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Race For Liam: The 4 teams bidding for All-Ireland hurling glory

Galway, Tipperary, Cork and Waterford are all still in the running.

pjimage Burke, Maher, Lehane and Barron chase All-Ireland glory. Source: INPHO

Galway

Their recent semi-final history involves… mixed results. They overcame the hiatus from action in 2012 to hand off Cork and then saw off Tipperary in a thriller in 2015. Galway suffered a reversal in fortunes at the hands of Tipperary last August and recent evidence suggests the winning margin will be wafer-thin next Sunday.

Joe Canning with Michael Donoghue Joe Canning and Micheal Donoghue after the Leinster final win. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The player they cannot do without is… Daithi Burke. Could land a third All-Star award on the bounce this autumn, a testament to his defensive excellence. The challenges will increase from hereon in, starting with the task of shutting down Seamus Callanan on Sunday.

Burke was successful in that respect in 2016, restricting in Callanan in open play compared to the chaos the Drom-Inch man caused in 2015. If Galway are to end their Liam MacCarthy Cup drought, they’ll need a pair of solid showings from their defensive anchor.

They will be happy because… since that slip up against Wexford in February – which did cost them league promotion – they have not put a foot wrong. They blitzed Tipperary in the league final and cruised to the Leinster title as they raised an average of 30 points per game.

Their attack is loaded with players in good form, particularly Conor and Joseph Cooney, while Micheal Donoghue is a manager singularly focused on keeping his players grounded.

They will be worried because… that five-week spell of inactivity may bother them considering they will a collide with a team who gathered momentum during July. As stunning as the heights Galway have scaled this summer have been, there is also a question over the calibre of opposition they have met.

Cork

Their recent semi-final history involves… a scarring experience against Tipperary in 2014, an important win at the time against Dublin in 2013 and being sent to the exit door by Galway in 2012. The defeat three years ago is most relevant. Current manager Kieran Kingston, a selector back then, is well aware of the need to get his team hitting full speed on this occasion in contrast to that collapse.

Kieran Kingston celebrates with Seamus Harnedy Kieran Kingston celebrates with Seamus Harnedy. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The player they cannot do without is… Conor Lehane. Rattled off 0-10 from play during the Munster campaign from the half-forward line and while he only scored once in a quieter display against Clare, an ankle injury was a contributory factor. In electric form against Tipperary and Waterford, he offers Cork vital ingredients of pace and aerial prowess in the half-forward line sector.

They will be happy because… they have progressed hugely from their 2016 championship travails. Collecting a Munster crown after three stylish victories represents a stunning transformation from the limp qualifier exit last summer against Wexford. Cork’s young players have also prospered in their debut senior season.

They will be worried because… the element of surprise they possessed in their province has been removed from the equation and it is tricky to see off a team twice in the same summer. That’s the challenge against a Waterford team who have improved since June. Would be interesting to see how Cork would fare if facing a notable deficit in the final quarter of a game as well.

Tipperary

Their recent semi-final history involves… victories to a large extent with some members of this team having the last four winning experiences of 2009, 2010 and 2011 to draw upon, while the current setup has shown their worth in 2014 and 2016 semi-finals. The loss to Galway in that 2015 classic was dispiriting but Tipperary are generally a team who get the job done at this stage.

Michael Ryan celebrates with Daragh Mooney Tipperary manager Michael Ryan with goalkeeper Daragh Mooney. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The player they cannot do without is… Padraic Maher. Their galaxy of attacking stars dazzled the last day out against Clare yet the crux of the matter was that they needed Maher to move across to disrupt Peter Duggan’s dominance in a tense finale. It’s been an awkward year for some Tipperary defenders but their captain remains as formidable and key for them as ever.

They will be happy because… things look to be slotting into place for the reigning champions when you consider how their aspirations were rated after those losses to Galway and Cork in the space of a month earlier this year. A favourable draw helped coax them back into their best form before they showcased that lethal attack of Callanan, O’Dwyer and the McGrath brothers against Clare.

They will be worried because… the full-back line is a glaring issue after the All-Ireland winning rearguard has been broken up. Cathal Barrett is an obvious loss and uncertainty reigned there against Clare. Past meetings informs them they must be steeled for a fierce battle with Galway.

Waterford

Their recent semi-final history involves… disappointment. It’s their third year on the bounce reaching this juncture but at least they’ve already taken care of Kilkenny to ensure it won’t be a hat-trick of last four defeats to the Cats. Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh are the sole survivors from that 2008 semi-final win over Tipperary, everyone else is chasing a maiden win.

Derek McGrath Waterford boss Derek McGrath. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The player they cannot do without is… Jamie Barron. This summer has seen greater recognition of the value of the Fourmilewater man. Their best performer in defeat against Cork, his class in extra-time proved the critical difference against Kilkenny. It was notable how Wexford sought to stymie his jinking, all-action style and Cork will have something similar in mind for Sunday week.

They will be happy because… they’re two steps away from landing the Holy Grail and must surely be emboldened at finally breaking the barrier Kilkenny had put in front of them. Their form is a lot better as well entering this Cork rematch compared to the uncertainty when they played in June for the first time in 11 weeks.

They will be worried because… of the potential loss of Tadhg de Búrca, the defensive cornerstone of their team and a brilliant distributor of the ball. His absence would demand a rethink and they would need to improve their scoring output from the June game against Cork, when they hit 1-15 and only three points in the last half hour of play.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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