FIXTURES

SATURDAY 3 JULY

Semi-finals: Galway v Dublin, Croke Park, 2pm,

Kilkenny v Wexford, Croke Park, 4.30pm

ONLINE
Live blogs on both games on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app.

TV
Galway v Dublin and Kilkenny v Wexford live on Sky Sports Arena. Viewers outside of Ireland can watch the games on GAAGO.

The Sunday Game, RTÉ2 at 9.30pm, will have highlights of all the weekend's action.

RADIO

Live updates on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport.

WEATHER

Overall cloudy with scattered outbreaks of rain mostly in Muster and Leinster during the morning. Sunny spells and slow moving thundery showers will spread from the southwest during the afternoon leading to spot flooding in places. Highest temperatures of 17 to 20 degrees, in a light to moderate easterly breezes veering southerly during the afternoon and evening. For more go to met.ie.

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Crowds back at Croker

Yes the hurling promises to be interesting fare, but what a fillip to see fans return to Croke Park for championship action. Of course it is not the first time spectators have been permitted within the turnstiles at GAA HQ - more than 2000 watched on as Derry claimed a Division 3 title before Kilkenny overcame Galway in the camogie decider in front of a similar audience - but it marks another step in the right direction.

The Leinster semi-finals will be played in front of the biggest crowd for a sport event since the pandemic started here with Croke Park opening its gates to 8,000 fans for the double bill.


Tribesmen to flex All-Ireland muscle?

The main problem for the chasing pack in hurling is attempting to match champions Limerick for both skill and power. Some are well covered in one department, but few look well stocked in both areas. Galway however appear in rude health in both fronts.

First and foremost, no team will push this Galway side around and any physical combat will be met head on. An ability to win primary possession right around the pitch, but primarily up front, has been noticeable, where some newer names are cementing their reputations.

Fintan Burke looks a seasoned inter-county hurler, Sean Loftus has brought more energy to proceedings while Evan Niland (pictured above) has carried the burden of the 11 jersey lightly, more over on free-taking duties. Add in another year's experience for goalkeeper Eanna Murphy, plus the eye-catching early season form of Cathal Mannion, Brian Concannon and Conor Whelan, it is understandable while few are predicting the home supporters in attendance to be going home happy.

Dublin however will in some ways relish the underdogs. Their league form suggests that they are where we expect them to be; beating teams just below their level (Laois and Antrim) but losing to sides above them in the pecking order in Clare, Wexford and Kilkenny.

The heavy defeat to the Banner was a particularly sobering afternoon, where again Eoghan O'Donnell kept up his end of the bargain even if his defensive team-mates struggled.

Mattie Kenny's men - notwithstanding the loss of Eamon Dillon - have enough up front to cause trouble, with Donal Burke racking up big tallies from placed balls.

The main issues arise closer to goals and they will need to tighten up considerably if they are to advance to a first provincial decider in seven years.


Cats and Yellowbellies on collision course

There are probably fewer teams Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald enjoys getting one over more than Kilkenny - native Clare aside - though it has less to do with animosity with Brian Cody, more a begrudging respect.

Ever since a finely-tuned Kilkenny side demolished Waterford in the 2008 All-Ireland final in one of the great Croke Park displays, Fitzgerald has pitted his wits against the Cats supremo and given as good as he's got.

Kilkenny's 10-point league win in May was their first win in seven over Wexford; Fitzgerald has managed the Yellowbellies in 14 games against the Cats, coming out on top on eight occasions.

Significantly, the 2018 Leinster round-robin collision in Nowlan Park remains their only championship loss.

The historical baggage may not be there, but question marks over this team's trajectory very much remain. The 2020 championship was nothing short of dismal, a 13-point defeat to Galway followed by a trimming at the hands of Clare and rival Brian Lohan.

The league is often considered something of a phoney war, but the manner of the defeat to Cody's charges will not be lost on their supporters. The gap was six at the first-half water break, 14 at half-time, 10 at the second-half water break and 10 at full-time, at arm's length throughout.

Hitting Laois for 5-31 in their championship opener was a decent start, but Kilkenny have been motoring nicely in the lead-up to the semi-final.

Their only league defeat came in the final outing against Clare, coming out second best despite notching 1-25. Cody is without Colin Fennelly for the year, plus the retirements of Ger Alyward and Paul Murphy means a little reshuffling in personnel.

Eoin Cody put in some strong displays up front, with Billy Ryan showing glimpses of his poaching ability, while captain Adrian Mullen, who missed the winter championship with injury, will be eager to replicate the form that made him the 2019 Young Hurler of the Year.

Follow all the championship matches this weekend with our live blogs on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app.

Watch Roscommon v Galway and Tipperary v Clare live on RTÉ2 (from 12.45pm Sunday) and see highlights of all the weekend's action on The Sunday Game at 9.30pm on RTÉ2.

Listen to live and exclusive national radio commentaries on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday and Sunday Sport.