork must bring something new to match the whirlwind start Clare displayed last Sunday.

The Banner played with pace and their finishing was top-notch, but they had seven weeks to line up Tipp. This is more difficult, with seven days to focus on Cork.

The Rebels have been slated in recent weeks, compared to Man United (no one is that bad), with players having their character, culture and manhood all questioned. But that's just soundbites.

They need to set up properly so they're not wide open when the opposition break their half-back line. Their midfield and wing-forwards are key to this. They have to work back as well as forward.

I'd start by putting pace on the wings, moving in both directions, through Shane Kingston and Shane Barrett, moving Patrick Horgan to centre, instructing him to shoot, and trying Alan Connolly on the inside forward line. Swap Mark Coleman to wing-back, with Ciarán Joyce centre and keep him at the D.

There has to be a kick in Cork. They were insulted in recent weeks, their pride is badly hurt, and someone is going to get a slap from them as these players can all hurl and have the pedals to cover ground.

So sorry to our friends in Sixmilebridge - who fairly rubbed it in last Sunday night, by the way - but it's the Rebels I expect to come out firing.

VERDICT: Cork


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