Wexford v Kilkenny
If this was a one off game Brian Cody couldn't have orchestrated a better scenario to motivate players who have been plenty of times around the block. A chance to atone for the league final in a packed Wexford Park. Amidst an atmosphere heightened by an under 21 and (possibly) football victory.
There is though a negative to Kilkenny's limp league final display beyond its worrying implications. Tipperary on Sunday week showed themselves again adept at not getting too worked up for the early stages of the championship. Kilkenny have more serious miles on the clock issues and can perhaps ill-afford to leave too much on the field on Saturday night. In one sense they are in a no win situation. Struggle and the doubts will grow: Flake Wexford in retribution for the defeat to Dublin and too much petrol may be used. Clare in 1999 would be an example where an aging great team weren't able to pace their way through a championship.
The Cats though may be saved by the fact that the likes of Shefflin, Fennelly and Power can possibly only give a certain amount of themselves tomorrow and will come on for the game. There are others though who can't think beyond Saturday evening. Paul Murphy was so impressive at under 21 grade that he looked like he could be the natural corner back Kilkenny didn't even know they needed. His progress has stalled since so this is a red letter day. Similarly for Paddy Hogan at wing back. If there doesn't appear to be an opening in this area, once Tommy Walsh returns, Hogan's raging against the light in the League final, with torpidity all around him, was doubtless noted by Brian Cody. So it seems was Eddie Brennan's poor performance in the League final.
So if Kilkenny produce a display akin to what they unleashed in the 2010 championship what are Wexford's chances of being competitive. Well, not especially good this blog would surmise. A mite too much has been made of the end to Wexford's league when Cork were experimenting and Tipp dreaming. This blog has been a long standing admirer of Wexford's undervalued defence, but too often injuries have impinged. Paul Roche and Darren Stamp have recently struggled with niggles and they may not be at the concert pitch required. Matthew O' Hanlon has received good notices but we'll likely know a lot more about the 19 year on Sunday morning.
Up front a large amount has to be taken on trust. PJ Nolan is in decent form but summer fulfillment of the promise shown at minor in 2005 is overdue. Stephen Banville tends to flatter to deceive in games such as this. As a few pundits have mentioned a good start for Wexford is crucial. But at a certain stage the absence of Gizzy Lyng and the Eoin Quigley of his pomp will kick in. Even if they turn it into a war, aided by an atomsphere better than there would have been at an antiseptic Croke Park, it likely won't change the result against a team that will find scores easier to come by. Where Kilkenny's fuel gage will be at at nine o clock tomorrow though will be interesting in itself.
Limerick v Waterford
One wonders if Donal O' Grady guided Paddy Powers towards their pricing on Sunday's Game. He has spewed plenty of doom and gloom in advance of the clash, and that was likely before he heard the weather forecast. The perils of throwing a Division 2 team in against a higher echelon side have been signposted: As has the fact that all bar two of Limerick's starting team didn't play championship last year. But this blogger wonders has O'Grady protested too much. Albeit that positivity towards the Shannonsiders is partly based on having this old dog for the hard road at the helm.
Plus how prepared will Waterford be to put their supposed inferiors in their place on Sunday. In the league they were competitive and often showed the best traits of their manager. They didn't die when down to 13 men in Thurles and are well able to mix it physically with the other top teams. To even be able to ply your hurling wares against a Kilkenny or a Tipperary you need to have the likes of Brick Walsh, Shane O' Sullivan, Kevin Moran and Richie Foley to bump and grind. But the admirable tenacity that has kept Waterford at the top table has masked the fact they haven't shown an ability to put away lesser sides to be in their armoury.
For example Waterford have played Clare in plenty of matches of varying importance in the last 12 months and have never dispatched them decisively. Plus their competitiveness has also valiantly masked that Waterford are themselves in transition: Five of Sunday's starting team are under 21. Two of them indeed are 2010 minors, albeit in Paudie O' Mahoney and especially Daragh Fives, very promising ones. Maurice Shanahan and Brian O'Sullivan showed up very well in the scoring stakes at 21 grade recently; but that may have been as much to do with an underwhelming Tipperary defence.
Limerick on the other hand look to be stronger in defence than in the Division 2 league final, if Brian Geary is still the player of yore. Gavin O' Mahoney has now been released to a more natural position. There may still be a question of having a suitable candidate to mark John Mullane and a canny enough operator to man the square, with a poacher like Shane Walsh on the scene. In the other half of the field keeping the ball away from Brick Walsh may be an idea, although perhaps easier said than done. They do however have a coltish prospect in Kevin Downes to test Waterford's long running full back sore.
This blogger doesn't see the gulf between the teams that has been signposted in some quarters. The 9/4 about Limerick is tempting. Ultimately though in the last 15 minutes Limerick's lack of ball winning in the half forward line and Waterford's reliability in a battle may be decisive.