Monday 18 December 2017

Today's hurling championship previews

Damian Lawlor

All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals

Cork v Waterford

Thurles, 2.0

Waterford will have noted the impact that pacy Cork full-forward Luke O'Farrell had against Wexford in the last round of the qualifiers. He had two early goals in quick succession and used his blistering speed to good effect in that game. He hit a couple of fine points as well. With Paudie O'Sullivan and Pat Horgan also in decent nick, expect Cork to find these men as quickly and as frequently as possible -- their pace could well trouble the Waterford rearguard.

It's a big occasion, too, for Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam. After the fireworks they produced in the league, they have found championship hurling a little more pressing, but these two hurlers of the future have a great chance today to make a mark.

Waterford look over-reliant on John Mullane and Maurice Shanahan's free-taking. Shane Walsh always weighs in with a couple of scores but with Cork's attack looking promising, the Déise will have to fire in the region of 21 or 22 points to win.

Cork conceded 2-17 to Wexford; they looked vulnerable against Offaly too.

As always with these two, the game should be a cracker for the neutral. Presumably, Cork will throw Lehane onto 39-year-old Tony Browne, although he is surely too talented and cute to get sucked into a battle like that. Both Shane O'Neill and Brian Murphy are in fine form. Will one of them be asked to man-mark Mullane or will Waterford boss Michael Ryan instead move his talisman to full-forward on Stephen McDonnell to test out this problematic section of the Cork team? Mullane is their most dangerous attacker -- he should be as close to goal as possible.

Both McDonnell and Seán óg ó hAilpín have been setting the tone at Cork training recently and we just feel that they have more scoring power, and possibly a greater depth of reserves, than their opponents. There won't be much in it -- there never is. Sit back and enjoy what should be another fabulous championship match which Cork should shade.

Cork: A Nash; S O'Neill, S McDonnell, B Murphy; T Kenny, E Cadogan, S Óg ó hAilpín; D Kearney, P Cronin; C Lehane, C McCarthy, N McCarthy; P O'Sullivan, L O'Farrell, P Horgan.

Waterford: S O'Keeffe; N Connors, L Lawlor, S Daniels; T Browne, M Walsh, K Moran; S Molumphy, Phil Mahony; Pauric Mahony, S Prendergast, M Shanahan; J Mullane, S Walsh, T Ryan.

Verdict: Cork

Kilkenny v Limerick

Thurles, 4.0

Limerick must be so sick of reading about a Kilkenny backlash and how they'll have to absorb the ferocious repercussions from their Leinster final defeat to Galway. Maybe they're wondering whether or not to even turn up.

Sure, there could well be a ferocious reaction to Kilkenny's shock setback -- and the manner of it -- but just maybe a young, fearless Limerick side will get stuck into their opponents from the first whistle and proceed to tear at them for 70 minutes.

We think that the crucial thing for them is to be still in the game with 20 minutes gone. If they can achieve that they can plant further doubt into the opposition mindset.

Kilkenny will go out to bury John Allen's men in the opening exchanges; they'll look to run at the Limerick backs, break tackles and create space, and conjure up an early goal. They'll seek to draw fouls and frees which Henry Shefflin will convert in his sleep.

If Limerick can withdraw their half-forward line and midfielders to cut down on space during this period, and manage to withstand the expected onslaught, then it's game on.

When they played Tipperary last week we didn't see much from the vaunted Limerick under 21 side to get enthused about but often a flop like that can energise the same players to produce the goods at senior level. And sometimes you don't see a shock coming down the line.

They'll want to put right their recent record against the Cats and they have so many young players that baggage of the past shouldn't be a problem. The opposition may not have been hectic in two of their four games this season but they have still scored a remarkable 18-84 in this championship campaign. Four of their players are in the top six scorers from play -- you can't ignore the positive impact that can have. Confidence is high in Limerick after beating Clare, there is a real urgency and style about them.

Yet, you must recognise the formbook over the past few years, you must heed the records that say Kilkenny don't do back-to-back championship defeats and you must acknowledge that men like Jackie Tyrrell and Tommy Walsh will surely respond to a call to arms. For Kilkenny, that's what today is.

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

Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrell; T Walsh, K Joyce, R Doyle; M Fennelly, M Rice; E Larkin, R Power, H Shefflin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty

Verdict: Kilkenny

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