SATURDAY

Offaly v Wexford, Bord na Mona O'Connor Park, 7pm

We’re planning a warm welcome for Wexford in Tullamore! Offaly lost their first two matches to Galway and Kilkenny and Wexford had a late, narrow win against Dublin.

Wexford got their win in Wexford Park last Saturday so the writing is on the wall – if Offaly lose, they’re going to have to go to Parnell Park to play Dublin next week needing a win to stay up. So it’s a huge, huge evening and I’m expecting to see a massively determined performance from Offaly.

Whether that’s enough, I don’t know, and on all known form Wexford are operating at a higher level in the League for the past few years so I expect them to win it, but I think Offaly will go down with all guns blazing.

Verdict: Wexford

Kilkenny have to travel west of the Shannon

Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Stadium, 4pm

I fancy Galway. I’ve been saying since before the Championship that they have the most settled team – they started 13 of their All-Ireland team against Offaly – and Kilkenny had a lot of debutants against Dublin.

They got more experience the last day against Offaly, but there’s still a little bit of an unsettled look about the team and maybe Brian Cody isn’t sure of his best 15 yet.

I think we’ll find out a bit more out about Galway; is the hunger still there? They’ll have to be a lot sharper than they have been because they cruised through the League, but I think Galway will win what will be a historic occasion with Leinster hurling going to Salthill for the first time.

Verdict: Galway

Old rivals Tipp and Cork go at it again

Tipperary v Cork, Semple Stadium, 2pm

Tipperary were very disappointing against Limerick. I did fancy Limerick to beat them and the problems that showed up for Tipp in the League final were there again.

Cork had a good win against Clare, when they were very impressive up front and the backs showed a lot more aggression than they have done in the last few years.

Having said all that, Tipp don’t become a bad team overnight. They have been in the top one or two for the last eight or nine years, they have a lot of quality and I’d say they’ll start with a lot more experienced team than they did the last day – it backfired a bit with all the new players they started last Sunday against Limerick.

I think Mick Ryan was trying to freshen things up and you could see from his reaction afterwards that he wasn’t happy. They have their backs to the wall because if they lose this they’re in serious trouble in the Championship so maybe after Sunday we’ll be saying that Tipperary are back.

Verdict: Tipperary

Waterford will play their first Munster match of the season this weekend

Clare v Waterford, Cusack Park, 3pm

During the week I was maybe fancying a surprise – the home team have the advantages in these games, but I was thinking maybe Waterford’ might do it

Their back line, the way they play with Tadhg de Burca as a sweeper and the likes of Noel Connors, the Fives brothers, Philip Mahony, Conor Gleeson – tough men, outstanding defenders - it's hard to break down that backline.

Then news emerged during the week that Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony were more than likely going to be out. The free-taking of Pauric Mahony is so important and also his general play, where he pops up with three or four points from play and acts as a link-man between the seven men in defence and the forward line, and Austin Gleeson with the touch of genius that he has – without the two of them, I don’t think Waterford can go to Ennis and win.

On that basis I expect Clare to win. Clare, who lost to Cork last week, have a game plan with the likes of Tony Kelly, Colin Galvin, John Conlon all able to score from distance and that’s what they’ll have to do. They’ll have to carry the ball and score from out the field and they have the ability to do that.

Verdict: Clare

Michael Duignan was speaking to RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland

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