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30 April 2009 Edition

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More than a game BY MATT TREACY








 The championship beckons

THE leagues are almost over and the championship is almost upon us. The first match is just three weeks away in the Bronx where New York, replenished no doubt by post Celtic Tiger exiles take on Mayo. There will be no surprise there I imagine. Galway face a similar trip to London with a similar outcome. Mayo will then play the winners of Roscommon and Leitrim and Galway will take on Sligo. No harm to the rest of them but it has all the ingredients of another old firm in Connacht and I take Galway to come out on top and worth a few bob again at around evens.
Munster is more interesting this year for two reasons, Cork and Kerry have to meet at the semi final stage assuming, as it is safe to do that Cork will beat Waterford, and because Tipperary are on a bit of a roll having just won the Division III final and been promoted to Division II. They have a tough first round however against Limerick with the winners playing Clare and the prize a rare enough final appearance.
Tipp famously drew with Cork in 2002 but haven’t won it since 1935. They won’t win it again this year but they should make the final and if you can get each way on them at 20/1 worth a few Euro. As to who of Kerry or Cork will get to the final you would be foolish to put money on that. Cork are possibly more motivated while Kerry may not mind another journey through the qualifiers especially given that the winners of Munster are in the Ulster side of the draw and has a high probability of meeting the two finalists.
Ulster is the usual minefield. The four strongest teams; Tyrone, Armagh, Derry and Monaghan are on one side with the former and latter pairs meeting in the quarter finals and the winners in one of the semi finals. Tyrone are 15/8 to win outright but you would be mad to take that price. 7/2 to win the All Ireland is better value. In reality any of the four could get to the Ulster final and whoever does will be favoured to beat the survivor of Cavan/Fermanagh/Down/ Donegal/Antrim. Pushed for a prediction I will go for Monaghan at 13/2.

None of Dublin’s likely rivals in Leinster have covered themselves in glory but that will mean nothing on 7 June when they meet the Meathmen. Twice I think in living memory either has given the other a pasting and that is unlikely to happen again. Dublin are vulnerable, Meath will be up for it but possibly lack the wherewithal to put Dublin away.
There is some talk about Kildare this year and they are in the opposite side of the draw to Dublin along with Wexford who seem to have hit the self destruct button since their wonderful exploits last year. So perhaps Kildare to make the final along with Dublin.
Of course the real business only begins after that and while there are certain to be surprises and a dark horse perhaps emerging into the latter stages through the qualifiers it is hard to see past Kerry and Tyrone. If both win their province then they will meet before the final in what could be the decisive match. I still have a slight fancy for Galway although they are one of the teams who would have benefited had the new card system been retained for the championship.
Pat Gilroy used the league to try out new players and Dublin had one or two decent performances but has the basis of a team that can go further than previously? There are a plethora of forwards including some new additions but the defence remains unconvincing and vulnerable. On the other hand Dublin have won All Irelands with teams that had the same look about them when people were writing them off; 1963, 1983, 1995 so maybe even the fact that expectations are lower will benefit them. Still, likely winner is Kerry or Tyrone with perhaps Kerry having the greater motivation and current resources.

The hurling championship could be summed up by looking at the betting. Kilkenny 2/5 and as I said before you could make a worse investment with an expectation of earning 40%. I don’t think they will be beaten and you would wonder if any of their likely contenders think any differently. One of them, Tipperary, play them in the league final on Sunday in Thurles and that should be interesting with Tipp at the very least avoiding a hiding the like of which they got the last time.
Tipp’s first championship match is against Cork and they should repeat their victory of last Summer and overcome Clare in the semi final. The other semi final will be between Limerick and Waterford with Justin McCarthy given the opportunity to remind the Waterford lads of a few home truths. It will be a hard one to call but having seen both I think Limerick might have more to come against a team that is still carrying the wounds of last September.
Leinster is more interesting than usual because of the entry of Antrim and Galway. Galway will beat Laois in the quarter finals, Dublin should overcome Antrim and Offaly and Wexford will be close but maybe Offaly have the greater potential. The draw for the semi final will decide who gets the Cats and of course Dublin, Offaly/Wexford will be hoping that it is Galway, and improve their chances of reaching the final although all three are capable of beating Galway if it comes to that.
Getting to the final is a dubious prize given that the outcome is most likely a beating, and maybe even a bad beating, from Kilkenny. Grin and bear it lads and think of the quarter final! Despite some talk Offaly, Wexford and Dublin did well in the qualifiers last year and could do even better this year. For Dublin the ambition is a Leinster final against the Cats and then the chance to take on one of the big Munster teams in July. 

An Phoblacht Magazine


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