WHAT a wonderful day’s hurling we have ahead of us, three huge matches on one glorious afternoon – and, yes, I’m including Laois and Westmeath in that for their Joe McDonagh Cup final.
Good luck to the winners, who will be in the Leinster Championship for 2020. It’s just such a pity that Carlow have to be relegated to make way for them. I fancy Laois to just make it in the Croke Park opener.
With Ross King and Paddy Purcell in a two-man forward line, Eddie Brennan’s team should get the scores to win. It’s not scores, but goals, that will settle the eagerly anticipated Munster final. Limerick and Tipperary are each well capable of scoring 22 or 23 points this afternoon – but it is the team that raises green flags that will win and that’s where I believe Tipp will have the upper hand.
Séamus Callanan, Jason Forde, ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and John McGrath all bring a major goal threat. Even though Bonner Maher is no longer there to provide them with hardwon ball, I see Tipperary’s attackers getting enough of the sliotar to provide the goals that carry the day. I don’t see Tipp corner-back Cathal Barrett playing today even thought he has been named in the team. Defeat today is not the end of Tipp’s summer, but a second hamstring injury would be the end of Cathal’s.
It’s just too big a risk to take with the team’s best man-marker when there are more challenges ahead. Securing that win will not be easy for Liam Sheedy and his Tipp team. Limerick know that a win today will see them hold the league title, the Munster title and the All-Ireland title all at the same time.
And that would be a wonderful cherry on what has been a rich cake over the last 12 months for Limerick hurling. However, there is a bit of pressure on Limerick and their manager John Kiely this afternoon. Two weeks ago he did not start some of his finest hurlers when these teams met in the Munster round robin. Some Limerick supporters argued that Kiely should have put out his best team and sought to make a statement.
Kiely will counter that today’s game is the one that Limerick really want to win, the one that provides the straight road to defending their All-Ireland. And if they do succeed, the events of Thurles a fortnight ago won’t make a blind bit of difference. Believe it or not, but this is only the eighth time ever that Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds has hosted a Munster hurling final in which the county is playing. They will have huge support and be determined to win, but maybe, just by a couple of points, Tipp will spoil their day. And speaking of huge support, the Leinster Council should be thankful to Davy Fitzgerald for putting life back into Wexford hurling.
The word is that close on 60,000 fans are expected to throng Croke Park this afternoon. You can take it that most of them will be wearing Purple and Gold, not Kilkenny’s Black and Amber. Davy has brought Wexford hurling to a place where they, mentally and physically, believe they can beat the Cats any day they are in front of them.
However, what Davy has not done yet is deliver silverware, and the little man must know that today’s encounter is his best chance. While I cannot see Wexford as potential All-Ireland winners this year, they most certainly have what it takes to win today, and that would give them a first Leinster crown since 2004.
Kilkenny have seen Galway take the last two Leinster titles across the Shannon and defeat today would make it three years on the spin without Brian Cody’s side commanding their own province. That’s a famine in Kilkenny hurling terms. However, just as the pressure comes on, so Kilkenny are beginning to get players back from injury.
The likes of Eoin Murphy, Cillian Buckley, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan are ready to contribute and that could be a vital factor, especially if the warm weather of recent days prevails. For if there is one area in which I see Kilkenny having a serious advantage over Wexford it is in the strength of the bench available. We hear that Kilkenny are in transition as hurlers like Adrian Mullen come through. Well, by 6pm tonight the team in transition may well be the Leinster champions and right there in the All-Ireland argument.
When it comes to Martin Quigley's long career with Wexford, like so many who have played for the county, the giant of Kilkenny looms large. The difference with the four-time All Star, however, is that when he looks back there are mostly happy memories.