Limerick v Wexford
The perception is that these sides are coming into the game on different wavelengths. The home team are emboldened by proving themselves to be better than Division 2 no hopers; not that this blog had believed that for a moment. Wexford meanwhile are becalmed after certain people had mistakenly ( again this blog didn't fall for the optimism ) divined that Kilkenny were vulnerable. Both physically and psychologically Wexford will find Limerick much more of a bespoke fit. Their full forward line who showed well for ball in the Leinster semi will fancy their chances, against a Limerick back three still seeming without a natural full back, and prone to indecisiveness. It will be interesting to view Garrett Sinnott again, as much to possibly dispel the slightly bizarre notion that Kilkenny made him look better than he is. Limerick also, rather like Donal O'Grady's former charges, still look betwixt and between a game plan: Whether it's nobler to adhere to O'Grady's tried and trusted tactics, or to get ball in quickly to Kevin Downes, perhaps on this occasion supported by a nippy corner forward or two.
On the flip side Limerick will feel that their 5-9 can get a sufficient foothold in the game. Wexford have changed both midfielders and will hope that Mick Jacob and especially Eoin Quigley will roll back the years. On the other hand they have left unchanged a half forward line that didn't lay a glove on Kilkenny. Gizzy Lyng can't return from travelling soon enough and for this game he has been joined on the unavailable list by Ciaran Kenny, an undervalued cog in Wexford's machine.
Kenny's injury is very frustrating as Wexford can never seem to get their best defenders ( Kenny, Stamp, Rossiter and Roche ) fit and firing. If they were all rearing to go Wexford could easily have squeaked a low scoring game. As it is, unless a Harry Kehoe or a PJ Nolan comes of age, Limerick should have enough to test their incremental progress in another match.
Galway v Clare
What are the bookies up to this week re these counties. We're talking of course of the Clare minors being a slightly loopy 6/4 to win the All-Ireland, when a county with the pedigree at the grade of Galway have still to be sighted. Having said that the pricing for Saturday's qualifier game could also raise eyebrows. A Galway side who barely looked interested in being in Tullamore a fortnight ago are still heavily favoured to advance to the next round. What was most disturbing about the defeat to Dublin on a second viewing was the wanton awfulness of much of the tackling, as if attempting a legal dispossession was far too much bother. If John McIntyre has responded by ringing the changes it is still of a type that will be characterised as moving of deck chairs variety if it all goes wrong. There has been a general welcome accorded to Galway's changes but the formulation still looks a fuzzy gamble. Four of the forwards have to find their form coming back from injury whilst a fifth was in inter county retirement a few months ago. If the tribesmen line out as selected Ger Farragher looks curiously positioned at centre forward, whilst Clare will feel their wing forwards can make aerial bustling hay versus Donal Barry and Adrian Cullinane.
Can Clare take advantage though of rolling dice. They have to cast off the ghosts of qualifier ineptitude the last two summers. This has to be done without Darach Honan who joins his club mate Domhnall O' Donovan on the sidelines. If Honan engages the ire of impatient countymen too readily his absence still potentially diminishes Clare's chances of posting a winning total. At the other end Philip Brennan retains his place despite a performance that unfortunately didn't end Clare's goalkeeping controversy. If the back six in front all performed manfully against Tipp, collectively they need to staunch the bleeding caused by soft goals. Plus some day soon to progress their last 20 ministers will have to match their first twenty.
A prediction of what variations of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde in maroon and saffron show up is tricky. If Galway get to the pitch they exhibited in last years All-Ireland quater final that will presumably suffice. They likely won't but they may fall over the line.
Kilkenny v Dublin
All has changed changed utterly a man from Clann Na Gael Fontenoy's catchment once said. It can be applied to the Leinster final just two months on from the thunder n' lightening League final. Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin, the two best players of the last 20 years have returned. Yet even more significantly so have Michael Fennelly and Richie Power. Fennelly-since Brendan Maher will likely be dragooned to wing back for the remainder of the summer- is comfortably the best midfielder in the country. Power is quietly beginning to show an interest in clasping the onerous baton sooner rather than later from Shefflin.
Since then Tomas Brady has joined Stephen Hiney on the Dublon sidelines, whilst David Tracey will not be fit even for a cameo. Plus even though Peter Kelly and Liam Rushe fitted seamlessly into the defensive cockpits against Galway it's hardly likely that they won't encounter bumps on the road on this occasion. It will be fascinating actually whether Anthony Daly now reflects that he has stumbled on his best centre back option ( Rushe ) or whether he reinserts the possibly ring rusty Boland. Another Dublin player to watch is Conor McCormack, who may be required to do even more of the heavy lifting in Ryan O'Dwyer's absence. McCormack evinced an incalculable ability to get up feline noses in the league final, and how perhaps he and the selected centre back go might indicate how Dublin's fortunes will come out in the watch.
For Kilkenny there is also a doubt as to whether they will line up as selected. The full back line, unchanged from the semi final, have got an exceedingly loyal vote of confidence. It could of course be that Paul Murphy will switch in and JJ Delaney out. If Kilkenny go under detractors may signpost the demotion of Paddy Hogan and declare Brian Cody has taken loyalty to unsustainable levels. It also must be pointed out that although lack of proven ability is not seen to be a Kilkenny shortcoming the starting corner forwards Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan have to prove themselves on this type of stage.
There's a school of thought abroad that everything is set up for Kilkenny. That Cody will have them primed like scalded, er, cats to whiplash the Dubs. But this might be easier screamed about than done. Ultimately, against a team they can't physically intimidate, will Kilkenny have the stomach for a torrid second half fight with their bounty of medals weighing down their back pockets. This blogger doesn't envisage Dublin being dumped in their place. But on this particular day the champs might have one or two more options available and a goal or two might get them over the line.