Tullamore is the place to be this Sunday as Galway face a struggling Dublin side in their championship opener.
The Leinster Championship kicks into gear with this quarter-final at the Offaly venue. In what is a repeat of the 2015 meeting at the same stage, the Dubs come into the game having been relegated from Division 1A and also having lost several key players from the panel in the last twelve months.
Galway have enjoyed almost polar opposite fortunes in comparison. The Tribesmen blew away All-Ireland champions Tipperary to claim the National Hurling League title last month despite missing out on promotion to the top flight. Galway will look to continue their impressive run and a win on Sunday will go a long way in regards to their ambitions in the later stages of the Championship.
Galway are obvious favourites given their recent performances. It’s also noteworthy that Dublin were competent in Division 1A and will benefit from the presence of the Cuala contingent, most of which were absent for the entire league campaign. Manager Ger Cunningham will bring a young team to Tullamore on Sunday and some would feel it’s time for them to prove that they can rise to the challenge.
Here’s three key battles that may be crucial in deciding the outcome.
The midfield battle
It goes without saying that the battle at midfield will be pivotal. Coen and Burke had an excellent league campaign while Sean Moran gets the nod for Dublin after an impressive All-Ireland-winning showing with Cuala. Ben Quinn partners him in the middle of the field.
Galway, being the bigger and perhaps more physical side will look to win this battle in order to get a foothold in the game. Dublin will need to be on song to challenge under the high ball in what Galway will try to make a more open and free flowing game. The winner of this battle should be able to take command of this quarter-final.
Joe Canning Vs Liam Rushe
Two leaders, two giants but most importantly, two top class hurlers. Although Canning may no longer be the spearhead of such in the Galway attack, when Joe plays well then Galway will, it’s as simple as that. There’s few who can match his strength, his skill and his intelligence, but Liam Rushe can.
The Dublin captain is one of the best centre-backs in the game. The St. Pats Palmerstown man is a leader among men and one I’d imagine a lot of players in the very young Dublin panel look up to. If Rushe can silence Joe, it will lift all those in sky blue around him. The winner of this battle’s contribution to the game is likely to go a long way towards the ultimate result but it’s too close to call.
Ryan O’Dwyer Vs Daithi Burke
The Tipperary native is a full-back’s nightmare. He will chase down every ball, hound every defender and strike with lethal force if given the space and time. The veteran’s performances at full-forward this year have been impressive and Ryan will no doubt try and make himself a nuisance.
Daithi Burke will be looking to avoid such nightmares. Burke is expected to line out at full-back for the Tribesmen on Sunday and he couldn’t have had better practice than marking Seamus Callanan just a few weeks ago. This battle is crucial for Dublin in particular and they will need to have significant success in this battle to upset the odds.
Gavin Quinn, Pundit Arena