Five things to watch in the GAA this weekend
Cork and Dublin have a real chance of upsetting the established order of things in hurling, while keep your money in your pocket if you’re thinking about having a bet on Mayo this weekend.
The shadow boxing is over, time for the real thing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh
Nothing should be taken away from Cork’s very impressive victory over Tipp back in the league semi-final in April but there was a feeling that there was an element of shadow boxing involved and that has been borne out by the two teams named for Sunday’s Munster semi-final at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Nine players, nearly a third of the two combined starting XV’s for that game, have been axed for this weekend’s clash and the names on the respective benches for both sides – Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly for Tipp and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín and John Gardiner for Cork – have commanded as much attention as the starting XVs themselves.
Regardless of who starts, it should be a cracker and could confirm or blow out of the water evidence hinted at in the league that Cork are a coming team while Tipperary have stalled since wreaking a devastating path through the Munster Championship last year.
Waterford and Clare delivered a classic last Sunday and Dublin and Kilkenny promises much tomorrow, but this could be the game of the year so far. Hold on to your hats folks.
Sweetnam and Lehane made of the right stuff
Much has been made of the youthful make-up of Cork under Jimmy Barry Murphy, the Cork team that played Tipp in the league semi-final, for instance, featured only four players over the age of 25. The subsequent league final defeat to Kilkenny proved that some of them still have a lot to learn, but a lot of them, like Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetnam, look like they’ll be around for years to come.
Going from your Leaving Cert straight into your Championship debut against Tipperary must be a little bit intimidating for Sweetnam, but a win against the Premier would be huge for the development of the teenager and the other gasúrs in the Rebels squad at the moment.
Opportunity knocks for injury-free Dubs
The last time Dublin and Kilkenny met in the Championship it was a non-event in Croke Park as Kilkenny, hurt by a comprehensive defeat to the Dubs in the league final, got sweet revenge with a comfortable 11-point success in the Leinster Final. Anthony Daly went into that game without three of his most trusted footsoldiers – Tomas Brady, Stephen Hiney and Conal Keaney – all of whom have been restored to the starting XV for tomorrow’s clash.
The two lads on the left will be wielding sticks instead of crutches this weekend
Indeed, the shoe is on the other foot this time around as although Brian Cody can once again call on Henry Shefflin, who starts his 56th, yes 56th, consecutive Championship game for Kilkenny, he has to do without a few others. Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice are out, while Richie Power and the form player of the National League, Eoin Larkin, may not be firing on all cylinders after recent injuries.
We all should know better than to underestimate the current Kilkenny crop and they’re probably taking plenty of motivation from previews like this one suggesting that they might be vulnerable, but it’s hard to think that a fully-fit Dublin side will ever have a better chance of getting one over on the mighty Cats than they do this weekend.
Think Mayo are a good bet this weekend? Think again
Thanks to a ridiculously prolonged Connacht Championship that began on the first weekend in May, Mayo will become the last team in the county to make their football championship bow on Sunday, a full eight weeks after losing the National League Final to Cork.
If you thought that the amount of time they’ve been lying idle would have affected the perception that they’ll stroll to victory over Leitrim this weekend, you are sorely mistaken. Paddy Power are quoting odds of 1/80 for Mayo to beat Leitrim in Castlebar on Sunday, while if you fancy Leitrim to cause an upset, you’ll be able to avail of the fairly generous odds of 18/1.
Mayo and the other Connacht counties have endured some nervous moments in Carrick-on-Shannon over the years, but at McHale Park against a Division Four side they should have enough to come through comfortably. Still, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen such outrageous odds in a GAA match and it will probably be a long time before we see them again.
Sneaking under the radar in Ulster
With all due respect to Down and Monaghan, most pundits have it already written in stone that the winners of the Anglo-Celt Cup will come from next weekend’s semi-final between Donegal and Tyrone. While Derry and Armagh had to be overcome for both of those sides to reach the last four, only Fermanagh and Antrim have been left trailing in the wake of the two sides going to battle in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
There will be loads to do for whoever does make it through to the final, but neither county should underestimate the significance of getting there in the first place. Monaghan have appeared in two finals in recent years (2007 and 2010) but before that hadn’t reached one since 1988, while for a county with such tradition, it must rankle in Down that they haven’t been in a provincial decider for eight years.
The path to that final will rarely have been as easy for either side as it has been this season; whether the winner of Sunday’s clash can go that one step further is another matter altogether.
To finish off, the guys at drinkaware.ie have sent us some special hurling-related TV ads. If you’re someone who routinely combines a GAA Championship match with a pint or two, and let’s face it, it can happen to the best of us, this should be of interest.