Sunday 18 March 2018

Today's championship previews

Dermot Crowe

Munster SHC Final and Leinster SFC Final

Munster SHC Final

Cork v Limerick
Gaelic Grounds, 4.0

The turnaround in Cork's fortunes has added to the impression of Jimmy Barry-Murphy as a charismatic leader with a penchant for pulling good young teams out of the hat. Though his playing days finished in 1986, he brings a timeless grasp of the fundamentals that make for good championship teams.

Brian Murphy, injured today, was given a specific duty to pursue Tony Kelly in the Munster semi-final, but tactically there is no preoccupation with elaborate schemes.

The fitness gap that existed between Clare and Cork in the league was also closed by the Munster semi-final. Cork looked to have timed their training perfectly; Clare looked a tired team working off memory. But the element of surprise has gone and Limerick will relish a shot at some of Cork's young guns and will guarantee a stern physical challenge. Nor will they make Cork's job easier with tactical self-flagellation.

In other words, they will play to their strengths and will identify Cork's weaknesses. Cork face a dilemma over full-back, with Stephen McDonnell in bother against Clare who spurned a number of goalscoring chances. Shane O'Neill, their tidiest defender, is an option, and plays full-back for his club, but does not have a track record in the position for his county. The team named shows McDonnell in the position.

Cork will be strengthened by the return from injuries of Pa Cronin, who came on in the Clare game, and Lorcan McLoughlin, one of their best players in the league. The form of Anthony Nash has also been a feature of Cork's revival. Young Seamus Harnedy went home with the man-of-the-match award on his first championship game, a junior hurler who has developed through Fitzgibbon hurling in UCC. Today his card is marked and Cork will probably find a harder, livelier resistance than in the semi-finals, and be surrounded by a passionate and vocal Limerick following.

The odds show how finely balanced this Munster final is. Limerick, more advanced as a team, can win.

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.

Cork: A Nash; S O'Neill, S McDonnell, C O'Sullivan; T Kenny, C Joyce, W Egan; L McLoughlin, D Kearney; S Harnedy, C McCarthy, P Cronin; L O'Farrell, P Horgan, C Lehane.

Odds: Limerick evens; Draw 9/1; Cork evens

Verdict: Limerick

Leinster SFC Final

Dublin v Meath
Croke Park, 2.0

In Meath, nervous anticipation of this latest instalment of an old and celebrated rivalry has brought moments of gallows humour. The possibility of a heavy defeat is very real, with an eight-point spread in the betting indicating how much Dublin are fancied to win.

They have dispatched Westmeath and Kildare, higher-ranked teams than Meath, with disdain and it seems only their own hype and complacency can restrain them.

Jim Gavin's management has kept a tight collar on those liberties to date and he has the benefit of a large competitive panel and lavish sideline options if he needs to look beyond the starting 15.

Bernard Brogan was a goalscorer in the Kildare match and might have had more than one had he received the pass he should have when well placed in various overlaps, but he was one of the players withdrawn. The message sounded loud and clear: nobody is indispensable.

The confidence running through Dublin, the lightning pace that switches defence into attack in seconds, and punishes breakdowns and turnovers, has been a feature of a team sprinkled with dashing new players from recent successful underage teams nurtured by Gavin.

They are still awaiting the kind of test that might ask questions hitherto not posed and that could well take until August to disclose, but Meath will expect to show a greater fight than Kildare – whether the outcome will be any different remains to be seen.

They are still working on a half-back line that sees Mickey Burke selected in the cockpit. Will he play there? Will they risk a young player like Pádraic Harnan? How will a midfield that was sluggish against Wexford cope with Dublin, and the able auxiliaries in the vicinity?

Meath play a standard formation. They might try a sweeper but blanket defence is a custom they have not endorsed. They place tremendous faith in each player doing his job.

If they look for Dublin flaws they might target the corner-back positions with good deliveries but they'll need to win enough clean ball around the middle of the field and have Graham Reilly on one of his inspired days. They will also hope for a goalscoring contribution from the likes of Stephen Bray who has troubled Dublin in the past.

On Dublin kick-outs they'll need to force Stephen Cluxton to go long. Even if all of that is manageable, the win looks beyond them this afternoon. A show of strength to carry them into the qualifiers with some confidence is their bottom line.

Dublin: S Cluxton; D Daly, R O'Carroll, J Cooper; J McCarthy, G Brennan, J McCaffrey; M D Macauley, C O'Sullivan; P Flynn, C Kilkenny, D Connolly; P Mannion, P Andrews, B Brogan.

Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keoghan, K Reilly, B Menton; P Harnan, M Burke, S Kenny; B Meade, C Gillespie; P Byrne, D Carroll, G Reilly; E Wallace, S Bray, M Newman.

Odds: Dublin 1/12; Draw 16/1; Meath 15/2

Verdict: Dublin

Irish Independent

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