By Joe Dooley
What a day’s hurling we have in prospect on Sunday. With an expected full house at Semple Stadium in Thurles, it is an occasion not to be missed.
Wexford and Limerick are first up at 2pm in what will be a titanic struggle in front of huge support from each county. Liam Dunne’s side are on a great run of games since they first drew with All-Ireland champions Clare in Ennis three weeks ago.
They are a team that is growing in strength and confidence with each passing game.
From my playing days with Offaly, we experienced first-hand in 1996 and ‘97 what it was like to come up against a highly motivated Wexford team with massive support behind them.
When the Yellowbellies get their tails up they are hard to stop. They have their own tradition to look back on and that makes it easier to instil that inner belief that is required to win big games.
Liam Dunne has unearthed a number of very good young hurlers with size such as Liam Ryan, Lee Chin, Conor McDonald, Liam Óg McGovern and Jack Guiney and he has also worked very hard on achieving the required levels of fitness to take on the top teams.
This paid off in the extra time games against Clare and they finished very strongly against Waterford.
The only concern is the number of games they have played in the last three weeks – including their victory in the Leinster U-21 final
Their forwards are moving well and scored 3-12 from play against the Deise with eight players in total on the score sheet. The availability of Keith Rossiter could be crucial to the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Limerick, on the other hand, had a very good win over Tipperary in the Munster semi- final but did not get up to the same level of intensity against Cork in the final.
They missed a few chances early on in the game and were always struggling to keep up with the Rebels, who are a much improved side from last year and got the breaks on the day.
TJ Ryan will need to tighten up his back-line, who conceded 2-18 from play last time out.
They also need to get more from some of their key forwards such as Declan Hannon., Kevin Downes and David Breen. Some positional switches might also help these and other players.
Limerick will pose a much stiffer challenge for Wexford than Waterford managed to put up. Both teams like to play a no nonsense direct brand of hurling and are at their best when really pumped up.
It has the makings of a classic game and hopefully Barry Kelly will let the game run when he can.
We are down to the last six teams in the championship and while both these outfits are ranked as outsiders there is no reason why either of them cannot go on and win the All-Ireland.
Look at what Clare did last year. Offaly did it in 1994 when we were written off and Wexford has their glory in 1996.
This is a huge game for both teams and I just fancy Wexford to come out on top on the basis that they are on a very good run of form. Their confidence is high and from past experience when in that mood they are hard to beat.
Dublin to bounce back against Tipperary:
Tipperary and Dublin face up in the second game with Brian Gavin the man in the middle. The stakes are very high in this clash for all concerned. I do not see this encounter as being an open, flowing type of game. It will be more a game of attrition.
The Dubs, with Anthony Daly at the helm, have been on the road now for a few years and have reached two All-Ireland semi-finals, only to come up slightly short in both.
They had a good year in 2013 winning the Leinster title and almost beating Cork, but this summer has not gone as well, losing badly last time out to Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
It was a complete no-show by Dublin, who only managed to only score 1-5 from play, and this was not helped by the tactic of playing with an extra defender in the early stages.
No one will have been more disappointed with their performance than the Dublin players and management and I expect a huge backlash in Sunday’s game.
I would also suspect that Daly will make a few positional switches to freshen up the team and take away the predictability of their line-outs.
To win they will need especially big performances from their two central defenders - Peter Kelly and Liam Rushe - and up front from all their forwards - but Conal Keaney and Danny Sutcliffe in particular.
They will need to create and score goal chances as it is very difficult to see Dublin winning this game on points alone.
Tipperary, after their disappointing loss to Limerick, have since bounced back with good wins over Galway and Offaly.
The victory against Galway got their year back on track and their supporters behind them. They came from six points down with 20 minutes to go to win by nine, outscoring Galway by 2-10 to 0-1 in that period.
The Premier have unearthed a few good young players this year in Cathal Barrett, James Barry and John O’Dwyer.
Seamus Callanan has been the star man up front, scoring 5-18 alone in the last two games and is getting great assistance from O’Dwyer, Noel McGrath and Lar Corbett. Patrick ‘Bonner' Maher’s workrate is invaluable to the team.
Conor O’Mahony’s absence through injury is a big loss to Tipperary but Eamon O’Shea knows they have a huge challenge ahead of them on Sunday, which should ensure no complacency in the camp.
When you match up the players head-to-head, then predicting the outcome of this game is not so clear cut. When both teams met in a crucial final round league game earlier this year, very little separated the sides.
Dublin have been very competitive in knockout games over the last few years and if they can keep a rein on the Tipp forwards then I think Anthony Daly’s men can come away with a famous victory.