The Galway Senior Hurling Championship semi-finals are on this Sunday in Kenny Park, Athenry, with two mouth-watering clashes down for decision. First up at 2pm is Clarinbridge against Tynagh Abbey Duniry, followed at 3.45pm when Loughrea take on favourites Portumna.
Clarinbridge v Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry
2pm in Kenny Park, Athenry - Referee: C Browne
Few, if any, would have expected Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry to be in the last four of the senior county hurling championship.
However after massive victories over big-name clubs like Gort, Castlegar and Liam Mellows in the quarter-final, they will fully believe they are not finished yet.
Their self-belief will be sky high and they will not fear Clarinbridge.
Goalkeeper Kevin Devine is an experienced player. Likewise, veteran defender Liam Hodgins has been in terrific form and, in front of him, Karl Kavanagh has not been found wanting.
John Breheny and Ger Burke have been powering into games at midfield and county minors Padraic Brehony and Shane Moloney have the supreme confidence of youth, with Brehony in particular getting rave reviews for his recent displays.
In the corner forward positions both Ronan Madden and Brian Cunningham are well able to take their scores and both did well the last day out against Mellows, hitting 0-5 (3fs ) and 0-3 respectively.
Clarinbridge will be a tough nut to crack though and they will start the game as most people’s favourites.
They are lively up front and have been registering high scores in their recent victories.
They hit 2-19 against Tommie Larkins in the quarter-final and scored 2-15 against St Thomas in the provisional quarter-final and seem to be coming into top form at the right stage of the season.
Mark Kerins has been scoring freely from centre-forward and his accuracy from frees means the opposition defenders must tackle cleanly. Alan Kerins lines out at full-forward and he is a handful for most full-backs.
His potential duel with Liam Hodgins is one to savour and will have a big role in which side advances.
Former Galway captain Liam Donoghue is still a top-class keeper and he was in great form against Tommie Larkins.
At the back they will look to David Forde, Paul Callinan and Conor Forde to lead the way and, if Paul Coen and Eoin Forde can kick in with a few scores, they will be hard stopped.
Mulhollands has Clarinbridge at 4/11, with Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry at 5/2, and the draw at 9/1.
Loughrea v Portumna
3.45pm in Kenny Park, Athenry - Referee: E Shaughnessy
The bookies have no doubt whatsoever about which team will advance to the 2010 county final from this semi-final. The odds for the current champions are 1/8, while Loughrea, who last won the title in 2006, are available at 9/2 with Mulhollands.
After last year’s county final when Portumna won in a canter by 19 points, 5-19 to 1-12, you can understand the logic behind such odds.
However sport is not logical and Portumna will know they will have to produce a far superior performance than the one that beat Mullagh in the quarter-final.
They did score 3-12 in that tie, but the goals were as a result of defensive errors more than any scintillating attacking play.
In last season’s county final Damien Hayes hit 3-3 from play, so Loughrea will be well aware of the need to keep him in check.
The problem in trying to stop the champions is that they have such quality all over the field, from Garreth Heagney up to Conor O’Hare at top of the left. You may stop one or two of them, but it is difficult to nullify the majority of them.
Portumna’s hard working midfield of Leo Smith and Eoin Lynch keep the ball going into their forwards on a regular basis and, with the level of quality that is in there, it is difficult for any rearguard to keep it bailed out.
To stop Portumna, Loughrea must disrupt that supply line.
Loughrea beat Craughwell in their quarter-final with a late Johnny Maher goal, 1-12 to 0-12, and they know they will need to add another few goals and points if they are to defeat Portumna.
They will look to the likes of Johnny Coen, who scored three points from play the last day out, and Neil Keary, who hit 0-5 from placed balls, Gavin Keary and Johnny O’Loughlin to trouble the Portumna defence.
It should be a highly competitive game and may be closer than the odds would indicate, but unless Portumna have lost their edge and hunger for more silverware, it is difficult to see them being stopped.