Sport Hurling

Saturday 25 November 2017

Today's All-Ireland SHC semi-final preview

Damian Lawlor

DUBLIN v TIPPERARY: Croke Park, 3.30

The reigning young hurler of the year Brendan Maher put down a marker by hitting seven points from play for Borris-Ileigh against Kilruane MacDonaghs in a county championship encounter two weeks ago. But this return to form following a serious injury hasn't been enough to see him restored to Tipperary's starting 15 today.

It's a sign of the strength in depth of this squad that they can afford to start the game with a decorated young genius like Maher on the sidelines, especially with the news that Seamus Hennessy will play no part in the rest of the season because of an ongoing cartilage problem.

Another sign of their reserves emerged last weekend at a training camp at Cork's Fota Island when the B team beat the A team in a highly competitive challenge match.

Tipperary are raging favourites but Declan Ryan has done a fine job in keeping his players grounded. His biggest worry is probably some defensive frailties that were evident in the league and against Cork in the championship.

There is a suspicion that the full-back line may not be watertight. There's also a tendency to give too many frees away. For example, 12 of Waterford's 19 points in the Munster final came from conceded frees and that needs to be closely examined.

Apart from the catalogue of long-term injuries that Ryan's counterpart Anthony Daly has had to endure, the news that Oisín Gough (broken hand) and David Treacy (hamstring) are both out for this afternoon's game is another massive blow. Daly will be looking to the experienced and direct Ryan O'Dwyer, who scored 3-2 from play against Limerick, for inspiration in attack, especially in the absence of Conal Keaney.

A crowd of over 35,000 is expected to show up to see what should be a comfortable Tipperary win unless Dublin can pull off some tactical masterstroke. Chances are Daly will have to play an extra defender in front of his full-back line if he wants to stop Tipperary's rampant forwards -- and in particular the seemingly unstoppable Lar Corbett (pictured) -- from raising green flags. He'll also be hoping for a better scoring return from David O'Callaghan and Alan McCrabbe. The current side is too dependent on the free-taking of Paul Ryan.

Dublin, though, have nothing to lose. Peter Kelly is doing a fine job at full-back and has reinstalled confidence in the wake of the departure of Stephen Hiney and Tomás Brady through injury. Gary Maguire's shot-stopping is pretty sound and under the high ball he looks very comfortable.

Liam Rushe is hard-working and good under the dropping ball while up front they'll be looking to O'Dwyer again. Their spine is reasonably strong but it won't be solid enough to keep Tipperary at bay.

It will be another landmark occasion for Brendan Cummins (they all are these days) as he takes to the field for the 66th time in the championship, facing Dublin for the first time in summer fare (Gerry Kennedy was between the sticks when they met in the 2007 qualifiers). We take his 67th appearance to be the All-Ireland final and a repeat of last year's thrilling encounter with Kilkenny.

Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O'Keeffe, C O'Mahony, Pádraic Maher; S McGrath, G Ryan; N McGrath, S Callanan, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, J O'Brien, L Corbett.

Dublin: G Maguire; N Corcoran, P Kelly, P Schutte; M Carton, J Boland, S Durkin; J McCaffrey, A McCrabbe; C McCormack, R O'Dwyer, L Rushe; D O'Callaghan, L Ryan, P Ryan.

Verdict: Tipperary

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