|Now that the race has started for Liam McCarthy in September, can any County realistically stop Kilkenny achieving an historic four in a row. The pundits view is that Tipperary are the side that could halt the Cats and given that both sides are hot favourites to win their Provincial Crowns, they would be on course to meet each other in the final.
The Premier Counties defence of their Provincial Crown got off the ground with a hard earned victory over a gutsy Cork side at the weekend. Tipperary are now benefiting from the underage success of recent sides and that is being passed on to Liam Sheedy who has ferocious competition for places in his squad. That competitiveness was possibly what got Tipp over the line and also possibly Barry Kelly’s borderline decisions against Cork. You would expect Tipperary to improve from the victory and easily account for Clare in a Munster Semi Final.
The other Munster Semi Final between Waterford and Limerick is interesting to say the least. Any side that has Justin McCarthy at the helm commands respect and people should discount a challenge match defeat to Cork recently as rumours are abound that Justin had them in for a tough session in the afternoon before that defeat. The Qualifiers suited Davy Fitzgerald and Waterford ideally last season but the heat is on this year. The defeat to the Cats last year was horrendous and when looking at the game coming up against Limerick one must to take in to account that the Limerick lads showed much more heart and effort against Kilkenny in 07 than Davy’s lads did in 08. While the bookies fancy Waterford to topple Limerick, I have a strong fancy for Limerick to go through and face Tipperary in the Munster Final. Also Limerick represent decent value at each way at 28/1 for Liam McCarthy.
The Munster Final itself could be set for Cork as I am not sure if a home and away arrangement is in place between the Counties for Munster Finals. A Cork venue might suit Limerick more than Tipp but given whoever comes through between Waterford and Limerick, I cant see either beating Tipp who will surely know a lot more about what their best fifteen is at that stage.
The Leinster Championship this year shows the introduction of Galway and Antrim and that got off the ground last week with Wexford making use of home advantage by defeating Offaly and Galway hammering Laois. What kind of Galway will we see this year? Being in the Leinster Championship gives them an advantage but long term you always feel when it comes to the crunch there are always found wanting and if they could not do it for Ger Loughnane what chance does John McIntyre have?
Sunday sees Antrim step in to the lions den of Croke Park to take on Dublin. The bookies have the Dubs at 1/7 to win. This one surely they are well overpriced at these odds. The pressure of playing in front of almost a full house may prove daunting for the Dubs whoever comes through this tie would go in to an open draw for the Semi Finals with Kilkenny, Galway and Wexford. A defeat for Dublin would shut up the pundits who pay lip service to everything that is Metropolitan with the line “Wouldn’t it be great for Hurling if Dublin were competitive”. Why don’t the same pundits say the same about Kilkenny being competitive in the Football Championship. Barring a mishap in the draw you would expect the Leinster Council to want to keep Galway and Kilkenny apart until the Leinster Final. No matter when they meet I think Brian Codys side would be highly wary of Galway and would never be able to let down a defeat to the Tribesman in a Leinster Final, what ever about losing to them later on in the Championship!!
That would leave Tipperary and Kilkenny sitting pretty in the Semi Finals with the others left to battle it out in Qualifiers. Starting out in the Qualifier route you have Cork, Offaly, Laois and either Dublin or Antrim. Two of those would go through to the latter stages of the Qualifiers. The two beaten Munster Semi Finalists and Leinster Semi Finalists would also meet, so sticking my neck out that could be Clare, Waterford, Wexford and Dublin. Two of those would go through to meet the earlier qualifiers that would possibly be Cork and Offaly. So out of that you could have Waterford and Dublin taking on Cork and Offaly . With the Provincial winners going straight through to the All Ireland Semi Finals, the Quarter Finals could have either Limerick and Galway facing Cork and Waterford .
Looking at Corks performance against Tipp and going on what little real preparation the Rebels had compared to Munster Champions had, it may suit Cork ideally to go in to the Qualifiers and one must remember it suited Waterford last year. A little bit of fine tuning here and there and the benefit of maybe avoiding Galway could see Cork make it to an All Ireland Semi Final Draw with Tipp, Kilkenny and Galway. However the loss of Brian Murphy and Diarmuid O’Sullivan was badly missed last Sunday. Taking in to account the loss of Shane O Neill through injury, one wonders would Paudie O’Sullivan’s future with the seniors be more suited to a place in defence?
Taking everything in to account, it looks to me to be a Kilkenny versus Tipperary All Ireland Final. You get the feeling Tipp are going to win one sooner rather than later and before a Cork or a Galway success. But with Tipp pushing the Cats to the pin of their collar recently, they may pay for that almost daring effort in the League Final with an even more battle hardened Kilkenny thirsting to punish Tipp for even attempting to knock them off their perch.