In Kilkenny, at 3pm in Freshford on Saturday, there is a first-round replay to decide who will meet Clara in the last quarter-final, to be played on the following weekend. Fenians of Johnstown, backboned by All-Ireland heroes PJ Ryan and JJ Delaney, meet last year’s intermediate champions Erin’s Own of Castlecomer, and while Fenians would be favourites, no-one will be surprised should Castlecomer come through. They weren’t in the least overawed in the drawn match. This one will be close again.
The first quarter-final also takes place on Saturday, again at 3pm, this one in Thomastown where O’Loughlin Gaels face Dunnamaggin. Another good one in prospect here, the Hickey-powered Dunnamaggin defence trying to hold the likes of Martin Comerford, Mark Bergin, Maurice Nolan, Mark Kelly and Tipp’s Paul Kelly (no relation). Given that firepower, one would favour the Gaels, but never underestimate solid defence.
The second quarter-final is also on Saturday, in Nowlan Park at 5pm, and sees city side James Stephens (The Village) take on St Martin’s from the mountains. In the likes of Jackie Tyrell and Eoin Larkin from the current all-conquering Kilkenny team, The Village have the headliners, and as All-Ireland club champions as recently as four years ago, they also have the pedigree. St. Martin’s, however, have been coming on strong in Kilkenny over the last few years, made the county final a couple of years ago and put up an honourable display before going under to Ballyhale. They slipped back last year but with the likes of U21 stars John Mulhall, James Dowling, Colin McGrath, Ollie Walsh, Roddy Nolan, Thomas Breen and Grace McCormack, along with Eoin McGrath from the Kilkenny senior panel and this year’s Kilkenny minor All-Ireland-winning captain Canice Maher, they have come back strongly. Last week they had a good win over Carrickshock which means they come into this in good spirit. James Stephens, meanwhile, having qualified for the quarter-final, have been sitting idle for several weeks. I’m going for Martin’s if they can subdue Eoin Larkin.
The final game in Kilkenny this weekend is on Sunday, at 2pm in Callan, where Graigue-Ballycallan are ‘rewarded’ for their first-round win over Tullaroan with a quarter-final tilt against champions and favourites Ballyhale Shamrocks. Some reward, eh? Against the likes of Henry, Cha, the Fennellys Michael and Colin, the Reid brothers TJ, Eoin and Patrick, etc, Graigue-Ballycallan have it all to do.
In Tipperary, all four quarter-finals take place this weekend, two on Saturday, two on Sunday, all in Semple Stadium. First pair up are North champions Nenagh Éire Óg against Thurles Sarsfields, 3pm Saturday. How will Nenagh deal with the high-powered Sars offence? While the North division champions have been sitting, Thurles have powered their way through the back door, and even with Johnny Enright injured for the second half last week, they hockeyed Kilruane to qualify for this quarter-final. It’s not just Lar Corbett, it’s Pa Bourke, Richie Ruth, Michael Gleeson, David Dwyer, Stephen Lillis, and you have Ger ‘Redser’ Grady – former Tipp captain – to call off the bench. Under former Galway full-back Seán Treacy Nenagh have been tough, a quality they didn’t always show, but enough to contain Lar and company? Doubtful.
Following that match, Mullinahone – South division champions – take on Upperchurch Drombane at 4.30pm. While Mullinahone are regulars at this stage of the championship in recent seasons, Upperchurch are relative strangers. Mullinahone have Paul Curran at the back, Eoin Kelly up front, both outstanding in the recent All-Ireland final loss; Upperchurch are without centre-back Andy Kinnane, sent off in their win battling win over Portroe in the last round. Omens point towards the South.
The first game on Sunday is a derby as Mid champions Drom & Inch face Borrisoleigh. Borris have Tipp defender Brendan Maher up in the attack, former All-Star full-back Phillip Maher anchors defence, along with 2009 All-Star nominee Paddy Stapleton; Drom have James Woodlock and Seamus Callanan driving them forward, though word is centre-back Eamonn Buckley – a current Tipp panellist – has a broken bone in his hand following a recent challenge game against Portumna, and won’t start. Against Borrisoleigh it could be a crucial loss.
The last of the four quarter-finals throws in at 4.30pm on Sunday, West champions Clonoulty Rossmore against current kingpins Toomevara, and let no-one be under any illusions here about the task facing Clonoulty. Toomevara didn’t impress in their own division, but as so often before, they are timing their run just right. Toome are still backed by Dunnes, Benny now the big name, starring at centre-back, but they also have the likes of John O’Brien and Willie Ryan up front, lethal in possession. Clonoulty could have an ace in John O’Neill, but overall? You have to fancy the champs.