While there are no guarantees in sport, a Cork team that has beaten Limerick and Galway to top their league section after two games is expected to account for Westmeath, beaten by Wexford and Clare.
After a weekend off as third-level GAA competitions finished up last week, Cork are likely to rotate the team that started the 4-24 to 3-22 win over Galway at Pearse Stadium, though the management’s hand is forced slightly by the unavailability of some players due to injury.
Patrick Horgan started against Limerick, scoring four points from play, but he was ruled out for the trip to Salthill and manager Pat Ryan won’t risk the Glen Rovers man this time around, either.
“Patrick has a chest injury,” he says. “He got a bang against Limerick. He saw out the match but it’s been sore, it’s just a slow thing.
“It’s nothing too serious, he’d be able to play if it was a championship match but we’ll wait until he’s 100 percent.”
Apart from Alan Connolly and Mark Coleman, who are out for the entirety of the league, Ryan expects the rest of Cork’s injuries to clear up in the near future. In addition, he is looking forward to being able to assess those players who were tied up with UCC’s Fitzgibbon Cup campaign.
“The likes of Ethan Twomey, Ger Millerick, Brian Hayes, Niall O’Leary, Pádraig Power,” he says, “all those fellas will be liable to start the next day.
“Cathal Cormack will be back but Seán O’Donoghue still has a dead leg so he’ll be out for two weeks. Seán Twomey limped off for UL in the Fitzgibbon final, so he won’t be available either at the weekend.
“The likes of Darragh Fitzgibbon, Tim O’Mahony, Séamus Harnedy, they’re all back training and tipping away but it’ll be another week or two before they’re available.”
A third straight win would leave Cork in a strong position to qualify for the league semi-finals, with another home game against Wexford on Sunday, March 12 and then a trip to Cusack Park in Ennis to face Clare a week later in the final round of scheduled fixtures.
Between Cork and Westmeath are the other four counties in Group A, all tied on two points after a win and a loss each, and the quartet are involved in the other two fixtures this weekend.
At 1.45pm, the same time as the Cork-Westmeath match starts, Wexford host Clare at Chadwicks Wexford Park. After a big win over Westmeath, Clare were second-best against Limerick in the repeat of last year’s Munster final while Wexford lost at home to Galway before then seeing off the Lake County.
The other game, at 2.30pm in Pearse Stadium, is the meeting of Galway and Limerick, renewing acquaintance after a close-run All-Ireland semi-final last year. Galway are the fancy in many quarters to run the All-Ireland champions closest this time around and the game could be an interesting preview for what lies ahead.
Tipperary are the only side with two wins from two in Group B – beating Laois and Kilkenny – but Liam Cahill’s side will have a test of their credentials when they go up against Dublin in Parnell Park on Saturday at 5pm.
The Dubs drew with Davy Fitzgerald’s Waterford first time out before seeing off Antrim a fortnight ago, leaving them in a tie for second place with the Déise at the moment.
Waterford will be strong favourites at home to Antrim at 1pm on Sunday but the Glensmen will be keen to get points on the board in their likely battle with Laois to avoid finishing bottom, necessitating participation in the relegation play-off.
Laois play host to Kilkenny at MW Hire O’Moore Park, a game which has a 2pm throw-in, with the Cats seeking a strong response to the reversal against Tipp.