Munster hurling championship predictions round 2: Tipp to bounce back


Tipperary v Cork, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Sunday, May 27th, 2pm

Sometimes, it’s hard, to be a Tipp fan. Giving all your love, to just one underachieving team. So if you were kind of peeved at the way they performed in the League final, and downright annoyed at their display in the opening championship game against Limerick, how are you going to feel if they wet the bed again, for the second year running, against Cork? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Now on the other hand, if you’re a Cork player sidling into Thurles on Sunday, you’d be feeling pretty pleased with yourself. You already have one win in the bag. You’ve already beaten the same team, at the same venue, at pretty much the same stage last year. So if you’re in form and you love coming to Semple Stadium, as every Cork person does, according to the scriptures, what have you to fear when it comes to throw in?

Cork’s performance last week against Clare was everything it needed to be. Sure they may have lucked out a bit with the Banner men’s profligacy in front of goal, but they worked like demons and then took their chances when they were presented to them. Not only that, but they didn’t use Robbie O’Flynn’s horrific injury as an excuse, or see Tony Kelly’s monster levelling point as a sign that it wasn’t their day. It shows the character within the setup that they can take the hits and keep on coming. They are a serious team now. A championship team. And that’s what makes them so dangerous a prospect for anyone in blue and gold.

In contrast, it’s been a challenging week for Michael Ryan and his troops. Losing the game last Sunday in such a dispiriting fashion was one thing, but imposing a hastily thought out media ban and then rowing back on it within the space of 24 hours or so, was another entirely. If you were being irksome, you’d be saying this was a team, and manager, in crisis. Then again, in 2010 they were hammered in their first match down in Cork, recovered, and went on to win the All-Ireland. This is Tipp’s way. From boom to bust, and then back again.

If it’s any consolation for people in the premier it’s that most of their big guns are back at the weekend. Looking at that forward line on paper is enough to strike fear into any defence, and while it’s true that there’s doubts about Seamus Callanan’s fitness and the wisdom of making so many changes, there’s heart for Tipp that if they get the crowd on their side and a bit of momentum, they’ll be difficult to stop. And Bonner Maher being reintroduced is a massive plus. In such a silky forward line as this one, they need his grit. One big defeat has inhibited their season, but one victory could set them on the road again.

The incentive for Cork is a big one. Even last year their victory in the first round in Thurles wasn’t a knife blow to Tipp’s ambitions but if they win this Sunday, they really are leaving their great rivals dangling from the cliff. So Cork to finish off Tipp’s season in front of their home fans in May? Well, if you’ve any bit of heart left in you as a Tipp player you’d rather crawl over broken glass than just let that happen.

PREDICTION: Tipperary by 2

Clare v Waterford, Cusack Park, Ennis, Sunday, 27th May, 3.30pm

Predicting winners in the Munster hurling championship is a minefield. In the last few years anyway. Maybe that’s what makes it so enjoyable. But even if there are certain things that don’t seem to make any sense, there are also some trends that seem to repeat year on year. Like Clare.

Clare’s performance last Sunday was a microcosm of their last 4 years. Have plenty of chances but fail to convert them? Check. Get bullied in defence and concede sloppy scores. Check. Get into a winning position but see themselves just pipped at the post? 3 strikes, and now they’re perilously close to being knocked out.

The argument has been made that if they keep coming so close to winning, one day, invariably ,their luck will turn. Yeah, try saying that to Mayo lads. Losing is as much of a habit as winning is, and just as it’s no coincidence that Kilkenny keep turning over games you were sure they couldn’t, Clare’s inability to finish off teams/chances can’t just purely be out down to “bad luck”. They just need to come down the final stretch of a game, get the bit between their teeth, work like dogs and just not die for once. It’s as simple as that.

Alternately, it’s been a strange year thus far for the Suirsiders. When the GAA rolled out their proposal for the club only month in April of this year, the idea was to give club players a chance to play some games early in the season, and perhaps give county players a bit of recuperation before a massively intense May/June period. What probably wasn’t factored into the equation was that the first team out in the league (Waterford lost the 1A relegation final) would be the last team to start in the championship. So since the most recent time Derek McGrath and his men stepped out onto the field in competition, it’s been a mammoth 10 weeks.  Remarkably they had to wait even longer to play a game (11 weeks) last year. And they didn’t look especially battle hardened in their opener against Cork then. Quite the contrary in fact.

The break was so long that the county were one of the only real beneficiaries of the designated club month where they got to play 2 rounds each of their local hurling and football championship. It’s great news for Waterford club players. For the senior inter-county team though, eh, perhaps not so much.

On the other hand, maybe it is. Maybe the fact that the team is the last out in the championship, after a two month break, will have them chomping at the bit for action, when it comes to 3.30pm on Sunday. Maybe the fact that the side are playing no home games over the course of the campaign, will create a siege mentality within the group. Maybe they feel they’ve been written off and now they want to shove all those words back down the throats of their critics. Perhaps losing their two most prominent attackers in the form of Austin Gleeson and Pauraic Mahony, will allow other players to step into the breach and show that, well, they should have been there in the first place.

It’s going to be an intense 21 or so days for Derek McGrath and his men no matter what happens, and there’s no doubt they’ve been dealt a pretty poor hand thus far. But then again, they did get to the All-Ireland final last year. This isn’t the dog and duck team that’s strolling out on Sunday. And sure, anyone would miss O’Mahony’s calmness and freetaking accuracy, and Gleeson’s ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but there’s more to this team than that.

It’s been underestimated for a long time, but the strength in depth of Waterford’s panel, particularly in attack, is something to behold. Even without two of their main men and Shane Bennett in the fray on Sunday, they can call upon Maurice Shanahan, Tommy Ryan, The Brick, Kevin Moran, Stephen Bennett, Patrick Curran, Brian O’Halloran, Jake Dillion, Colin Dunford and Tom Devine to get scores for them. These are all men (with the exception of the absent Devine) who made massive contributions to the county’s run to the All-Ireland last year. These are all players who can win games and would walk into most other county set ups. I mean, if there was a transfer market in the game, I’m sure Brian Cody would be willing to take a few of them off Waterford’s hands.

So Waterford have enough firepower to win this game. That’s not really the question. But do they have the match sharpness? The mental strength? Because this is a do or die for Clare on Sunday but Waterford can afford one slip up. And they already have a ready made excuse if it doesn’t work out.

If Derek McGrath does navigate the Deise through the exceptionally choppy waters of Munster this year, then he truly is one of the best managers in the game and the county should be jumping through hoops trying to get him to commit again next season. On the other hand, Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have been at the helm for a year and a half now and it feels like they haven’t delivered one truly landmark victory. If they don’t win on Sunday, they’re staring into the barrel of elimination from the championship, and possible loss of their own positions. So there’s a lot on the line this time. They’ve been backed into a corner for this one. They have no other option than to come out fighting.

Prediction: Clare by 4


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