Burning Issue: Which of the four semi-finalists is best placed to land Liam McCarthy this year? 7 years ago

Burning Issue: Which of the four semi-finalists is best placed to land Liam McCarthy this year?

It’s down to the cream of the crop in the All-Ireland Hurling Championship and the GAA heads in JOE Towers have made a case for each of the four teams still with a chance of lifting Liam.


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Alan Loughnane says... Kilkenny have seriously impressed me so far this year. Although they drew with Galway in Leinster, that was a freak result that was well and truly put to bed with a convincing victory over the same opposition a week later.

It seems ridiculous that people were writing off a team that had won five out of the last seven All-Irelands after one bad season last year. They have been bubbling nicely thus far this season, they cruised through the replay against Galway and comprehensively dispatched a Dublin team that never really showed up in the Leinster Final.

Jackie Tyrell has been restored to his more natural position of corner back and Brian Hogan has rolled back the years at centre back with two impressive outings against Galway and the Dubs. Question marks remain about his mobility but thus far he has performed well. Cillian Buckley has been outstanding at wing back, displaying good aerial strength combined with superb athleticism, which is important alongside the ageing Hogan.

In midfield, in the absence of powerhouse Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny have turned to Richie Hogan and boy has he delivered for the Cats so far this season. He is a strong contender for Hurler of the Year already and it will take a serious partnership to get the better of him and Conor Fogarty, who has also been very impressive in his two outings this year.

In attack, Kilkenny may have been slightly over-reliant on the superb TJ Reid in their outings to date but they will be confident that they can outscore any of the remaining teams, especially if they can recover the goal-scoring mojo that they lost against Dublin.

Kilkenny have to be considered favourites alongside Cork this year and I’m going for Kilkenny to beat Limerick on Sunday week and for the Cats to brush aside the Rebels on the first Sunday in September.

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You heard it here first folks…


Conor Heneghan says… Following their defeat to Limerick a couple of months back I made the case that Tipperary were still All-Ireland contenders, but because so many terms and conditions applied to that logic, I only half-believed it myself if I’m being perfectly honest.

The biggest doubt that I – and I certainly wasn’t the only one – had about Tipp was their strength of character and when they trailed Galway by six points in Thurles in the qualifiers, I started to think that once again, the stomach for battle was somewhat lacking in what is undoubtedly a talented bunch of hurlers.

It turns out they’re made of sterner stuff than that. They scored 2-10 to Galway’s single point in the last 20 minutes of that game to win by nine points and they haven’t looked back since. Including the 3-25 they scored in that game, the Premier have racked up ten goals and 73 points in three games against Galway, Offaly and Dublin, impressive scoring in any man’s language.

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There are serious question marks over every single one of those opposition teams Tipperary have faced but those outings will have done an awful lot for the players’ confidence, something illustrated in the returns of their three deadliest forwards.

John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, one of the players of the season so far, has hit 2-9 in the last three games and Lar Corbett, proving there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet, has 2-6. Both of those tallies pale in comparison to the scoring exploits of Seamus Callanan, who has scored 5-29 in his last three games, finding a consistency that was arguably lacking in his Championship career to date.

Tipp’s forward unit is obviously on fire but that’s not the only thing in their favour. Padraic Maher, an obvious leader in the team, appears to be hurling in his best position (as far as I see it at least) in the half-back line, ‘Bonner’ Maher isn’t scoring as freely as his colleagues up front but he’s still the heartbeat of the team and while Eoin Kelly hasn’t featured that much, just having him around in the camp again must be a massive bonus.

James Woodlock’s comments about the Tipp players being the only ones “paddling this canoe” in the aftermath of Sunday’s win over Dublin hint at something of a siege mentality in the Tipp dressing room and though I’m no major fan of that approach in GAA circles, it might do them no harm, especially going into such a big game against their old rivals Cork.

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I might not have been wholly convinced by Tipp when backing them a couple of months back but they’ve exceeded my expectations since and I won’t be so surprised if they end up doing it all over again and going onto win the whole feckin' thing.


 

Sean Nolan says... The Treaty men are the outsiders of the final four but can you make a case for them ending their 41-year quest for Liam? Too right I can.

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Last year Limerick received almost zero credit for winning Munster before losing the All-Ireland semi-final to an inspired Clare. Over the summer that wound would really have smarted and when Donal O’Grady stepped down before the start of the Championship we all wrote them off. More grist for the mill.

Another Munster final, this time ending in defeat to Cork, saw them go in against Wexford as the bookies favourites but written off by many. How the mill didn’t burst we don’t know. What they did to Wexford was perhaps an expression of that pent-up fury, that desire to show they were a top team. 4-26 later, job done.

As has been pointed out before, this Limerick team is approaching just the right amount of battle hardened-ness, if that’s a word. Yes, they have a few scars from defeat, but not so many that the tissue can’t function. The line you can draw up the centre of the pitch through Ritchie McCarthy, Wayne McNamara, Declan Hannon, Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling is a fearsome spine to base a team on and in TJ Ryan they have an astute, and calm, influence on the sideline.

Facing Kilkenny next is a huge challenge, but they won’t shirk the physical challenge and the prospect of either Cork or Tipp, teams they have beaten in big games in the last year, is another massive incentive.

A propensity to let in goals is a worry, but if they can keep the Cats from raising green flags, then the Hill will be full of green flags on the first Sunday in September.


Joe Harrington says... Cork have arguably been the most impressive team in the country since their draw with Waterford in the opening round of the Munster Championship back in May.

The young Rebels were dominant in the replay and their semi-final win over Clare and always looked in control of the provincial decider with Limerick so they seem to be making gradual steps forward in a consistent manner, which is exactly what Jimmy Barry Murphy would have wanted at the outset.​ The reason I think Cork will go on and win the All-Ireland is because of the different types of game-changing players they have at their disposal.

In attack, they have Bill Cooper and Pa Cronin, who add strength and ball-winning ability, while the speed and skill of Conor Lehane and Alan Cadogan added to the power, pace and scoring ability of Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy is simply a lethal combination. Those attributes mentioned are just the players' big strengths; they obviously offer a lot more and then you look at the bench.

Paudie O'Sullivan, who would get into any team in the country, is there, along with young but experienced players in Cian McCarthy, Jamie Coughlan and Stephen Moylan, who are all capable of making an impact.

The midfield partnership of Aidan Walsh and Daniel Kearney has worked a treat. They seem to complement each other perfectly and the work-rate out of the two players is phenomenal so JBM will want more of the same from that department.

In terms of the defence, the fact that Shane O'Neill has rediscovered his form has been a huge bonus. The Bishopstown man's understanding with the underrated Stephen McDonnell is improving all the time so the full back line is looking strong. The half back line has been the least consistent so far and Mark Ellis and company will get a real test against Tipperary but they've showed enough to convince me that they're getting it right.

To sum up, Cork seem to have a great balance in their side and the key reason I believe they will win the All-Ireland is because they have more match-winners than anyone else. I think the semi-final with Tipp is going to be a hell of a game but Cork will just progress which will see that red tide gather more momentum and I think Pa Cronin will be lifting Liam McCarthy over his head in September.