Tipperary set to deliver statement against Limerick
Munster Senior Hurling Championship round four: Tipperary v Limerick (Semple Stadium, 2pm, live on RTE2)
THE final round of games in Munster looks set to start with a potential classic as the two favourites for the Liam MacCarthy Cup clash at Semple Stadium.
An All-Ireland final meeting between these two later in the year shouldn't be ruled out. That could potentially end up being their third clash as a Limerick win here would almost certainly set up a Munster final clash in two weeks' time unless Cork absolutely annihilate Clare.
The round-robin format has proven a sensational hit over the last two years and it's only right that both sides should face the prospect of missing out on a provincial final spot too. Indeed, Limerick are not mathematically assured of a spot in the All-Ireland stages but their points difference is too healthy for there to be any real concern.
Liam Sheedy's Tipperary have been the undoubted stars of the Championship season to date and it would be a fitting way to round off a brilliant group stage if they could make it four wins from four tomorrow afternoon.
Tallies of 2-28 (against Cork), 2-30 (against Waterford) and 3-21 (against Clare) have eased them to the top of the table.
Even with those massive totals, it hasn't been one forward doing all the damage with Jason Forde's 1-9 against Waterford their highest individual tally so far.
They were dumped out at the group stage last year and they have clearly been on a mission to make amends for that.
The increase in work-rate has been outstanding and they really look the side most likely to loosen Limerick's grip on the Liam MacCarthy Cup, even this far out.
It's Limerick that probably have the more questions to answer tomorrow. Tipperary have caught the eye enough and look a good bet to reach the Munster final so even a loss won't be too damaging.
The Treaty county appear to be moving up through the gears but we're still not sure what their top one can bring this season.
They were badly off the pace in round one as they lost heavily at home to Cork but their response has been one of champions.
They eased past Waterford, as everyone has, but in their last match they recorded a brilliant 1-28 to 0-13 win over Clare with Aaron Gillane helping himself to a superb 1-11.
John Kiely should have more options for the trip to Semple too with James Barry and Niall O'Meara coming back into the reckoning for starting spots.
There's a lot at stake tomorrow, but all being well both should remain in the All-Ireland race. Equally important may be the opportunity to deliver a message.
Tipperary will want to deliver an emphatic reminder that they haven't gone away despite last year's exploits. They can become the first Munster team to come out of the new group format with a 100 percent record and they should achieve that goal.
Odds: H: EVs D: 8/1 A: 11/10
Munster Senior Hurling Championship round four: Clare v Cork (Cusack Park, 4pm, live on RTE2)
CLARE'S involvement in this year's All-Ireland series is hanging by a thread and even a win over Cork tomorrow may not be enough to save them.
Given their vastly inferior scoring difference compared to the Rebels and Limerick, their greatest hope would appear to be to win here and hope that Limerick beat Tipperary. Those two results would save Clare at the expense of Cork on the head-to-head rule.
Banner joint manager Donal Maloney has appealed for the fans to come out and roar them on in their attempted escape act, but some of those supporters will still be feeling the scars of their 1-28 to 0-13 trouncing at the hands of Limerick last week.
It was the second lowest points total in either Munster or Leinster this year, three points ahead of the 0-10 Waterford managed against the same opposition, and all but two scores came from Peter Duggan.
Maloney and Gerry O'Connor will this week have been focussing on the first 30 minutes of that match when their players were at least competitive. It wasn't scintillating hurling by any means, but they trailed by just four points as the interval approached.
Worryingly, their second-half collapse was reminiscent of their defeat to Tipperary the week previous when they lost by 13 points. Indeed it was nearly identical. They lost the second half against Tipp' 2-7 to 0-6 and the second half to Limerick 1-13 to 0-6.
That will have been noted by Cork who are hoping to qualify for a third straight provincial final – and a shot at a third title on the trot.
Manager John Meyler has warned of a Banner backlash though.
“Clare might have lost their last two games but they are still in contention in this Munster championship and that gives them every incentive playing us," he told the Evening Echo.
While that's true, their morale cannot be high after two heavy defeats whereas Cork have won their last two games, away to Limerick and at home to Waterford.
They should make it three on the trot here to secure their place on Munster final day. Clare's season, by contrast, should come to a shuddering halt.
Odds: H: 10/3 D: 10/1 A: 3/10
Joe McDonagh Cup round four
Kerry v Offaly
(today, Austin Stack Park, 3pm, live on GAA Now)
IT'S a straightforward scenario in Tralee today, the loser plays Christy Ring Cup hurling in 2020. That would be something that Kerry are well used to but it would be an incredible drop for the Faithful county who are enduring a season to forget.
Joachiam Kelly was brought in to replace Kevin Martin after two Joe McDonagh defeats in a row, but another loss to Antrim left them facing the abyss. Kerry have improved as the competition has progressed. They started with a 14-point loss in Antrim before they earned a surprise victory in Westmeath. Competition favourites Laois defeated them by eight points last weekend but most the five goals they conceded were down to horrendous defending and manager Fintan O'Connor will attempt to tighten things up today.
At the other end they could be without star forward Shane Conway who hurt his leg late on against Laois. The Lixnaw player has scored 0-33 in his side's three games and his absence would be a huge blow. If he's passed fit, the Kingdom might just sneak this.
Odds: H: 5/4 D: 8/1 A: 4/5
Laois v Westmeath
(today, O'Moore Park, 3pm, live on GAA Now)
ANY Antrim fans out there still hoping for a miracle may just want to taper their expectations. A Westmeath loss of 20 points of more along with a Kerry win against Offaly of 20 points or less would seal an unlikely final spot for Neal Peden's side.
The problem is that Laois have already earned their spot in the decider and, as a result, manger Eddie Brennan has made a raft of changes. Six players in all have been rested from the side that started last week's win in Kerry, so it will be a weaker side taking to the field.
Westmeath aren't in the final yet but it's almost impossible to see them messing this up. The damage was done in Dunloy last week as they powered to a 0-29 to 0-21 win over Antrim, a result that basically ruled Peden's side out of a final spot. Niall Mitchell missed that match due to a broken finger but he could be in line for a return here.
Odds: H: 7/4 D: 9/1 A: 8/15