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Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

Things will be tight in Munster opener where Limerick can hold their own

Jason Forde has been the star for Tipp

Tipperary's Jason Forde battles with Seán Finn and Richie English of Limerick
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Limerick v Tipperary
Gaelic Grounds, 2pm Sunday

Tipperary were victorious after extra-time when these sides met in the league semi-final, and this Munster championship opener should be tight too.

These sides have met five times in the championship since 2012, with four or fewer points separating the teams in four of those meetings. The close rivalry was reinforced when extra-time was required for the league clash.

Limerick will enter this game with huge confidence having finally been promoted from Division 1B and while Tipperary made it to a league final, Michael Ryan’s men will have been extremely disappointed with their performance in that match.

Tipperary were firm favourites with the bookmakers going to Nowlan Park, but they seemed to lack the fight required when the game was on the line.

Jason Forde has been the star for Tipperary this year, finishing the league with 7-72, and he is set to be joined by Seamus Callanan in the full-forward line.

The combination of Forde and Callanan is sure to be an area of huge concern for John Kiely, who is operating with a relatively inexperienced full-back line.

When these sides last met on Limerick soil in 2015, Forde and Callanan caused huge trouble for Limerick, finishing with 3-8 between them. This Limerick side look very different, however.

Limerick have won two of the last three Under-21 All-Irelands and their young side finally propelled them out of Division 1B earlier this year.

While they retain the experience of goalkeeper Nicky Quaid, full-back Seamus Hickey and centre-back Declan Hannon in the spine of defence, the remainder of their side are quite young. Cian Lynch’s move to midfield has given him the freedom to express himself, while Kyle Hayes looks an exciting prospect at centre-forward.

The teams are evenly matched and there could be little between them after 70 minutes.

Draw or either team to win by one, two or three points
2pts 4-5 Ladbrokes
Limerick +3
1pt Evs Betway
1pt 10-1 general

Cork v Clare
Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 4pm Sunday

Cork begin the defence of their Munster championship crown with a visit of Clare to Pairc UiChaoimh on Sunday and the hosts will be hoping to improve significantly from their league performances.

Cork finished bottom of Division 1A with just one win on the board (over winners Kilkenny) in round one, but they survived a relegation playoff with Waterford to secure their position in Division 1A for another year.

Clare were four-point winners when the sides met in Ennis in round three, and although they exited the league at quarter-final stage, they were unfortunate as they lost out to Limerick on a free-taking competition.

The management team of Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor, now in their second season, seem to have rejuvenated a Clare side who have struggled since their success in 2013.

Many of that side were young, and it looks as though they are returning to those performances levels.

A key man is 2013 Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year Tony Kelly who seemed to be back near his best during the league, while also winning a Fitzgibbon Cup with University of Limerick.

Cork will have been disappointed with their league run, but it’s worth remembering just how close they got in 2018. They were impressive winners of the Munster Championship and were perhaps unlucky to be defeated by Waterford in the All Ireland semi-final due to an unfortunate red card for Damien Cahalane and a moment of magic from Austin Gleeson.

The loss of Kieran Kingston and his backroom team following that loss came as huge shock to Cork, and John Meyler will be keen to make his mark on the team.

While 2017 looked like the comeback of Cork hurling, their struggles in the league are unlikely to improve on Sunday. In Clare, they are up against a side who have built a strong panel in the league and who look suited to this new round-robin format.

1pt 7-5 Paddy Power

Kilkenny v Offaly
Nowlan Park, 3pm Sunday

Kilkenny survived a massive scare last week but Brian Cody’s side are likely to have learned plenty from that performance and it should be a much more straightforward task this time.

The Cats trailed by five points with five minutes to go at Parnell Park but Liam Blanchfield stepped up when needed to grab a crucial goal and seal a narrow victory for Kilkenny.

Offaly, while they fought hard against Galway, found it difficult to get close to the All-Ireland champions and lost by 12 points, but they will take solace from their first-half performance which left just five points between the sides at half-time.

Kevin Martin has consistently referred to the fact that he plans to play a good brand of hurling, rather than go down the sweeper route and this could cause the downfall of his side once again.

One of the most disappointing factors of Kilkenny’s performance last week was their inability to cope with Dublin’s use of the sweeper, something Brian Cody will have known to be a likely tactic before the game, and definite after the Dublin team was named.

Kilkenny seemed to have no plan to deal with the sweeper, and instead played direct long-striking hurling. This suited Dublin’s gameplan with their defence and sweeper dominating.

Cody’s side will have learned from that performance and unfortunately for Offaly fans, this may be the worst time to play the Cats.

Kilkenny hugely underperformed and were lucky to come out with the win, so they will be intent putting in a big performance and look to match Galway’s scoring return against Offaly.

Offaly pushed Kilkenny close when the sides met in the league and they’ll be confident of doing so again.

Offaly +13
1pt 10-11 general

Wexford v Dublin
Innovate Wexford Park, 3pm Sunday

Wexford waited an extra week to open their Leinster Championship campaign and they host a Dublin side who pushed Kilkenny all the way last week.

Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford will be looking to build on a strong 2017 which led them to the Leinster final, including a famous victory over Kilkenny, and although they folded tamely against the Cats in the league semi-final, they seem to have built on last year's progress.

They finished the league stages with three wins and toppled Galway in the quarter-finals before that loss to Kilkenny, but they brought through some young talent with 19 year-old Rory O’Connor looking like he could be a star.

Dublin have to pick themselves up having gone close but things aren’t going to get any easier. Dublin struggled in the league but Pat Gilroy and Anthony Cunningham were building a panel and the introduction of their Cuala contingent has sparked them into life.

Club Hurler of the Year Sean Moran operated at centre-back last week with Eoghan O’Donnell taking up man-marking duties on TJ Reid, allowing Moran to sweep up possession and launch attack after attack.

Up front for the Dubs, Liam Rushe was a constant danger at full-forward, but the loss of Conal Keaney will be tough to overcome.

Dublin look like they put everything they had into that game seven-days ago and that will have given Davy Fitzgerald an opportunity to figure out how they will set up.

They are likely to adopt the same strategy again, but Wexford should be much better equipped to deal with it by moving the ball through the lines. Dublin will be hopeful of another quality performance, but last week’s endeavours may have left their mark and give Wexford the edge.

Wexford -4
2pts Evs bet365

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Dublin have to pick themselves up but things aren’t going to get any easier
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