Preview: All-Ireland SHC Quarter-Finals
Saturday 18 June
All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals
Galway v Cork, FBD Semple Stadium, 1.45pm - RTE
This match will be an interesting clash of styles and whichever team can impose theirs to greater effect will carry the day.
Cork like to make the most of their natural speed and skill by working the ball through the lines with short accurate passes and off the shoulder runners whereas Galway play a more physical, direct brand of hurling.
They didn’t produce enough of that trademark physical intensity in the Leinster Final defeat to Kilkenny, though, and you can be sure team manager Henry Shefflin will be demanding a much higher work-rate around the middle third to prevent Cork picking their way through that zone.
Because if Cork are allowed to work the ball as far as the half-way line and have time from there to get their heads up and pick diagonal passes into forwards like Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston, Seamus Harnedy, and Alan Connolly, then they’ll be very difficult to contain.
It’s the range of attacking threats that make Cork such a potentially explosive team. The fact that in their last game out against Antrim they could afford to hold Patrick Horgan in reserve tells you all you need to know about the firepower they possess.
Galway arguably don’t have the same natural spread of scorers in their team, but if they can start converting the goal chances they’ve created with impressive regularity this year they’re capable of blowing a team away.
Conor Whelan, Conor Cooney, and Cianan Fahy are all a physical handful as well as good finishers, so if Galway can isolate them in one on one scenarios against the Cork inside defenders they can do some serious damage.
The midfield battle will be interesting too. Cork’s pair of Darragh Fitzgibbon and Luke Meade have great athleticism and Fitzgibbon has been scoring for fun this year.
Galway’s Tom Monaghan had been putting up big numbers too before the Leinster Final and needs to find that form again because Galway can’t afford to be heavily out-gunned in the middle third.
If this game becomes a physical war of attrition then the Tribesmen might be your best bet. But Cork know ever blade of grass in Semple Stadium and will believe they’ll find the space they need to get the most from their potentially electric forward line.
Clare v Wexford, FBD Semple Stadium, 3.45pm – RTE
The biggest variable in this match is whether or not Clare will have a hangover from their dramatic Munster SHC Final defeat to Limerick.
They invested so much emotional as well as physical energy into that match you’d have to wonder if the extra-time defeat will diminish their energy levels.
The Banner County can’t afford to be anything other than at their best, because a Wexford team that thrives on being an underdog looks like they’re coming into form at the best time possible in the season.
A fully fit again Lee Chin has added real presence to their attack and eased the pressure on Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald to always be the men to deliver.
This is a hugely experienced Wexford team and their win over Kilkenny in the final match of the Leinster SHC round-robin underlined that they’re tactically savvy and adept at raising their level when the stakes are highest.
Just like they did in that match, they’ll look to condense the space in their half of the field, make the middle third a battle-ground they can dominate with the physical power of men like Chin, Jack O’Connor, Paudie Foley, and Matthew O’Hanlon, and exploit one-on-one situations close to the Clare goal with McDonald and O’Connor.
The good news from a Clare point of view is that this game-plan doesn’t differ to much from the Limerick play-book which they’ve now proven on three occasions this year they have a knack of finding their way through or around.
Speed of wrist and foot is key to the way Clare play the game as they spring jet-heeled players like Tony Kelly and Shane O’Donnell from deeper positions when they create space with accurate short-passing, and they also have the profitable option of going long to the powerful target-man Peter Duggan.
Liam Ryan will surely be detailed to keep tabs on Duggan and has the physical qualities to go toe to toe with him, but do Wexford have a mobile man-marker capable of limiting Kelly who is comfortable in all the areas of the pitch that the Clare maestro will take him? Damien Reck may be the best man for that job.
At the other end of the field expect Rory Hayes and Conor Cleary to stick to Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald like tar.
It’s going to be a fascinating battle. Clare have shown the better form this year and should be more comfortable in the familiar surrounds of Semple Stadium than a Wexford team who historically struggle in Thurles.
But you get the feeling too that Darragh Egan’s team are coming right at a good time and primed to produce a big performance.