today's hurling championship previews
All-Ireland SHC Quarter-Finals
Galway v Tipperary
Croke Park, 4.0
Tipperary's harrowing defeat by Cork demanded instant reappraisal of their fitness for All-Ireland office and we are none the wiser at this juncture. Wexford and Offaly didn't ask searching questions; Tipp won both games convincingly. They are now on a voyage of discovery.
After the anguish of losing to Cork, three championship newcomers began the Wexford match, and all acquitted themselves well. David Young sparkled at wing-back, decorating his performance with three scores, and Gearóid Ryan scored three from wing-forward. Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, from John McIntyre's native Lorrha, the third to be blooded, is named at centre-forward today.
There were also key positional moves. Paudie Maher, having failed to live up to his All Star reputation, received a transfer to the half-back line. Declan Fanning, a former All Star himself, was entrusted with the full-back role, but took an earful from Stephen Banville and departed early. Paul Curran replaced him and has stayed there since. It is a position where Tipp enjoy good options.
The enduring problem area for Tipperary has been the half-forward line and the dearth of ball winners. Seamus Callanan and John O'Brien have lost their places as they try to find the right recipe to nourish an inside line that can cause Galway serious problems. There is some concern that the team failed to score a goal, and created only one real chance, in the recent win over Offaly. Yet they won well.
Tipperary looked more impressive in beating Wexford and Offaly than Galway did, but the context was different. Galway haven't hurled near capacity and that has to be a concern. So far, they have lived off good spells and, despite some strong form, they carry doubts over certain positions.
Like Tipp, they are something of a Lanigan's Ball impression along the half-forward line and have been unable to get the best out of Joe Canning. Canning and Damien Hayes are their chief scoring threats; the rest of the attack is in a constant state of flux.
Cyril Donnellan and Eanna Ryan are drafted in on this occasion, and Galway's prospects hang largely on how these uncelebrated players hurl. Their midfield was a disappointment in the Leinster final but they have David Burke back after suspension and need resurgent form from Ger Farragher. Brendan Maher has been outstanding there for Tipperary; today he is partnered by Young. There's little enough to separate these counties, neither looking the finished article, but Tipp have a slightly more persuasive look.
Betting: Tipperary 4/7; Galway 7/4; Draw 10/1
Galway: C Callanan; D Joyce, S Kavanagh, O Canning; D Barry, T óg Regan, D Collins; G Farragher, D Burke; E Ryan, C Donnellan, A Smith; D Hayes, J Canning, I Tannian.
Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; D Fanning, C O'Mahony, Padraic Maher; B Maher, D Young; G Ryan, Patrick Maher, S McGrath; N McGrath, L Corbett, E Kelly.
Antrim v Cork
Croke Park, 2.0
This may not be an easy sail into the semi-final for Cork, but the injury-inflicted losses of Seán óg ó hAilpín and Shane O'Neill have been mitigated to some extent by the return to fitness of Ronan Curran.
None of those players were on the field when Cork lost to Waterford in extra-time in the replayed Munster final. Ray Ryan is promoted, having come on in that match, as is Paudie O'Sullivan who impressed in his introduction with two points and by laying on a third. Patrick Horgan loses out.
In Croke Park on a dry day, and true-bounce championship conditions, Cork may pose a more varied attacking threat than they managed in losing to Waterford. Aisake ó hAilpín (pictured) didn't profit from a stream of high ball in the wet conditions but only last-ditch defending saved the Déise from conceding early goals; Cork were still creating meaningful chances, not all route one in design.
Antrim held Dublin goalless the same day but Dublin are not the cause of many blisters for the umpire bearing the green flag; Cork could look to finish this game early by going for the jugular and if Antrim can withstand that, turn it into a dogfight, then they have a chance. The wide open spaces of Croke Park suggest not.
Dinny Cahill has looked like a man terrified of uttering the merest banality since Antrim were drawn to play Cork, mindful of how a loose tongue backfired on him six years ago in an extraordinary press conference in Belfast. This is a different Cork team, coming off a Munster final defeat and anxious to reassert themselves. They should not require goading.
Antrim fully deserved their victory over Dublin and have earned rightful applause; reaching a quarter-final in light of their geographical isolation and all the attendant issues is highly commendable. But they will hardly catch Cork off guard.
Betting: Cork 1/14; Antrim 8/1; Draw 16/1.
Cork: D óg Cusack; S Murphy, E Cadogan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, R Ryan; T Kenny, C Naughton; B O'Connor, M Cussen, N McCarthy; P O'Sullivan, A ó hAilpín, K Murphy.
-- DERMOT CROWE