We look at all the weekend’s first round hurling qualifiers and give our predictions for each game.
KILKENNY V LIMERICK, NOWLAN PARK, 7PM.
A rare occasion to see a Kilkenny side in the back door of the championship but a poor display against Wexford has seen the cats for only the third time in the Cody era end up in the qualifiers.
As for Limerick, they simply did not turn up against Clare apart from a patch halfway during the first half where Cian Lynch was outstanding and really started to pull the strings for Limerick.
Limerick are an emerging side with a conveyor belt of players coming through as seen in last weeks’ U21 hammering of Tipperary and a lot of the current senior squad having won an U21 All-Ireland in 2015. A win over Kilkenny could be the spark to ignite the Limerick flame and inject a serious amount of confidence into this youthful setup.
However, they are facing the mammoth of facing Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. We expected the backlash against Wexford but surprisingly it never occurred. The injuries that Kilkenny carried into the game certainly played a role in the Wexford defeat as both Paudraig Walsh and Ger Aylward looked far from sharp with both missing scorable chances which could have made a difference at the end of the game. Reports are that Kilkenny will have a fully fit squad to choose from apart from Colin Fennely who is expected not to line out. Ritchie Hogan in a recent interview claims that he no longer has back pain and will certainly start.
If this is true a fully fit Walsh, Aylward and Hogan along with TJ Reid and an in-form Colin Fennelly should have too much for an inexperienced Limerick side who I would expect to give it their all before Kilkenny pull away.
Dublin v Laois, Parnell Park, 7pm
Preparation for Laois has been seriously hampered by the injuries to key players such as Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher, Cha Dwyer and Wille Dunphy all missing through injury while Ross King will miss the game through a red card picked up in the victory over Carlow.
What gives Laois hope is how dismal Dublin have been performing of late. A team that is lacking in confidence and does not seem to have confidence in its own coaching staff. There were signs of hope in the performances of Chris Crummey, David Treacy and the promising Donal Burke all performing well.
I would give Laois a serious chance of causing an upset if they had a full side. They had a good battling win over Carlow and performed well in the first half against Wexford. Dublin are struggling no doubt but should have too much for Laois.
Offaly v Waterford, Bord Na Mona O’Connor Park, 3pm
Waterford’s road to an All-Ireland final has taken a detour following the loss to Cork. Simply put, Waterford were nowhere close to the level that we have seen from the Deise in the last two seasons. Cork had far more tempo and were seemingly more up for the battle than Derek McGrath’s charges.
They will face an Offaly side who were easily beaten by Galway in the Leinster semi-final and while they did not concede goals, conceding 33 points with a double sweeper employed. If the game takes the same pattern you expect it would be right up the alley of Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony, who are adept at nailing points from out the field.
Offaly will once again be relying on the brilliance of Shane Dooley to win this game but this should be a game where Waterford get their championship campaign back on track.
Tipperary v Westmeath, Semple Stadium, 5pm
Both team’s coaches may share the same name but that’s where the similarities end. Tipp are the champions while Westmeath while making steady progress at underage, were playing there hurling in division 2 of the national league. The reigning All-Ireland champions looked to be the next dominant force in hurling but defeats to Galway in the league final and then to Cork in the first round of Munster now have people asking questions of this Tipp side. Off the ball incidents have not helped ether with Cathal Barrett being dropped from the panel and the court case involving goalkeeper Darren Gleeson, who will not start the game on Saturday.
Westmeath struggled to get past the round-robin but put in a much-improved performance against Offaly in a game they feel they should have won. Backed by a team that beat Kilkenny in last year’s U21 championship and gave the cats a good run last week in Mullingar, Westmeath hurling looks to be on the up. They do face the biggest of uphill battles on Saturday evening.
Tipp are looking to make a statement and mean business heading into this game. The Westmeath county board requested that the game be moved to Mullingar but Tipp refused so the game will go ahead in Thurles which only makes it far more difficult for Westemath. Tipp will win and may even cover the handicap of -24.