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Dublin: 1°C Friday 4 December 2020

6 key questions for the hurling teams in championship action today

Big semi-finals take place in Leinster and Munster today.

Wexford’s Paudie Foley and Brian Concannon of Galway compete for possession during this year's Walsh Cup.
Wexford’s Paudie Foley and Brian Concannon of Galway compete for possession during this year's Walsh Cup.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

1. Where are Galway at?

OF ALL TEAMS in action this weekend, Galway are the most difficult to get a read on. Still in his first year in charge, Shane O’Neill oversaw five league games in the spring winning three and losing two.

But it’s essentially a new season and O’Neill has had little time to get to know his players, in stark contrast to opposite number Davy Fitzgerald. 

Yet Galway retain the bulk of their 2017 All-Ireland winning side. They haven’t been discussed as potential Liam MacCarthy contenders, which won’t have gone unnoticed by Joe Canning and his teammates.

Joseph Cooney returns after a stint in Australia while Shane Cooney and Fintan Burke will make their championship debuts, with the presence of Canning, Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan up front giving them every chance of taking down Wexford.

Galway have the physicality and size that could perfectly suit this winter All-Ireland series.

2. Could this be Wexford’s year?

It’s the type of year where a team like Wexford could hit the ground running and end up as All-Ireland champions. It would be somewhat of a surprise if Fitzgerald’s side went all the way given the talent at Tipperary and Limerick’s disposal, but it’s not out of the question either. 

They won Leinster and ran the eventual champions close in the All-Ireland semi-final last year. Wexford have performed well in wintery conditions during recent league campaigns and their gameplan is finely honed after three seasons under Fitzgerald.

The majority of the team are now nearing their peak, with the likes of Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and Rory O’Connor in their physical primes. There’s every reason for Yellowbelly supporters to be optimistic about their prospects.

3. Will the extra game benefit Dublin?

Dublin arrive into today’s clash against Kilkenny with one major advantage, they shook off the cobwebs with their victory over Laois last weekend. Given how little preparation time has been afforded to inter-county sides since training resumed, last weekend’s game at Croke Park should stand to Mattie Kenny’s outfit. 

They put up a big score (2-31) against Laois, got used to the various matchday Covid-19 protocols and, most importantly, developed the sharpness that only championship games can provide. 

With Conal Keaney, Paul Ryan and David Treacy hoping to return from injury to make the panel, Kenny should have some more firepower at his disposal. Though Conor Burke impressed on his debut last weekend, the decision to push Chris Crummey and Sean Moran out of defence will come under scrutiny if Dublin are well beaten this afternoon.

mattie-kenny-and-brian-cody-at-the-end-of-the-game Mattie Kenny and Brian Cody. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

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4. Can Reid and Fennelly be stopped?

TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly were in sublime form as Ballyhale Shamrocks lifted the All-Ireland club title earlier this year, and they continued to dominate as the club retained the Kilkenny SHC title last month.

The pair have developed a unique understanding and when positioned at 11 and 14 for the Cats, there are few better attacking spines in the country. Eoghan O’Donnell is likely to be the man tasked with quelling Fennelly’s influence, while midfielder Sean Moran could pick up Reid when he drifts outfield with Daire Gray holding the centre-back position. 

Brian Cody has developed strength in depth on the Kilkenny panel in the past 18 months, but much of their chances hinge on the gifted Ballyhale duo.

5. Where will the Waterford scores come from?

The Deise received a sucker punch 10 days ago with the news that free-taker Pauric Mahony was ruled out for the championship with a knee injury. 

Shane Bennett will take over the placed ball duties in his absence, with extra pressure now placed on debutants Dessie Hutchinson and Jack Fagan, plus star man Austin Gleeson, for scores.

Waterford are coming off the back of two desperately poor campaigns and the talk around their demise will have greatly hurt their experienced players. In Liam Cahill they have an All-Ireland winning minor, U20 and U21 manager who holds a fine record against Cork during his time with Tipperary underage sides.

6. Can Cork do the business in the winter?

Most pundits seem to hold the view that this Cork side are very much a ‘top of the ground’ team and hurling at this time of the year won’t suit them. Given that most games will be played on superb surfaces – with today’s tie at Semple Stadium – the conditions may not affect the Rebels as much as many are presuming. 

Kieran Kingston will use the charges of Cork’s apparent softness as motivation to gee up his troops ahead of the Waterford clash. Expect them to come out all guns blazing from the first whistle.

The absence of Darragh Fitzgibbon will be significant yet they still possess one of the top forward lines in the country and in Patrick Horgan have one of the game’s elite shooters.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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