Tuesday 28 March 2017

Today's championship previews

Dermot Crowe

Munster SHC Semi-Final: Limerick v Waterford,Thurles 4.0



Expectation of a big Limerick performance appears to be gaining momentum. Is this well grounded? The optimism is founded on a number of factors. Donal O'Grady's quietly efficient management, his track record, their results so far, though the company in Division 2 didn't tax their wits. Even the final itself against Clare was nowhere near championship hurling. Yet Ennis is a hard place to win. To do it twice in the space of a few months, over an admittedly unprepossessing Clare side, could not have been achieved without a core of resilience and focus.

The confidence in selecting young players has also fired hopes that Limerick could be on the cusp of something. Declan Hannon is exam-tied, but he will come back into the reckoning, and the 19-year-old Kevin Downes, bold with an eye for goals, gets a start at full-forward. He likes to roam and will be marked by a Waterford debutant in Wayne Hutchinson, one of two new players in the Waterford full-back line. This is another reason for Limerick's rising dander: Waterford unveil four new players, Hutchinson, Darragh Fives, Paudie Mahony and Brian O'Sullivan. Old pillars have fallen. Ken McGrath has retired and Eoin Kelly hasn't been selected. Tony Browne continues to make light of his years and John Mullane remains the terrifically terrifying threat he has been since scaring the life out of Limerick ten years ago in his first start.

How much has life in Division 2 impaired Limerick's speed and judgement? It has to count for something. Assuming they start as named, their half-forward line has a lot to prove, although Niall Moran has good range if he can find his best form. Richie McCarthy isn't blessed with pace or exceptional wrists but has no rival for graft. He also takes frees. James Ryan is power more than precision. There could be a reshuffle but whoever is placed on Brick Walsh will have to subdue the Waterford man's influence.

If Limerick manage to get enough favourable ball to their inside line, they have the potential to trouble Waterford, and may get the goals they probably need to outscore the Munster champions. But the Waterford half-back line looks sturdy and battle-hardened. The team's defensively minded bent will crowd space and make the game as physical as possible, played on Waterford terms. Poor weather, as is forecast, should suit Waterford more.

Seamus Hickey may track Mullane with Tom Condon taking Shane Walsh, but Brian Geary's return gives Limerick more options. Gavin O'Mahony (pictured) is restored to his best position and Limerick look stronger now than they did when defeating Clare. But strong enough to defeat Waterford at this juncture? Probably not.

Limerick: N Quaid; D Reale, S Hickey, T Condon; W McNamara, B Geary, G O'Mahony; D O'Grady, P Browne; J Ryan, R McCarthy, N Moran; S Tobin, K Downes, G Mulcahy.

Waterford: C Hennessy; D Fives, W Hutchinson, N Connors; T Browne, M Walsh, K Moran; S O'Sullivan, R Foley; M Shanahan, S Molumphy, P Mahony; J Mullane, S Walsh, B O'Sullivan.

Verdict: Waterford

Ulster SFC Quarter-Final

Cavan v Donegal

Kingspan Breffni Park, 3.30

Cavan take the field with eight new players, drawn from their good harvest of under 21s, which gives this a kind of voyeuristic appeal: how will a radically revamped Cavan side fare in this climate? Eight championship baptisms is a major show of trust, with five of them located in defence. The centre-back John McCutcheon is the only member of the Cavan backs with experience at this level. The other three fresh faces are in attack.

Donegal's football servings have been more gourmand than gourmet. Jim McGuinness hinting at a more salacious attack-flavoured afternoon sounds almost like a concession for the more defensive formations foisted on the public to date.

The temptation when facing a young untested team is surely to put all your heavy artillery near goal and go for the kill. This is a match Donegal would hope to dictate from the off.

Michael Hegarty returns after a two-year absence and there are three changes from the team that defeated Antrim in an unspeakably dreary preliminary round. One of those is down to injury and another to indiscipline with Adrian Hanlon's demotion from the panel a sign of stricter house rules.

The learning curve rises steeply for Cavan today. Tyrone await the winners on June 26.

Cavan: J Reilly; J McEnroe, P Carroll, D O'Dowd; N Murray, J McCutcheon, D Reilly; R Cullivan, D Givney; G McKiernan, M Lyng, F Flanagan; N McDermott, E Keating, S Johnston.

Donegal: P Durcan; K Lacey, N McGee, P McGrath; K Cassidy, A Thompson, Marty Boyle; R Kavanagh, K Rafferty; M McElhinney, M Hegarty, R Bradley; M McHugh, M Murphy, C McFadden.

Verdict: Donegal

Connacht SFC Semi-Final

Leitrim v Roscommon

Carrick-on-Shannon, 2.0

The burst banks of emotion marking Leitrim's first provincial championship win (excluding those over London) in five years has been one of the early-summer highlights. With seven newcomers on board, winning in Markievicz Park was a considerable feat for them, and they retain the same assembly for this shot at last year's provincial champions Roscommon.

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