Hurling previews: Cork and Clare can cut through the lingering doubts to reach All-Ireland semi-finals

All to play for this weekend as championship enters business end of the season

Wexford's Jack O'Connor tackles Cathal Malone of Clare earlier this year in a league match. The counties clash in the championship this weekend. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho


All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals

Dublin v Cork, FBD Semple Stadium, 1.15pm [Live RTÉ One] — The huge acclaim that greeted Cork’s win over Limerick seems a lot longer ago than a few weeks. That evening, it looked like new contenders had arrived and whereas not much has happened to undermine the optimism, Limerick’s remorseless progress in the meantime puts it all in a familiar context.

The pace and goalscoring threats have been on hold while the provincial championships played out and last week’s victory over McDonagh Cup holders Offaly was underwhelming.

They come into this in the awkward position of being extremely unlikely to lose given the shellacking Dublin got in the Leinster final but needing to find their A game for a potential rematch with Limerick in a fortnight.

That game with Séamus Harnedy, Shane Barrett and Darragh Fitzgibbon creating havoc under early ball and Alan Connolly and Patrick Horgan — still engaged in the eternal arm wrestle with TJ Reid at the top of the all-time scoring charts — lethal inside, was almost irresistible.


Dublin’s neat running and passing through the lines came hideously unstuck against Kilkenny and they suffered a meltdown in consequence. The experience with Dublin is that when good form hits a buffer and Chris Crummey and Dónal Burke were in exceptional form, the whole enterprise disintegrates. Micheál Donoghue will have had his work cut out. Verdict: Cork

Clare v Wexford, FBD Semple Stadium, 3.15pm [Live RTÉ One] — It’s quite hard to work out where these counties stand in the overall scheme of things. Clare’s role as Sisyphus was exacerbated this year when the rock rolled back over them particularly forcefully, leaving them with a familiar task.

Two years ago, they struggled to get past Wexford having nearly burned out in the Munster final that went to extra-time.

This year they didn’t get as close to Limerick and will be wary about their opponents’ improved form. It is, however, hard to put a value on Wexford at the moment. They were good in rescuing their season against Galway but that character reference has been consistently discredited.

They also gave Kilkenny plenty of it in the final group match, but so had Dublin the previous week.

The loss of Liam Ryan is a big blow for Keith Rossiter’s team, who haven’t the reserves to spare key players.

Neither should they be taken too lightly. Their performances have been solid since they turned their season around after losing in Belfast. Lee Chin has been immense even by his standards, whereas Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor have also been in productive form. Richie Lawlor is back after missing last week and former All Star Diarmuid O’Keeffe makes his first appearance of the year, on the bench.

Clare’s problems stem not just from a tendency to give away goals, which was most visible but not confined to the first day’s defeat by Limerick, but by inconsistency throughout.

They would have been out of sight by the time the goals started going in, in Ennis, had they taken their chances in the third quarter. The effort in the Munster final was undermined by loose shooting and a failure to convert goal chances — partially the consequence of Nickie Quaid’s excellence in goal.

They have struggled for a consistently reliable free-taker and Aidan McCarthy’s four misses in Thurles plus Tony Kelly’s inaccuracies were a drain on confidence. They wouldn’t have been reduced to a controversial 65 against Waterford for deliverance had they not conjured eye-boggling wides, again in the third quarter.

The team’s resilience is nonetheless striking. To recover from a bad defeat the first day and go on to reach another Munster final, gouging out results even though not going brilliantly is admirable.

It will be no surprise if Shane O’Donnell, Mark Rodgers, David Fitzgerald et al click into something more productive this weekend. Verdict: Clare

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times