The Munster Hurling Championship hasn’t borne the weight of the impossible-to-reach expectations this year. There, that’s out there. So often the victim of, frankly, unfair and frustrating belittling, the Leinster championship enters its final round of games this weekend with a myriad of potential outcomes, and all four sides have a huge amount to gain, and lose, ahead of the these fixtures. Intriguing is an understatement. Take away the justified disgruntlement surrounding Carlow’s automatic relegation compared to the Waterford situation, however, and one gets the sense that, overall, people are satisfied with the hurling set up at the top level. Yes, more teams are needed to make the break through for the sake of long-term sustainability, but the structures are right for what we have at the moment. And the best is, undoubtedly, yet to come.
Munster was always unlikely to reach the unfathomable heights of last year, but it’s no exaggeration to suggest that, in terms of aesthetics, most of the games this time round have been a let down, certainly from a neutral perspective. Not that that will bother the victors in the slightest. Hurling is now a more conservative, results-only driven game, more so than in previous free-flowing generations. This leads to higher levels of cynicism, because, let’s face it, when the result is now the only thing that matters, why wouldn’t you push the boundary as far as you possibly can? Despite the lacklustre fare thus far, we enter the final round in the southern province with many permutations available.
We’re not going to delve into the deeply specific situations that MAY arise from the weekend, but we will take a look at the ways by which the sides may approach these games.
Tipperary vs Limerick, Sunday 16th June, Semple Stadium
The feel-good factor is back in both camps and among their respective supporters. Two massive attendances in the Gaelic Grounds for the two home games, and a particularly intense, almost hostile atmosphere against Clare was paramount in ensuring the accelerator was never given a breather last weekend. A bumper crowd is expected for this one, despite it not yet being the final showdown. Tipp are already being touted as the side to stop in the overall fare, and based on the evidence, rightly so. Hurling fans, us here at Wrap HQ included, are a fickle bunch, and those who wrote off this side as men of yesterday are now lauding their experience and professionalism in achieving current results.
The bottom line is, they have found their form and rhythm of old and it’s their movement off the ball, linking play and telepathic understanding that’s making the difference. The dismantling of Clare and Waterford and a relatively comfortable victory over Cork will leave the All-Ireland Champions wary, especially on home turf. Barring a scoring difference of epic proportion, both sides have secured their advancement to the next phase in one form or the other, regardless of the result. But a Munster title is coveted for both, after Cork’s dominance in the last two years. Equally, having gone the mountain path last season, Limerick would appreciate a more direct route this time round.
This encounter will likely come down to the middle third. Limerick’s half back line were poor against Cork, and exceptional against Clare. Tipperary’s half and full forward lines have been wreaking havoc consistently this season, and the in-form Limerick full back line will need to be on red alert to curb their scoring opportunities. I’d expect both sides to make a few, subtle, changes, with one eye on the next round to come, but there will be no let up. Why would there be? Momentum is a critical component in modern-day hurling, and it’s not given up without a vicious fight.
Clare vs Cork, Sunday 16th June, Cusack Park
There are only two scenarios out of nine in which Clare will still be in the championship on Sunday evening, and it’s only partly in their own hands. If they beat Cork and Limerick beat Tipperary, they will advance over Cork on the head to head rule. Similarly, if Tipp and Limerick were to play out a draw and Clare won, they would progress to the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-finals. Longish odds? Maybe, but far from impossible. Picking themselves up mentally and avoiding an unprecedented Waterford-like combustion is the key. In their favour, irrespective of the Tipperary game, they are a difficult nut to crack at home, and Cork are not in the same vein as Tipp, as of now anyway. It’s far from rocket science what is needed to raise the banner again – their talented arsenal of attackers need to find form, and fast. O’Donnell, Kelly, Collins, Conlon (albeit carrying a knock), Shanagher and Ryan were played out of the game in Limerick, and will have to be firing on all cylinders on Sunday. You’d have to expect that they will be.
In seven of the nine possible outcomes, Cork are still in the championship. In four of those, they make the final, which, as we outlined some time back, is probably not a massively high priority for them at this stage. This particular crop as we know them are entering the peak of their powers, and in such a wide-open championship, the time is now to push on and claim that elusive All-Ireland. Beating the All-Ireland champions at home was the perfect response to their somewhat tame start, and the form of Kearney, Hoggie and Cooper have spearheaded their charge. Cadogan at full back has also been a revelation and shorn up cracks that were previously too easily exposed. This is quite likely to be a humdinger, with both counties having everything to gain and lose, hinged on a fine toothed comb. It’s set to be electric in Ennis on Sunday.
Dublin vs Galway, Saturday June 15th, Parnell Park
In an extraordinarily tight competition, the Dubs, despite sitting on only 3 points through 3 games, have a shot at not only progressing, but booking a spot in a Leinster final. This side has promised so much, and has, to their credit, delivered to a certain extent, a disappointingly timid loss to Kilkenny in the opening round the exception. A fine draw against Wexford has solidified their confidence, and they are by no means easy pickings for Galway this weekend. Parnell will be a cauldron brewing to capacity, and they are historically difficult to turn over here. Mattie Kenny is a shrewd hurling man and will have them tactically set up to ensure the most fruitful output he can. Add to that the missing Canning factor and they will see this as a gift they weren’t sure if they’d have. Their spine is solid, their lack of cut throat forwards a constant concern. But if it turns into a dogfight, they’re in with a massive chance of pulling off a surprise.
But the Tribesmen are relishing in being dismissed without their talisman. A complete performance, bar the last ten minutes, got them over the line against a dogged Kilkenny last week. Conor Whelan and Cathal Mannion, in particular, are taking on new leadership roles, and excelling in same. The only scenario where Galway would be seriously sweating about their further involvement would be if Dublin win and Kilkenny and Wexford draw, leaving everyone level on five points and leaving it down to scoring difference. Not impossible, but unlikely. You get the sense that Galway will be keen to go the direct route once again, and cement themselves as the dominant team in Leinster. It won’t be plain sailing, but they should get over the line against what will be a plucky metropolitan effort.
Wexford vs Kilkenny, Saturday June 15th, Innovate Wexford Park
If Eoin Murphy is fit to return, it would be a very welcome boost for the Cats, though probably somewhat premature. They have consistently, once again, dismissed the critics this year, punching, arguably, above their weight. However, with the likes of Hogan, Holden and Donnelly being sprung from the bench, they are showing the depth they now possess. They damn near caught Galway, and while not quite at the same level, they are capable of eking out results from almost any scenario. Their fate is in their own hands – a victory would guarantee a Leinster final spot, while they are also quite unlikely to be dumped out unless results go against them elsewhere. They’re coming in low key this year, and a more scenic route may serve them better than having had to go two rounds with Galway in the provincial decider last season.
The only other unbeaten side in the province, Wexford deserve respect. They haven’t yet risen to the high octane game they are capable of producing, and this may be the arena to bring that out. But they are traditionally hesitant against Kilkenny, and with the from TJ Reid is in, they may be under pressure to curtail his involvement rather than focusing on penetrating the Cats’ defence themselves. Though lacking in entertainment, their draw away to Galway was a fine result. Similarly to Kilkenny, a win here guarantees them a final spot, something this group would relish – the opportunity to seek out some silverware. McGovern, McDonald and O’Connor will have to realise their potential in the south east to see out what will be a titanic battle.
It’s set to be the most exciting weekend of hurling action to date. Stay in touch with us on our social media platforms for more build up and reaction.