Saturday sees the semi-finals of the All-Ireland U-21 Hurling Championship take place in Thurles as part of a triple-header with the clash of Meath and Kerry in the ‘B’ competition acting as the curtain-raiser.
Champions of 2015, Limerick, will be looking to reclaim their title. They were impressive in their successful Munster-winning efforts but will not take the untested Galway for granted.
The men from the west will be somewhat of an unknown quantity, but one thing we do know for a fact: There are plenty of talented hurlers in Galway. Despite this, bookies have made the Shannonsiders unbackable 1/6 favourites.
The first semi-final sees the meeting of Kilkenny and Derry.
Usually the team that comes out of Ulster struggles in the All-Ireland series but Derry are here on merit after winning their province for the first time since 2008.
Limerick look to continue good run
The Treaty County were impressive in a provincial campaign where they defeated Clare, Tipperary and Cork. However, to win a coveted All-Ireland title, they will have to get past Galway and, probably Kilkenny.
With a number of survivors from the 2015 All-Ireland winning team, Limerick will be confident of repeating the trick this time around.
With players like Cian Lynch, Aaron Gillane and Barry Nash in attack, expect Limerick to put up a big score on Saturday.
While the last number of years haven’t seen great successes at senior level, Limerick’s under-age academy is producing the goods and there is some good talent Shannonside.
Galway an unknown quantity
As ever in this u-21 championship, we just don’t know how Galway will shape up. We have seen some of their minor teams in recent years but that side doesn’t play enough games to get a good feel for the talent in the county.
However, with the senior and minor sides in All-Ireland finals, there is an air of confidence surrounding Galway hurling. This can be infectious and the Tribesmen will be hoping their championship bow isn’t their only appearance in the u-21 competition.
They are back-boned by a quartet of senior panellist with Conor Whelan the best known forward for the Tribesmen. Galway will also look to Thomas Monaghan, Sean Loftus and Jack Grealish if they are to pull off the upset.
Limerick and Galway meet again in semi-final
The main event on Saturday in Semple Stadium sees a repeat of the 2015 semi-final at the same venue. Limerick won that day en route to the All-Ireland title and will be looking to the players who lined out that day to lead them to another victory over the Tribesmen.
Galway have had all year to prepare for this and will have known that they were facing the Munster champions so will be ready for the challenge.
Galway hurling is in a good place at the moment but they will look to their senior panellists, as those players have been playing and training at the very highest level and will be looking to keep their momentum going.
Kilkenny in first u-21 semi-final in five years
Kilkenny were impressive as they defeated Wexford in the Leinster final and should have enough for Derry. However they will want to put in a performance too as they know the winner of the second semi-final will be in a good place heading into the September decider.
Kilkenny have been quiet in this competition in recent years, which is surprising considering their utter dominance at school’s level in the last decade.
It has been a poor year by Kilkenny’s high standards and the Cats will be hoping that this team will ensure that they will not finish 2017 without a national title.
The Cats will look to Liam Blanchfield for inspiration but will feel that they should be too good for Derry.
New-boys Derry have nothing to lose
While the other three semi-finalists judge themselves on competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Derry’s success this year came from winning the third-tier Nicky Rackard Cup.
This u-21 Ulster success was another boost to a county that needs every bit of positive news they can get when it comes to hurling.
They will look to Antrim’s two-point win over Wexford in 2013 as inspiration and will make the long trip to Thurles hoping for an incredible scalp. Their last All-Ireland u-21 semi-final was a 13-point defeat to a Tipperary side that included Seamus Callanan and Pa Bourke but the Ulster champions will be confident of a better showing on Saturday.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we heard from Derek McGrath after Waterford’s win over Cork in Croke Park.