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Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland hurling quarter-final preview

21 Jun | BY Shane Stapleton | MIN READ TIME |
Shane Stapleton: All-Ireland hurling quarter-final preview
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Shane Stapleton previews Saturday's SHC quarter-finals as Dublin face Cork and Clare take on Wexford.

The unwanted children of the GAA — the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals — have been sent to the quiet corner that is the early Saturday afternoon slot.

The Tailteann Cup is a fine competition but it is the second-tier of the football championship, and giving it the Sunday primetime slot ahead of the ancient game is nothing short of ridiculous.

For the Dublin hurlers, this may well be a blessing in disguise. Micheal Donoghue and his players will believe they can shock Cork at Semple Stadium, but very few outside the camp see this as a possibility.

The Rebels have more gears than the capital, but a pertinent two-pronged question must be posed here: can the Dubs be as bad again as they were in the Leinster final, and can Cork find those same heights as per their Munster lead-in?

The Dubs were, as Pat Gilroy famously said of his footballers when thrashed by Kerry in 2009, like startled earwigs in the provincial final.

Kilkenny led them by the nose around Croke Park, and there was a sense of panic any time the ball went near the Dublin square. Ultimately, the goals came.

There’s a famous quote from golfer Gary Player which says “the harder you work, the luckier you get”. That will always be true, but never has TJ Reid had to work so little to be gifted so much.

Whether planned or otherwise, it felt as though Donoghue’s men stood off The Cats and hoped to lure them into traffic where they would turn over the ball. What transpired was a Kilkenny team toying with their rivals, and Adrian Mullen popping seven points from all angles while looking unmarked. 

Reid brought his overall scoring tally to 34-597 (699) from 88 championship outings, just ten points ahead of Patrick Horgan (29-602 in 80 appearances). The Glen Rovers man is 5/1 to be the first goalscorer against Dublin, and there is good cause to get behind that.

The two other members of Cork’s inside triumvirate — Alan Connolly and Brian Hayes — will likely command the attention of Eoghan O’Donnell and Paddy Smyth, and the running of these two red bulls should create openings for Horgan who will fully test John Bellew.

Dublin are seeking their first championship win over Cork since the 1927 All-Ireland final when they won by 4-8 to 1-3, and hope to ensure it isn’t ten victories on the bounce for the Leesiders.

Can we make a case for the Dubs at 6/1? Not really. While Cork were only middling in their win at Offaly, it had the sense of a tune-up fight ahead of this visit to Thurles.

Dublin are better than what they showed against Kilkenny but the scars from that loss will take time to heal. They can stay in the hunt, fall somewhat adrift, reel in the Rebels a little, but ultimately Cork should beat the handicap of nine at evens.

Incredibly, 17 years have gone by since last Wexford won an All-Ireland quarter-final. That was at Croke Park against Tipperary when Michael ‘Babs’ Keating decided to leave Eoin Kelly, Brendan Cummins and Shane McGrath all on the bench.

Damien Fitzhenry’s 21-yard free hit the back of the net that day, and few in the Model County would have believed that their next six games at this stage of the competition would all end in misery.

Clare are favoured to get through here, as they were against Wexford in another quarter-final in Thurles two years ago, but in 2022 they laboured over the line.

The psychological and physical toll from losing a cracking Munster final to Limerick after extra time seemed to carry into that game, and on to the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kilkenny.

And therein lies the rub for The Banner: can they recover from another provincial disappointment to go again? They have shown mental frailties on big days in recent years but they’re against a Model outfit that has been beaten by Westmeath and Antrim in successive seasons.

A soft underbelly persists with both teams and finding a route to top gear is the initial challenge here.

It’s a decade since Wexford beat Clare in championship, on a day when Liam Dunne’s side dethroned the then All-Ireland champions in a replay clash down on Slaneyside — amid jubilant scenes and choruses of ‘The Gambler’ from the home dressing-room.

Lee Chin (32), who played that day, currently has the county of Wexford up on his back, but their supporters know that their forward line could fill their boots if Rory O’Connor and Conor McDonald can also hit the straps in this game.

John Conlon is a generational Clare hurler but can he both deal with his man and hold the centre of the defence? Given how Limerick turned the half-back line inside-out, you can imagine a scenario where Wexford’s multi-talented half-forward line could also make inroads.

Tony Kelly starts once again and the hope for Brian Lohan is that his star man can assert his influence for the 70 minutes, and one would imagine Shane Reck will tag the Ballyea man.

Wexford +4 at 21/20 looks a smart call, although Clare by 1-3 points at 4/1 has more appeal if you fancy The Banner to definitely eke this one out.

All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals

Dublin v Cork, Semple Stadium, Saturday 1.15pm

Clare v Wexford, Semple Stadium, Saturday 3.15pm


Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.

Shane Stapleton

Multimedia journalist who produces content on Gaelic games, regularly features on Irish TV and radio, and who has won two All-Ireland club hurling titles as a player.