After the conclusion of the Leinster SHC Qualifiers where Laois and Westmeath advanced, the scene is now set for the quarter final stage. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action and does not see much hope for the underdogs this weekend.
Galway set to put down early championship marker
Tullamore and yet another road trip for the Galway hurlers and supporters to enjoy. A fixture against Dublin beckons and hurling followers will be interested to see can Galway produce an emphatic performance to back up their superb NHL win over Tipperary last month.
This is a fixture if Galway are not careful could be a banana skin. Dublin’s NHL season was mostly one to forget; a road trip win to Cork was probably the high point but unfortunately a youthful Dublin side were exposed in Croke Park against the likes of Tipperary and Waterford.
Dublin have plenty to find for this weekend. The absence of key players who have decided to either stay away from the panel or join the juggernaut which is the Dublin football team. Schutte, Sutcliffe, Con O’Callaghan are massive losses to any panel.
Dublin will not be found wanting for either work rate or enthusiasm. The problem is going to be in terms of game smarts and ability to make the right decision in championship pressure. There are going to be several debutantes making their championship bow. As Cork proved last weekend, rookie players can revel with the surroundings but there is also the downside where they could collapse under the pressure.
Ger Cunningham will look to the experienced players to provide the leadership and set the tone early in the contest in the hope that the new players to championship duty settle and follow suit. Goalkeeping position is an interesting one. Dooley or Maguire are the realistic options. Maguire’s experience or Dooley’s ability to distribute and shot stopping ability? Dooley should be the starter but who knows what Ger Cunningham and selectors decide.
The back line could be a potential weak point if Galway start to run riot in the midfield area so the performance of Liam Rushe to read play is going to be crucial. Rushe is a superb player but he failed to hit the heights last season. A quality half-back, he will need to be dominant in the air to reduce the workload on his full back line. Chris Crummey has become a really important player for Dublin and Ger Cunningham. A player who is strong in the air, physically strong and has the ability to take a score from distant. If Crummey and Rushe can perform well, then Dublin have a chance.
Darragh O’Connell will be asked to keep the midfield ticking over but it is going to be extremely difficult considering the opposition he will be faced with. The forward line onus will fall to the experienced Dotsy O’Callaghan, Ryan O’Dwyer and Eamonn Dillon to carry the majority of the scoring threat. No pressure then?
Galway hold all the aces in this fixture right down the middle of the pitch. Callanan is a quality distributor from puck outs, superb shot stopper and his organizational and communication skills to his back line is most underrated. The full back line historically has being an area where teams playing Galway have targeted but Dublin will find that they will get nothing soft from an imposing unit led by Daithi Burke who has reached another level in performance this season from full back. Mannion and Coen provide man marking options for O’Donoghue and Dublin inside forward line will do well to score heavy against this line.
The half-back line is strong and imposing. McInerney at six has found his spot, aerially dominant and game managed superbly against Tipperary in that emphatic NHL victory. Tuohy is an underrated player, all the attribute and skill sets. The midfield area is where Galway could have a decisive advantage. David Burke can game manage, falling deep and distribute excellent ball to his forward line. Burke can also score points from play either from deep or making runs from deep. How do Dublin contend with this threat?
Joe Canning has started the year in ominous form. His NHL final performance was on point and his distribution to his inside full forward line with balls into space was a joy to watch. Canning’s scoring exploits are stating the obvious. Dublin again have an issue to combat this threat? If they double mark Canning, space opens up for other Galway players including Flynn, Whelan, Mannion inside who can score heavy as Tipperary and Limerick have found to their cost in the league.
Ger Cunningham has issues trying to contend with this forward line unit if Galway hit form on Sunday. I do not see how Dublin can outscore Galway and I cannot see how Dublin counteract the threat from the Galway forward line units. After a competitive opening period, Galway to pull away for an eight point win and create an early marker for the championship.
Wexford set to come of the traps hard
Wexford enter this fixture with the hurling world looking for indications of whether this side is a potential dark horse for the Leinster Championship. A road trip to Portlaoise is an early test for Davy Fitzgerald’s charges and with a home team with nothing to lose, it could be an interesting opening period of play.
The Model County have had a superb league campaign. Apart from the Tipperary NHL semi-final loss, Davy Fitzgerald meltdown; Wexford beat all before them starting with their two NHL 1B rivals: Galway and Limerick. Laois competed well in their defeat against Wexford in the league but this is championship.
Wexford have a wealth of talent realistically to give this provincial championship a serious rattle. Liam Ryan, Matthew O’Hanlon are superb defenders and lead by example. O’Connor and Nolan will provide midfield stability. The forward line is spearheaded by Lee Chin and Conor McDonald, two players who on form can win games on their own.
Chin’s aerial ability will be a clear advantage to Wexford on Sunday and if Chin has a good afternoon, his forward line colleagues will reap the benefits. McDonald can create goal chances from nothing and when you add the threat of Morris and Guiney, then Laois defensively are going to be up against it.
I was at Austin Stack Park when Laois got past a gallant but outgunned Kerry side two weeks ago. Laois have a superb management in place with Eamonn Kelly, Ollie Moran and Oisin McConville in the ranks. The O’Moore County went through the qualifiers unbeaten but defensively at times suffered lapses and so it proved against Kerry where Shane Nolan hit a quick brace of goals for Kerry just before half time to give the Kingdom a chance of victory.
Laois to their credit regrouped in the second half with King, Purcell to the fore. However, defensive frailties were also seen in NHL 1B action against the likes of Limerick and Galway where the full back line was opened up at will. Cahir Healy would be a huge loss for Laois if not fit on Sunday. I think given this core defensive issue, Laois will struggle to gain parity and Wexford could potentially be out of sight after twenty minutes. I hope I am proved wrong but all the aces are with Davy Fitzgerald’s charges who will be cheered on by a large Wexford following. Wexford by ten points.
Offaly should edge past Westmeath
If you have read my blogs on Offaly hurling, you know that I think Offaly have not hit rock bottom yet but I do not think it will be this weekend. Westmeath advanced to this fixture with a last game victory over Meath. It was a spirited performance from Michael Ryan’s charge who played for forty minutes with fourteen men. The Greville brothers will look to lead by example in defense and attack as they did against Meath. Killian Doyle chipped in with several key scores from play, will need to produce this again for Westmeath to have any chance of an upset.
Offaly are a mystery at present. Kevin Ryan has bemoaned squad commitment early in the season. Shane Dooley is the talisman for Offaly; his scoring threat is undoubted and his free taking should keep the scoreboard ticking over. Joe Bergin and Sean Ryan are excellent hurlers but squad depth issues are obvious given the NHL 1B performances where a last day win against Kerry (which was a struggle) staved off relegation.
Westmeath can potentially disrupt Offaly in the work rate department. Offaly have struggled to impose their will on teams due to this and Westmeath will not be far off Offaly which will be a source of concern for Kevin Ryan. Offaly’s NHL loss to Tipperary is the last competitive action seen and on the day they were annihilated with Tipperary scoring at will. Westmeath are not Tipperary and Offaly should just about advance but will be a lamb to the slaughter when it comes to the semi-final. Offaly by a narrow four point win.