Thursday 23 March 2017

Today's Hurling championship previews

Damian Lawlor

ALL-IRELAND SHC QUARTER-FINALS: Dublin v Limerick, Thurles, 2.0



Conal Keaney's absence is a massive blow to Anthony Daly's side. His motorbike accident on Friday morning has robbed the Dubs of a natural ball winner, a prolific forward and a player with strong claims for an All Star.

Keaney (pictured) has been in sensational form since switching over from the footballers but now his team-mates, already ravaged with injuries this season, must adjust their puck-out strategy and attacking systems.

His absence will be a huge boost to Limerick who themselves have shuffled the pack. Graeme Mulcahy, who missed the Antrim qualifier through injury, returns in place of Richie McCarthy, while fit-again midfielder Paul Browne is named ahead of Mark O'Riordan.

And they have been unsettled somewhat by midfielder Donal O'Grady's injury -- the highly influential engine room man damaged the A/C joint in his left shoulder in the victory over Antrim and has been unable to train in the interim.

At least Kevin Downes is fit to take his spot at full-forward and he'll pose a massive threat, especially with Dublin fielding their third full-back of the season.

The Munster men will pair off against a physically fit Dublin side who will be keen to limit their game-plan from the off. The Dubs play a high-tempo game themselves and will keep up with the Shannonsiders for the entire 70 minutes.

Anthony Daly had a number of selection issues to sort out in the lead-up to this game. Ryan O'Dwyer and David Treacy both came back into contention after missing out on the Leinster final defeat to Kilkenny and they'll be badly needed in a team that has only scored one goal in this year's championship.

Dublin need their inside forward line to stay put or else the half-backs, midfielders and half-forwards to stop ballooning balls over their heads every five minutes. A bit of craft, a few low balls in, or the odd handpass to an incoming runner, would open more space and give them better options.

Two years ago, Dublin had Limerick on the ropes and let them off -- we can't see the same happening again. They're just a little further along the track than their opponents and should make their first All-Ireland semi-final in 60 years.

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

Dublin (probable): G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, O Gough; P Schuite, J Boland, S Durkin; L Rushe, J McCaffrey; C McCormack, A McCrabbe, S Lambert; D O'Callaghan, R O'Dwyer, P Ryan

Verdict: Dublin

Waterford v Galway

Thurles, 4.0

NOT too long ago, Waterford were scoring goals for fun. These days, they are looking for late scores simply to avoid embarrassment (against a fledgling Limerick in the Munster semi-final) or to take the bare look off the scoreboard (against Tipperary in the final).

Even though Davy Fitzgerald has done a lot of good work with the side since replacing Justin McCarthy, that's a pressing concern. In the Munster final, they looked seriously out of sorts. They went out to stop Tipp scoring goals but Brick Walsh was pulled and dragged around the square while strangely they placed Eoin McGrath on Pádraic Maher, leaving Maher to dominate from his half-back slot.

Can they bounce back today? With Galway being so unpredictable, anything is possible, and Waterford's record against them is impressive, so there will be little or no fear attached.

But many of their players look out of form. Only for Maurice Shanahan and Paudie Mahony, the forwards were totally off the pace while Liam Lawlor (only one goal was scored off him in last year's championship) should have been picked from the start at full-back against Tipp in a defence that was split open.

Galway aren't as lethal or electric as Tipp but Joe Canning clearly looks to be finding his form; Damien Hayes is certainly back in the groove while Joe Gantley and David Burke are two unsung heroes. It's hard to see who will cope with Canning and if Waterford double-mark him, Ger Farragher, Andy Smith and Alan Kerins could make them pay by picking up breaking ball.

Galway are moving the ball quickly out of defence and look revitalised and more assured after their horror show against the Dubs some weeks back. But their defence is still only average -- Paudie O'Sullivan and Pat Horgan looked like they would clean them out in the last round.

Damien Joyce is in and out of the team while their defenders, Fergal Moore apart, are way too loose at times so there will be chances for John Mullane (pictured) and Shane Walsh to penetrate. Yet, it's hard to see Waterford scoring goals whereas Galway will almost definitely go for green flags right from the start.

Momentum is with John McIntyre's men. They played some lovely confident, diagonal hurling against Cork and their off-the-ball running was a pleasure to watch. An early goal or two would set the tone and it surely helps that McIntyre names the same starting 15 for the third game in a row whereas Waterford are still looking to settle.

Galway: J Skehill; F Moore, S Kavanagh, D Collins; D Barry, T Óg Regan, A Cullinane; A Smith, D Burke; J Gantley, G Farragher, I Tannian; D Hayes, J Canning, A Kerins.

Waterford (probable): C Hennessy; D Fives, L Lawlor, N Connors; T Browne, M Walsh, D O'Sullivan; K Moran, S O'Sulllivan; S Prendergast, J Mullane, P O'Mahony; B O'Sullivan, S Walsh, S Molumphy.

Verdict: Galway

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