Today's football and hurling Championship previews
Munster SHC Semi-Final
Cork v Tipperary
Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 4.0
A return to the site of Cork's raging ten-point victory in 2010 and a reminder of the transformative effect it had, not on the Rebels, but on Tipperary. Not that a ten-point defeat is what's generally prescribed. Another defeat today would most likely kill off Tipp's All-Ireland aspirations for this year. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility. What is in a match between Cork and Tipp?
Amid the concern about a lack of natural compatibility between the current management and the players it is easy to forget Tipp had some careless hurling convictions in Liam Sheedy's time also. Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett, for different reasons, don't start today. The last day against Limerick, Kelly went off six minutes into the second half; age would seem to have caught up with him and there is no disgrace in that. Even by the end of the 2009 championship, Tipperary had extracted more from Kelly than might be reasonable to ask for. After that, his career was in bonus territory.
Corbett's story is well known if not as well understood. Take characters like that out of an attack and what team would not suffer? But there seems an added malaise in the wavering form of some players. Perhaps they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Limerick threw themselves like deranged men at the blue and gold but they hurled well too. It was a challenge any team would have had problems quelling.
Outright catastrophe was prevented in 15 minutes but the reservations still exist. Conor O'Mahony was outstanding, Noel McGrath benefited from a positional change and Bonner Maher arrived like a man fed up with the compliance of too many of his countymen. The calls were desperate or inspired.
In the league semi-finals, they were served a warning of their own lassitude when Cork breezed past them in the rush to the line. Cork's confidence has taken a shaking from Kilkenny but so has just about every team's, Tipp included. They have acted on it with six changes, affecting every line, and they will be eager to rebuild the morale dismantled by Kilkenny. This is the only way to do that.
Six changes seems a lot from a league final to the first round of the championship but some are predictable. Darren Sweetnam had exam commitments and is now free to show the world the full extent of his talents. Goalkeeper and full-back had men under obvious pressure. Neither has survived. Other positions in the forwards are marginal calls. Cork have frightening pace up front and the potential to inflict damage, and the right side of Tipp's defence still has the jury ruminating. These games tend to be tight; this should follow the pattern. Tipp get the nod with an invaluable championship match behind them. But they will have to look beyond the starting 15 to get the match-winning total.
Cork: A Nash; S O'Neill, B Murphy, C O'Sullivan; T Kenny, E Cadogan, W Egan; D Sweetnam, L McLoughlin; C Lehane, P Cronin, C Naughton; J Coughlan, P O'Sullivan, P Horgan.
Tipperary: B Cummins; C O'Brien, P Curran, M Cahill; T Stapleton, C O'Mahony, P Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; G Ryan, P Maher, P Bourke; B O'Meara, J O'Brien, N McGrath.
Ulster SFC Semi-Final
Down v Monaghan
Athletic Grounds, 2.0
Down, who haven't been in an Ulster final since 2003, are favourites to end that wait as they prepare for a robust challenge from Monaghan. Both sides have been depleted by injuries. Monaghan include Darren Hughes, who has recovered sufficiently, and also call up Drew Wylie, Pete Dooney and Kieran Hughes. They come off a disappointing spring that ended in relegation to Division 3. But they were without some key players including Conor McManus and, for the most part, Tommy Freeman.
Freeman's introduction in the Ulster quarter-final helped rescue Monaghan who were struggling up to that point to deal with Antrim's movement and energy. With a couple of scores and added assists, Freeman showed he still has an infectious impact and confidence seemed to spread throughout the team on his arrival. Today could see him sprung again. Down's own forward talisman Benny Coulter remains out with an ankle injury, while Dan Gordon is also unable to play, leaving them weaker at both ends of the field.
Gerard McCartan plays left corner-back for Down in place of Aidan Brannigan, who is serving a suspension. Down have been operating at a higher level through the spring but this is a potentially hazardous test, one they will do well to get out of in one piece. Their forwards even without Coulter can weave enough magic to see them home.
Down: B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, G McCartan; D O'Hagan, K McKernan, C Garvey; A Rogers, K King; D Hughes, M Poland, A Carr; D O'Hare, C Laverty, C Maginn.
Monaghan: M Keogh; D Wylie, V Corey, C Walshe; D Hughes, D Mone, K O'Connell; O Lennon, D Clerkin; P Dooney, S Gollogly, J Turley; K Hughes, P Finlay, C McManus.
Connacht SFC Semi-Final
Leitrim v Mayo
McHale Park, 3.30
After eight long weeks since they were last seen in the league final defeat by Cork, Mayo finally step onto the championship stage. Six years ago, when they last met Leitrim in championship, they hung on by a point to win having led by eight at half-time. Leitrim defeated Sligo last year and are capable of creating problems here. But history is against them. They have only beaten Mayo three times in championship and never at McHale Park.
It is a new Leitrim team from 2006, with only one survivor, and they will do well to keep the match alive into the final 15 minutes. Mayo played recent challenges against Monaghan and Westmeath but a first championship match can see teams take time to find their stride. At midfield, where Leitrim are decent, Mayo may not have it all their own way. They continue to sorely miss Aidan O'Shea. Even though they were lucky to escape Ruislip, the win over London will help Leitrim.
Jason Doherty scored three goals against Westmeath and features in a Mayo attack notable for the absence of Conor Mortimer. Kevin Keane, Lee Keegan and Danny Geraghty will make their first championship starts. With Galway falling on Sligo's sword, Leitrim joining them in the final would be astonishing.
Mayo: D Clarke; K Keane, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, D Vaughan, C Boyle; B Moran, D Geraghty; K McLoughlin, C O'Connor, A Dillon; A Freeman, A Moran, J Doherty.
Leitrim: C McCrann; D Beck, F McMorrow, P Maguire; C Clarke, E Williams, W McKeon; D Sweeney, S Moran; P Brennan, E Mulligan, P McGowan; R Cox, J Glancy, A Croal.
Sunday Indo Sport