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Semple Stadium showdown: The 4 teams bidding for a semi-final spot

Galway, Cork, Clare and Wexford are hunting for a spot in the final four.

Galway 

henry-shefflin-after-the-game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Their recent quarter-final history: In 2020 they enjoyed a 3-23 to 2-24 victory over Tipperary. In 2016 it was a six-point win over Clare. A year previous an 18-year-old Conor Whelan announced himself with 1-2 during a convincing defeat of Cork.

It is noteworthy that seven players who featured for the Tribesmen that day are likely to play in Semple Stadium. For Cork, just Patrick Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Conor Lehane and Damien Cahalane remain. 

Their championship so far: Narrative should not matter. But man forgets reality and latches on to narrative.

Galway’s Leinster championship form looked awesome heading into the provincial final. The reality is that had that late contentious free in Pearse Stadium not been awarded the combination of letting a lead slip in Wexford and that result would have led to the same old talk around flaky Galway. 

Overall it has been mixed. New faces have been welcomed, performances have fluctuated. 

Reasons to be optimistic: In 2016, a flat Leinster final performance was followed up with a quarter-final victory against Clare. Several of the players and coaches involved in that remain there now. 

When asked by The42 this week about that turnaround, Joe Canning pointed to the motivation supplied by one particular pundit. 

“In 2016, Ger Loughnane basically gave it to us between the eyes. Gave it to Donoghue about Fr Trendy. The fact we were playing Clare in a quarter-final was the perfect recipe for us. Obviously, Ger is from Clare. We used that, 100%.

“If it was a different county we were playing maybe we mightn’t have the same, let’s say we played Wexford and Ger Loughnane said it we might not have had the same mindset. The fact he was from Clare got us up for the game and the quarter-final. If he didn’t say anything, we might not have won that match.”

Can they find a Corkman willing to slate Galway and inspire a similar response? 

Cause for concern: The Leinster final performance was a malfunction on several levels. Their gameplan faltered, they were slow to make changes, the puck-out failed, their free-taker misfired. Plenty to mend and not much time to do it. 

A dilemma for their manager: How do they get more out of Cathal Mannion? His ability is undeniable. Yet the floating forward was quiet last time out and failed to score from play. 

Cork 

patrick-horgan-leaves-the-pitch-after-the-game Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Their recent quarter-final history: They cruised past Dublin in 2021 2-26 to 0-24, racing the semi-final for the first time since 2018. If they win this time and Wexford progress, Cork face Kilkenny once again. If Clare triumph and Cork win, they face Limerick. 

Their championship so far: After two rounds they looked at sea but Kieran Kingston recovered a capsized ship in Walsh Park. It did not take mass change either. Backed it up against Tipperary before navigating tricky waters in Corrigan Park. Recalling Séamus Harnedy provided a focal point in attack while they still maintained their preference to work through the lines. 

Reasons to be optimistic: Cork have enough pace to cause any team problems. Top championship goalscorer Alan Connolly and Darragh Fitzgibbon are huge threats that Henry Shefflin and his backroom team know need special planning for. 

Cause for concern: After twenty minutes in Corrigan Park, Cork had conceded two goals. Throughout the championship, question marks have lingered over their defensive structure and the makeup of the full-back line. There is added concern after two defenders, Robert Downey and Sean O’Donoghue, limped off the field last Saturday. 

A dilemma for their manager: In his 15th championship, Cork great Patrick Horgan will start on the sidelines. The toughest outing Daithí Burke endured so far this year was against the sharpshooter in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. He scored 0-12 in last year’s quarter-final. Can Horgan still make the difference from the bench? 

Clare

brian-lohan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Their recent quarter-final history: In 2020, Clare met Waterford and ran out nine-point losers. A year later Brian Lohan suggested there was one significant problem: “The big thing from last year was our fitness, we were blown out of it in the last 10 minutes last year.”

Trevor Slattery and Mike Carmody came on board with a custom-made strength and conditioning program. Carmody is a former Munster senior cross country champion, who holds a 3k PB of 8:30. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Clare were able to go toe-to-toe with one of the best-conditioned sides in the history of the game for 70 minutes. 

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Their championship so far: Near-perfect. Started with a bye, steamrolled Tipperary and stunned Cork a week later. A team on the rise.

Reasons to be optimistic: The Munster final performance was not their ceiling. David Reidy, Shane Meehan, Robin Mounsey, Aidan McCarthy and Mark Rodgers are all returning to match fitness. Peter Duggan and Rory Hayes were cleared to play.

Cause for concern: Expectation. When is the last time a Clare time were so heavily fancied? How will they respond to the disappointment of a 24-year wait prolonged? Their battle now is a mental one.

A dilemma for their manager is: Lifting it once again. Just four counties have won an All-Ireland after previously losing their provincial finals: 1998′s Offaly, 2004′s Cork, Kilkenny in 2012 and Tipperary in 2019. 

Wexford 

conor-mcdonald Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Their recent quarter-final history: In 2018, they lost out to Clare 0-27 to 1-17. A year later they won Leinster and progressed straight to the semi-final. Two disappointing campaigns followed. 

Their championship so far: Peaks and troughs. They could have no complaints after a well-coached and dogged Westmeath held them to a draw but responded brilliantly to beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park and save their season. Finished with two wins, two draws and a loss. 

Reasons to be optimistic: The return of Lee Chin. He has moved past his hamstring nightmare and is back up to speed, hitting 0-14 against Kerry last weekend. If Wexford are to deliver a shock they need Chin on song. 

Cause for concern: Since putting 5-31 past Laois this time last year, Wexford have only enjoyed one 70-minute full performance in championship hurling. That is what will be required today. 

A dilemma for their manager: Shane Reck picked up Tony Kelly in last year’s game and conceded just 0-1 from play off him. The 2013 Hurler of the Year is in sensational form. This poses major problems for Wexford. Limerick can rely on their collective structure, but Darragh Egan’s has not had the time to develop a similar system. He will be tagged. The dilemma is who takes on the task. 

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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