Galway, Kilkenny Clare and Tipp harbouring dreams of League glory
The Gaelic Grounds will witness the penultimate stage of the hurling league as four will be whittled down to two with the championship on the horizon.
Kilkenny v Galway, 2pm
The Tribesmen will be looking to avenge their defeat to the Cats at the same stage last season, though Kilkenny will have the psychological advantage of emerging victorious when the sides met in Nowlan Park last month.
Joe Canning makes a welcome return to the Galway line-up for his first start of the season, though it remains to be seen whether he will resume free-taking duties. Conor Cooney scored a total of 3-29 from penalties, frees and '65s' in six games and Cunningham may be reluctant to change.
Full-back Ronan Burke and centre-back Iarla Tannian have added stability to the spine of their defence though this will be their sternest test to date.
Brian Cody will be pleased with Kilkenny’s campaign so far. After a narrow defeat to Clare in the opener, he introduced new blood to the team, something he vowed to do after last year’s disappointing championship.
Their attack has been potent – they have hit 4-22 in both of their last two games – and will be confident of maintaining their incredible league record under Cody.
Clare v Tipperary, 4pm
Clare’s full-back David McInerney said earlier this week that the Banner will be looking to end a long wait for league glory (1978) as a build-up to the defence of Liam McCarthy.
Davy Fitzgerald suggested at the turn of the year that All-Ireland celebrations would take their toll on his young side, but an impressive opening day defeat of Kilkenny in Ennis set them on their only defeat was at the hands of Dublin.
They struggled for long periods against Laois to gain the upper hand in the last eight, but Fitzgerald has utilised just short of 30 players so far and the likes of like Jack Browne, Paul Flanagan, Cathal McInerney and David Reidy have staked their claim for championships spots.
Their Munster neighbours Tipp have had a real roller-coaster campaign, with a close-fought win over the Dubs in Thurles ensuring a quarter-final spot rather than a relegation play-off following three successive defeats.
Bubbles O’Dwyer and Seamus Callinan in the forward line have impressed and Eamon O’Shea insists he is happy with preparations, but their defence will need to tighten up to progress to the final.
They conceded five goals to Kilkenny, four to Cork and Clare and three to Galway already this season and similar generosity will ensure this is their final competitive game until they face Limerick on June 1st.