6 talking points as Galway, Limerick, Wexford and Antrim chase U21 hurling glory

Who’ll be left standing after Saturday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-finals?

1. This could be a memorable season for Galway

The Tribesmen have already been crowned All-Ireland intermediate hurling champions and there could be more silverware to follow in the various grades.

The county’s minors and seniors will contest All-Ireland finals on 6 September and a week later, it’s the turn of the senior camogie team in their clash with champions Cork at Croke Park.

Cathal Mannion celebrates Cathal Mannion hails Galway's victory over Tipperary last Sunday. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

And the U21 hurlers could make it a clean sweep of All-Ireland final appearances if they take care of business against Limerick in Thurles on Saturday.

Senior stars Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn and Conor Whelan scored 0-12 between them against Tipperary in last Sunday’s senior semi-final and now turn their attentions to the U21 grade.

2. Is there another shock in store for Wexford?

Two years ago, Antrim stunned the hurling world by defeating Wexford in the All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final.

The Saffrons couldn’t follow that up in the final against Clare, however, as they ended up on the wrong end of a big defeat.

Antrim are dominant in Ulster, having claimed the last seven provincial titles on offer, but they find it difficult to make a breakthrough in the All-Ireland series.

Conal Morgan, David Kearney and Paddy McNaughton celebrate at the final whistle Antrim stunned Wexford in the 2013 semi-final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

2013 was a wonderful occasion but the Glensmen sunk without trace against Clare in last year’s semi-final, suffering a 27-point defeat.

It’s difficult to envisage anything other than a comfortable victory for Wexford, who will be desperate to ensure that lightning doesn’t strike twice.

3. Can Limerick ensure a successful end to a disappointing season?

Big things were expected of the Limerick seniors in 2015, particularly after winning a Munster title two years ago and running Kilkenny close in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.

But after losing heavily against Tipp in the Munster semi-final, the Shannonsiders saw their campaign through the back door ended by Dublin.

The county’s minors lost out to Tipp in the Munster minor final, denied a third successive crown in the process.

Barry O'Connell lifts the trophy Limerick celebrate Munster glory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The U21s have carried the flame forward, however, and are hurling into August and possibly September if they can get past the stiff challenge of Galway.

Limerick last captured the All-Ireland U21 title in 2002, a win that sealed glory for a third successive year, but they haven’t contested a final in this grade since then.

4. Wexford on course for another final

Reaching last year’s U21 decider marked progress for Wexford after that shock loss to Antrim in 2013.

The Slaneysiders weren’t disgraced in defeat to Clare either, losing by six points against a powerful Banner County outfit.

Wexford bounced back this summer to land another Leinster title, their third in a row, and there’s a feeling in the county that they can go on and finish the job in the All-Ireland series.

Source: breakingthrough/YouTube

Conor McDonald and Cathal Dunbar have the potential to run riot against Antrim with the right supply of ball.

But Wexford are very much damned if they do and damned if they don’t as they look set to clear this hurdle with ease and set up a final with Limerick or Galway.

5. Some brilliant senior talent on show

Keep an eye out for Galway’s high-scoring trio of Mannion, Flynn and Whelan against Limerick as they look to prolong a memorable summer.

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For players so young, they have shown terrific leadership in the Galway attack, allying a deadly scoring touch with huge workrate.

Whelan was plucked from the intermediate grade for a senior debut against Cork and didn’t disappoint with a classy display that yielded 1-2.

Source: hockeyhurlingshinty5/YouTube

Whelan also netted a brilliant goal against Limerick in last year’s minor clash between the counties.

Mannion and Flynn’s talents have been signalled for a bit longer than Whelan, as both are also successful graduates from the minor ranks. 

On Saturday, this deadly treble act could serve up big trouble for Limerick in Thurles.

6. So who will take Clare’s crown?

Clare have dominated the U21 grade for the previous three seasons but their hopes of four-in-a-row were dashed by Limerick in the Munster final.

The way is now clear for the semi-finalists to march forward in search of the big prize and engrave a new name on the Cross of Cashel Cup.

Limerick have strong credentials having beaten a Clare team admittedly stripped of a number of last year’s big names.

Source: hockeyhurlingshinty5/YouTube

Galway have those senior stars on board but as this is their first outing in this year’s competition, they’ll need to gel quickly.

On the other side of the draw, Wexford are clear favourites to advance and will feel confident of going one step further after losing last year’s final.

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