THERE ARE THREE games in the Leinster hurling championship this weekend, here’s how we think they might pan out…
Laois v Dublin
On a superficial level, this is Dublin’s game. Digging deeper, that should still be the case. But there are crumbs of comfort for Laois who are 8/1 outsiders. Ryan O’Dwyer is suspended so that will deprive Dublin of a good ball-winner and a man who is very good at moving it on too.
There is also the Ballyboden St Enda’s issue. The five-in-a-row county champions were recently knocked out out of the Dublin club championship after three tepid performances. Unusually so, because everyone in the capital expects them to steamroller teams as games progress.
But they didn’t – for whatever reason – and the likes of Conal Keaney, Conor McCormack, Paul Ryan and Shane Durkin all played in games where their side scored just 2-6, 0-15 and 3-9.
It might fire these boys even more but for a side based so deeply on this fine club, there might be a small worry there.
Not that everything is perfect in Laois. The O’Moore County finished bottom of Division 1B and didn’t pick up a single point all throughout that campaign. Yes Willie Hyland is up there with the best forwards in the country, and while Stephen Maher is one to watch also, there doesn’t seem to be enough firepower. One win over Carlow does not completely repair the psychological wounds of the Cork massacre last summer.
It should be a tough game at the tight O’Connor Park grounds in Tullamore and we expect the Dubs to grind down their opposition eventually. We envisage a half-forward line of Danny Sutcliffe, Liam Rushe and Conal Keaney being the difference. Should Anthony Daly play Sutcliffe in the corner again as he did against Galway, it’ll put little doubts in our minds.
Offaly v Wexford
This has all the makings of a battle. No one will talk about the skilful players on show but there are plenty. Offaly have Shane Dooley, Cathal Parlon and Joe Bergin threatening the posts while Wexford include Eoin Quigley, Rory Jacob and exciting youngster Jack Guiney in their ranks.
Model County full-back Keith Rossiter told us this week that his side should have done time after how they robbed the Faithful in a league game this year but was indicative.
Wexford have held the upper hand against Offaly in recent championship seasons and, even at nine points down with seven minutes remaining, Liam Dunne’s men pulled the points out of the bag.
Jack Guiney is one of four Wexford debutants against Offaly and
will be a massive threat ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
It’s quite difficult to pick a winner in this game because while the bookies say go with the home team in Tullamore, Wexford have that psychological edge despite naming four debutants. And the cavalry looks strong too with Darren Stamp, Stephen Banville and Harry Kehoe all itching to get those tracksuit tops off on Saturday.
We don’t expect there to be more than a few points in it but will go for Offaly based on their attacking edge. Parlon, as we saw in Coolderry’s run to the league final, can turn on a sixpence and whether on the square or out the wing, he can cause damage.
Let’s not forget either than Offaly could have beaten Dublin in last year’s championship despite going down to 14 men, and they weren’t far off 14-man Cork in the qualifiers. In some ways, Offaly are not all that far behind the rest.
Westmeath v Galway
There has been a huge player turnaround for both these counties. Westmeath retained just five starters from last year when they shocked Antrim while Galway contain 15 under-21s in their panel.
As such, there is an element of the unexpected among both teams. The fickle nature of youth, they call it. The Lake County started two minors and another two just out of that age bracket when they turned around a scoring and personnel disadvantage against the Saffrons a couple of weeks ago.
Galway, effectively, have turned around their season. It was all going pretty well before the Kilkenny massacre (3-26 to 0-10) but it has been quite a recovery since that hammer-blow.
To beat Dublin in the relegation play-off and for Joe Canning to return in such scintillating fashion was key to a good season.
Cyril Donnellan spoke this week about momentum and how the Lake County game killed theirs last season. This is a chance to atone and set themselves up for a crack at the Leinster title – particularly with Dublin and Kilkenny on the other side of the draw.
Damien Hayes was exceptional in the relegation play-off replay with Dublin and if he and Canning fire, Westmeath will be in trouble. But Brian Hanley has his side in top shape this year so they may hang in there for a while.