Hurling heavyweights go toe-to-toe

This is what many hurling fans have been waiting for all summer long - the historic All-Ireland quarter-finals on successive Croke Park Sundays, and with them, the banishment of the backdoor safety net.

This is what many hurling fans have been waiting for all summer long - the historic All-Ireland quarter-finals on successive Croke Park Sundays, and with them, the banishment of the backdoor safety net.

This year's Leinster runners-up Wexford and Munster giants Cork, the reigning All-Ireland champions, Clare and Waterford all travel to headquarters today with only victory on their minds.

Lose, and your season is finished, well beyond the realms of the All-Ireland final on September 11. Win and the momentum is yours to carry into the semis, scheduled for August 14 and 21.

In the curtain-raiser at 2pm, Wexford and Clare meet for only the second time in championship history.

The Banner men, whose boss Anthony Daly has yet to confirm his side due to injuries, have not reached this stage for three seasons and that fact could play on their minds in a tight finish.

They did finish the qualifiers well - hitting four goals past a sheepish Waterford defence - and would gladly take a repeat of their April NHL defeat of Wexford, when they coasted to a 5-16 1-15 success at Wexford Park.

Minus Paul Codd, Wexford have been hard to fathom this year. It won't help that Clare have played four times this summer to the Model men's two Leinster outings.

Veteran goalkeeper Damien Fitzhenry was rock-solid against Kilkenny in the Leinster final and he will need to be again. Seamus Murphy's side showed admirable strength in running the Cats to a three-point game and a repeat performance is likely to see them through.

At 4pm, Croke Park will rock to the beat of the 2005 and 2004 Munster champions going at it, hammer and tongs again.

Familiar foes of recent years, this will be Cork and Waterford's third championship meeting in the space of two years.

The Rebels have prospered in two of those, including May's Munster semi-final - 2-17 to 2-15. There's likely to be a slim enough margin again, although there are still question marks over whether Deise top scorer Paul Flynn will start.

Waterford will need him from the off, left half-forward Flynn, who is fighting off a thigh injury, has scored 3-21 in four championship matches to date and is the reason the Deise are averaging 25 points per game, as opposed to Cork's 23.5.

John Allen's Cork do have the better blend of talent throughout their line-up, and a sterling half-back line which is the rock on which they have built their success.

Cork's added experience at headquarters is likely to see them through. How recalled goalkeeper Clinton Hennessy adapts to facing the O'Connors, McCarthys, Brian Corcoran and Cork's top scorer Joe Deane (1-8) will reveal much.

His predecessor Stephen Brenner conceded four goals against Clare last time out, and whoever raises the first green flag will secure a telling blow.

Deane goaled after two minutes against Waterford in the Munster semi, and corner forward Kieran Murphy netted a touchline shot on 18 minutes in the Munster final. If they can repeat tricks like that, it will take a classy Waterford effort to win out.

WEXFORD (SHC v Clare): D Fitzhenry; D O'Connor, D Ryan, K Rossiter; M Travers, D Ruth, D Lyng; A Fenlon, R McCarthy; M Jacob, E Quigley, P Carley; D Mythen, M Jordan, R Jacob.

CLARE: tbc

CORK (SHC v Waterford): D Og Cusack; P Mulcahy, D O'Sullivan, B Murphy; J Gardiner, R Curran, S Og O hAilpin; T Kenny, J O'Connor; B O'Connor, N McCarthy, T McCarthy; K Murphy, B Corcoran, J Deane.

WATERFORD: C Hennessy; T Feeney, F Hartley, J Murray; T Browne, K McGrath, E Murphy; D Bennett, E Kelly; D Shanahan, M Walsh, P Flynn; J Mullane, S Prendergast, J Kennedy.

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