Kilkenny v Dublin: Dublin (+3) – 5/6
With their footballers seemingly on an unstoppable drive for a historic five All-Ireland titles in-a-row, there’s been little talk of the resurgence of the small ball game in the capital under new boss Mattie Kenny.
The Galway man led Dublin club Cuala to unlikely back-to-back Club All-Ireland titles and he now looks to be sprinkling his magic on the intercounty side after they secured top spot in Division 1B of the National League, as well as an appearance in the League semi-final – where they pushed All-Ireland champions Limerick all the way.
Given that the Dubs have only a single victory in the Championship at Nowlan Park in 77 years (that coming in 2013), picking Kilkenny to win this one would normally be an automatic choice. Not so much this time though, that’s because legendary Kilkenny boss Brian Cody is faced with an unprecedented injury crisis that will have had him chewing the peak of his famous cap in frustration.
The Cats go into this tie missing pretty much the spine of their side. All-Star goalkeeper Eoin Murphy, Conor Delaney at full back and last year’s captain Cillian Buckley will all be absent from the Kilkenny defence. They’ll also be without James Maher in midfield and they’ve got doubts over stars Joey Holden and Richie Hogan.
Given their utter stranglehold over the game since the turn of the millennium that mightn’t have been much of a problem, but squad depth is the main reason Cody’s men haven’t tasted the cream of an All-Ireland title in three years and it puts their proud home record over Dublin in serious jeopardy.
The weight of history means we can’t go the whole hog and tip Dublin to claim victory at 2/1, but this one will be a lot tighter than the betting suggests and Dublin (+3) at 5/6 certainly tickles our fancy.
Waterford v Clare: Waterford – Evens
After a year wandering in the Munster wilderness, Waterford return to their spiritual home of Walsh Park on Sunday on what’s sure to be an emotional occasion in the southern city.
The Déise were forced to play their ‘home’ Munster Championship games in Thurles and Limerick last year, but they’ll enjoy the comfort of familiar surroundings this season and there’s no doubt it will be a massive factor in their fortunes. They’re expecting a sell-out crowd when Clare come to town.
Waterford sprung to life for new manager Páraic Fanning late in their League campaign when they took out both their opponents on Sunday and Galway on the way to this year’s League final. Limerick had their number that day, but Fanning will be delighted to have his charges back in the business end of competitions again after a disastrous Championship exit last season.
Clare, meanwhile, know all about turning their smaller home venue into a fortress. Championship victory over Waterford and Limerick in Cusack Park helped them to the 2018 Munster final.
However, there has been worrying signs for the men of The Banner since the turn of this year. Firstly, joint managers Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney will be sweating on their side’s tendency to get on the wrong side of the referee, seen in their concession 15 Patrick Horgan points from frees against Cork in the League.
Clare also conceded a whopping 31 points on their last visit to Walsh Park in the League quarter-final and go into Sunday’s contest minus Jamie Shanahan, Ian Galvin and Conor McGrath to add to their woes. Look out for a home win in this one at Evens.
Cork v Tipperary: Tipperary to win – 6/5
No matter where these two sides stand in hurling’s pecking order this is always a fixture that stirs the senses and it’s a fitting game to be Sunday’s showpiece.
Both sides come into it almost at full strength, although Cork are likely to be without first-choice corner back Colm Spillane. The Rebels will be buoyed by the availability of captain Seamus Harnedy after he successfully argued that he’d already served the suspension for the red card he picked up against the Premier County in the League stages.
Despite having four games to qualify from the Munster Championship to the All-Ireland stages, the game already has a make-or-break feel for John Meyler’s Rebels. A loss against the old enemy would send them to Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds the week after in need of points to survive and that’s not a position you want to be in.
Tipperary for their part will be on-guard for a dose Rebel revenge after utterly spanking their hosts on Sunday in the National League on an emphatic scoreline of 1-29 to 1-16 and it could have been worse if the Premier County didn’t take their foot off the gas in the closing stages.
Liam Sheedy’s return has to be described as a mixed bag though after losses to Limerick, Wexford, Kilkenny and most surprisingly Dublin in the League, so the scars of their 2018 Championship blowout remain close to the surface.
Tipp will have no fear of coming to Páirc Uí Chaoimh though, and even if these matches tend to take a life their own, you’d have to say that the pressure is all on Cork here. That has us smelling a raid from the away side and we’re going to tip Tipp here at 6/5.
* All odds correct at time of posting and may vary up to throw-in.