By The 42.ie
We’re down to the last four in the race for Allianz Hurling League glory.
WE’RE DOWN TO the last four in the race for 2017 Allianz National Hurling League glory.
In today’s Division 1 semi-finals, Tipperary tackle Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford at Nowlan Park, while local rivals Galway and Limerick go head-to-head at the Gaelic Grounds, having already met in Division 1B recently.
Tipperary haven’t won the League since 2008, Galway were last crowned champions in 2010, Limerick’s last win was way back in 1997 while Wexford haven’t lifted the trophy since 1973.
There are still two hurdles to jump for each of the four hopefuls and here, we examine some of the main talking points ahead of the games:
- Tipperary’s big chance
All-Ireland champions Tipperary are flying the flag for Division 1A, the last remaining team from the pool still in with a chance of League glory.
Tipp have placed a heavy emphasis on this competition, securing a quarter-final slot even before they lost to Cork in the final group game, the Premier County’s first competitive defeat in almost a year.
The word in the Premier County is that, when progress was assured, manager Michael Ryan took the opportunity to train his players hard, and that might have played a part in the Cork defeat.
But having vaulted the Offaly hurdle with some ease, Tipp are now viewing the semi-finals and final of the League as a mini All-Ireland series. Wexford are first up in the semi-final and, provided they win that, they’ll face Limerick or Galway in the League showpiece.
Ryan fielded his strongest possible team against Offaly and will go with another powerful line-up. Having also trimmed six players from his squad this week, the Upperchurch man’s focus is narrowing ahead of next month’s Munster SHC quarter-final with Cork.
Tipp would dearly love to win the League, a competition they haven’t tasted success in since 2008.
- Wexford rising
Standing in Tipperary’s path are Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford, a man who plotted Tipperary’s League exit as Clare boss last year, at the quarter-final stage.
Clare native Fitzgerald would love nothing more than to get one over on Tipperary again and this is the acid test for his emerging team.
Wexford showed that they are coming force with a famous quarter-final victory over Kilkenny but Tipp are All-Ireland champions and this is another step up in class for the Slaneysiders.
But Wexford like Nowlan Park, having beaten Kilkenny there, while also scoring a memorable qualifier victory over Waterford at the same venue in 2014.
Wexford fans will travel in their droves to the Kilkenny city venue and with their team very much on the rise, supporters are anxious to get on board.
- Derby day in Limerick
Aside from the ‘big two’, Tipperary and Kilkenny, Galway are viewed as genuine All-Ireland contenders.
They may not have gained promotion from Division 1B of the Allianz League but manager Micheál Donoghue has been going quietly about his business so far this year.
There’s been very little talk about the Tribesmen, and that’s exactly how Donoghue will like it.
The recent return of Joe Canning is a major fillip for Galway, while it’s also been confirmed that Johnny Glynn is prepared to commute from New York in the pursuit of championship glory.
Before all that, Galway would love the chance to play two more competitive games, and Limerick will provide a stern examination of their credentials.
The Shannonsiders were moving quite well when the counties met in Division 1B, before Galway finished strongly in a game that saw Canning register ten points.
Galway, with John McIntyre in charge, beat Cork to win the 2010 National League final but they haven’t won the competition since then.
- Limerick’s chance for redemption
Limerick boss John Kiely was scathing in his assessment of his team’s performance against Galway recently.
But, sport being sport, the chance for revenge has quickly presented itself.
Limerick bounced back to beat Cork in the League quarter-final and Kiely sparked the mind games last week by insisting that Galway are “way further down the line” in terms of development than his evolving team.
But Kiely is relishing another crack at Galway at the Gaelic Grounds, having challenged his players to produce a positive performance in their last outing against Cork.
“There were so many positives in the performance for us but we didn’t get the result,” Kiely said, when recalling the first Galway meeting.
“We can’t be satisfied with a nice performance with some lovely hurling but losing the game.”
Today, Kiely will demand more fluent hurling again but more importantly, a positive result and a final spot.
- Wexford’s sweeper system faces ultimate test
Wexford have employed Shaun Murphy in the sweeper role to good effect this year.
Murphy did a fine job in the Kilkenny quarter-final win, while Davy Fitzgerald also got his match-ups spot on, with Matthew O’Hanlon effectively shackling housemate Walter Walsh, while James Breen performed well on TJ Reid.
Fitzgerald will have given plenty of thought to his one-on-one duels this afternoon, with John O’Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and John McGrath all capable of wreaking havoc for Tipperary.
Fitzgerald will hope to stop Tipp’s supply at source and we should anticipate a congested middle third, with each battle for possession contested ferociously.
Dan McCormack, a proven ball-winner for Tipp, will have a big role to play and he’s added a noticeable scoring touch to his game this year.
How Tipp react to Wexford’s approach will make for interesting viewing, with Ronan or Pádraic Maher expected to operate as the Premier County’s ‘spare man’ at the opposite end of the pitch.
- So, who will emerge victorious?
On all known form to date, you’d have to say that it will be a Tipperary-Galway final, but Wexford and Limerick will be keen to put paid to that theory.
Tipperary stormed through the first three group games of Division 1A, before drawing with Kilkenny and losing to Cork.
But Michael Ryan’s men bared their claws again in a facile victory over Offaly, and will have to peak again to compete with emerging Wexford.
Privately, Davy Fitzgerald won’t mind too much if Wexford lose with honour but he’ll be desperate to avoid a tanking, which would stall growing momentum.
In Limerick, meanwhile, it could be another close encounter as Galway make the relatively short trip into enemy territory.
Galway’s opening championship game is against Dublin on 28 May, while Limerick face Clare in a Munster semi-final on 4 June.
Both teams wouldn’t mind an extra game ahead of the championship and what better preparation than a League final with Wexford or Tipperary?