We have a mouthwatering weekend ahead in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship at Croke Park and Johnny Ward fancies champions Limerick and Wexford to progress...
"Sheedy's comment that Wexford would be "raging hot favourites" after the Premier's performance against Laois was patent nonsense but they do have a decent outsiders' chance."
Wexford can show Premier class
Tipperary v Wexford
Little did I think prior to the championship that I would be tipping Wexford to beat Tipperary - but 2019 has been one of those years.
This hurling championship has gotten to the stage where pundits have had to pretty much revise everything that they thought they understood.
Galway, favourites for much of the history of the antepost book, could not even get out of Leinster, despite finishing level on points with the table-toppers.
Tipperary came in under something of a cloud, but were so impressive early on in the Munster Championship, even beating Limerick in what was admittedly a shadow boxing affair, and Liam Sheedy's men were now favourites.
One thing everyone - perhaps everyone bar Davy Fitzgerald - agreed on was that Leinster was lagging behind Munster, perhaps appreciably so. Then not only did 14-man Laois comfortably cover the handicap against Tipperary: Kilkenny, fancied by few of the experts, made light work of Cork in a Croker double-header.
Little did I think prior to the championship that I would be tipping Wexford to beat Cork - but 2019 has been one of those years.
For me, Tipp's first mistake this year, easily said in hindsight, was going all out to beat Limerick in their dead-rubber Munster group game. If Limerick were a horse, they may have been called in by the stewards, and may have again been called in after the Munster final to explain their improvement in form.
John Kiely, in my view, called it right in forgoing the first game with a view to the second. Tipperary are mentally suspect at the best of times and you cannot really have much faith that they have recovered from that humiliation, which likely knocked them for six.
Then there is the issue of the Laois game, which may ultimately mean next to nothing or which may seem a great deal more. Tipp were little or no better than they were in the Munster final, even if they can likely have no concerns about Seamus Callanan and Jason Forde, who have been in fine form.
Former Tipp player and boss Babs Keating wrote this week: "I don't think I have ever seen a county as excited and enthusiastic about an All-Ireland semi-final as Wexford are.
"You can hardly say a prayer in the church without somebody wanting to talk about the gospel of Wexford hurling on the steps outside."
I'd have slight reservations about their somewhat excessive Leinster championship celebrations - but many Wexford fans were dead since they won their last one. While Tipp obliterated Clare's sweeper system earlier in the championship, they were far less assured against Laois and Davy Fitzgerald is perhaps the most tactically astute manager in the game.
There was no fluke about their win over Kilkenny, form that reads really well now, and the class of Rory O'Connor, their clever use of Lee Chin, as well as the formidable nature of their defending in the second half, marked them down as a serious force.
Pound for pound, Tipp are clearly a more talented hurling team than Wexford, with class all over the park, and Wexford probably need to perform to something near their best. I just cannot be sure Tipp will perform, and at 5-2 (-1) Wexford are the shout.
Sheedy's comment that Wexford would be "raging hot favourites" after the Premier's performance against Laois was patent nonsense but they do have a decent outsiders' chance. The Model will attempt to crowd out the Tipperary full-forward line and if they can stay in the game for the first hour I'd fancy them to be more mentally resilient than a Tipp side with a poor record in close games.
Champions ready to go all the way
Limerick v Tipperary
Kilkenny face Limerick on Saturday in a game I can't wait for. I've said it before but I may as well say it again: in the history of Irish sport, Kilkenny under Brian Cody are basically the Manchester United under Alex Ferguson of English sport, and we probably do not cherish them enough.
After their offensive game ran aground against Wexford, it was hard to see them handling Cork; instead they ran riot, value for even more than the winning margin. Their forwards were far better and a critical element of this was the return to form - for the first time at intercounty level in the guts of two years - of Richie Hogan.
There is reportedly a small gripe in the county about Hogan's defensive work but if he can show the poacher's instinct he showed against Cork, Kilkenny have a chance. However, Limerick hammered Kilkenny when they clashed in the league at Nowlan Park, something teams simply do not do in the Marble City.
Kilkenny come in after a scatter of close games, something not true of Limerick, who do have to put their long break behind them. However, they are an exceptional team and I really struggle to see how Kilkenny can cope with them.
Kyle Hayes, Gearoid Hegarty and Tom Morrisey form a serious half-forward line and Galway showed in Nowlan Park that Kilkenny's half-back line can be exposed.
Kilkenny used their bench to good effect against Cork but Limerick's panel is arguably the best in the country and they should be too strong. Their puckout strategy has been pretty bullet-proof so far and, with Kilkenny having conceded an average of 24 points per game this year to Limerick's 19.4, the Shannonsiders should cover the spread.