This weekend is a potentially season-altering one. Not only do we have a big provincial showdown but we also embark on a qualifier journey that could produce some surprises. A lot of questions are swirling around this week but I feel there are 4 key questions that will have clear answers once we reach Monday morning.
1. Kilkenny’s No 3.
It’s fairly certain that Joey Holden will line out for Kilkenny at no 3 when they take on Galway in the Leinster final on Sunday. He had a solid game against Wexford, didn’t put a foot wrong, however the magnitude of the challenge put in front of him on Sunday is monumental. To put simply into two words, Joe Canning. The man is on fire lately, scoring 1-15 against Laois in the Leinster semi-final and has scored 33 points in total. When on form, he is absolutely lethal. It is the ultimate test for Holden, and while Kilkenny’s half back line will be important in offering extra protection, it is perhaps Kilkenny’s half forward line which could be vital. Galway will more than likely go direct and play the ball on top of Holden and Canning, so cutting off this supply will be important. If things are going a bit pear-shaped , Brian Cody may make the switch of putting Paul Murphy at full back, an experienced defender who has played at full back in the league and has done well. It is a big undertaking to attempt to curtail someone like Joe, and whoever does, will probably be Kilkenny’s full back for the rest of the summer.
2. Which Galway will turn up?
People are expecting things of Galway now. They are playing the way everyone wished they would play more often, and are doing it consistently. They are now facing a team that they have given plenty of headaches to over the years. Something about the black and amber stripes must set them on edge. The big question is, though, will the Galway that are capable of mauling anybody arrive at Croke Park on Sunday? Cast your mind back to 2012, when they restricted Kilkenny to a solitary point in the first 30 minutes. It was the biggest upset of the year, and it helped Galway reach the All Ireland final. No doubt Kilkenny have learned their lessons from that day, so Galway can’t expect the same things to happen this time. After all, you rarely, if never, catch Brian Cody out twice. A new approach will be needed, and it will interesting what Galway will bring on Sunday.
3. Now or never for Cork?.
It applies to every team this weekend, but none more so than the Leesiders. Cork, at the beginning of 2014 were cited as one of the top three in the country and up to the point of THAT All Ireland semi final, they were serious contenders. Now they are very lucky to be in top 5, if we are being brutally honest. Despite winning a valuable Munster crown last year, they have seen their All Ireland prospects slowly dissipate, and are now faced with the daunting prospect of traveling down to Wexford Park to face a team who were given a not-so rare beating by the Cats. A win is the only option. If not for just the Seniors, but Cork hurling as whole. Their under 21’s and now minors are no longer involved in the championship for 2015, so Cork must now put all their efforts into ensuring their senior side’s hopes stay alive.
4. Hell hath no fury than a beaten team scorned?
The two angriest sides are probably Limerick and Wexford at this point in time. They were both served comprehensive beatings by the two best sides in the country and will want to send out a message that they are better than what these results suggest. While Limerick will be expected to get the better of Westmeath away, Wexford have by far the most difficult challenge of taking on Cork. A home draw is a big advantage, and the Wexford crowd will be there in numbers, and this can sometimes act like a 16th man. Wexford have added experience of knowing how to navigate the qualifier route and have shown last year that they are capable of putting it up to the big teams. This should stand to them and perhaps get them that all important win. Limerick and Clare are two other teams that will start getting a bit of momentum going. The importance of getting a game under your belt is vital, particularly if you reach the semi-final, as the provincial winners will have had to wait four weeks and may be staler as a result. To paraphrase a famous quote, “a wounded team is a dangerous animal”
Enjoy the action this weekend and I’m sure there will be a lot of talking points come Sunday evening!