We are now at the business end of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship, and the small ball takes centre stage once again this weekend.
Limerick and Kilkenny travel to “Croker” for the first semi-final on Saturday evening (6pm).
On Sunday afternoon (3:30pm), Wexford and Tipperary face-off at GAA headquarters.
Both of these highly intriguing contests will be televised live on RTÉ2 and Sky Sports.
This is an absolutely fascinating game that pits off the All-Ireland Champions Limerick and Kilkenny, who have won more All-Ireland’s than anyone else (36 titles).
Not only are Limerick the All-Ireland Champions – since winning the Liam McCarthy last year, they have claimed the National League Title and conquered the Munster Championship.
Even Brian Cody has been speaking highly of this weekend’s opposition – “I think they are an outstanding team, the best team in the country as I would see it, they’re All-Ireland champions and entitled to that respect.”
Limerick are strong favorites for this game, and rightly so, but you can never rule Kilkenny out. Many people were left with egg on their face a fortnight ago, when they turned over a fancied Cork side to make it to this stage.
I feel that these two teams are quite evenly matched. However, one area where I think Limerick can exploit the “Cats” is in their full-back line. John Kiely has one of the best full-forward lines in the country to call on, with Peter Casey, Graeme Mulcahy and star forward Aaron Gillane in there.
In the past, Cody has been known to man-mark individual players even if it moves his defenders out of their natural positions. Paddy Deegan and Pádraig Walsh are both candidates to move into the full-back line to pick up the “Treaty’s” dangerous inside forwards.
To be fair, Kilkenny have some brilliant forwards of their own. Their star man T.J. Reid has been man-marked in the last few games and this has seen his influence curbed from open play.
However, if Cody lines Reid out at number 11, I cannot see Declan Hannon man-marking him. This is because John Kiely likes his captain to sit in front of his full-back line and have the freedom to start moves from deep for Limerick. If this all happens, T.J. Reid can have a very positive impact on this game for the “Cats”.
Limerick’s full-back line of Seán Finn, Mike Casey and Richie English have been really solid so far this year, but one man who can cause them real problems is the in-form Colin Fennelly. Fennelly scored 1-1 from play against the Rebels and was a constant torn in their side all afternoon. His goal demonstrated the brute strength he possesses and just how dangerous he can be when he is close to the posts.
John Donnelly with the magic touch
Adrian Mullen doesn't even need a touch
Colin Fennelly can't be stopped
What a goal for Kilkennypic.twitter.com/Erx99PBLbO
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) July 14, 2019
Limerick should have enough to get over the line against this Kilkenny side, but I do think it will be a close contest. Rather than going for a Limerick win @ 8/15, I think Kilkenny +4 @ 4/6 is better value. For a value bet, Limerick to win by 1-3 points @ 4/1 is a good price for me.
Verdict: Kilkenny +4 (Handicap Betting) @ 4/6
Value Bet: Winning Margin – Limerick 1-3 @ 4/1
RTÉ Man Of The Match Prediction: T.J. Reid @ 15/2
Wexford are coming into this semi-final full of confidence, fresh from winning their first Leinster Title in 15 years. Incredibly, they are the only unbeaten team in the Championship this year.
Tipperary on the other hand, had a very disappointing defeat in the Munster decider against Limerick and they were less than convincing in the quarter-final, as they overcame Laois by 10 points in the end.
This will be an intriguing battle between Wexford’s sweeper system and Tipperary’s lethal forwards.
Wexford, to their credit, are still very entertaining to watch despite dropping one of their forwards into their defence. After winning the Leinster Title, Davy Fitzgerald claimed “The sweeper system, I am certain, is not a negative system”.
The “Slaneysiders” have plenty of quality players, none more so than Rory O’Connor who has been massively impressive. O’Connor scored four brilliant points from play against the “Cats”, and his run to set up Mark Fanning’s decisive penalty was outstanding.
GOAL! Penalty taken brilliantly by Wexford's Mark Fanning! pic.twitter.com/S02ptG3FDj
— The GAA (@officialgaa) June 30, 2019
Rory O’Connor picked up the Man of the Match award in the Leinster Final, but another man who was in contention for that accolade, was Lee Chin. Wexford will be hoping for another inspirational performance from the Faythe Harriers player. Lee Chin’s free-taking was exceptional in the Leinster Final and much improved from earlier in the season.
On paper, Tipperary have one of the deadliest forward lines in the country. However in recent games the likes of John McGrath and John “Bubbles” O’Dwyer have not been firing on all cylinders, like Liam Sheedy would have hoped. If their forward line clicks on Sunday, they will take some stopping.
One man who has performed well consistently for Tipp is their captain Séamus Callanan. In six Championship games he has scored a remarkable 6-14 from play, so Wexford full-back Liam Ryan will have his hands full with Callanan on Sunday.
I think Wexford have a real chance in this game, and Davy Fitzgerald’s side will know how big of an opportunity this is to make it to an All-Ireland Final. Tipperary have plenty of players who have done this all before, so that is a huge plus for them.
I fancy Wexford to push Tipperary all the way in this one, so Wexford +4 @ 8/11 should be a good addition to your accumulators.
I really wouldn’t be surprised if Wexford were to get over the line against “Tipp”. If they are to do so, I feel that they will need to start well, so Wexford Half-Time/Full-Time @ 5/1 looks like a decent value bet.
Verdict: Wexford +4 (Handicap Betting) @ 8/11
Value Bet: HT/FT – Wexford/Wexford @ 5/1
RTÉ Man Of The Match Prediction: Rory O’Connor @ 14/1
*Odds correct at time of publishing*
*Always gamble responsibly, see Dunlewey.net*