With two football quarter-finals and one hurling semi-final to look forward to, Croker is where it’s at this weekend.
Story of the weekend: As far as the All-Ireland Hurling Championship is concerned, it’s business time.
It’s rare that you can say that an All-Ireland hurling semi-final has crept on you, but with two-trick ponies, media bans and the fallout from Mayo’s victory over Cork as well as the two remaining All-Ireland football quarter-finals all forming part of the GAA landscape this week, the battle between Kilkenny and Limerick has had to fight for airtime in GAA circles.
And you get the feeling that Limerick, in particular, would have it no other way. Last season, there was a full five weeks between their Munster Final victory over Cork and their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Clare and it’s not stretching it to say that the county got excited in the intervening period, perhaps a little overly so. It wouldn’t be fair on Clare to say that it had a major effect on the Treaty men’s flat performance in the last four but it certainly didn’t help.
This year, in practically every game Limerick have played, the narrative has focused on the opposition. After the victory over Tipp, there was more debate about the amount of soul-searching Tipp would need to do in defeat. Before meeting Cork, there was something of a nostalgia-fest about the last game in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh and afterwards, the talk was about how far the Rebels could go.
Wexford’s renaissance was the dominant theme before they faced Limerick and tiredness due to playing four weeks on the trot was offered as an excuse afterwards. There were deserved plaudits for TJ Ryan’s men but it hardly got to the point where Ryan and his players got all red-faced and felt the need to say ‘Aw shucks’ in the direction of those complimenting them. Put it this way, unlike last year, complacency won’t be a factor this weekend.
And it wouldn’t want to be either; this is Kilkenny we’re talking about. Given the way the season has panned out it’s clear that Limerick have faced tougher opposition but Kilkenny and Cork can stake a claim to being the most impressive outfits. Offaly and Dublin were dispatched with the minimum of fuss and the Cats should really have put Galway away the first day the way they did the second time around.
Richie Hogan has been in Hurler of the Year form so far this season
All the while, young players and those formerly on the fringe – Cillian Buckley, Padraig Walsh, Joey Holden and the likes – have been gaining confidence, the new leaders in the team – Paul Murphy, Richie Hogan, TJ Reid – have been growing in influence while the old guard are still chipping in with vital contributions.
Having Donal O’Grady back is a boost for Limerick, who look incredibly solid throughout, particularly down the spine of the team and they’re going to be very hard beat. Limerick, and we mean this in the most complimentary way possible, have a team full of consistent, seven and eight out of ten performers. It’s the nine and ten out of ten men on the other side that might make the difference.
Keep an eye out for: Donegal’s defensive shape in Croke Park.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Donegal’s approach so far this season. Jim McGuinness has decided to go back to basics and on the evidence of the Ulster Final against Monaghan, they’re arguably even more defensive now than they were in the All-Ireland wining campaign of 2012.
They’re not quite at 2011 levels just yet, but who knows what McGuinness will come up with if they end up getting through to the All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin that everyone appears to be expecting?
The Armagh forwards can expect this type of welcome at Croker on Saturday
One could suggest that Armagh might adopt a siege mentality for that very reason but the very phrase ‘siege mentality’ is on the verge of going out of business so often has it been used in association with Armagh this season. Besides, with this storied media ban they have in place, they’ll probably claim they’re not even aware that everyone’s writing them off. Not that any of their players or management will be able to tell us, mind. Did we forget to mention the media ban?
Anyway, back to Donegal and though Armagh have come up against defensive systems already this season and have a decent one in place themselves, they have faced nothing like what the men from the hills will have to offer. They might encounter a few bumps along the way against the Orchard County but it looks like whatever plans McGuinness has in place for Dublin will simply be road-tested ahead of loftier climbs ahead.
Bet of the weekend: Dublin to score over 2.5 goals @11/8.
You’ll find more value in a Temple Bar pub than you will when trying to bet on the Dubs in this season’s Championship and unless you’re willing to take a punt on the opposition (a very un-wise choice to date), you have to be creative.
Jim Gavin’s men have scored seven goals in three Championship outings to date and as soon as they get a sight of the onion bag there’s only one thing on their minds. Monaghan conceded two against Kildare last week and it could have easily been more had some of the Lilywhite forwards had their shooting boots on. We don’t expect the Dubs to be so charitable on Saturday evening.
Jim White mispronounced word of the weekend: ‘Media ban’ is a term that Jim or anyone in Sky in general won’t really be familiar with. They might need to send in Geoff Shreeves to get a word with Paul Grimley after the Donegal game this weekend.
Did you know? Last week we mentioned how Monaghan hadn’t won a Championship game in Croke Park since 1930, but you’ve to delve even deeper into the history books to find their last Championship meeting with the Dubs.
It was the All-Ireland semi-final of 1921 and it was played in the Athletic Grounds in Dundalk, with Dublin coming out on top on a scoreline of 2-8 – 2-2. Obviously Monaghan won’t want a repeat of the result on Saturday, but we reckon they’d be happy enough if they could keep Dublin to 2-8 on the day.