Hurling championship previews: Waterford must push Limerick all the way

Two weeks in and already matches are starting to look like eliminators

SATURDAY

Leinster SHC – round two

Wexford v Dublin, Chadwicks Wexford Park, 5.0 – Live Sky Sports Arena

Two weeks in and already matches are starting to look like eliminators. The losers here will be under pressure in the race for a top-three finish. Wexford rode their luck last week but aside from the semi-miraculous deliverance from a Galway side well in the ascendancy, their comeback for a draw in the last 10 minutes was a gutsy display.

Conor McDonald battled a lone front for a lot of the time and was integral to the recovery. Lee Chin returned from injury off the bench and scored crucial points and so, on balance Wexford look to have got the wake-up benefits of a poor display without the usual consequences.

Dublin arrive in a similar frame of mind, having been given an awful fright by Laois before edging the win. They were plagued by inaccurate finishing, shooting 18 wides, and other errors, all of which can be rectified.

The balance between the counties has been more in Dublin’s favour over a number of years and their defence has the personnel to deal with the job in hand – for instance Eoghan O’Donnell’s record on McDonald is quite good.

Wexford have a more positive result behind them, home advantage and Chin back on the field. It could be enough.

Verdict: Wexford

Kilkenny v Laois, UPMC Nowlan Park, 5.30

Kilkenny ran themselves in satisfactorily against Westmeath and will presumably be more switched on from the start. Brian Cody brings back TJ Reid for his first start since the club campaign and rotates a few more. Laois were heartbroken by the close call with Dublin even if they were just shaded on the evening. They showed great economy in taking the match to the favourites. This is going to be harder.

For starters, they again are missing Willie Dunphy and Stephen Maher and to compound those losses they had to replace Ross King and Podge Delaney last week and neither have recovered – Delaney with a broken collar bone. Ben Conroy is also missing.

That’s a bleak picture for the visitors and Nowlan Park is a forbidding place to have to visit at the best of times let alone when a team is down so many important players.

Verdict: Kilkenny

Galway v Westmeath, Pearse Stadium, 6.0

Westmeath's feisty opening against Kilkenny jolted the champions out of their stride before they found their range and outgunned their opponents. There were still good performances from Westmeath's defence, where the excellent Tommy Doyle again performed well, and Killian Doyle was flawless on the frees.

Galway’s two big worries from last week are how they coughed up such a dominant position and the implications of Conor Whelan’s hamstring injury, as he was the leading threat in their attack. Although these difficulties may well be significant in the longer run, they are unlikely to upset Henry Shefflin’s team this evening.

Verdict: Galway

Munster SHC – round two

Limerick v Waterford, TUS Gaelic Grounds, 7.0 – Live Sky Sports Arena

As everyone is aware, this is the first of potentially three meetings between the consensus top two teams in the championship. The opening weekend brought revised views as to how significantly Waterford had reduced the gap between them and the champions. Liam Cahill's team struggled against Tipperary for long periods and were eventually bailed out by the introduction off the bench of Jamie Barron and Austin Gleeson.

Given the disadvantages for Waterford, small ground, poor conditions and unprecedented pressure as favourites, they were entitled to reflect that what hadn’t killed them had made them stronger.

They will be better this evening but they certainly need to be given the history with Limerick, even though they have their alibis – Tadhg de Búrca’s early injury in 2020 and the punishing schedule a year later – for the scale if not the outcome of the 11-point defeats in the past two championships.

Limerick’s destruction of Cork left no doubt about where they stand after a mediocre league. It will also have served as a warning to the visitors that they need to move the ball quickly and accurately under threat of a formidable press.

The champions are now short another All-Star with the news that Kyle Hayes got injured during his successful transition into the full forwards last week. The rock-solid defence remains and their dealings with Waterford's movement through the middle – forwards switching in and out of the inside line – will be a key contest.

Waterford have learned not to linger too much around centrefield such is the power of Will O’Donoghue and Darragh O’Donovan but their attacking mettle has been sharp.

Neither side needs to win this but Waterford have to be competitive and push Limerick all the way. They can achieve that and go away to ponder the lessons for the next time they meet.

Verdict: Limerick

SUNDAY

Munster SHC – round two

Tipperary v Clare, FBD Semple Stadium, 2.0 – Live, RTÉ 2

Tipperary outperformed expectations last week whereas Clare had the first week off, not the best of preparations against a team already up and running.

First results indicate that the third qualifying position is up for grabs and this is accordingly a vital match for both teams, as the loser is unlikely to make the top three.

Tipp’s showing in Waterford was disappointing only in the failure to make it count on the scoreboard, especially as conditions probably favoured them. At home in Thurles, a venue Clare are happy enough with, they are now under pressure to build on last week, not helped by the distraction of coach Tommy Dunne’s disputed suspension.

The visitors have Shane O'Donnell back in action after the worrying concussion episode last year and Tony Kelly is firing on all cylinders.

A year ago, controversy erupted in the fixture when Aidan McCarthy, currently a long-term injury, was sin-binned in the match’s turning point.

Tipp have shed the retired Brendan and Pádraic Maher plus John O’Dwyer, who is also out this season as well as Séamus Callanan, who were all instrumental in the win.

Noel McGrath and Mark Kehoe led the charge against Waterford but Clare have pace and some good scorers and if they can cut out turnovers, they have every chance.

Verdict: Clare

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