Four teams are in action this evening, vying for a place in the All Ireland quarter-finals. Limerick travel to face Carlow while Westmeath welcome Wexford to Mullingar with throw-in for both games set for 7pm. We ask the key questions ahead of the action.
Can Carlow cause a stir following their Joe McDonagh triumph?
It’s been a great week for Carlow as they not only lifted the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup, but in doing so qualified for the Leinster championship 2019, replacing Offaly. They’ll be on a high and will not fear this Limerick side.
Home advantage will be a huge bonus for Carlow, although the recent heatwave has damaged much of the grass in Dr Cullen Park.
The hosepipe ban being well adhered to in Carlow anyway ahead of Saturday evening's @Carlow_GAA v @LimerickCLG Preliminary All Ireland Hurling Championship Quarter Final tie, here's Netwatch Dr. Cullen Park looking errrr… burnt to a crisp ??? pic.twitter.com/6wL59aaVWg
— Michael Griffin (@bombergriff) July 3, 2018
Kevin McDonald, James Dolan and Chris Nolan were the stars for Colm Bonnar’s side last Sunday in Croke Park and they will be massively relied upon today, going up against a slightly weakened Limerick defence.
It’s hard not to expect anything but a comprehensive win for the Treaty men but this Carlow side have huge self-belief and they will back themselves to cause an upset.
Will Limerick have learned from their mistakes in Ennis?
Limerick hurling fans probably would have expected that their side would bypass this round but their loss to Clare in their last Munster championship game denied them that opportunity.
Limerick are a very formidable side having beaten Tipperary and Waterford and drawn with Cork away with 14 men. While they would have been very disappointed, John Kiely’s men will view the Ennis defeat as a blip in their season. They’ve had time to rest and regroup since and will use this game as a way to relaunch their season.
They will have to do so without Tom Condon who received a two-match ban during the week following his red card in that last game. Limerick have a host of stars on their bench, which may prove the difference in the final stages in Carlow.
Will Wexford juggle with their U21 contingent?
While the Wexford seniors have had a number of weeks to prepare for this preliminary quarter-final stage, their U21’s have been kept busy, taking part in the Leinster final on Wednesday evening against Galway.
Rory O’Connor, Damien Reck and Conor Firman were just some of the senior stars in action in that one-point loss. It was a pulsating encounter that went to extra-time and will have taken a lot of the participants. O’Connor went off injured late into the game and as a result, he misses out on today’s game in Mullingar.
You would imagine that with the likes of Conor McDonald, Lee Chin and Paudie Foley in the starting 15, Davy Fitzgerald’s side will still have more than enough in the tank to overcome Westmeath and he will already be eyeing up a potentially mouthwatering quarter-final clash with his former charges, Clare.
What will Westmeath bring to the table?
It’s been a season of mixed fortunes for Westmeath. While they will be delighted will their place in the Joe McDonagh final which saw them through to this round, they will be annoyed that they failed to progress to next year’s Leinster championship.
While Wexford are firm favourites, Westmeath have always been a competitive side in this competition and will not make life easy for the Model county. They produced a magnificent display against Tipperary last year and they will take great heart from that.
Westmeath have hugely talented players in the likes of Tommy Doyle, Eoin Price and Allan Devine. The loss of their wing-back, Derek McNicholas was a huge blow to them in the finishing stages of the Joe McDonagh final and they will need him at his best for the full 70 minutes this evening.
What will these fixtures say about the new system?
Many already see this round as a dead-rubber and are already dreaming about the quarter-finals fixtures of Clare and Wexford and Limerick against the losers of tomorrow’s Leinster final replay. But the new system isn’t just about producing high-quality, entertaining games but ensuring the progression of the smaller hurling counties and that’s what today’s fixtures are all about.
Carlow and Westmeath aren’t just playing to make up the numbers, they are there to give the best account possible of themselves and they should be given every opportunity to do so without being written off prematurely.