Leinster GAA Senior Hurling Championship Quarter-Finals
Saturday, 27th May 2017
TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar: Westmeath v Offaly, 7.00pm
Sunday, 28th May 2017
O’Moore Park, Portlaoise: Laois v Wexford, 2.00pm
O’Connor Park, Tullamore: Dublin v Galway, 4.00pm
Local Rivals Meet Again In Mullingar
When Westmeath and Offaly clashed in the opening round-robin fixture of last year’s Leinster Senior Hurling Championship at TEG Cusasck Park, the 2-22 to 1-11 victory for the home side sent shockwaves around the province.
Ultimately, both counties progressed from the four team group to the quarter-finals, where Offaly defeated Laois and Westmeath lost out to Galway.
Now these local rivals meet again with a semi-final place against Dublin or Galway up for grabs.
Westmeath haven’t yet shown the type of blistering form which saw them top the round-robin group 12 months ago. Indeed, one win from three outings was enough to see them through on score-difference.
Defeats to Laois and Kerry in the opening two rounds could have proven fatal, had they not struck for two late goals in each of those outings. So with Laois defeating Kerry in Tralee, Westmeath only had to overcome Meath on home soil to go through, and they duly delivered by 1-18 to 0-19.
Probably the stand-out statistic for Michael Ryan’s side is that they’ve only conceded one goal in three matches, with Tommy Doyle yet again a tower of strength at full back and Paul Greville in top form at centre back. Captain Aonghus Clarke has also been one of their most consistent players this season.
Offaly are led this season by the experienced Sean Ryan, a whole-hearted player who will drive on his team-mates. In his first year in charge, Kevin Ryan succeeded in maintaining Offaly’s status in Division 1B, though they couldn’t cope with Tipperary’s all-round ability in the Allianz League quarter-final. Scoring responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Shane Dooley, while it’s hoped Joe Bergin will return from injury.
Stakes Are High For Laois And Wexford
Successive Leinster Senior Hurling Championship draws have kept Laois and Wexford apart since 2005, and there’ll be massive interest in this contest at O’Moore Park on Sunday.
Laois GAA received a boost last Sunday with the footballers’ big win over Longford and the hurlers would love to build on their impressive recent form by pulling off a shock victory against Wexford.
But there’s no disputing that the Slaney-siders will pose a more stringent test than the three teams they encountered, and defeated, in the round-robin phase.
Looking back at league form, Wexford beat Laois by 2-24 to 2-20 on 26th March on their way to topping the group and followed-up with a quarter-final victory over Kilkenny. Laois edged out Kerry in a relegation play-off and, since then, defeated Westmeath, Meath and Kerry in the championship.
Team captain, Ross King and his midfield colleague Paddy Purcell – who hit a hat-trick of goals against Meath – have been sensational so far, while Cha Dwyer and Ciaran Collier have been rock-solid also.
Eamonn Kelly moved to the manager’s role in Laois after only one season at the helm in Offaly and has steadied the ship after an unsatisfactory 2016 for the O’Moore County.
Three wins out of three will have given them great heart, but Wexford are also enjoying a resurgence under Davy Fitzgerald, and with Matthew O’Hanlon, Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and Diarmuid O’Keeffe leading the charge, they are anticipating an exciting summer.
The winners of this quarter-final will meet Kilkenny on 10th June.
Dublin And Galway Return To Tullamore
Galway and Dublin will clash in O’Connor Park for the first time since their quarter-final replay two years ago.
The Westerners struck five goals that day on their way to a 13 point victory and enter Sunday’s game as favourites on the back of a sensational Allianz League final defeat of Tipperary.
The recent league season was far less satisfactory for Dublin, who suffered relegation from the top flight. But hurling in the capital has been boosted by Cuala’s triumph in the All-Ireland Club final and they have blooded some young players this season.
Dublin’s first task is to counteract the scoring power which left Tipperary reeling last month – Joe Canning, Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion and Jason Flynn are all enjoying a rich vein of form. Daithi Burke and Aidan Harte were faultless at the back in that league final also, and obviously their ambition is to put all the near misses in the past and capture the Liam MacCarthy Cup in September.
Dublin enjoyed a big win over Wexford at this stage in 2016, but fell away badly against Kilkenny in the semi-final, and will look for leadership from the likes of Liam Rushe and David Treacy if they are to halt Galway’s momentum.