Tuesday 24 October 2017

Today's hurling and football championship previews

Dermot Crowe

Munster SHC Quarter-Final: Cork v Tipperary, Semple Stadium, 4.0



Declining public interest shadows this once-regal fixture even if in a relatively sparse and unproductive spell for one participant -- in this case, Cork -- it can still produce some drama. None more immediate comes to mind than their last episode in Cork 12 months ago when Tipp were shaken to the core by a rampant home team. Aisake ó hAilpín doubled as a coarse blade to the Tipp jugular but for Cork, and ó hAilpín you might add, it became the first and last of the summer peaks. For Tipp, it was the making of them; by frightening the bejaysus out of them.

Cork haven't impressed a whole pile in the meantime. Their championship petered out tamely and this year's league closed with defeats to Wexford and Dublin, while the season opened in a furore of screaming headlines over the decommissioning of Seán óg. The changing of the guard has been far from smooth and all the more bumpy of course when the results aren't proving a pleasing distraction on the field. Then the mind often wanders off.

Michael Cussen was another of the great pylons visited upon defences by Denis Walsh in recent times and in fairness there is hurling in him but he does not start, so their approach has altered without Cork finding an attack that manages to strike tremendous fear into Tipperary. One could see how, possibly a tad lax, Tipp might have been ruffled by the sheer size of ó hAilpín last year. Facing one early raid Pádraic Maher played from the front but ó hAilpín just stood there and caught the ball anyway. It is possible the mere notion and awareness of having this skyscraper behind him blurred Maher's judgement a fraction; which or whether, clearly he was not his usual stellar self.

A ball in the foe's hand that close to goal spreads terror in any defence. Tipp, defensively and throughout, are more settled and primed now and Cork are not in any appreciable way more threatening. In this swing there seems to contain the greatest scope for altering the course of last year's game.

Brendan Maher is a loss in the middle of the field but reports are positive about Gearóid Ryan's form and Bonner Maher is likely to be deposited on John Gardiner, the last man standing, for today at least, of the old Cork half-back line. Cian McCarthy, Lorcan McLoughlin and Luke O'Farrell all make championship bows for Cork and William Egan is given a big brief at centre-back. Tipp only include one newcomer, John O'Keeffe at wing-back, who is off the under 21 team that steamrolled its way to last year's All-Ireland.

A notable absence is Conor O'Mahony who has had trouble with fitness and with Declan Fanning retired there is only one survivor in the half-back line in Pádraic Maher. David Young completes the line and Cork may take encouragement from the relatively untested nature of the wider men. But they are both fine hurlers and some take to it from the word go.

Cork do have experience on the bench but Tipp are well covered as well and Shane Bourke is an unlucky non-starter. Positive impressions of Tipp's recent preparations and the evidence of their form when required to lay down a mark -- for example against Galway in the league -- suggests this will adhere more rigidly to the form book than its 2010 predecessor.

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

Cork: D óg Cusack; S McDonnell, E Cadogan, S O'Neill; J Gardiner, W Egan, B Murphy; L McLoughlin, P Cronin; B O'Connor, C McCarthy, N McCarthy; P Horgan, P O'Sullivan, L O'Farrell.

Verdict: Tipperary

Leinster SHC Quarter-Finals

Dublin v Offaly

Croke Park, 2.0

Recollections of Offaly's summer displays against Galway last year serve as a warning to Dublin of the Faithful's capacity for not yielding when generally expected to. All teams tend to thrive on being written off but Offaly are masters at portraying a sense of persecution. Until, that is, the day comes when the form doesn't lie and they do go down to a hefty beating. It has happened more than once in the last number of years -- 2005 against Kilkenny being the most hideous -- but Dublin need to wind back 20 years for a rare victory over Offaly in the championship from relatively recent times.

The momentum is with Dublin who are a side hurling well but interrupted by half-time. The form they showed in the League final had been in them and to defeat Kilkenny, regardless of their shortcomings, will have given their belief levels a serious lift. They have even managed to absorb injuries, going through virtually all of the League without Alan McCrabbe and David Treacy. In recent matches they have had to go without their first choice centre-back and full-back and that is how it is today.

But they have versatility and an increasing number of options outside the starting 15. It isn't infinite by any means but their problems are offset by Offaly's own woes; they are missing a number of important players through injury too: Rory Hanniffy, David Franks, James Rigney, Joe Brady, and Brendan Murphy are all unavailable.

Colin Egan will make his debut on the half-forward line and if Offaly are to win they will need to score goals. They did that against Galway last year and they'll feel they can score a few against Dublin, who still haven't eradicated a tendency to concede soft green flags. Joe Bergin is a formidable presence near the Dublin goal and is likely to see a lot of direct ball.

Anthony Daly will have been preaching the lessons of complacency from his pulpit in Parnell Park for many weeks now. That is part of the process in becoming a serious team. If Dublin are, as looks the case, a serious outfit, they need to show it on days like this.

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

Offaly: J Dempsey; M Verney, D Kenny, S Egan; D Hayden, AN Other, D Morkam; C Mahon, D Molloy; B Carroll, G Healion, C Egan; S Dooley, J Bergin, D Currams.

Verdict: Dublin

Wexford v Antrim

Wexford Park, 3.30

Wexford head into this without some influential players from recent seasons -- Diarmuid Lyng, Darren Stamp and Eoin Quigley -- and unveil two newcomers in Niall Breen, in goal, and the full-back, 19-year-old Matthew O'Hanlon. He is flanked by experienced and hardy colleagues, mind you, in Keith Rossiter and Paul Roche.

The Wexford League campaign, seemingly headed for relegation after they lost to Offaly, jack-knifed in the last two matches and greatly changed the mood in the county and the squad. This is a match they cannot take lightly -- Antrim under Dinny Cahill have a good championship pedigree and the benefit of a match against Laois. Having them at home will boost Wexford's chances and having weathered the storm of relegation, they are slightly favoured to go on to meet Kilkenny.

Ciarán Kenny takes over the centre-back position from the injured Stamp while Antrim field without the injured Liam Watson. They recall Cormac Donnelly to the full-back position after injury and Eddie McCloskey, who missed the Laois game through suspension, while Darren Hamill is also introduced. Neal McAuley, who was sent off on a straight red card against Laois, is under suspension.

Wexford: N Breen; P Roche, M O'Hanlon, K Rossiter; L Prendergast, C Kenny, M Jacob; W Doran, D Redmond; PJ Nolan, H Kehoe, S Banville; R Jacob, É Martin, J Berry.

Antrim: C O'Connell; C McGuinness, C Donnelly, K Molloy; A Graffin, M Herron, C Herron; P Shiels, B McFall; S McRory, K Stewart, N McManus; C McCann, D Hamill, E McCloskey.

Verdict: Wexford

Connacht SFC Quarter-Final

London v Mayo

Ruislip, 3.0

Some interesting choices by James Horan and his selectors as they travel to London for a match that sets them up for a crack at Galway in Castlebar. Jason Gibbons taking a midfield place ahead of Aidan O'Shea is one of those, and the redeployment of Ger Cafferkey as a corner-back, a position which requires a specialist's knack, is another. Donal Vaughan is roped in at centre-back; he can attack, but can he defend? Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty have stirred the soul up front and today they should see plenty of ball. Mayo should win with some comfort.

Mayo: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, G Cafferkey; R Feeney, D Vaughan, C Barrett; J Kilcullen, J Gibbons; A Campbell, A Moran, A Dillon; T Howley, A Freeman, J Doherty.

London: To be announced.

Verdict: Mayo

Ulster SHC quarter-finals

Down v Derry

Casement Park, 3.30

Down get an instant shot at redemption for their narrow Christy Ring semi-final loss to Kerry with this passport option to the semi-final. In the same competition, Derry faltered at the quarter-final stage, heavily defeated by Kildare. Form points to Down.

Verdict: Down

Armagh v Monaghan

Newry, 3.30

Monaghan enjoyed a surprise win over Fingal in the Nicky Rackard recently before bowing out in the semi-finals to Louth. Armagh have experience of the Christy Ring though which should stand to them.

Verdict: Armagh

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