Munster Senior Hurling Championship predictions Round 1: Treaty to topple Tipp

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Cork v Clare, Sunday, May 20th, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Cork, 4pm

I love the new hurling championship format. I may have said it before but it bears repeating. I love it because teams are playing week after week. I love it because those teams get to have two home games each, and can create an intimidating atmosphere at their, previously scarcely used, home ground. I love it because said teams are so evenly matched that every game is on a knife edge, and just the mere fact of home advantage automatically ramps up the necessity for a side to win. I may go on about it too much, but in the immortal words of Icona Pop, I DON’T CARE, I LOVE IT!

So without trying to sound too much like a kid at Christmas, I’m feeling pretty excited about this one. Now granted, it may turn out to be a bit of a damp squib. Certainly, last year’s Munster final was hyped to the rafters, but what actually played out, was something that was little more than average. So hype and expectation does not automatically lead to quality. But at the very least, there’s a lot on the line on Sunday. And if nothing else, that should create a bit of frission in the stands.

The pressure is on Cork. I think that’s the most important thing to say. The pressure is definitely on the rebel county. For sure, Clare will feel they need to win as well, but just the matter that it’s in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday will mean there’s an automatic expectation of a Cork victory. The odds reflect their status as favourites. But is that rooted in fact or just mere conjecture?

Certainly, on last year’s form, Cork were better than Clare. The very fact that they beat them in Munster would lead you to that conclusion. But looking back on that game from this juncture, would you conclude that Cork were massively better than Clare, or just that they were more sure of themselves on the day? Would you conclude that the rebels managed to take the majority of their chances, while the Banner fumbled many of theirs? Is there an argument to be made, that if Clare weren’t so busy trying to steal Anthony Nash’s sliotars and afraid of his puckouts, and concentrated on themselves, then they might have been better off? Is there an argument for any of this?

In addition to that, there’s also the belief that perhaps the graphs of the respective sides, have gone in two different directions in the 10 months since their last championship fixture. Cork did fantastically well in the Munster Championship last year, but how much was that to do with a manager (Kieran Kingston) who has left the set up? Now they have one John Meyler in charge, who, let’s just say, the jury is still out on. Certainly the league was not a massively confidence boosting series of games, so the theory that may have overachieved last year is still a prevailing one.

On the other hand, Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney are in their second year as co-managers of Clare, and they may be starting to get used to it. They’ve tried to evolve from a primarily short passing team, to a more direct one. They’ve got some of the best stickmen in the game in the likes of Tony Kelly, Colm Galvin and David Reidy, and one of the most potent goal poachers, or only goal poachers still around, in the form of Shane O’Donnell. And Peter Duggan has added a lot to the forward line in terms of his free-taking and physical presence.

On saying that, there are a few Clare-isms that needed to be ironed out of the system before we’re going to have full confidence in them. Conceding sloppy goals, like those against Limerick, is one of them. Hitting an inordinate amounts of wides is an other. Playing fantastically well for periods, but leaving teams hanging in games, is perhaps the most pertinent. The league game between these two sides in February was a case in point. Clare were about 10 points better than their rivals and yet were scrapping up until the last few minutes to get the win. You can’t afford not to be putting away teams at this level. Particularly when, in this province at least, scoring difference will be so vital.

So how much should Cork fans be concerned with their abysmal league form? And how much was Clare’s tail off in said competition to do with trying to keep something in the tank for summer? Is home advantage that important that Cork HAVE to win on Sunday? There’s so many questions going into this game that it’s practically impossible to get any sort of firm hold of what’s going to happen. Maybe that’s why I love it so much. So close your eyes, stick your finger on a page and take a shot on wherever it lands. Cork with home advantage? Hmmm. Even if my finger landed there I still wouldn’t want to. Nah. I’m going for Clare.

PREDICTION: Clare by 3

Limerick v Tipperary, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, Sunday, 20th May, 2pm

We don’t advocate gambling on this website. We’ve seen too many people fall by the wayside through addiction throughout the years to countenance such a logic. And the gambling companies seem to get richer and richer with each passing year, while humble punters across the country have to remortgage their homes to cover their losses. So yes, we know inherently, that gambling is wrong. But still, sometimes….

The bookies are rarely wrong the say. It’s a truism of life. Hence why they earn as much money as they do. Hence why they bankrupt our populace. But the bookies, sometimes, run scared. The bookies, sometimes, set a price, believing something to be a done deal, only to scamper back and cut the odds massively when they realize that such a scenario is not quite so clear cut.

Take a look at, for example, Limerick’s clash with Tipperary in the championship this Sunday. Now, if you were a betting man or woman (not that we advocate it) you may have looked at the odds earlier on in the week, and seen Limerick as a long odds 3/1 for this fixture. And you may have thought that was an attractive pice. But gradually, over the course of the week, they have shortened to a much less attractive 15/8. So obviously, either a lot of money has been lobbed on them, or the bookmakers have actually got wise to the fact that, “Hey, you know what? These guys mightn’t be that bad”

Make no bones about this, because it’s close as a fact as can be, this is a good Limerick team. Granted, they’re young and inexperienced. But still, hurling wise, Aaron Gillane was one of the best forwards in the league and Cian Lynch was one of the best all-round players. Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon have got the strength and skill to form an imperious defensive spine, and the fact they can leave the likes of Kevin Downes, Shane Dowling and whatever other Na Piarsaigh players out, without massive gnashing of teeth, says oodles about the depth of their options.

So there’s no real reason for Limerick whatsoever to fear Tipp going into this one. The league was great, the under 21’s had a fantastic year last year, Na Piarsaigh were agonizingly close to winning another club All-Ireland…this is a boon time in Limerick hurling. It’s just a case of reaping the rewards from it. And what’s more, with Sunday being a home game, the onus is on them to produce something special. So create a cauldron in the Gaelic Grounds, rally the fans, say, no matter what happens today, these feckers are not getting out of here with a win. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it. Because it’s there for you.

On the other hand, you’ve the favourites. Now, things seemed to be going swimmingly enough during the league, but that final performance has just taken whatever air was left, out of their balloon. You’ve got a novice goalkeeper in Brian Hogan and another rookie at full back in Seamus Kennedy. You’ve got an inexperienced midfield and up front you’re missing the grit of Bonner Maher and the guile of Seamus Callanan. And they were terrible in the league final last year as well and carried that form into the start of the championship.

So where’s the evidence that Tipperary are a better side than Limerick? Well they beat them in the League, even though that was after extra time, and only when Nicky Quaid had gifted Jason Forde the most ridiculous of goals direct from a puck out. They’ve been better than them for the last, god knows how many years. They won the All-Ireland less than 2 years ago. But still, are they better than them now? Is that Tipperary team, that heads out on Sunday, better than the Limerick one? In a ground that’s not necessarily a forgiving one? Well, I, for one, have serious doubts.

So who is your money on? If you were a betting man Eamon…. But I am a betting man Bill. And, whether it’s prudent or not, I don’t know, but my money is on Limerick.

Prediction: Limerick by 2

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