Kieran O'Connor casts his eye over the upcoming All Ireland SHC semi-final games and believes Galway could go all the way...
"Galway have not put a foot wrong in this year's Championship and are deserved favourites to lift the Liam McCarthy in September"
As we enter the semi-finals stage of the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup, Galway still appear to hold all the cards.
It was hard not to feel for the Galway hurlers last year. In their classic semi-final against Tipperary (who they play this Sunday) the sides were level a total of nine times. That day Tipperary edged Galway by a single point on a score line of Tipperary 2-19 Galway 2-18. They then had to watch as Tipperary outclassed Kilkenny in the final, beating them by nine points.
The bounce back this year though from such a crushing blow has been a joy to watch. Galway fought their way to the National League final and may have banished a few ghosts with a crushing 16 point victory against the side that beat them in the All Ireland semi the previous year, Tipperary. It turned Galway into favourites for the Liam McCarthy and in truth they have not put a foot wrong since. Victories against Dublin, Offaly & Wexford have come with few problems and they have amassed scores of 2-28, 0-33 & 0-29 in those matches. That is an average of 32 points a game. All of their forwards are big, strong and skillful. It's tough to imagine any full back line that can deal with them.
The real tests are still to come though and Tipperary this weekend will be a challenge they have not faced. Tipp fans will tell you they won't let their All Ireland crown go without a fight, and that the league final counts for nothing when it comes to August hurling. That said Galway have not put a foot wrong in this year's Championship and are deserved favourites to lift the Liam McCarthy in September.
The Other Contenders
Tipperary as we have already said will provide a stern opposition for Galway at the weekend but there are doubts about them. They went out of the Munster Championship at the first time of asking and some of their performances in the qualifiers have raised a few eyebrows. Poor against Westmeath, they followed that by annihilating Dublin. Their recent victory over Clare showed again that in defence they are weak to the high ball, something Galway can really punish. To have a chance they must rely on their forwards. Noel and John McGrath, Dan McCormack, Patrick Maher, Seamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer, are all capable of putting the scores over to keep them in the game but unless the premier county's backs can come up with an epic performance on Sunday, they will lose their All Ireland crown this weekend.
The other semi-final will see Cork take on Waterford. In many ways Cork have been the story of the Championship, not given much of a chance at the start of the year they are now just 70 mins away from an All-Ireland appearance. Conor Lehane, Shane Kingston & Patrick Horgan have all stood out in this year's Championship. You would fancy them to see off Waterford but Galway look a year or two ahead of this young side.
Speaking of Waterford. Can a team that plays so defensively ever win the All-Ireland? Both Wexford & Waterford have been guilty of being too defensive in their play, when they met each other this year it was the latter who came out on top. Derek McGrath's men have come through the qualifiers with victories over Offaly, Kilkenny & Wexford. They are the outsiders of the four left in the running and it would be a big surprise to see them even make the final.
Galway to win the All Ireland 15/8