John Allen: Home advantage could tilt balance in Cork’s favour
Dublin won’t fancy a trip to Cork while it would be foolish to back against Kilkenny
Ger Cunningham: his knowledge of the Cork players has to count for something. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
It’s only July 1st and hurling’s major competition is already arriving at what has become known as the business end of the season. However, arguably, the most important games of the weekend are not in Croke Park.
They are in all the other four venues where it’s the end of the season for four losing counties with their hopes and dreams consigned to hibernation for another year. Victory for the winners will provide a very welcome momentum boost.
Westmeath are improving. Their under-21 team were impressive in their loss to Dublin. They have a group of young players that play with a confidence, work rate and spirit that is necessary to make further progress in the senior game.
We’ll see how they augment the senior team that take on Limerick in Mullingar.
The rational opinion will be that Limerick will win this. Yes, they should but maybe not with the same team that started against Tipperary and certainly not without a bit more belief and passion in their play. The past two years have been disappointing from their perspective.
Improvement is necessary to bring them back to the form we witnessed on that stormy August 2015 Sunday afternoon in Croke Park when they matched Kilkenny for much of the game.
Clare host Laois and should put their particular campaign back on the road but maybe they might consider a less tactical approach and a more off-the-cuff hurling game that they have the players to play.
Wexford haven’t shown much this season that would inspire confidence but they still probably have a better squad than Offaly and it will be a surprise if they don’t win.
The game of the round should be in Cork where both teams have a lot of improving to do. The last time the sides met was on a bitterly cold Saturday night in Croke Park in March. Dublin were far too good and Cork’s performance was soulless and spiritless.
The same might be said for their recent game against Tipperary. This is area one for improvement.There are some top class hurlers in the squad but there has been a determination absent that is so necessary to win in all sports.
Dublin, on the other hand, have the psychological upper hand but won’t fancy playing in Cork.
In the first half of their annihilation of Cork their forwards continually took on the Cork backs and had three goals in a four-minute period before half time .
But this is a new game with a very different backdrop. This is not the league game that both sides want to win and learn something about their players for the more important championship time ahead. No, this is knock-out with all the significance that has, particularly in Cork where a fairly sizable hard-core loyal following believe in Cork’s right to be contenders every year.
Dublin have a much smaller number of loyal hurling fans. The county board have invested a lot in the promotion of hurling. Their under-21 and minor teams are in the Leinster finals. However the senior team has been inconsistent this year. But they have the decided advantage of having a manager from Cork in their corner.
Ger Cunningham’s detailed knowledge of the Cork players has to count for something. But of course, as always, the match will be won inside the white lines.
Cork probably have a better squad but do they have that aforementioned determination?
Meanwhile the first championship trophy of the season will be presented in Croke Park. The annual questions about Galway will be asked again in Sunday’s Leinster final. Which Galway team will show up and will they bring their ‘A’ game?
There’s certainly pressure on the players to deliver this year post their stand off with last year’s manager Anthony Cunningham. If he was the problem, or the greater part thereof, then with him not there this year can we expect a better Galway ?
Their performance in the league relegation playoff against Cork left much to be desired. Since then they’ve done enough to earn the right to play in the Leinster final but hardly enough to inspire confidence in the doubting Thomases within the county – of which there are many .
But they brought that much sought after ‘A’ game to the 2012 Leinster final and are always capable of a repeat showing.
They still play with passion and high work rate and the many questions that were being asked about them were definitively answered in the second half of their recent demolition of Dublin.
One would be foolish to predict anything other than a Kilkenny victory and if they are to be beaten one would prefer that it is in the next game when there is no way back.