Tipperary v Limerick, Division 1 semi-finals, Semple Stadium, 14:00
So Limerick have been the team of the league so far and showed unbelievable character in coming from behind so brilliantly against Galway and Clare. No matter what happens on Sunday, this has been a great spring for the Treaty men and they should be rightly proud.
But, but, but… if we’re nitpicking, and we’re nothing if notpicky on this site, you’d say there may have been an element of luck in both victories. Certainly the Clare game was one the Banner should have won, were it not for those great Aaron Gillane goals and a dramatic late equalizer from Diarmuid Byrnes, and against Galway, the home side’s collapse in the second half was as much a cause of victory, as the courageousness of John Kiely’s team’s performance. So while the trajectory is definitely on an upward curve, there’s evidence that they’re not the finished article yet.
Tipp, on the other hand, may well be the finished article. It just all depends on which Tipperary it is that shows up. Sure you have a forward line of John McGrath, Jason Forde, Bubbles and whoever else, and you’re going to win the majority of games, sometimes not even at full pelt. The Dublin game was a perfect example of that. Tipp just needed to be given a friendly jolt at the start (probably by Danny Sutcliffe) that they were in a game before gently easing through the gears and powering through.
Saturday is going to be different. There’ll be no prisoners taken in that Limerick defence but at the same time you know that intensity alone will not be enough to win it. So maybe on another pitch, on another day, Limerick may be able to grit it out, but in front of their home fans, like they did in last year’s semi final against Wexford, Tipp can usurp the spring romance story. And when Tipp are in the mood, they can put up a score, so while it may be fashionable to expect a close one, the hunch says Tipp may just fancy laying down a marker in this one for those cocky upstarts over the border.
Verdict: Tipperary by 8
Wexford v Kilkenny, Sunday, Wexford Park, 14:00
Right then, quick question for you. Who do you fancy to win the hurling All-Ireland this year? Well Tipperary probably. Or Galway maybe. Kilkenny? Well, of course they probably shouldn’t but maybe they could. Ok here’s another question. Where are Wexford in the betting? 5th or 6th maybe. In fact, they’re 8th favourites at 16/1. You can even get them at 25/1 on William Hill. Now maybe I’m being a cock eyed optimist, or just an optimist, but I can’t help but feel that’s a pretty decent bet.
The draw clearly favours them to at least reach the quarter finals and after that, well, who knows? Well the best team will win is what will probably happen, but whose to say they won’t be one of the best teams then? Whose to say they aren’t one of the best teams now? They’ve definitely had a better league than Cork, Waterford or Galway, and they managed to overturn Clare reasonably easily in Wexford Park. And even their defeats so far have been somewhat morale boosting with narrow losses to Tipperary and their opponents on Sunday. So the only reason to really doubt them is to say that the form they have now is not representative of how good they’ll be in the summer. But are any of us really sure of that?
On the other hand you’ve Kilkenny. Now you know what I’m going to say because you’re tired of hearing it and we’re all tired of saying it “Jesus, isn’t TJ Reid great?…..Christ, is Cody still there…..Ah but Jaysus they’re not as good as they were…but feck it, they’ll be hard bet all the same” and yes, and yes, I know we talk round in circles but here’s the thing: If you’re a Wexford hurler in that dressing room on Sunday do you have any reason to believe Kilkenny are better than you? Definitely not on the evidence of 3 of the last 4 outings, and even in the other, there was a sense of an understrength side who still could have gone up another gear.
For the first time in 20 years they’ve got a forward line that’s easily the match of their opponents with an expert keeper and a rock solid defence. So if you take into account home advantage and the hosts excellent record there, the recent history of the two sides, and the formbook of the 2 quarter-finals the sides played, you’d have to give Wexford the vote to reach their first National Hurling League final since 1993
And maybe when they do so, it’ll be time to start giving Davy some credit. And by credit, we don’t mean attention. He gets plenty of that, Gift Grub or otherwise, win, lose or draw. But actual credit for being a good hurling manager. So yeah we know he comes across as a bit of a raving lunatic on the sideline, and obviously the sweeper system can be a bit unsightly at times, but answer me this: how many Clare men have managed their native county to win an All-Ireland in the past 100 years? How many men have brought Waterford to an All-Ireland senior hurling final in the last 50 years? How many men have brought Wexford to a National Hurling League final in the last 25 years? So if the answer to all of those questions is near enough to zero, it thereby must follow, that the people who managed to do so were reasonably competent, no? Great. Good to see we’re on the same page.
VERDICT: Wexford by 3