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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 21 April 2021
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How are the 6 counties in the All-Ireland qualifiers looking as the hurling stakes get higher?

Clare, Cork, Dublin, Laois, Tipperary and Wexford are all set to travel the backdoor route.

Kingston, Sheedy and Fitzgerald all face qualifier clashes.
Kingston, Sheedy and Fitzgerald all face qualifier clashes.
Image: INPHO

ALL TEN SIDES in the 2020 race to land the Liam MacCarthy Cup have now been witnessed in action with six set for the qualifiers and four preparing for provincial finals.

For the teams travelling on the backdoor route, the pressure has been ratcheted up.

There are no more safety nets and yesterday’s qualifier draw sketched out the picture for them.

But how are those six counties shaping up as they get set for the qualifiers?

Clare

It had already been determined that Clare would be playing in Round 1 this weekend and they face the most favourable draw, a view opponents Laois would also probably hold. Brian Lohan has had some time to figure things out since the Limerick game. The performance of John Kiely’s men on Sunday brings more clarity over that loss in that they collided with the best team in the country right now.

It’s not a searingly hot take to point to the reliance on Tony Kelly but his 0-17 haul in the Munster quarter-final only hardened that view. Their absences are well-documented but they need to find a way to alleviate the pressure on him. Nowlan Park is a novel setting for a Clare team in senior championship action as they seek to get back on track.

tony-kelly-celebrates-a-score Tony Kelly in action for Clare against Limerick earlier this month. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cork

The four-point margin flattered Cork last Saturday, not truly reflecting the scale of the superiority Waterford enjoyed. It creates a pile of questions after that Munster exit and they have only seven days to find the answers after they were handed a Round 1 fixture. They head back to a familiar venue in Thurles in search of some atonement and perhaps a harder draw with a short turnaround is the best means by which they can get that setback out of their system.

On the injury front the hopes are fading that Darragh Fitzgibbon or Eoin Cadogan will be available with more optimism surrounding Colm Spillane. They require some change, where it be in the positioning of players, a more refined approach in their attacking play and a general increase of energy in a team that looked woefully flat. No more than Clare with Kelly, Cork have a similar issue with Patrick Horgan, although Shane Kingston did rifle over four nice points from play.

Dublin

A one-point defeat on Saturday against Kilkenny was Dublin’s lot but it was a performance of such wild contrasts that it is hard to accurately gauge their standing. Trailing by 3-15 to 0-8 in the 47th minute, Dublin won the scoring battle for the remainder of the match by 2-14 to 0-5. How do you make sense of that as they get set to head back into action a week later?

Clearly their in-game changes pointed to improvement, most critically in the input of Eamon Dillon and Ronan Hayes up front as they hit a combined 1-4. The defensive shifts of Eoghan O’Donnell and Conor Burke were important as well. That can inform how Mattie Kenny deploys his charges against Cork and they should be buoyed by the nature of that finale. It’s not a fixture where they have a favourable record and, 2015 against Limerick aside, the venue has not been kind to them either of late.

huw-lawlor-and-ronan-hayes Dublin's Ronan Hayes gets clear of the Kilkenny defence. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

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Laois

Another beaten provincial quarter-finalist who knew they would be guaranteed to play this weekend. The delirium of Portlaoise in 2019 was replaced by a sombre mood in Croke Park as the Laois hurlers faced Dublin again last Saturday week. That pushed them into the qualifiers and they’ll likely be glad that it’s Clare and not a repeat of last year’s quarter-final with Tipperary that awaits them. 

Eddie Brennan’s side will still start as outsiders, shipping 2-31 is an obvious area of concern and particularly the opportunities they coughed up to free-taker Donal Burke. Jack Kelly and Mark Kavanagh, two of their brightest sparks last season, were on as substitutes by half-time against Dublin, will they come into the frame to start against Clare?

donal-burke-and-jack-kelly Jack Kelly in action for Laois against Dublin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Tipperary

Liam Sheedy talked about Tipperary’s prior knowledge of the back roads and how it could serve them well as he digested the implications of Sunday’s loss to Limerick. Sheedy also pointed out they had ‘a short space of time’ to get set to go again but at least they caught a break with an extra week’s grace after yesterday’s draw.

The major benefit for that is try to sort the various knocks that Padraic Maher, Seamus Kennedy, Bonner Maher and Dan McCormack have been carrying. Barry Heffernan is a doubt after picking up a hamstring injury on Sunday. Sheedy gets a chance to consider his optimum starting side and must find out why his team became so ‘one-dimensional’ as he described it in their attacking play in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Wexford

Davy Fitzgerald showed no hesistancy in providing that scathing assessment of his team’s display against Galway on Saturday night. The Tribesmen have been frequently awkward opponents for his Wexford teams – losses by nine points in 2017 and 2018 before a draw last year and now this 12-point defeat. Yet the nature of Wexford’s showing leaves Fitzgerald with a job on his hands to revive them.

They also get some additional time with next Monday’s qualifier draw set to reveal their next test. Their typical aggression and intensity were sorely lacking on Saturday night, much like Cork it was a sorry Saturday on the provincial front. A major upswing in form is required in a short space of time.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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