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Allianz Hurling League: Semi-finals preview
19 Apr 2015 09:09
Four will become two on Sunday as Cork, Dublin, Tipperary and Waterford converge on Nowlan Park for an Allianz Hurling League Division 1 semi-final double-header.
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The winners will book their place in the decider on Sunday 3 May, with the absence of All-Ireland champions Kilkenny, who kept an iron grip on the league trophy for the last three seasons, allowing the GAA to look beyond Croke Park as a venue and avoid any repeat of last weekend's empty stands at the football semi-finals.
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The novel venue only adds to the intrigue factor.
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Can All-Ireland runners-up Tipperary hold off a resurgent Waterford and go on to secure a morale-boosting trophy?
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Have Cork recovered from last year's championship semi-final meltdown? And just how much progress have Dublin made under Ger Cunningham?
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Cork v Dublin, Nowlan Park, 2pm
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Cork scored 21 points in the first half alone of their March league victory over Dublin, running out comfortable 0-34 to 1-20 winners at Croke Park.
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The Rebels are favourites to repeat the trick on Sunday but manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy is wary of an ambush.
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"It'll be a tough game," he told RTÉ Sport. "Having played them already in Croke Park, and won easily on the night, it's never easy to play a team second time around.
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"It's easier to motivate a team when you've been well beaten than a team who have won easily. From that point of view, you'll see a different Dublin team on Sunday than we did in Croke Park.
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"Obviously, on the night it didn't happen for them but they're a good team. They've been around quite a while, they've been Leinster champions and National League champions so there's the basis of a very strong team there. It will be a very competitive outing, I'd imagine."
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The dual All-Ireland winner believes his side have improved since last August's chastening All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Munster rivals Tipperary.
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"I think we've progressed," he said. "There's more competition for places than there was over the last couple of years and I'm hoping that that's the case going forward. We'll learn more on Sunday about the depth of our squad.
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"We're not out in the championship until 7 June so we'd like to get to a final, which would keep us going for another few weeks."
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Dublin boss Ger Cunningham, a Cork legend himself, will have Conal Keaney available after the Ballyboden man was cleared of stamping during their quarter-final win against Limerick.
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Cunningham is keen for another crack at his native county and defended the policy of experimentation that saw some players tried in unfamiliar roles during the league.
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Liam Rushe, for one, appears less comfortable at full-forward than his usual centre-back slot but the manager suggests the reshuffle is all part of a longer-term strategy.
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"We said we'd look at a couple of different options," said Cunningham. "I'm a firm believer that players aren't put into one position and kept there for their whole career.
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"The guys we're talking about are very good hurlers and can play in multiple positions. They would have played in these positions in the past or under age. It's something we've looked and will continue to look at. We'll see how it goes during the year.
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"From the start of the year we had a two-fold ambition of keeping our status in 1A and once, we got that, qualifying for a quarter, semi or even the final. We achieved the first one by beating Limerick in the quarter-final and now we're looking forward to the semi-final.
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"We've played them already and they gave us a bit of a hockeying in Croke Park so it's another opportunity for us again."
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Cork's 11-point margin of victory six weeks ago would suggest Dublin will struggle but since then the Sky Blues have won convincingly against Galway and Limerick.
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Cork, on the other hand, threw away a big lead in defeat to Tipperary and laboured in the quarter-final before putting Wexford away.
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We expect a much closer game this time around and think the Dubs could sneak it.
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Tipperary v Waterford, Nowlan Park, 4pm
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The second pairing sees 1A table-toppers Tipp take on 1B winners Waterford.
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The Déise edged out Limerick and Wexford to win promotion before dominating Galway with a blend of tactical discipline, talent and youthful exuberance.
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Waterford manager Derek McGrath isn't downplaying the significance of their progress this season and says his players will approach the semi-final as "the most serious game" of their lives.
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"We're absolutely delighted to be in the league semi-final," he said. "Especially coming from 1B. In terms of three-year development we're probably a bit ahead of ourselves but we're looking forward to the task on Sunday.
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"It's easy probably for the likes of Tipperary and Kilkenny to park league process and all that kind of stuff. We are probably at the opposite end of the scale in that we just have to approach it as the most serious game of these guys' lives. That's what it is for us and we'll be approaching it with everything we have.
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McGrath acknowledged Tipp were in fine form but insisted his team would relish the challenge of testing themselves against Eamon O'Shea's men.
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"It doesn't intimidate us but you have to respect the fact that they're playing to a different beat at the moment. They beat Kilkenny by 12 points and recovered from a 12-point deficit to beat Cork.
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"They can hurt you from all over the field and they're the form team but what a challenge for our fellas. It's a great preparation for our game against Cork on 7 June."
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Tipperary have won every game since their opening-day defeat to Dublin but will have to plan without a string of regulars on Sunday.
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Goalkeeper Darren Gleeson (knee), Kieran Bergin (ankle ligaments) and Young Hurler of the Year Cathal Barrett (shoulder) are all injured while two-time All-Star Noel McGrath will also be absent after undergoing surgery for testicular cancer.
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Seamus Callanan was initially suspended due to the red card he picked up in the quarter-final against Offaly but the CAC have since cleared him to play, however.
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Corner-back Michael Cahill, who has only recently regained fitness after a hip operation himself, is well aware of the threat Waterford pose to Tipperary's title ambitions.
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"We're under no illusions as to the game on Sunday," he said. "I know a lot of these Waterford guys personally from hurling with them over the years. They may seem young but they're wise beyond their years in terms of hurling and talent.
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"They had a great win against Galway the last day. They're on the up, the same as ourselves, and we're expecting a really tough challenge.
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"It's the next step to championship intensity. We expect to bring it Sunday and we expect no less from Waterford."
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Tipperary were well-beaten in their opening league fixture against Dublin but bounced back to put together a sequence of four wins in a row.
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"Maturity comes with a couple of good wins at your back," said Cahill. "We started a bit slow, which has been our thing over the last few years maybe. The first game or two we haven't been up to scratch.
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"But the couple of wins have stood to us and different guys have stepped up to the plate. A couple of good young fellas have come in, like Ronan Maher and Michael Breen, and made their way on to the scene.
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"Competition is good and morale is good in the camp. It's really standing to us at the moment so please God we can carry it in to Sunday."
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Waterford are a team brimming with confidence and are catching Tipperary at a good time given their opponents' injuries.
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They should push Tipp close but, given that Callanan is now available, we fancy the 1A side to show their class and advance to the final.
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