Today's championship previews
Munster SHC, Limerick v Tipperary, Semple Stadium 4.0
Last year Limerick went into the championship as outsiders against Waterford and stretched them to a point where, had they shown a bit more acuity, victory could have been theirs. This year the odds on them winning a first Munster championship match in five years have lengthened considerably, largely due to the opposition's reputation, but also Limerick's own stagnation. Tipperary have had their troubles over the spring. Yet the more salient question for now is Limerick's progress, or otherwise, since that Waterford performance a year ago.
There is no evidence of them having built on that promise. They left a second championship match behind them against Dublin later in the year, then lost Donal O'Grady which created further unwelcome upheaval. A member of the new management, Ciarán Carey, has walked, seemingly unhappy with the way the team was being prepared. Meanwhile, an arbitrary rejig of league structures saw them returned to the second tier and their efforts to escape a second time failed badly.
In the first of their league contests with Clare they were clearly not fit enough, and in the second, the league final, Limerick had an eight-point start and blew it, suggesting issues of a more cerebral nature. Today they are without Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon, while the form of Kevin Downes is a worry; he has not been scaling the heights he reached last year. Tipperary appear to be overcoming their injuries at the right time and recall players like Eoin Kelly, Bonner Maher and Seamus Callanan, though they hold the latter two in reserve.
Paul Curran is also back and was sorely missed in the defeat to Cork in the league semi-finals, leaving the half-back line without Paudie Maher as a result. Donagh Maher is a new face but his form in the league has been persuasive. The most notable player to return, of course, isn't selected. Lar Corbett is a more likely contender for the Munster semi-final should they prevail today. Having him back training will have raised Tipp confidence immeasurably.
Limerick need a clear tactical plan to deal with Tipp's attack and curtail the influence of Maher on the half-back line.
The obvious route is to go short or drive their puckouts down the other flank where Thomas Stapleton holds the least stable position in the Tipp backline. If Tipp get an early run on them, Limerick could be on the end of a bad beating. They need to get to half-time still in the match and grow from there. But they are meeting a team desperate to show they are still a major player. The timing isn't promising.
Limerick: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; W McNamara, D O'Grady, G O'Mahony; P Browne, J Ryan; D Breen, C Allis, S Dowling; G Mulcahy, K Downes, S Tobin.
Tipperary: B Cummins; D Maher, P Curran, M Cahill; T Stapleton, C O'Mahony, P Maher; J Woodlock, B Maher; G Ryan, N McGrath, P Bourke; E Kelly, B O'Meara, J O'Brien.
Meath v Wicklow
Dr Cullen Park 3.30
Two wildly contrasting league campaigns leave these counties destined to meet again next spring in Division 3. Wicklow have managed their post-Micko hangover impressively, securing the promotion that had eluded the Kerry man during his reign, though it never appeared high on his list of priorities.
In beating Fermanagh in the Division 4 league final, Wicklow rained balls down on Seanie Furlong and prospered greatly. His contest with Kevin Reilly should be one of today's determining factors. It is questionable if Wicklow have sufficient depth and variation in their attacking game to hurt Meath if Furlong is contained.
They are often greater than the sum of their parts, however, and can produce big championship performances as various Goliaths will ruefully attest. Provided they avoid conceding goals, they will test Meath and make them sweat for victory. And the absence through injury of Stephen Bray and Paddy Gilsenan will blunt Meath's attacking edge.
Meath come off an appalling league. The management shake-up, and fresh coaching input of John Evans and Trevor Giles, has raised spirits and a three-week break after the debacle of the relegation loss to Louth gave the players a breather. Joe Sheridan's return adds extra reassurance.
Conor Gillespie makes his first championship start in the middle of the field, and the other championship newcomers are Donncha Tobin, a regular wing-back during the league, and half-forwards Alan Forde and Mark Collins. Collins, while it is his first senior match for Meath, is exciting much interest.
A win will do for now, no matter how unpretty.
Meath: D Gallagher; M Burke, K Reilly, S McAnarney; D Tobin, B Menton, S Kenny; C Gillespie, B Meade; A Forde, M Collins, G Reilly; B Farrell, J Sheridan, C Ward.
Wicklow: J Flynn; C Hyland, A McLoughlin, A Byrne; D Healy, M McLoughlin, S Kelly; J Stafford, R Finn; L Glynn, D O'Sullivan, D Hayden; T Hannon, S Furlong, J McGrath.
Antrim v Monaghan
Three years on from playing in an Ulster final, Antrim approach this assignment as outsiders, their Division 3 league form collapsing in the final half of the campaign with three straight defeats. Monaghan suffered a second straight relegation and are missing some key players like Tommy Freeman, Darren Hughes and Eoin Lennon. If there is a surprise result today, this is the main contender.
Injuries are being blamed for Monaghan's indifferent form this year but Antrim haven't escaped and CJ McGourty is marked absent. In some of their league matches, notably against Kildare and Louth, Monaghan gave memorable performances and have been playing well in challenges, although two of those caused the injuries to Lennon and Freeman. Gary McQuaid, another experienced player, has left the panel.
Down or Fermanagh await the winners in the semi-final. It is likely to be the home team but you'd be daft to risk money on it.
Antrim: C Kerr; A Healey, R Johnston, K O'Boyle; T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughery; M McCann, A Gallagher; C Murray, M Sweeney, M McAleese; P Cunningham, M Magill, T McCann.
Monaghan: M Keogh; D Morgan, V Corey, C Walshe; K O'Connell, D Mone, K Duffy; P Dooney, D Clerkin; M McKenna, S Gollogly, J Turley; C McGuinness, P Finlay, C McManus.
Kerry v Tipperary
Semple Stadium 2.0
Tipperary have made their presence felt in underage football but the senior landscape remains wearily familiar, the same colours dominating. Tipperary have been unfortunate to see Kerry in their path in two of the last three seasons, losing by almost a dozen points each time. Another double-digit defeat would not startle the nation. Reservations about the provincial system are well supported by the class structure in Munster. In all likelihood, we will have a lopsided Munster final and when Kerry overcome Tipperary today, their semi-final against Cork will be the defining game in the province. The rest will be just padding. It's 20 years now since Clare broke the Kerry-Cork duopoly.
The decision to drop Kieran Donaghy for an apparent breach of discipline creates added interest although it is a lower risk than if they were playing Cork. Donaghy can still play a part once he has completed his 100 lines. Also absent, a rarity, is Marc ó Sé, due to injury, and Daniel Bohan is entrusted with the full-back position.
Tipperary introduce Shane Scully for his first match in a Galvinesque role in the half-forwards and from last year's minors, Michael Quinlivan will play at full-forward. They are missing Barry Grogan and Brian Jones, who have gone abroad for the summer, and come off a disappointing league that saw the county relegated from Division 3. Since then, under Peter Creedon, the atmosphere has picked up considerably and the players have responded well.
Kerry: B Kealy; S Enright, D Bohan, K Young; T Ó Sé, E Brosnan, P Crowley; A Maher, B Sheehan; P Galvin, Darran O'Sullivan, K O'Leary; C Cooper, Declan O'Sullivan, P Curtin.
Tipperary: P Fitzgerald; A Morrissey, P Codd, C McDonald; B Fox, R Costigan, A Campbell; G Hannigan, H Coghlan; L Egan, P Acheson, S Scully; A Maloney, M Quinlivan, P Austin.
Sunday Indo Sport