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Big guns reload as club championships heat up

Munster club hurling semi-finals and three Leinster quarter-finals down for decision

Ballygunner’s David O’Sullivan in action against Padraic Maher of Thurles during the Munster club quarter-final at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photograph: Inpho

 SUNDAY [All matches at 2.0]

Leinster SHC quarter-finals
Kilcormac-Killoughey
(Offaly) v Castletown-Geoghegan (Westmeath), O’Connor Park
The 2012 All-Ireland finalists swing back into the province after a fourth Offaly title in six years. The county final was a battle with Kilcormac imposing themselves and surviving the comeback by St Ryangh’s. Manager Stephen Byrne was able to field a full-strength team for the first time in a while and the return of Dan Currams was especially welcome. Castletown, spearheaded by Aonghus Clarke, were impressive in deposing Raharney but home advantage is unlikely to be disturbed.

Camross (Laois) v Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow), O’Moore Park
A tight contest with the 2014 All-Ireland finalists at last back in the provincial championship to put all of that experience  to good use. There is new blood with hurling-shinty international Chris Nolan an emerging star but MLR still have the free taking of Denis Murphy and the solidity of the Coadys. Camross won a thrilling Laois final but that was a while ago and in the meantime Dwane Palmer sustained a broken leg. Zane Keenan’s carries the threat from the home side but this could be an away victory.

Cuala (Dublin) v Dicksboro (Kilkenny), Parnell Park [Live, TG4]
The All-Ireland champions are quickly out of the traps, as they – like their opponents – only concluded their county championships last weekend. By all accounts Dicksboro knocked the celebrations on the head early in the week to concentrate on this whereas Cuala also had to scrap through the Dublin final but they are picking up steam. The centre back contest may well be memorable, as Cillian Buckley was outstanding for the Kilkenny champions and Seán Moran hurled himself Man of the Match for Cuala. Dicksboro have learned plenty this season as a young and upwardly mobile team, just about escaping from tight spots on the way to the title but this looks a step too far. The champions have quality in all sectors and especially in attack (despite the unwelcome news that Mark Schutte has picked up a stress fracture of a leg)  with David Treacy’s free taking, Colm Cronin’s form and Con O’Callaghan’s threat likely to crown a brilliant week for the club.

 Munster SHC semi-finals
Ballygunner
(Waterford) v Sixmilebridge (Clare), Walsh Park
Ballygunner were still standing after a monumental battle with Thurles last week and thoroughly deserving winners. They’re pushier up front under Fergal Hartley and relentlessly pressurised the Tipp champions. They do have the burden of an eighth successive week in action but Hartley was unconcerned about that last week even going into extra time. Sixmilebridge had their own arduous progress, needing a replay to see off Clooney-Quin. Shane Golden’s marksmanship – five from play – was a feature of the Bridge’s victory and they are a coming team with well-known performers like Séadna Morey, Jamie Shanahan and Cathal Malone as well as six-time county medallist Niall Gilligan. There won’t be much quarter given in all of this, as both are physically strong teams but from newly decorated All Star Stephen O’Keeffe to the Mahony’s plus top-class club hurlers like Shane and David O’Sullivan the Waterford champions have the edge.

Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) v Blackrock (Cork), Gaelic Grounds
Blackrock are nominated, as their county final conquerors Imokilly are a divisional side, but they have to travel to take on the high achieving Limerick champions, who won the All-Ireland the season before last and have never lost a Munster championship match – adding the province to their county title each time since they first emerged in 2011. The bad news is that Shane Dowling whose dead ball accuracy made fouling Na Piarsaigh something of a mug’s game, is out for the medium term but there is a still an imbalance between the sides, which favours the Limerick city club.