The importance of this evening’s Cork-Tipperary match may not be immediately obvious. In a pinch-tight championship that could come down to scoring difference and head-to-heads, however, the outcome will almost certainly be a big influence on which three teams emerge from Munster.
It’s hard to judge Cork on last week given how poor Waterford were, but it was possible to reach a few conclusions. Their work rate was quite good and they looked fit and energetic – typified by Brian Roche at midfield. They were feisty and up for it.
On the debit side, they didn’t really threaten a goal, which would worry me. Maybe they never felt they had to and that was the reason.
Overall they were decent, though. I think they’re physically stronger than last year and you could see that development in Robert Downey and Ciarán Joyce in defence. The return of Darragh Fitzgibbon was important in the middle of the field and he really set the tone early on.
One thing they have in abundance is pace. In every line they have it and the ability to move quickly is key to their game.
That’s the positive side of their first championship outing under Pat Ryan. There are also questions. The same core players since 2013 are still playing: Séamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Patrick Horgan up front, plus Damien Cahalane, and they are central characters. So how much change has there been in that time?
They are at home this weekend and Páirc Uí Chaoimh can suit their style of play. They spread the ball around a lot and have the space to run at teams. I think Tipp prospered in Ennis partly because, like Cork, Clare need space to run. They also prospered because they have lots of natural hurlers and massive scoring power.
The likes of Jason Forde and Jake Morris are very good hurlers and very good strikers. Gearóid O’Connor has come in and is well able to score. Alan Tynan has been chipping in from the middle of the field, as has Noel McGrath from around there. If they can win enough ball in the forwards – and this has been the way with them for a while – they will get goals.
Clare contributed to their own downfall but Tipperary’s five goals have to be put in the context of their 14 in five divisional league matches.
That sort of firepower is associated with Liam Cahill’s teams but for me it’s an over-simplification. You have to have the players and they do, but getting the ball to them will be the issue.
They generally did well in Ennis at shutting Clare down but there were also periods, particularly just before half-time, when Ryan Taylor and Mark Rogers were making hay, targeting the middle of the Tipperary defence and being able to open them up.
Cork might be able to follow suit but, either way, there’s not going to be much in this. Tipp can match Cork for enthusiasm and dynamism – it’s a happy camp, they are going to be up against younger players and the history at underage is interesting. Cork have been able to win early matches in Munster but not at All-Ireland level. They have plenty of history. We’ll find out a good bit more about both teams. How bad were Waterford? How influential were Clare’s early mistakes in losing control of the match?
It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a draw but, failing that, I’ve the slightest of leanings towards Cork at home.
The biggest game of the weekend is in Croke Park because it’s winner-takes-all in the race for third spot in Leinster. Dublin and Wexford may not be on the contenders’ list for Liam MacCarthy but whoever comes out is quite likely to be in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Dublin were a bit lucky to get out of Antrim with a draw and it’s really do or die for them. Wexford may be able to come at it from another direction but it’s win or bust for Dublin.
I believe the decision to move to Croke Park is a good one for the team. The younger players Dublin have up front – Ronan Hayes, Alex Considine and Cian O’Sullivan – are athletic, and the stadium should suit their strengths more than Parnell Park, which would ask greater questions of their tight skills.
They don’t have the power Wexford have, so they need the room to exploit their speed.
Wexford got a good start against Galway but it came to nothing. Then they made hard work of Antrim last week in Wexford. On the basis that their need is greater, maybe Dublin will prevail, but it’s hard to see either making a Leinster final.
Antrim have been decent so far and will look forward to hosting Kilkenny in the tight confines of Corrigan Park, where they can put it up to anyone. It’s not an especially easy task but Kilkenny, for all that they’re not what they were, retain the steel of the Cody years.
I don’t ultimately see a surprise here or in the Westmeath-Galway match.