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Final places on the line in Leinster and Munster; Carlow and Offaly contest Joe McDonagh decider

Marty Kavanagh (right) is the man Carlow will look to to guide them to the Joe McDonagh Cup in Saturday's final against Offaly Picture by Seamus Loughran
Marty Kavanagh (right) is the man Carlow will look to to guide them to the Joe McDonagh Cup in Saturday's final against Offaly Picture by Seamus Loughran

LEINSTER SHC ROUND FIVE

(Sunday, 2pm)

Dublin v Galway (Croke Park)

BOTH sides are already through to the All-Ireland series. The Tribesmen will be in the final for a second year in a row if they avoid defeat; they could also go through if both they and Kilkenny lose as then the top two would be decided on scoring difference.

The Dubs, managed by former Galway boss Micheal O’ Donoghue, must win – and they did beat Galway in Leinster in both 2021 and 2019; but the visitors look a class above this term.

Odds H: 9/2 D: 11/1 A: 1/5

Verdict Galway

Wexford v Kilkenny (Chadwicks Wexford Park)

WEXFORD, boosted by the return to their team of the inspirational Lee Chin, don’t need to look far back into the past for the belief that they can beat Kilkenny – they did so last year.

They also drew with the Cats before losing out after extra-time in the 2021 Leinster semi-final, drew in the 2019 provincial round-robin, and only lost by a point in the previous year’s series.

However, this year their hopes of staying in the Leinster SHC might depend more on Westmeath than themselves.

Wexford had a mediocre League, only beating Westmeath and being absolutely hammered by Clare, while also losing to Galway and Limerick.

Arguably those are the top three teams in the country at present, and Wexford were doing reasonably well in this Leinster series up until last weekend’s disastrous home defeat by Westmeath. Sure, they lost to Galway by six, and by two against Dublin, but both those matches were away from home.

Wexford Park didn’t help the hosts last time out, but it could be a bear-pit against old rivals Kilkenny.

Wexford would still stay up if Westmeath don’t lose to their visitors Antrim, as the easterners defeated the Saffrons earlier in this series.

Yet any other outcome would mean Darragh Egan’s men need to take something from this clash with the Cats. If Antrim win and Wexford lose, the latter will be relegated.

Odds H: 9/4 D: 9/1 A: 4/9

Verdict Kilkenny

MUNSTER SHC ROUND FIVE

(Sunday, 4pm)

Limerick v Cork (the TUS Gaelic Grounds, live on RTÉ2)

LIMERICK'S vice-like grip on the Munster Championship is hanging by a thread and they could lose their crown completely this weekend. If Limerick win, they’ll need Tipperary to falter against Waterford, who have nothing to play for, so even victory doesn’t guarantee anything for John Kiely’s side. Limerick won’t be taking any chances and they’ll be targeting a win in case the impossible does happen in Semple Stadium.

They’ll be up against it as Cork, who beat Limerick by one-point in the league, will have their eyes on the same prize.

Odds: H: 4/11 D: 9/1 A: 11/4

Verdict: Limerick

Tipperary v Waterford (FBD Semple Stadium, live on GAAGO)

TIPP have the chance to finish at the top of the group and confirm their spot in the Munster final when they take on Waterford, who are already out of contention. Liam Cahill’s four-week ban has been lifted so Tipperary will have their leader on the line as they attempt to make the decider. Tipp have been in fantastic form and are the only team in the competition without a lose on their record, while Waterford have yet to chalk up a single victory. Form points to Cahill’s men and they should qualify for the showpiece.

Odds H: 1/8 D: 14/1 A: 6/1

Verdict Tipperary

JOE McDONAGH CUP FINAL

Carlow v Offaly (Saturday, Croke Park, 4.45pm, live on RTÉ2)

IT’S both a measure of the decline of Offaly hurling and their recent powers of recovery under Michael Fennelly that they contest today’s Joe McDonagh Cup final with Carlow.

The four-time Liam McCarthy Cup winners slipped down to the Christy Ring Cup in 2019 and took two goes at emerging from the third tier of the hurling championship, despite the appointment of Kilkenny’s serial All-Ireland winner Michael Fennelly as manager.

Winning the 2021 Christy Ring gave them a stab at returning to the top tier, but they missed out on the 2022 Joe McDonagh Cup, defeats to Kerry and Carlow scuppering their chances of a final appearance.

Fennelly stepped down, to be replaced by Johnny Kelly and after securing promotion from Division 2A, they ripped through the Joe McDonagh Cup, winning their first four games to secure a final spot.

The recent Leinster U20 Championship success shows that Offaly hurling is on an upward curve and they’ll be hoping to crown that with a win in Saturday’s final.

The Barrowsiders themselves are geographically sandwiched in between two regular Liam McCarthy counties in Kilkenny and Wexford, although the latter have become perilously close to replicating Offaly by slipping out of the top-tier Championship.

While the Yellowbellies will be hoping a combination of results this weekend keeps them up, their two fellow Leinster counties have already booked a spot in the

All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-finals.

Securing a place in the 2024 Leinster SHC is the carrot for lifting the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Both teams finished on eight points in the group stage and even though Carlow won the final-round game between the sides, Offaly had already booked their place in the final by then and fielded a much-changed side.

They’ve made 12 changes to that team for the final, restoring the line-up to full strength.

Carlow went into that game needing a win to seal their final spot and their emphatic 1-29 to 0-14 win was aided by a whopping 0-14 from Marty Kavanagh (above). Offaly are likely to keep him on a tighter leash but have their own scoring machine in Eoghan Cahill, the competition’s top scorer.

This could end up being a straight shoot-out between the two marquee forwards and Offaly may just edge it.

Odds H: 9/4 D: 9/1 A: 4/9

Verdict Offaly