BIG MATCH PREVIEW: Croker cauldron to test Cats’ championship credentials
By COLIN BARTLEY
THERE are just two unbeaten teams left in the hurling championship this year and neither is favourite to win their province. Welcome everyone to the strange new era of the most ancient sport.
With four wins out of four, Tipperary are favourite to win the All-Ireland, yet Limerick are favourites to win the Munster … Go figure.
Kilkenny are hot favourites to beat Wexford, who have yet to lose a game, at Croke Park tomorrow. So what’s going on and is it time to start worrying?
The draw in Innovate Wexford Park two weekends ago was arguably the best result for both teams left as it effectively dumped Galway out of the championship. At the conclusion of that game, I suspect most of were happy to take the draw.
So how does that equate to Kilkenny being hot favourites to beat Wexford tomorrow? The argument is Kilkenny performs in Croke Park; Kilkenny likes the extra space; Kilkenny have the experience of the big occasion.
These are dangerous foundations to base an argument on and ask yourself these questions:
Have Kilkenny performed yet this year to the standard we expect of them?
That’s debatable. The performance in Wexford Park was possibly their best this year, but the bookies don’t think Davy’s teams are in with an ass’s roar of the Liam McCarthy this year. So where does that leave us in the pecking order?
The extra space means extra room the forwards
It also means they are far more isolated, and bar TJ Reid this year we’ve struggled in open play.
Wexford won the possession stakes two weeks ago and there were times no ball was getting to the cats inside forwards. Extra space means extra scrutiny on winning your battles, both back and forwards.
The open expanse of Croker means it’s harder to hunt down the sliothar in packs on the bigger pitch, which puts greater emphasis on the individual battle. Tomorrow those battles must be won.
The big occasion will haunt Wexford
It’s arguable that with the new provincial system and even the league system in place the big occasions are far more frequent. The aura of a team and the hoodoo they held over an opponent is gone, replaced by more regular match-ups.
Granted Wexford haven’t won a title for 15 years, but that gap coincided with the era of the greatest hurling team ever to take the field, a Galway revival and a cash fueled Dublin renaissance.
Remember Wexford managed to beat Kilkenny in the last provincial championship under the old system, so what is that experience saying.
All in all, there is enough to be concerned about.
If Kilkenny can overcome Wexford tomorrow and make a statement in the stadium where most of the remaining championship will be played, well then maybe the bookies will have to reassess their penchant to all things Munster this season.
If they don’t we will be getting closer to hearing where that ass’s roar is coming from.