Wednesday 13 December 2017

Today's championship previews

Lee Chin, Wexford.
Lee Chin, Wexford.

Damian Lawlor

The big games previewed

Munster SHC semi-final

Limerick v Tipperary

Gaelic Grounds, 4.0

THE Limerick line-up has attracted a lot of attention. Whether it is the one that starts today remains to be seen although John Allen doesn't normally go in for dummy teams, or the like. He leaves Shane Dowling and Kevin Downes out of today's starting 15 which is clearly picked on form. Declan Hannon starts at full-forward but if he doesn't see much ball he'll surely move out the field.

Tipperary are bidding for a treble over the Shannonsiders, having won in 2009 and 2012. Tipp had some big calls to make too. Jason Forde was pushing hard for selection after his under 21 exploits and there were calls to be made over the goalkeeper too. Two cracking saves against Galway in a recent challenge match at Cloughjordan may have swung it for the experienced Cummins, but Darren Gleeson pushed him all the way.

The management's faith in Kieran Bergin looks justified and his is an incredible story having enjoyed a fine underage career before spending four years in the US. Now he's back, in possession of a first-team shirt, and looking set to drive on with his career. After a rocky opening 10 minutes in the league final, his senior debut, he had a fine game and holds his place.

The rest of the team, however, will be intent to put down a marker after last year's All-Ireland semi-final humiliation. Players like Paudie Maher, Brendan Maher, Patrick Maher and Noel McGrath have to assume leadership of this team. They have already been to the summit but one medal won't satisfy them.

Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; K Bergin, C O'Mahony, Pádraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; J Forde, Patrick Maher, J O'Brien; S Bourke, S Callanan, N McGrath.

Limerick: N Quaid; S Walsh, R McCarthy, T Condon; P O Brien, W McNamara, G O'Mahony; P Browne, D O'Grady; D Breen, J Ryan, S Hickey; G Mulcahy, D Hannon, S Tobin.

Verdict: Tipperary

Leinster SHC quarter-final

Offaly v Kilkenny

Tullamore, 2.0

To properly analyse today's game, you have to compare the structures that exist in the two counties.

The Offaly underage system has been very poor for the last 20 years and especially bad in recent years. They haven't beaten any of Leinster's big three, Kilkenny, Wexford or Dublin, at minor level since 2005. The Offaly club champions have done well in recent times but the step up is massive so that relative club success has little or no impact on the county scene.

Meanwhile, Kilkenny continue to produce players – even when they are not winning underage titles. Lester Ryan and Cillian Buckley have really put down a marker this season as has new 'keeper Eoin Murphy.

For the first time since he made his debut in June 1999, Henry Shefflin will not start for Kilkenny in a championship match but with Brian Cody back you can imagine they won't hold back this afternoon.

Offaly will have to tear at their rivals, attempt to cram the Kilkenny half-forwards and manage to nab a few goals themselves to have any chance of winning. Easier said than done.

Even in the absence of Shefflin and Mick Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, TJ Reid and Jackie Tyrrell are back to fitness and there's plenty of men in black and amber ready to step into the breach.

On paper, this could be a pretty ugly day for Offaly hurling and may only add to the debate that the hurling championship, like its football equivalent, needs a fresh impetus. Let's hope not. Let's hope instead that Offaly can make a game of it. They still have fine players in their talisman Shane Dooley, Rory Hanniffy and Joe Bergin. But they'll need 15 men to play the game of their lives to have any hope.

Offaly: J Dempsey; C McDonald, D Kenny, K Brady; R Hanniffy, G Healion, C Parlon; C Mahon, D Mooney; C Egan, B Carroll, C Slevin; S Dooley, J Bergin, S Cleary

Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, M Rice; TJ Reid, R Power, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty

Verdict: Kilkenny

Leinster SFC quarter-final

Louth v Wexford

Drogheda, 3.30

Louth are unpredictable. They either wipe teams off the field, like they did against Laois a few weeks ago or Kildare in 2010, or flop miserably.

Wexford, who have achieved massive highs and lows in recent years, beat them in their league clash at Drogheda. Yet, Wexford ended up being relegated while Louth stayed up.

Shane Lennon and Brian White will once more call the shots in attack but they'll be well watched by the Wexford defence.

The Louth backs, meanwhile, will need to marshal Ben Brosnan and Red Barry, the Wexford playmaker and a most under-rated footballer.

Incidentally, it will be a busy weekend for dual star Lee Chin who played for the Wexford hurlers last night.

Louth: N Gallagher; P Rath, D Finnegan, J Bingham; J O'Brien, D Crilly, A Reid; P Keenan, B Donnelly; A McDonnell, B White, C Rafferty; C Byrne, S Lennon, D Maguire

Wexford: A Masterson; M Furlong, G Molloy, L Chin; B Malone, D Murphy, A Flynn; D Waters, R Quinlivan; J Holmes, Ben Brosnan, A Doyle; C Lyng, R Barry, PJ Banville.

Verdict: Louth

Ulster SFC quarter-final

Antrim v Monaghan

Casement Park, 3.30

Seán Kelly makes his first championship appearance for Antrim in three years against Monaghan in a side that shows four changes from that which lost to the Farney County in the final round of the league. Kelly last played championship football for Antrim in their heavy loss to Kildare in an All-Ireland qualifier replay in 2010.

Meanwhile, Andy McClean and Patrick McBride are included in the defence, while Mark Sweeney – who didn't feature during the spring – is at left half-forward. Michael Herron, James Laverty, Niall Delargy and Dermot McCann are all on the bench which gives Frank Dawson plenty of options.

Interestingly, 40-year-old 'keeper Seán McCreevy is on the line for Antrim after getting called up last week.

It looks a tall order for Dawson and his side even though they have done well on the challenge match circuit lately. They were relegated to Division 3. Monaghan, in contrast, won Division 3 and have already beaten them by 12 points.

Many people in Ulster feel there is still a serious kick in this Monaghan side. Goalkeeper Rory Beggan and full-back Fintan Kelly make their debuts and manager Malachy O'Rourke brings in the experienced Dessie Mone to replace Drew Wylie.

Even at Casement Park, and allowing for the unpredictability of the Ulster championship, Monaghan should have enough to get through.

Antrim: C Kerr; K O'Boyle, R Johnston, A McClean; S Kelly, J Crozier, P McBride; S McVeigh, M Johnston; A Healy, P Cunningham, M Sweeney; M Pollock, K Niblock, B Herron.


 R Beggan; K Duffy, F Kelly, C Walshe; D Mone, N McAdam, D Hughes; O Lennon, D Clerkin; P Finlay, D Malone, O Duffy; C McGuinness, K Hughes, C McManus.

Verdict: Monaghan

Irish Independent

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