Cork and Tipp will be a tight one
National Hurling League Round 5: Cork v Tipperary, Sunday, March 10, Páirc Uí Rinn, 2pm
After seeing last weekend's fixture at home to Tipperary falling foul of Mother Nature, Cork will again prepare to face up the Premier County at Páirc Uí Rinn next Sunday with much more at stake than is often the case at this time of the year.
Cork have seen a resurgence in both form and results in recent weeks and come into this weekend's fixture full of the joys of life however the early league losses have left the Rebels requiring a win against a Tipperary side that have just one win to date, but still possess an array of threats all over the pitch.
Both teams can still finish in the top four, securing a quarter final place, but both need a win and without wanting to state the obvious too often both can't win, therefore this one is likely to contain all the bells and whistles of a championship tie.
Cork began their campaign with back to back defeats at the hands of Kilkenny and Wexford, but eventually got on the board with wins against Clare and Limerick in their last two outings.
For their part, Tipperary opened their season with a win over Clare which seemed to raise hopes in the county of a revival after last season's disappointments, but Tipp have subsequently racked up three straight defeats against Limerick, Wexford and Kilkenny and currently sit at the foot of the table with two points.
Cork go into this one with plenty of reasons for optimism, most notably the displays given by returning stars, Aidan Walsh, Cormac Murphy and former Captain Stephen McDonnell. The trio have brought plenty to the party in recent weeks with Walsh and Murphy in particular standing out as two of Cork's better performers.
In the win over Limerick Cork manager John Meyler changed up his back-line to great effect with Eoin Cadogan stepping into the full-back position in place of Damien Cahalane however the manager named Cahalane back in the number three jersey for the cancelled game last time out so there is little to suggest the St Finbarrs' man wont regain his position this weekend.
Murphy may again hold court at centre field with Darragh Fitzgibbon still likely to stay on the side-lines availing of a well-deserved rest.
Newtownshandrum's Tim O'Mahony has been one of the stars of this league at centre back and the young star will again play a central role in what could be the biggest game of his young intercounty career.
At the back, Anthony Nash will return between the sticks after Patrick Collins' successful stint against the All-Ireland champions.
Up front Patrick Horgan will again be hugely important this Sunday with Walsh and Jack O'Connor likely to get the start - both looking to impress as the knock-out stages hang on the line.
Seamus Harnedy will again captain the side from centre forward with Dan Dooley in line for his second start after impressing last time out. Conor Lehane will fill the final position in the half-forward line and will need to show his wares against what is a serious line of Tipperary half-backs.
As one would expect, Tipperary's Pádraic Maher will lead the defensive assault from number six with Robert Byrne and Michael Breen likely to take on Murphy and Bill Cooper in the middle third.
Up front Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher and Seamus Callanan will be tough to keep an eye on as all look to keep their side playing for the next number of weeks.
Tipp will bring a serious challenge to Cork and will fancy their chances of passing their hosts out in the final table - all to play for here.
Away from Leeside the other remaining Division 1A clash between Wexford and Kilkenny will also have a significant bearing on what comes next, but if Cork can see off Tipp then the result at Innovate Wexford Park will have no bearing on Cork's chances of progressing.
Prediction: Cork to battle away and take this one all the way to the final few minutes. A dry weekend with a good pitch will suit Cork however the forecast suggests the pitch at Pairc Uí Rinn will be wet and heavy which won't suit the home side one little bit.
Dry pitch suggests a Cork win - heavy going you would have to fancy Tipp.