A big weekend for Munster
Well it's certainly hotting up in GAA Land, the first big Munster hurling clash awaits this weekend, with the meeting of Waterford and Tipperary at Pairc Uí Caoimh. Tipperary are approaching the game on the back of their National League Final defeat at the hands of Galway. Although their focus may not have been completely on the game against Galway, whether the defeat serves as a positive motivation or has sown seeds of doubt remains to be seen. Waterford, for their part, were at times brilliant in the league and on their day have the individual players and collective teamwork to match any team in the Country. But that is the rub - whether Waterford can produce their best form is questionable. Waterford defeated Tipperary two years ago and if the same levels of performance are repeated they should overcome the challenge of the Premier County. Tipperary will be slight favourites approaching the game but if Waterford reach fifth gear, Tipp could be looking at a long summer.
While thus far the round-robin series in Leinster has provided the weaker counties with some valuable championship exposure, the real crunch game of the group will be played between Dublin and Laois for the honour of being beaten by Kilkenny. A win by either Dublin or Laois will leave the victor reflecting on a relatively positive season, before taking a hiding from the `Cats', who look to be unbackable to win at least the Leinster Championship.
On the subject of hurling and betting, an interesting double is on for Derry to take both the hurling and football titles in Ulster this year. The Derry hurlers have been knocking on the door for a couple of years, and particularly last year gave Antrim a real scare. With a league season in division one under their belts and another one to look forward to next year, the confidence in the Derry camp must be good. It will take a big performance by either Down or the winners of the London/Antrim clash to halt their progression to the All-Ireland series.
The Derry footballers, for their part, must be looking forward to the challenges that will face them this summer. They can rightly feel great satisfaction and vindication after beating Meath in the National League Final replay. The controversial late equalising `free' awarded to Meath in the drawn game will have left a slightly bitter taste but beating the Royal County in the replay was a morale boost. The game itself was a patchy, free-ridden affair but the Derrymen should take great comfort from overcoming Meath in the type of dogged fashion for which the Royal County are more renowned.
Last year's All-Ireland finalists, Cork, opened their campaign with a win over a rejuvenated Limerick at Killmallock. Although the `Rebels' eventually ran out winners by eight points, the scoreline does not reflect the extent of the challenge presented by Limerick. Cork had to dig deep to overcome a Limerick team that contained a number of their successful under-21 players. The game was level at half-time and it took late goals from Podsie O'Mahony and Kieran Daly to put some daylight between the teams. It's a good indication of the strides being made with football in Limerick and it bodes well for future Munster Championships.
Rebels head for Twickenham
While Gaelic Games are the centre of the sporting universe, there is at least one other sporting matter worthy of mention this week. Saturday sees Munster tackle the final hurdle of their European Odyssey in Twickenham against Northampton. After their semi-final victory, this side have captured the imagination of the country's sporting public and I'm sure the whole nation would be behind them no matter who they were playing. But it just so happens that they are playing the best side in England, containing a large number of the current England team, at Twickenham.
So even if rugby is down somewhere between tractor pulling and rhythmic gymnastics on your list of favourite sports, here we have an Irish team, going over to London to bate lumps out of the English. Well if that `aint' worth supporting, I don't know what is?
BY PADDY SWAINE