- Kilkenny v Limerick
Scoring rates in the hurling championship this summer have been quite high generally, with thirteen of the nineteen games played (Not including the Leinster Round Robin matches) yielding 48 points or more.
Kilkenny and Limerick’s fixtures have been broadly in keeping with this trend, but when we take away the turkey shoots that each side played out against Offaly and Wexford, they’ve been much more moderate. This will be a game where both sides will look to establish physical dominance first and foremost, with half forwards dropping back into the middle third of the field to join in the scraps for primary possession. Kilkenny have rediscovered their defensive form since the start of the year and Limerick are still a team where arguably their full back line is their best line, so this could be a tough battle where neither side is guaranteed to get twenty scores.
At the moment the forecast for Sunday is for heavy showers in the eastern half of the country. Of course Croke Park’s playing surface will hold up well, as it always does, but a slippy sliotar and driving rain will make fast hurling and accurate striking more difficult than usual.
The competitive manner of Monaghan’s win over Kildare was extremely impressive, but competitiveness doesn’t always equate to quality and we still haven’t seen Monaghan rediscover their form from 2013. They’ve ground out narrow victories against Tyrone, Armagh and now Kildare, but this is a massive step up in class and as we’ve seen already this summer, Dublin have the ability to post up a huge winning margin in the blink of an eye, even when a game opponent holds them for an hour or more.
Monaghan may have slain their Croke Park bogey last time out, but they still didn’t do enough to suggest that they are capable of reproducing their Clones form outside of St Tiernachs Park. They coughed up as many chances against Kildare as they created, but were able to capitalise thanks to better shooting returns. None of that suggests that they can do significantly better than teams like Meath and Laois.
No team is better equipped to take on the Monaghan defence than Dublin, due to their approach of carrying the ball in from deep positions. This is a sure fire way of winning frees and it’s often the best way to take on a back line that sits deep – seizing possession and then building up a head of steam before drawing fouls.
Jack McCaffrey might be dropped but Eoghan O’Gara, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh McAuley and Alan Brogan are all very capable runners with ball in hand and these will happily take the ball into the tackle and look to create overlaps with late layoffs.
In a game between two sides of this nature, a four point handicap is huge. Donegal were much the better team against Monaghan in the Ulster final, yet they only won by three points – and while they were a little unlucky to concede a goal that day after coughing up a sloppy possession in their half back line, they didn’t really look like scoring one.
Against an Armagh team that’s conceded two in six games, the second of which was a scrappy fly hack, when the result was decided against Roscommon, they won’t get one easily here either. A win by four or more without at least one Donegal green flag is hard to imagine.
Armagh are not a supremely gifted team in terms of raw talent, but they are well suited to taking on Donegal due to the pace with which they move the ball. Other sides carry the ball excellently out of defence and look to strike in transition plays, but Armagh are very accurate foot passers, comparable with any team in the country. That makes it much easier to move the ball out of defence fast before Donegal has had a chance to get their sweepers into place.
- Kilkenny v Limerick
The last thing this columnist would have the temerity to do would be to question the wisdom of Brian Cody’s management, yet we do know that he won’t drop extra players back, even when it’s in their interests to do so – such as we saw in their drawn Leinster semi-final meeting with Galway. That may leave them vulnerable to players of the calibre of Graeme Mulcahy and Shane Dowling, who will take advantage of any one-on-one opportunities that present themselves close to goal.
The tempo of many modern games is often dictated by the midfielders, since they are the ones who tend to make the support runs and move the ball sharply with short range deliveries, as opposed to half backs who send it up in the clouds to gather snow en route to the full forward line. Both these sides have some serious players in their engine room and that could fuel a high-tempo clash, as opposed to a match between teams who might choose to line out with defensive players in this sector.
So far this year Dublin have played Leinster teams who were largely beaten before they took the field. Meath should have had more mental strength but clearly didn’t, while Laois and Wexford simply never believed that a win over the Dubs was a possibility.
Monaghan will have no such hang ups as they haven’t met Dublin the championship for 93 years and their most recent league meeting was a one point defeat in Clones three years ago. Resilience and character exude from this team and while they’ll have to outdo themselves to get close to Dublin this week, they will have a plan of attack and a clear vision of how that might happen.
Perhaps due to their swashbuckling attacking style, Dublin offer opposing teams chances to rack up scores. While other teams build their defensive approach around packing the key scoring area with players and thus playing the percentages, Jim Gavin is happy to back his players’ ability to go after the ball and create turnovers. This means that Dublin tend to lead the way in dispossessing the opposition, but for every stolen ball, there is another broken tackle that leads to a scoring chance.
Monaghan’s physique may give them a chance to break more tackles than is usually the case.
Armagh are scoring quite well this year, but everything is based around the threat posed by Jamie Clarke. Yet if you’re going to score on Donegal, you’ve a much better chance of doing so from deeper positions. So far this year Donegal have conceded four points from play to starting full forward line players in three games, an incredible statistic and one that bodes ill for an Armagh team that tends not to get a lot of flags out of their midfielders and half forwards.
Earlier this year we tipped up Donegal for the All Ireland as a value shout at 28/1 and for all the reasons that we made that call back then, they remain a side we’ve great respect for. They’ve brought in fresh blood to strengthen the team, Neil Gallagher and Karl Lacey are back and playing well, and they’ve rediscovered their hunger.
If both sides play close to their potential, Donegal are clearly the more mature, skilled and advanced team.
Logic would suggest that Limerick will play a deep half forward line here to allow their midfielders to break into space.
If Kilkenny allow that space to open up, goal chances will ensue.
So far this year, Dublin have overpowered teams with their high tempo running game.
Monaghan’s strength in the tackle may curtail that style and force Jim Gavin to think about plan B here.
So far this year Armagh haven’t had to chase a game – how they will cope when that time comes is not easy to predict.