TODAY'S HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWSDermot Crowe
All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals
Dublin v Tipperary
Semple Stadium, 4.0
This is not unfamiliar territory for Anthony Daly's Dublin but it comes with the realisation that their six-year adventure might end, with no tomorrow, no next year and no chance of redress. Lose today and it seems likely that Daly and Dublin will shake hands and bid an emotional farewell.
How much change and upheaval that may entail for a team well-aged in some respects remains to be seen, but it is inconceivable that one of Daly's teams would not provide a send-off the polar opposite of what passed for a performance in the Leinster final.
That fine evening in Wexford Park six weeks ago when they won despite missing Danny Sutcliffe and losing Mark Schutte early on to injury, appeared to carry the gratifying message they had uncovered the secret of hurling to the level they set for themselves. The dismal Leinster final defeat by Kilkenny, a numbing capitulation, drained confidence as they prepared to face a resurgent Tipperary on their home ground.
Of last year's four All-Ireland semi-finalists, Dublin can probably feel the hardest done by in not making the final and possibly winning the competition. That was by no means beyond them; it certainly looks that way now.
Tipp might not be unbeatable but Dublin don't look to have enough lift or bounce in their team, even if they genuinely believe that training had shown no signs of stagnation before the Leinster final.
Undoubtedly, they aided their own downfall by a puzzling strategy of withdrawing a forward against Kilkenny when there were reservations, or at least perceptions, of pace deficiencies in the Cats' full-back line.
If the idea was to create space, it failed abjectly. The ball coming in was hopeless, lacking the necessary precision. The decision by Conal Keaney to take a point from an early penalty was also disconcerting for a team defending its title and expected to go for the jugular. Keaney and Sutcliffe in the half-forward line, though, can cause Tipperary problems where they are not over-stocked with ball winners.
The real issue holding back Dublin is the absence of depth and variety. Daly is still heavily reliant on a core of the same players and while there has been some new blood drafted in, there hasn't been enough of it to sustain a team at the level now aspired to.
Tipperary, granted, also still carry many of the same fleet but they have a higher technical range and have, while the memory is fading, still managed to win an All-Ireland with most of these players. The problem has been in their heads and to some extent their nerve. Both shortcomings look to be responding to treatment and the team is on an upward curve, playing on its home ground.
Lar Corbett (pictured) has scored 2-5 on his return and the form of Seamus Callanan, with 5-23 from three championship matches against opposition that may not be as resilient as Dublin should be today, gives Tipp hope they are now on the right road.
There is an injury concern over Michael Cahill but that is offset by Dublin's loss of Paul Schutte, an excellent, tight-marking defender. Niall Corcoran comes in and Dublin look likely to play a sweeper to stop a run of early Tipp scores that could see this game get away from them.
A response to the Leinster final, and a feeble return of 1-9, can be expected but even with Sutcliffe more match fit, and the team likely to raise their performance, they might not have the artillery needed to win the match.
Dublin: A Nolan; S Durkin, P Kelly, N Corcoran; S Hiney, L Rushe, M Carton; J Boland, J McCaffrey; R O'Dwyer, A McCrabbe, D Sutcliffe; D O'Callaghan, C Keaney, C Cronin.
Tipperary: D Gleeson; P Stapleton, Paudie Maher, M Cahill; B Maher, J Barry, C Barrett; K Bergin, J Woodlock; G Ryan, Patrick Maher, J O'Dwyer; N McGrath, S Callanan, L Corbett.
Limerick v Wexford
Semple Stadium, 2.0
In 2007 the Waterford hurlers, at a time when an All-Ireland win was certainly within their compass, were ambushed by Limerick in the semi-finals and afterwards wondered were they fools in not seeking a week's grace. The previous two weekends had been spent trying to slay Cork, which they managed after a replay, and the third outing left them little time to recover.
Does this apply in Wexford's case? They might have been vulnerable against Waterford last weekend, having come off two thrilling extra-time epics with Clare, but they coped admirably. If anything, they might suffer were they to take a week off.
They have been the summer's revelation. On losing to Dublin they left enough to suggest they were on a promising course. They have lightning pace in attack and a powerful target man in Conor McDonald if they want to go more direct. Players like David Redmond and Paul Morris have been transformed. Lee Chin's move has shored up the midfield and their physique and conditioning is the talk of the hurling community.
Even in the National League, while they did not have a glittering campaign, their attempts to play intelligent and composed hurling were noticeable. Players are looking to find team-mates in better positions and their movement is effective and well orchestrated.
Each game is strengthening the side's conviction but they have also lived dangerously. The wides tally is a concern, yet if they can keep improving as they have, then the day that comes right will see them unleash an unstoppable performance.
Limerick have had time to study them carefully and come off a Munster final defeat in which they hurled well for long stretches and could well have made a game of it to the finish. The crucial first Cork goal from Seamus Harnedy is one their defence was badly exposed on. A defence should not concede a goal from where Harnedy won the ball, with so many defenders between him and the goal. Some of their decision-making cost them and, for a while, free-taking threatened to undo them as it had in last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Clare.
To win they need to tighten up on the half-back flanks but in mitigation they faced two of the best hurlers in the country in those positions. They also need big shows from Declan Hannon and Kevin Downes.
Over the two matches against Tipperary and Cork, their hurling has been persuasive enough to suggest they might produce a typically defiant resistance here and edge it.
Limerick: N Quaid; T Condon, R McCarthy, S Hickey; P O Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; J Ryan, P Browne; D Hannon, D O Grady, S Dowling; G Mulcahy, K Downes, D Breen.
Wexford: M Fanning; L Ryan, M O'Hanlon, K Rossiter; A Shore, E Moore, C Kenny; D Redmond, L Chin; P Morris, P Doran, D O'Keeffe; J Guiney, C McDonald, L Og McGovern.
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