Semi-finals were removed from the schedule in the new-look Leinster Senior Hurling Championship, but Kilkenny versus Wexford on Saturday evening at Nowlan Park provides the next best thing.
It’s not exactly a winner-takes-all tie considering a draw will suffice for Wexford, with their superior scoring difference coming into play should both counties end with five points from their four games.
Kilkenny will hope that home advantage and an extra week’s rest will help swing the result in their favour. Wexford, though, have been more than a match for Kilkenny since Davy Fitzgerald took charge and will endeavor to continue their progress by reaching the Leinster final for a second successive year.
This will be the fourth competitive meeting between the counties this year. Wexford won the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup final on a free-taking shoot-out when the sides finished level (1-24 each) after extra-time in Nowlan Park in January. Kilkenny won a Round 5 Allianz League game (0-22 to 0-19) in Nowlan Park and later won a semi-final (1-27 to 2-15) in Innovate Wexford Park.
The big challenge for the Slaney-siders is to lift themselves after a somewhat flat performance against Galway last weekend, which came after a demolition of Offaly and a hard-fought defeat of Dublin.
Kilkenny have also lost to Galway and beaten both Dublin and Offaly, but have only registered three more points than they have conceded and so are behind Wexford in the table.
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom for the defeated team on Saturday evening, as they remain in the hunt for All-Ireland honours and will play the winners or the runners-up from the Joe McDonough Cup final in their next outing.
Galway, meanwhile, can relax in the knowledge that they are returning to Croke Park for the Leinster final on 1st July with a game in hand. The All-Ireland champions welcome Dublin to Pearse Stadium on Saturday evening, with nothing at stake after Pat Gilroy’s side relegated Offaly at Parnell Park last Sunday.
Now the only county with a 100% record in either the Leinster or Munster Championship, Galway’s seven goals from three outings is five more than they hit in their entire 2017 campaign – another worrying statistic for upcoming opponents.
With their three attacking All-Stars – Joe Canning, Conor Cooney and Conor Whelan – in blistering form, the Westerners are rightly regarded as favourites to retain their crowns.
Kilkenny and Wexford have both scored and conceded five goals each. Once again, TJ Reid is leading the way up front for ‘The Cats’, with Walter Walsh and Liam Blanchfield also chipping in with crucial scores.
Wexford didn’t raise a green flag in two of their three games to date, so will be looking for a big impact from the likes of Lee Chin, Rory and Jack O’Connor and Conor McDonald if they are to get sufficient scores on the board to repeat last year’s semi-final victory over Kilkenny.
It’s set up for a memorable evening at Nowlan Park and with so much at stake, this won’t be for the faint-hearted.
Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Round-Robin
Round 1: Galway 5-18, Offaly 2-15; Kilkenny 1-24, Dublin 3-16
Round 2: Kilkenny 2-19, Offaly 1-13; Wexford 0-22, Dublin 2-14
Round 3: Wexford 5-24, Offaly 2-9; Galway 1-22, Kilkenny 2-11
Round 4: Galway 1-23 Wexford 0-17; Dublin 2-24 Offaly 0-13
Round 5: Galway v Dublin (9 June); Kilkenny v Wexford (9 June)