Peter McNamara picks out three elements of the GAA action to watch out for this weekend.
1 TJ Reid’s inter-county return
Ballyhale Shamrocks’ TJ Reid is fourth favourite to be GAA/GPA Hurler of the Year this term.
Basically, if Kilkenny are to retain the All-Ireland title, Reid is likely to be a pivotal component within Brian Cody’s unit.
He returns to the Cats’ starting line-up for their relegation play-off against Clare tomorrow afternoon in Nowlan Park and his creative qualities should ensure Kilkenny’s attack operates with greater fluidity.
Reid, despite missing a few frees, should have been named man of the match in the All-Ireland Club final marginally ahead of teammate Joey Holden and he is expected to transfer such excellent form on to the inter-county stage.
In Cody’s revised team selection for this forthcoming crunch encounter, Reid is flanked at centre-forward by Walter Walsh and Matthew Ruth while Jonjo Farrell, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan are situated in the inside forward line.
Davy Fitzgerald will need to curtail the probable influence of Reid if Clare are to contain Kilkenny’s offensive juggernaut.
Yet, that will be easier said than done.
One of Reid’s major attributes is his wonderful positional sense which usually leads to him developing devastating plays.
Clare will have their hands full with the craftsman.
2. Limerick’s opportunity to bounce back
TJ Ryan’s side tripped up in their quest to finally shake off the shackles of Division 1B but Limerick have an opportunity to appease their supporters at Croke Park this evening as they tackle Dublin in the league quarter-final.
Of all the matches to be played in both codes this weekend, this particular Dublin-Limerick tie should provide viewers with genuine clues as to how the respective outfits are fixed for a provincial championship tilt.
Both Ryan and Ger Cunningham have selected extremely strong starting 15s, especially the latter, and so whichever team progresses to the last four of the secondary competition will have earned their spot in the penultimate round.
However, the power-orientated nature of Cunningham’s side will mean one of Limerick’s biggest strengths will be negated on this occasion.
The Treaty men are a physical unit and so the hits at headquarters will be hard and plentiful.
A probable semi-final against Cork awaits the victor but unless the likes of David Breen, Declan Hannon and Donal O’Grady drop into deeper pockets effectively to supplement the efforts of midfielders Paul Browne and James Ryan, Dublin’s core presence in the middle-third could be a match-winning factor.
3. No time for shadow-boxing
Anybody making the trip to Ballybofey tomorrow expecting Rory Gallagher and Mickey Harte to be conservative in their tactical approach to earning maximum points from their Allianz NFL Division 1 fixture can think again.
Neither of these managers will want to contemplate the prospect of competing in the second-tier next term.
Challenging the very best the code has to offer in the league is the only way of ensuring a truly competitive edge in preparation for the championship, of course.
Therefore, Gallagher and Harte will not be concerned by the fact that, in seven weeks, they will contest the preliminary round of the Ulster SFC.
Both Donegal and Tyrone need league points, and badly so. Worrying about showing their respective hands prior to the crunch collision in the championship is secondary at this point.
Both teams will need to be at full throttle and the prospective individual battle between the hosts’ full-back Neil McGee and visiting full-forward Sean Cavanagh could be result-defining.
Cavanagh is revelling in being repositioned as the central figure in Tyrone’s full-forward line again and McGee will have to call on all of his defensive nous to guard against the former operator.