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The Balls.ie GAA Nerds Preview The Weekend Action

The Balls.ie GAA Nerds Preview The Weekend Action
By GAA Nerds Updated
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[tps_header]The Balls.ie GAA Nerds preview the weekend action; including Limerick vs Tipp, Wexford vs Dublin, Offaly vs Kilkenny and the Christy Ring Cup final between Kerry and Down. There's also a little bit of number crunching on the football championship so far.[/tps_header]

Limerick vs Tipperary Munster Hurling Championship Semi-Final 4pm Sunday

Tipperary open the defence of their Munster Hurling title in the Gaelic Grounds this Sunday against Limerick. The Treaty County are on the back of a two month lay-off following their defeat at the hands of Dublin in the Division 1B final. On the other hand, Tipperary prepared for Munster Championship fare with a three point loss to Kilkenny in the league final in Nowlan Park, just a month ago.

Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Hurling in the second tier of the league, is often cited as a barrier to success come the early rounds of the championship. There’s no doubting the benefit of hurling against superior opposition in the league, but its importance can sometimes be overstated. It should be remembered that Limerick belied their lack of Division 1 hurling last year to race into a seven point lead against the same opposition, only to falter in the last twenty minutes. Of greater concern to John Allen this Sunday, will be how Limerick cope with a two month absence from competitive hurling of any kind. The league format is riddled with inequalities, this bias being just one example.

John Allen will have raised a few eyebrows with the omission of both Shane Dowling & Kevin Downes from the Limerick attack. Despite this, he has still named an exciting full forward line of Mulcahy, Hannon & Tobin. Limerick will be heavily reliant on this trio to provide the bulk of their scores, as their half forward line looks extremely light on scoring potential. Eamon O’ Shea will know that if Tipperary can stifle their inside line, the life will be sucked from the Limerick challenge. The Tipperary half back line will sit as deep as possible to provide protection to their full back line. On the basis that Limerick do not have the scorers in the half forward line, they will struggle to drag the Tipperary half back line out of position, thereby failing to create precious space for their lethal inside forwards.

Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Tipperary have the ability to hurt you from all over the park, including at midfield, where Brendan Maher seems to be back to his very best. The strength in depth of this Tipperary forward line is incredible, and is best evidenced by the names that have missed out on selection and include; Lar Corbett (injury), Eoin Kelly & Pa Bourke. Paudie Maher may have been run ragged at centre back by Michael Fennelly in the league final, but back in his customary left half back position, he should be able to launch attack after attack for the Premier County.

Limerick are strong from 1-9, particularly the full back line, with the excellent Tom Condon at corner back and all star nominee Richie McCarthy manning the square. Limerick are a well organised side and they will look to feed the inside line with quick diagonal ball, wherever possible. The worry from a Limerick perspective is that they simply won’t amass enough scores over the course of 70 minutes to stick with this excellent Tipperary attack, led by Noel McGrath. Limerick look likely to gain yet another unwanted moral victory, but Tipperary should advance to their third consecutive Munster Final showdown.

On a separate note, the buzz in the square of Thurles, which is a trademark of Munster Championship Hurling, was notably absent last Sunday, as just twelve thousand people were admitted to Semple Stadium. The IFRU failed to fill Lansdowne Road in 2010 for the Autumn Internationals and were proactive by reducing ticket prices. The Munster Council need to review its pricing strategy as a matter of some urgency, before the allure of the Munster Championship is further diminished.

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Mark Fives - @MFives86

Offaly vs Kilkenny Leinster Hurling Championship Quarter Final 2pm Sunday

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Offaly have the unenviable task of a date with the defending All Ireland champions, Kilkenny, this Sunday in the Quarter final of the Leinster Hurling Championship. The bookies have Offaly marked down as 11 point underdogs, indicating the size of the task facing Ollie Baker’s men.

Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

The big story emerging from Noreside this week, is that Henry Shefflin will miss his first championship match since making his debut in 1999, constituting the end of a run of 62 consecutive championship matches. An incredible feat from one of the greats, particularly as the modern game has become more and more attritional. Kilkenny will miss Shefflin in the Leinster Championship, they just won’t miss him this weekend.

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Offaly had an unremarkable league campaign, beating Carlow, Antrim & Wexford and going under to both Limerick & Dublin. Offaly were without the Kilcormac/ Killoughey players for the majority of the league, as they contested the All Ireland club final on St. Patrick’s Day. Coolderry were also victorious in the Leinster Hurling Final in 2011, hinting at the ability that lies within the Offaly borders. The Faithful County will have been glad to confirm superiority over Wexford, following up their 2012 championship victory with one in the league. Offaly have talented players of genuine quality dotted throughout their 15 including in particular, Rory Hanniffy, Shane Dooley & Brian Carroll. But there is a chasm in terms of the quality of the respective teams and it’s hard to see Offaly coping with this Kilkenny line-up.

Kilkenny, Galway & Tipperary are operating at a level far removed from that of Offaly and indeed the rest of the country. For all the talk of the most open league in living memory, the trio mentioned above still occupied the top spots in the league table. Offaly are sitting in the third tier of inter county hurling teams at the moment, ranking behind the likes of Cork, Clare, Waterford, Limerick & Dublin. The success or failure of Offaly’s year will not hinge on Sunday’s result, the real work for Ollie Baker will begin two weeks later, in the Qualifiers.

The ‘conveyor belt’ of talent that is supposedly emerging from Kilkenny is overhyped to a certain extent and the Leinster Final last year proved that Kilkenny are as susceptible to a few key injuries as every other team. Remember, Shefflin singlehandedly dragged The Cats back into the drawn All Ireland Final, highlighting his continued importance to this team. That being said, the emergence of Lester Ryan, Walter Walsh & Colin Fennelly in the past couple of years will offer encouragement to Brian Cody. A Henry Shefflin comes along but once in a generation after all.

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Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Offaly do not have the quality and I would venture, belief to trouble a Kilkenny short of the services of Shefflin & the form hurler in the country, Michael Fennelly, if he is in fact ruled out through injury. The ruthlessness with which Kilkenny successfully seek out goals is absolutely incredible. The goals will come, of that you can be assured with this Kilkenny outfit. The worry is that the earlier the goals come, the longer the day will be for The Faithful County. Kilkenny will win comfortably, but Offaly will succeed in frustrating Brian Cody’s men.

Mark Fives - @MFives86

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Wexford vs Dublin Leinster Hurling Championship Quarter Final 7pm Saturday

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Wexford host Dublin in the quarter-final of the Leinster Hurling Championship this Saturday, with the Dubs making the trip to the sunny south east. The teams met in Wexford Park in the league in March, where Dublin ran out comfortable winners by thirteen points.

Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

The battle for promotion to Division 1A hurling is akin to the ‘race’ for 4th spot in the Premier League, a means to an end. With those not qualifying, seemingly left behind, as the best just keep improving. Dublin overcame a decent Limerick team by the minimum margin in the Division 1B decider, but the hammering dished out by Tipperary in the League semi final showed the gulf that still exists between the best & the rest. Their hurling was poor and the concession of several soft goals was indicative of this, they simply never landed a punch. The full back line struggled, but given how badly Anthony Daly’s men were beaten all over the pitch, I’m not sure the blame lies entirely with the last line of defence.

The focus for Liam Dunne’s team at the start of the league campaign would have been the fixtures against Offaly, Dublin & Limerick. They failed to win any of these games, taking a battering off Dublin at home & drawing with a depleted Limerick in the final round of the league fixtures. In truth, an improving Carlow were unlucky not to have beaten the Model County as well. Wexford struggled badly when teams ran at them, and seem to lack a bit of pace, either of foot or in their striking, in some key areas. The continued absence of their best hurler, Diarmuid Lyng, through illness, does not help their chances. Rory Jacob & Paul Morris will be expected to do the lion’s share of the scoring. Wexford are a nice, well prepared team, but lack the star quality, which is required to be truly successful at this level. Lee Chin has amazingly been selected at midfield on Saturday night for the Wexford hurlers and at corner back for the footballers the day after.

Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Dublin are a physical, athletic team and would appear well equipped to trouble the Wexford rearguard this Saturday. Conal Keaney is both a ball winner and a natural scorer. Danny Sutcliffe roams all over the forward line and will get the Wexford half back line defending running towards their own goal, with his direct style of running. Liam Rushe is one of Dublin’s best players and can play anywhere across the field, such is his ability. He will be marshalling the Dublin defence at centre back and above all else must not allow the Dublin full back line to get as exposed as it did in the league semi final. The argument levelled against Dublin since their renaissance under Daly has been that they are athletes and not hurlers. Their hurling against Tipperary would do little do allay these doubts.

Anything other than a significant improvement from Dublin on the performance against Tipperary will not be good enough to beat the home side. That being said, very little in Wexford’s league form would suggest that they are going to upset the favourites on Saturday evening. I’m happy to overlook that last Dublin performance on the basis that it was just too bad to be true. Dublin should be good enough to advance to the Leinster Semi Final, but Wexford appear the most likely of the three outsiders, to cause an upset in the hurling championship this weekend.

Mark Fives - @MFives86

Christy Ring Cup Final Kerry vs Down Croke Park 4pm Saturday.

The sides have already met once this year, in the opening round when Kerry prevailed in a thriller in Newry, 3-16 to 2-17. It is just two years since Kerry last claimed this title when they swept past Wicklow and at the time there was some suggestions that they might be on the verge of making the step-up to Liam McCarthy Cup level. However their reign as champions was brought to a shuddering halt in Newbridge when Kildare shocked them in the second round last year and that saw former Wexford manager John Meyler step down. Meyler was replaced by former Clare star Tom Howard and he helped the Kingdom battle back this year. After challenging for promotion in Division 2A alongside Laois and Westmeath, they exacted revenge on Kildare in the Christy Ring semi-final with a 1-14 to 0-10 victory two weeks ago. Prior to that they had disposed of Derry in a hard fought, gritty second round encounter.

Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

In comparison to Kerry’s fairly straight forward path to the final, Down have had a roller-coaster ride to their third Christy Ring Cup
final. Having being pipped by Kerry in the opening round the Mourne men had to travel to Crossmaglen to see off Armagh in the second round. They followed that up with a 3-7 to 0-9 win over Derry in the quarter-final before they squared off against Meath in an epic semi-final. The sides tied 1-25 2-22 after extra-time while Down finally shook off the Royals in a replay last Saturday. That means that Gerard Monan’s side, who have been under the tutelage of Paul Flynn this year, will be facing their sixth game in as many weeks when they emerge onto the hallowed turf of Croke Park on Saturday. It is hardly the ideal preparation for the 1992 All Ireland senior semi-finalists who are looking to make up for two heart-breaking defeats at this stage in 2005 and 2009.

Picture credit: Philip Fitzpatrick / SPORTSFILE

Surprisingly only five of the Kerry team that started the 2011 final against Wicklow, Bernard Rochford, Darren Dineen, John Griffin, Darragh O’Connell, Shane Nolan are in the starting fifteen against Down this weekend. Nolan has been in inspired form this year and will be the man that
Kerry will look towards to lead the line on Saturday. The Kingdom have made one change from the team that beat Kildare in the semi-final, Padraig Boyle replacing Gary O’Brien in the forward line.

Down have their own sharp-shooter in the form of Paul Braniff who has shot 5-90 in all competitions so far this year. The Down men have made two changes for this weekend’s clash with the suspended Paudie Flynn being replaced by Ben Toner and Kevin McGarry coming in for Scott Nicholson.

Cormac O'Malley - @CormacPro

The first month of our marquee national competition has sparked unprecedented debate about the flaws in the provincial system and the potential structures which could be implemented. Analysing the statistics gives us a better idea of the gulfs in class and whether the current system is feasible for the future.

We’ve crunched some numbers and the results seem to show that it may have been better had the past month not have happened. Over the month there have been 14 football championship games, beginning with New York vs Leitrim and finishing with Derry vs Down last Sunday. Over the 14 games, the average winning margin has been 11.42 points per game. The smallest winning margin was London vs Sligo, which the Exiles won by a point. The largest winning margin was Kerry vs Waterford, which Kerry won by 26 points. Of the 14 games six have been decided by a margin of 1-9 points, six have been decided by 10-19 points, while 2 have been decided by 20+ points.

Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

The GAA always prides itself on the drama and spectacle attached to championship games, so most worrying of all is the fact that only 2 of 14 games were decided by one score, the London vs Sligo game and the Wicklow vs Longford game. More disturbing is the fact that the winning sides have scored 29 goals over the 14 games in comparison to the 6 goals scored by the losing teams.

Those arguing for a new championship structure have referred to league as the best indicator of form. Ranking each team by where they finished in the 2013 league, there was an average of 12.23 places between teams that have played each other so far this year. That is a gap of a division and a half on average per game. The biggest gap was again Kerry and Waterford, with the Kingdom finishing 24 places ahead of their Munster opponents. Down vs Derry and Laois vs Louth were the closest with both teams in each games finishing just one place apart in the league.

The GAA is in direct competition with other sports, namely soccer and rugby. In these sports there would rarely be a situation where a teams season is defined by a one off game against an opponent far superior in ranking to them. In soccer it happens in Cup competition, but the cup is seen as a bonus, while league is the fundamental part of the season. In rugby if it were to happen it would be part of a 4 team group, so for example if Zebre were to play Leinster in the Heineken Cup Pool Stage they would still have games against another two lower ranked teams which they would have a more realistic chance of winning.

But are we being too harsh? Of the 14 games thus far, the higher ranked team has won 9, in comparison to 5 for the lower ranked team. In Ulster there has been a 66% success rate for lower ranked teams, while in Munster there has been a 100% success rate for higher ranked teams. What this suggests is that the Ulster Championship is an exciting and worthwhile experiment, while the Munster system may need to be altered. The Leinster Championship has a 60% success rate for the higher ranked teams, while the Connacht Championship has a 66% success rate for the higher ranked teams.

These gaps aren’t of benefit to the teams or the supporters. Early championship isn’t capturing the imagination and crowds are staying away, as highlighted by the 33.000 who attended the double header in Croke Park last weekend. If the following month reflects what has gone before we may need to start giving some serious thought to a new structure.

Hugh Gallagher - @HughGallySport

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