Cork v Limerick, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork, 7pm, Saturday, June 2nd
Unlike the despair derby between Tipperary and Waterford, everything’s happy clappy in these two camps. Cork only need one more win to get into the later stages. Limerick have already won one game well and look well capable of winning another few. What’s not to like?
Cork’s performances so far have proved that last year’s championship was no fluke and, if anything, is a sign of things to come. Against Clare they worked their socks off. Against Tipp they played them off the park for the first 35 minutes. Only thing is though, last Sunday’s second half wasn’t that great was it? You could argue that Tipperary did really well to come back into the game, but was it a case that Cork let them back in? They certainly gave them too many scoreable frees. And, while 9 points felt like a sufficient lead last Sunday at half time, it really should have been 14 or 15. So maybe they can make sure to twist the knife a bit more this Saturday.
For Limerick, this game can’t come quick enough. That win against Tipperary was a lot more convincing than the margin suggested, and now they’re all fresh and rested after their week off. And Peter Casey is back in the squad for this season. A strong squad where every member of it is declared fully fit? What a boon that is. They’re like the anti Waterford!
Cork’s play in the first half on Sunday was a joy to behold. Despite the loss of Alan Cadogan, there’s more than enough pace and hurling in that full forward line in the likes of Shane Kingston and Patrick Horgan to cause any full back line trouble. And, if the travails of Seamus Hickey in that opener are anything to go by, the full back line of Limerick is one area that’s vulnerable.
So with both teams playing well and on a high, this is a difficult one to call. If this game was being played at the Gaelic grounds, or even a neutral venue, then I may be tempted to give Limerick the nod. But this is Cork, playing in Cork, and if this format has taught us anything (well it’s taught us a lot of things) it’s shown us that home advantage is important. If they can carry on that momentum from the first 105 minutes of the championship hurling, they may have enough here.
PREDICTION: Cork by 3
Waterford v Tipperary, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, 4pm, Sunday June 3rd
Picture the scene. You’re a county without an All-Ireland victory in 58 years. You get to the final last year, to be barely pipped by 3 points. You think, not to worry, we’ll be stronger next year. Only problem is, the championship structure has been reformatted for the next year so each side has two home games. And for some reason, whether it be your own county board, the GAA, whoever…your ground isn’t deemed good enough to host two home games. So really, every other team in the competition has an advantage, except you.
You think, not to worry, we’re still a good team. So long as we get all our best players fit, we can still win games away from home. But then you lose your best player. And your free-taker. And your All-Star corner back. And your most experienced player with the largest amount of championship games in history. And your second most experienced player. And the best sweeper in the game. And your back up sweeper. And your full back. And god knows whoever else. And you’d think to yourself: well how could anyone be this unlucky? I mean, apart from Mayo, who the hell is? But this is Waterford isn’t it? This is Waterford. If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.
On the other side, you’ve Tipperary. Coming into the league final, a mere 8 weeks ago, they were one of the best teams in the country. Certainly, they were unbackable favourites for that game. But then they lost that game. And by god, were they terrible in it. And then they lost against Limerick. And they were even worse in that. And then they played in the first half against Cork. And hard as it is to believe, it’s almost as if they were worse in that again.
But then a strange thing happened. After looking like a team that was cobbled together outside the ground just beforehand, something unforseeable came to pass in the second half. Noel McGrath and John McGrath rolled back the years. Brendan Maher and Pauraic Maher started hitting fellows to beat the band. Bubbles O’Dwyer started playing like one of the best forwards in the game again. And after the corpse of Tipperary hurling was buried deep in ground, a defiant fist sprung out and said “Hold on there a sec lads, we’re not dead yet”. You get a point. And in that second half it was almost as if it was Tipperary 2016 again. But is that the real Tipp? And what is the real Tipp now anyway?
So this isn’t really a race between the hare and the tortoise, it’s a race between a tortoise and another tortoise. It’s like a fight between two midgets, between a one armed man and that black knight in Monty Python without any limbs left. A race to the bottom between two of the most brittle sides left in the championship.
You’re blessed if you’re a Tipperary fan. Just say, for argument sake, that they were in the Leinster championship this week, and had to face Dublin in order to survive. Or Galway. Or Wexford. Or Kilkenny. Oh they wouldn’t like that. They would not like that one bit. But they’re not facing that. They’re facing the only team in the championship, with the possible exception of Offaly, in a more fragile mental state than them. And if there is a god up there, you’d almost swear he was wearing a Tipp Jersey.
So this is the mother of all obstacles for Waterford, and one they don’t really seem capable of facing. And Derek McGrath, for all his strengths, doesn’t exactly scream positive mental attitude. Maybe he’s going around the dressing room, rallying the troops saying “Never mind who we’re missing lads. Look we’ve got Jamie Barron, Maurice Shanahan, Brick Walsh, All-Stars all. We’ve got a load of young players who’ve been waiting patiently for a chance. This is your chance now lads. We can still win this”. But that’s not what is coming across. It’s more like this is his last year, and he’s almost glad of that. My feeling is that he wants to check out. That maybe, he wants to be put out of his misery.
Now maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe, these are two of the best teams in the country, as has been proven in the last few years, and next Sunday’s game will demonstrate that. Maybe Waterford will produce a performance that will belie their wounded status. Maybe Tipperary will show that second half against Cork was actually who they really are and will remain so, for the rest of the summer. But to me, this looks like two blind men trying to find their way out of a maze. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king though. And though Tipperary are only partially sighted, my hunch is they’ll still have one eye on the Liam McCarthy cup come 6 o’clock on Sunday.
PREDICTION: Tipperary by 6