Monday 16 September 2019

John Mullane: 'Kilkenny and Galway should prevail on night of high drama as thrilling Leinster series reaches its climax'

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody shakes hands with Galway manager Mícheál Donoghue after the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody shakes hands with Galway manager Mícheál Donoghue after the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 4 match between Kilkenny and Galway at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

John Mullane

WHAT a climax we have to the Leinster round-robin tomorrow night with four teams in with a chance of reaching the final while each of the quartet could also see their summer plans go up in flames.

You couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion and there are no tougher venues for Galway and Kilkenny to travel to than Parnell Park and Wexford Park to secure their passage.

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You wouldn’t rule out both getting turned over and the novel pairing of Dublin and Wexford in the Leinster decider. If that was to happen, Kilkenny would be out of the championship.

That’s how intriguing it is and Twitter will be on fire with people trying to find out what the state of play is as the drama unfolds.

The idea that there’s ‘no show like a Joe show’ was put to bed last Sunday with Galway answering a lot of challenging questions in Nowlan Park to deliver a formidable performance minus their talisman Joe Canning.

Galway will be oozing confidence in Parnell Park tonight but they’ll have to bring the same quality of performance to the table to overcome a well-oiled Dublin machine.

This current Dublin crop are made of tough stuff and won’t cough up half as many scores at the back as Kilkenny did last week, while there seems to be a feelgood factor around hurling in the capital right now.

That hasn’t been the case since Anthony Daly was at the helm and you sense that they could be on the cusp of those great times again. Victory over the Tribesmen would be some statement of intent. It’s not beyond Mattie Kenny’s Dubs to pull off a master stroke and he will know every Galway hurler inside out, having coached many of these lads at senior and U-21 level.

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It was a thriller the last time these two sides met in Donnycarney in the Walsh Cup in January, with Canning coming on to nail a late sideline cut that won a game which I was covering live on the radio.

Dublin couldn’t handle the Mannion brothers, Pádraic and Cathal, that day and that’s been a common theme in games between these counties with Kenny sure to earmark both for special attention this time around.

With Shane Barrett cleared to play, he will likely be detailed to follow Cathal Mannion while Eoghan O’Donnell should be tasked with curbing Conor Whelan’s threat as Chris Crummey goes toe-to-toe with Johnny Glynn.

Adrian Tuohey’s re-positioning to wing forward worked a treat against Kilkenny, but I still think he’ll be needed in defence before the year is out and Dublin have forwards like Paul Ryan, Eamonn Dillon and Liam Rushe who can hurt Galway if given the chance.

The tight confines of Parnell Park make it a tough arena to perform in and if Galway dip below the levels of last weekend, they are going to be in for a massive shock to their system.

However, if younger guns like Jason Flynn and Brian Concannon step up to the plate again, Micheál Donoghue’s men will have enough to edge their way into a fifth consecutive Leinster final as they chase three-in-a-row.

While fingernails are being worn down in Parnell, they will be bitten off before throw-in in Wexford as a sell-out crowd welcomes the arrival of Brian Cody’s Cats.

Cody knows the hostility that awaits them after their defeat two years ago so expect fireworks on and off the pitch as his wounded animals face a Wexford side which Davy Fitz will have wired.

Fasten your seat belts because the rivalry between these two has been epic since Davy came to the sunny south east and neither manager will want to give an inch.

Davy’s attacking sweeper system will be crucial as always and I use the word attacking because that’s what it has evolved into with the massive amount of scoring chances they are creating.

Kevin Foley is more at home in the sweeper position than Shaun Murphy was and Cody will have to counteract a system which has caused them serious trouble down the years. With TJ Reid in fine form, Kilkenny have a man who can tear any system to shreds, such is his class and the huge box of tricks at his disposal on a given day.

One player Kilkenny really need available is Walter Walsh and it’s only when he’s not in the team — like last Sunday and in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Limerick — that we see what he brings to the table.

Eoin Murphy makes his return to the starting side after his knee injury and one thing is for sure, Kilkenny will have a stronger outfit tonight and with everything on the line, Cody won’t hesitate to throw his chiefs into action if passed fit, even if, like Walter Walsh, they’re named on the bench.

Davy will surely have a plan to nullify Reid. James Breen, who is out injured, was the man designated to stop him in their 2017 clash and he’s been the most effective at doing so in recent years.

Davy will have to deploy a man with his energy and attitude to limit Reid’s influence, but the question is whether they have a man to do that job. If they can stop Reid, they have a great chance.

Wexford also need big performances from Lee Chin, Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald. If those three deliver up front, Wexford can prevail, but a lot of this hinges on Walsh. If Walsh is deemed fit enough to start, I expect Kilkenny to bounce back. Without big ‘Wally’, Wexford can edge home.

Munster has been left in the shadow this summer and there’s little fanfare around the meeting of Tipperary and All-Ireland champions Limerick as Tipp boss Liam Sheedy is stuck in a bit of a catch 22 situation.

Does he put out his best 15 or learn more about his panel? I’m not sure what he’s going to gain by going all out and this might be the game where he can dilute the hype. If they are going to lose, this is the ideal scenario because he’ll have a stick to beat them with.

Limerick and Tipp could meet again in the Munster final, and the All-Ireland final, so Sheedy might play ten of his regulars and give other lads more time to shine. On the flip side, he might want to keep his best 15.

There’s no doubt that Limerick’s mojo is back. Everything we raved about last year was evident in their dismantling of Clare and given that they seem intent on trying to secure provincial honours, I fancy Limerick.

Clare are in a similar boat to Waterford and they are starting to lose their identity. They’re lost for ideas. If you man mark Tony Kelly and nullify Shane O’Donnell inside, they are bereft of a Plan B and it’s hard to see them bouncing back to victory.

Cork have impressed the last two days but this will be tighter than people think. If there’s anything about Clare, they will deliver in front of their home crowd but Cork are full of confidence and can prevail by a score.

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