Kilkenny v Waterford
After a fascinating game last Sunday in Croke Park, we are privileged to have a second instalment between these two teams. Both management teams will be keen to get their teams back down to earth as soon as possible earlier in the week so as to focus on the replay. Given that it is a 6 day turnaround, the emphasis will have been on recovery this week for both camps. Tuesday night was probably no more than a stretch or a swim for those players that were involved where players that didn’t get game time may have done some additional work. Thursday will be a short gathering and the players may build up a small sweat for 5-10 minutes before the analysis starts.
I believe from an analysis point of view, Kilkenny will have more to discuss and work on. While one can argue that they weren’t themselves last weekend, Waterford played a phenomenal game and only allowed Kilkenny into their usual stride in the last 5-10 minutes. Brian Cody and his backroom team will surely be analyzing footage of when Waterford players were first to the ball, where they outnumbered Kilkenny and how they out fought the Cats at different stages in the game. In this regard, I believe it will be easier for Kilkenny to get pumped up for this game.
Waterford will look at all the positives from their game plan last weekend – the fact that they had Kilkenny on the ropes, scored some fantastic scores and really developed as a team in the drawn game. Unfortunately, they retreated into their defensive system for the last 5 minutes and it proved costly. I hope Derek McGrath and co see the merit in taking the game to the opposition as was shown last weekend. Let’s be clear, Waterford have the arsenal to dethrone Kilkenny and they should believe that for the full 70+ minutes. They need to believe in themselves.
The general talk is that Waterford let Kilkenny off the hook last weekend and missed their chance. That too was my initial thought after the game but this Waterford side have youth on their side, have some new found confidence in that they can mix it with the best playing a 15 on 15 game and still remain standing. Kilkenny will not be as sluggish Saturday as they were last weekend and will start the game like a team who haven’t won an All-Ireland in decades.
Again my head and my heart are at odds regarding the result. If Waterford can believe that they are capable of going toe to toe with Kilkenny, they can do it. Show any doubt, like they did in the last 5 minutes last week, and its Kilkenny who will be heading to the September showpiece again.
Galway v Tipperary
With all the excitement regarding a replay of the best game of the 2016 season, it’s easy to forget that we also have a repeat of the best game of the 2015 season. Galway and Tipperary served up an absolute cracker last year in the semi-final but much has changed for both camps since then.
I believe both Tipp and Galway have improved in terms of their performances since 2015. Galway have found a level of consistency that they have been searching for over a number of years. Apart from the second half in the Leinster Final, they have maintained strong performances throughout the season. They were unlucky to be relegated from Division 1A but that might be no bad thing in the long run. Michael Donoghue served as a selector to Eamon O Shea so will have a good knowledge of the mindset of the Tipp players – he can use that to Galway’s advantage come Sunday.
The challenge for Tipperary is one they, and many Munster champions before them, have faced in recent times. The 5 week break from the Munster Final to the All-Ireland semi-final can be difficult. They probably had a week off then were back in county training for 4 weeks. That can be a long time waiting and thinking about a match in Croke Park. They played well last year but still came up short so they will be looking to address that come Sunday at 3.30pm. In that regard, I think the success of the Tipp footballers has been a blessing in disguise for the hurlers. We haven’t heard sight nor sound about them since the Munster Final and all the attention has been switched to the footballers so no doubt they have been working away diligently in Thurles for this game. All of a sudden, there is no pressure on Tipperary.
If Tipp can carry their form from the Munster championship into this semi-final, we could be set for a high class game again. They have clocked up big scores in all their games and given that the Galway defence are more hurlers than stoppers, it could boil down to a shoot-out on the scoreboard. John O’ Dwyer will be a welcome addition back into the Tipp forward line and while Galway won’t go looking to target him, let’s be honest, they won’t be holding back either and will tackle hard when the ball is there. Galway are similar to Waterford in my eyes, some days it can just click and their marquee players can play off the cuff and be unstoppable. When this happens, it seems to rally everybody else including fans and they can be very hard to beat. Add to that their increased consistency this season and you can begin to consider them as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
Obviously both teams will want to secure a place in an All-Ireland final, but if Waterford win on Sunday then both Galway and Tipperary will see this year as the year they can go on and claim the ultimate honours. That discussion is for another day though. It will very close but it will come down to the last few minutes but I believe Tipp will want to avenge last year’s result and their more direct style this year could see them get over the line first.
Two draws is 120/1 though!!!