Treaty bid to scupper Galway's clean sweep
Published 22/08/2015 | 02:30
Galway's bid for an unprecedented clean sweep of the four major hurling trophies will be tested severely when they tackle Munster champions Limerick in a mouthwatering Bord Gais Energy All-Ireland U-21 Championship semi-final in Thurles this evening.
Johnny Kelly's side, backboned by the senior quartet of Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and Paul Killeen, are playing their first competitive game of the season, but they will be match-fit as they feature eight of the All-Ireland-winning intermediate side.
Whelan, Mannion and Flynn were in outstanding form as the seniors downed Tipperary last Sunday and they form a potent attack along with the exciting Brian Molloy.
Mannion and Flynn, in particular, are free-scoring forwards capable of destroying any team, and it will be interesting to see how they have reacted to the euphoria surrounding last weekend's pulsating win.
There is little to choose between the sides. Galway are narrow favourites but they could be brought crashing back to earth by a Limerick team on the crest of a wave.
They showed tremendous fight and no little skill when dethroning four-in-a-row-seeking Clare in an Ennis cauldron to claim Munster honours.
Ronan Lynch's 13 points proved crucial for John Kiely's charges and they will be looking for repeat performances from the Na Piarsaigh sharpshooter and senior star Cian Lynch as well as the midfield duo of Darragh O'Donovan and Pat Ryan.
After the disappointing displays of the Treaty seniors this year, there is a lot of expectation on the U-21s but they were superb when gunning down Tipperary in the Munster semi-final and play an exciting brand of hurling. Their efficient use of the ball and free-flowing attack make them a tough side to beat.
They show two changes, with corner-back Sean Finn and corner-forward Barry Nash getting the nod from the start.
Given the quality of talent on show, another classic encounter is on the cards. The U-21 championship has often been the saving grace for this year's hurling season, with the sublime skill on show.
In the first semi-final, last year's beaten finalists Wexford face Antrim in a game which should be far removed from the shock 2013 last-four clash which saw the Ulster champions cause a huge upset.
JJ Doyle's Model side have provided us with some samba-style hurling this year and, having claimed their third Leinster title in a row with a demolition of Kilkenny, confidence will be high on Slaneyside.
This is a giant Model side with quality players sprinkled all over the pitch, and Liam Ryan, Jack O'Connor, Kevin Foley and Conor McDonald will be expected to power them to another final.
Saffrons boss Kevin Ryan says his side are "in for a massive hiding" and it's hard to disagree as an under-prepared Antrim team are likely to be put to the sword in unforgiving fashion.