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Big Preview: Allianz Hurling League Semi-Finals

It’s a Sunday showdown in Nowlan Park this weekend, as three Division 1B and one Division 1A sides make up a semi-final foursome that few would have predicted at the start of the campaign.

Limerick vs. Dublin, 1.30pm

It’s probably unfair to label Dublin’s impressive one-point victory over Tipperary in Thurles a shock, but there’s no denying very, very few punters would have predicted it. Despite Tipperary’s hot and cold form, one got the sense that Liam Sheedy finally had his side on an upward curve, dispatching of Cork with ease the previous week. But if this league campaign has taught us anything, it’s that your last result and performance is an inaccurate indicator with which to gauge how you will perform this week.

Maybe it was the menacing, intimidating all-black strip, but Dublin made a statement from early on in this game that indicated they were not going to be bullied around the park. Some impressive aerial fielding and long-range point scoring set the tempo, and while it was nip and tuck for much of the encounter, they emerged deserving  victors. Mattie Kenny has, albeit early in the season, instilled a confidence in the squad that has afforded them the ability to see out games like last week’s quarter-final, and having overcome the Premier, they will certainly ask questions of the All-Ireland champions.

Limerick could face a situation where they make it to a league final without coming up against any Munster opposition in the knockout stages, something that could add to a heightened build up ahead of the Munster championship. Alternatively, should they secure passage to the League Final, they would welcome the chance to suss out a revitalised Waterford, who will be confident that they will be able to improve on their poor showing in last years’ championship, with fewer injury woes and the advantage of Walsh Park. One worrying aspect for the champions is their injury woes at full-back, with first choice Mike Casey out for another 3 weeks at least, and Sean Finn, a noted corner back specialist, also nursing a knock. Dan Morrissey is a fine replacement, but the All-Star wing back wouldn’t be as comfortable as the last line in defence as he might normally be on the 40. A facile win over Laois and an extra week’s break has set them up nicely here, and while they certainly won’t have it all their own way, they should nudge it to get themselves into a League Final for the first time since 2006.

Verdict: Limerick

Waterford vs. Galway, 3.30pm

Galway looked to be struggling in the early stages here, with Wexford sticking three first-half goals to ask real questions of the Tribesmen, albeit without several key men, including the incredibly influential Daithí Burke, who, incidentally, claimed the Man of the Match award for Corofin in their remarkable All-Ireland Club Football win over Dr. Crokes on St Patricks’ Day. But the Westerners showed a coolness and an admirable composure to ride the wave and swat aside the gamely, yet ultimately lacklustre Wexford challenge. Brian Concannon and Joe Canning in particular were exceptional for Galway, who will be anxious to make up for their defeat at the hands of the Déise, and will relish the opportunity to not only challenge for League honours, but to gain another game where they can continue to utilise and test the depth of their squad.

Waterford are a rising force that are on a hell-bent mission to lift the county from the doldrums of last year where injuries, questionable refereeing decisions, and overall below par performances saw them play only a minor role in one of the best championships in recent memory. And Padraic Fanning’s men are going about it the right way. The Bennett brothers, Mahony brothers and a resurgent Austin Gleeson and Kevin Moran are leading the charge of the light brigade.

The news that they will play their home championship games in Walsh Park has changed the entire outlook of the competition. Waterford in a tight, packed home venue are an incredibly different proposition to Waterford in a neutral Thurles or Limerick, and teams will be actively preparing for this new onslaught in the coming months.

They are gathering momentum, trialling new blood and playing with a flair and a boldness that was missing last season. 0-31 is an exceptional total after extra time in August, not to mind in normal time in March. They’ll bring a serious fight to this semi-final, but Galway still look to have that edge at this moment in time, and should seal the win.

Verdict: Galway

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