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Donal O'Grady: Race for this year's All-Ireland hurling title is wide open

Updated: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 11:21 | Comments

Donal O'Grady is expecting a tight race in the quest to lift Liam MacCarthy
Donal O'Grady is expecting a tight race in the quest to lift Liam MacCarthy

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While accepting that Kilkenny are now favourites to regain the All-Ireland hurling title, RTÉ analyst Donal O’Grady believes that the chasing pack aren’t that far behind in the pursuit of September glory.

The Cats' victory over Dublin in Sunday’s Leinster final sees them at the head of the betting. Their position in the market could change after next Sunday’s eagerly awaited Munster final when Cork take on Limerick.

The Rebels have added to their squad since last year and are now viewed as a more potent force. That said, Limerick will be no pushovers in their pursuit of back-to-back provincial titles. O’Grady is anticipating a close encounter.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport, he said: “Cork have a big question to answer next weekend against Limerick in what will be a 50-50 game.

"Cork will be slight favourites but Limerick will fancy their chances going down to Páirc Úi Chaoimh. Nothing has been written about them since they beat Tipperary. They’ll be buoyed up and won’t lack confidence. We'd all agree that Cork have improved but they’ve won nothing yet."

Taking the bigger picture into account, the 1984 All-Ireland winner sees a compelling finish to this year's hurling championship 

"You have to say that the All-Ireland series is up for grabs," he revealed.

"Kilkenny are favourites, deservedly so at this stage. However, you wouldn’t say they’re overwhelming favourites and that the pack is way behind them.

"It’s going to be nip and tuck from here on in and whoever the victors are in the remaining games – well the outcomes should not be looked upon as a surprise."

O’Grady also cast his eye over the upcoming ties in the hurling qualifiers. Following Monday’s draw, Tipperary will face Offaly – while Waterford await the winners of the Wexford/Clare replay.

"Offaly would have been the preferred opposition for the other teams in the draw," he added.

"That has fallen Tipperary’s way and they’ll be favourites to win that game. Offaly are looking for redemption.They clawed their way out of Ballycastle recently (against Antrim) after the heavy defeat to Kilkenny.

"You would have to say that Eamon O’Shea (Tipperary manager) – I wont’ say he was rubbing his hands – but he will feel that he got the rub of the green and probably deserved it.

"He didn’t get much luck over the last two seasons, so they’ll be sense of delight with the draw."

As for the other side of the draw, O'Grady, not surprisingly, sees it as a tougher puzzle to solve.

“You might just fancy Clare to win the replay against Wexford having got out of jail the last day. Their touch was a bit off. They’re under a bit of pressure – the pressure of being All-Ireland champions.

"They lost to Cork and there was much talk about their tactics.

"I think they’ll have to go back to the way they played last year with a seven-man defence, take it from there and see how far that brings them. 

"They are not the team they were last year. Pat Donnellan, their inspirational captain last season, was withdrawn in their last two matches. I think the drawn match with Wexford will bring them on an awful lot.

"A win the next day will see them face Waterford. They'll have the benefit of the extra game to hone their skills. That said, it’s a difficult one to call. There is not a whole lot between any of the teams left in the championship."       

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