Four provincial semi-finals make this a dream weekend of hurling action

Four provincial semi-finals make this a dream weekend of hurling action

Kilkenny's TJ Reid with Matthew O’Hanlon of Wexford last season. Both counties are in action this weekend. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

IT has been a year like no other and this will be a hurling weekend like no other, with all the leading contenders for the McCarthy Cup showing their hand.

It is, potentially, a feast of hurling, two provincial semi-finals in Munster and two more in Leinster.

Come Sunday evening, when Galway and Wexford have concluded their business in Croke Park, we should know more as to who might lift the ultimate prize.

Limerick, who confront Tipperary on Leeside, and Dublin, who square up to Kilkenny, have a slight advantage, having 70 minutes of championship hurling behind them.

All the rest — Cork, Waterford, Tipperary, Kilkenny, and Galway — are coming in cold, and maybe a bit rusty, but whether that will be a factor or not remains to be seen.

We are getting used, now, to having games played in front of empty stands and terraces and, again, whether that is a factor or not, we just don’t really know.

The point was made recently that a team like Wexford thrive on support and, let’s be honest, the Slaneyside supporters are near-fanatical, all the more so when the county finds itself challenging for major honours, as they are now.

Cork is another one of those counties with huge support and the point was made that they might actually fare better in an empty stadium, as it would lessen the pressure on the team.

These are just some of the theories being put about, but, certainly in Semple last Sunday, it was all a bit eerie and in the first half, in particular, the game definitely lacked intensity.

Limerick's Cian Lynch in action against Cork's Robert Downey. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton
Limerick's Cian Lynch in action against Cork's Robert Downey. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

A passionate following can lift a team nearer the line or, conversely, it can put a team under extra pressure.

Whatever, the games over the coming weekend promise so much; there’s so much at stake in every hurling match.

Whilst defeat won’t terminate the season for a team, it will certainly put it on the back foot, and when you enter what can be the very choppy waters in the All-Ireland qualifiers, you are seriously under pressure.

So, if you had a choice of one game to attend this weekend, what would your choice be?

You’d definitely be spoiled for choice, but the Galway-Wexford, Leinster semi-final looks to be a standout fixture.

Wexford were very close last year. They could, maybe should, have beaten Tipperary and having already beaten Kilkenny in Leinster, they would really have been in the frame to end a famine going back to 1996.

This is, in all probability, Davy Fitz’s last stand in the Model County and whatever transpires, he can leave with his head held high.

Fitzy can be a very divisive figure, but nobody can say that he is not good for the game.

He’s certainly one of those guys who wears his heart on his sleeve, has been successful everywhere he’s been, and I am sure, if you asked Donal Óg Cusack, who worked alongside him in Clare a few years ago, he’d concur with those remarks.

One would be thinking that this is a huge few weeks for Wexford. A giant leap was taken last year, with a victory in a cutthroat Leinster championship and, at the very least this time, an All-Ireland final place must top their agenda.

Galway were All-Ireland champions in 2017, and Leinster champions in 2018, but didn’t get out of Leinster last season.

Galway's Conor Cooney and Bill Cooper and Mark Coleman of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Galway's Conor Cooney and Bill Cooper and Mark Coleman of Cork. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Limerick’s Shane O’Neill was a somewhat surprise choice for the manager’s job, but he has the players around him to make the desired impact.

This is going to be some belter of a game; old-fashioned stuff and only the fittest will survive. This is the game I would choose to attend, in a perfect world.

In the other game in Leinster, the thinking would be that Kilkenny will have too much ammunition for Dublin.

Dublin did shoot the lights out against Laois, but this is a different proposition altogether.

The Cats have not won a trophy for a while now, but they haven’t gone away and Brian Cody is still prowling the sidelines.

And when you have TJ Reid in your attack, you have an ideal launchpad. Yes, it’s going to be some feast of hurling: Four major games and so much to play for.

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