Dublin have improved, but Galway games will stand to Kilkenny

Johnny McCaffrey - part of an outstanding Dublin midfield with Joey Boland

I’m going to start today with the Leinster final, though it’s not the most important game of the weekend.

Whoever loses here will still be in the All-Ireland championship, a reward for getting this far; whoever loses in the two qualifier games is gone for 2014.

Kilkenny have been waiting for this game for a year; they didn’t play in Croke Park last year, haven’t won a Leinster title since 2011 – they want this one and they want it badly.

But so do Dublin.

They are the champions, having beaten both Kilkenny and Galway on the way to the title last year. Now they want to show that last year was no flash in the pan. Even more than that, they want to get back to another All-Ireland semi-final and take at least one step more than they took in 2013.

I’m hearing all this talk about Dublin going to try to run Kilkenny off their feet in Croke Park, specifically targeting JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Hogan. What’s all that about? Does anyone remember when those guys were speed merchants, when they relied on pace to get the better of the men they were marking? Yet how many times have they been outhurled in their positions over the years, even by the fastest of players?

I don’t know if Dublin and Anthony Daly are thinking like that but if they are, they’re very wrong. Why did Kilkenny lose last year? Maybe it was because they didn’t get to Croke Park! Kilkenny love ‘The Big House’, this Kilkenny team especially see it almost as their birthright to play there.

Then I’m hearing that Kilkenny didn’t want the extra games. Nonsense. Of course you want extra games, especially when you’re winning, and the tougher the better – it’s the best way of all for a team to grow, to learn about itself, and Brian Cody did need to learn a few things this year.

I’m expecting changes in the Kilkenny team. I don’t know the starting line-up at the time of writing but if Michael Fennelly is near 100%, he’ll be there. Even if he’s not though Kilkenny have this habit of finding players able to fill the gaps, as Galway found to their cost last week.

Dublin have improved this year, though – like last year – the performance in Wexford wasn’t good. The difference this year was that they won it at the first attempt. They now have a very settled team, outstanding midfield in Joey Boland and Johnny McCaffrey, a brilliant defender in Michael Carton. The full-back line needs tightening however and looked vulnerable in Wexford.

A winner? I think the two Galway games will just about see Kilkenny over the line.

In Ennis, Clare take on Wexford. It’s a big game for Clare and going to take a big performance. I’ve heard talk about coach Paul Kinnerk missing the Cork game because he was on a world trip, that this partially explains the poor display that day. I’ve no time for that. Even if Davy Fitzgerald himself is missing Clare should still be able to play to their ability, just as if they were missing a top player, they should just get on with the game, no excuses.

Wexford gave Clare a hell of a fright last year and are even better this year. They now have new leaders, young leaders, and the likes of Conor McDonald (just out of minor), Lee Chin and Liam Ryan can play a major role this afternoon, allied to the experience of Keith Rossitor, David Redmond and Rory Jacob (surprised to hear Jack Guiney is demoted to the bench). Clare need to be on their guard but they are All-Ireland champions, they have a home draw – if they’re right, I’d expect them to win this fairly comfortably.

In Thurles later this evening, the biggest game of the weekend and I’m expecting it also to be the best game of the weekend.

Have ye ever heard of Matt the Thresher? Tipp need to go back to that, do a bit of threshing themselves today, because I have no doubt Galway will be physical.

There have been huge questions asked about this Tipperary team, bad rumours about how they conduct themselves off the ball (which I think is very unfair on players). They have to put all that to bed and there’s only one place to do it – on the pitch. I like the look of the Tipperary full-forward line, McGrath/Callanan/Corbett, but they have to get good ball into them and I emphasise, good ball – high ball and those two Galway corner-backs especially will just eat them up. If Tipperary do that, they’ll win this game, but they must use the spaces.

Pressure on Galway as well. They were poor in the replay against Kilkenny, Conor Cooney practically their only forward. They’ve got to really raise their game here but I fancy Tipp, especially with home advantage.


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