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Saturday, July 23, Croke Park
Cork v Waterford, 3.15pm (Ray Kelly, Kildare) Live on RTÉ2 

Both semi-finals are repeats of earlier group clashes but there is no escape hatch at this juncture, with defeat heralding a conclusion to the season at the penultimate hurdle.

Cork prevailed over Waterford at Walsh Park on June 18, but it was a competitive affair, with six points separating the teams at the final whistle. That came after Waterford had recovered from the first-round defeat to Dublin on home turf, by recording excellent triumphs over Wexford and Tipperary.

The former was a particularly convincing effort, via a margin of 18 points, having lost to the Model County’s finest in the Division 2 League semi-final, a reverse that  was seen as a setback given the ambition to make a quick return to the top tier of that competition.

Following up by going up to Semple Stadium and claiming the scalp of a Tipperary team that had appeared in the last four All-Ireland semi-finals and would go on to beat Cork at Páirc Uí Rinn was impressive indeed. Waterford finished the job against Clare to cement their qualification to the last six.

While Waterford had a familiar management team headed by Derek Lyons, in his second season, a decade of Paudie Murray’s stewardship had come to an end in Cork, with selector Matthew Twomey stepping into the plate this term and All-Ireland hurling-winning player and manager, Davy Fitzgerald taking the coaching duties from Kevin Murray.

They reached the Division 1 League final but similarly to last year’s All-Ireland final, faded a little up the stretch against a Galway team that seemed to have another gear.

The Rebels cruised through the group stages of the championship until having their colours lowered by Tipp by a point, but players of the calibre of Laura Treacy and skipper Amy Lee were among the absentees on that occasion, and they are expected to return to the fold against Waterford.

Orla Cronin’s injury difficulties have caused her to step away from the squad however and her craft and intelligence will be missed. The unavailability at the time of writing of Ashling Thompson through suspension is equally monumental.

Waterford wowed with the pace, cohesion and inventiveness of their attack in the first half of the quarter-final against Limerick, assuring an end of four successive defeats at this hurdle with a big win. Niamh Rockett scored two goals and Beth Carton the other, while Lorraine Bray pulled the strings out the field. Abby Flynn relished the big stage and Iona Heffernan was a solid presence at full-back.

While a number of panellists have become more regular performers, such as Clíona Healy and Izzy O’Regan, there are plenty of established operators with All-Ireland medals rattling in their gear bags such as Katrina Mackey, Amy O’Connor, Treacy and the returning Hannah Looney, while Laura Hayes and Saoirse McCarthy’s athleticism and scoretaking from distance is noteworthy. Former Down start Sorcha McCartan has been a major addition too, though she missed much of the campaign through injury.

Cork will be favourites but have not played for three weeks, while Waterford have a quick turnaround from their most recent outing. Time will tell whether one route or the other is more beneficial though certainly, the Leesiders will have appreciated the breathing space to allow various knocks to heal. Either way, this is one to be highly anticipated.

CORK: A Lee (capt), M Murphy, L Coppinger, M Cahalane, L Hayes, L Treacy, S McCarthy, K O’Mahony, H Looney, K Mackey, F Keating, C Healy, A O’Connor, C Sigerson, S McCartan. Subs:  Lynch, E Murphy, C O’Sullivan, O McAllen, K Wall, E Flanagan, M Ring, O Cahalane, I O’Regan, A Hurly, A O’Neill, A Smith, A Egan, H O’Leary

WATERFORD: B O’Regan, K Corbett-Barry, I Heffernan, M Power, O Hickey, C Carroll, A Landers, L Bray (capt), C Griffin, A Flynn, B Carton, M O’Brien, R Walsh, R Kirwan, N Rockett. Subs: M Foran, S Lacey, T Power, C O’Sullivan, A O’Sullivan, A Hartley, H Flynn, E Curran, A Gallagher, A Mackintosh, C Farrelly, V O’Brien

Galway v Kilkenny, 5.30pm (Andy Larkin, Cork), Live on RTÉ 2 

Another rematch and if it even approaches the standard of fare offered to the huge attendance at Kenny Park on July 2, patrons and those watching the live coverage on RTÉ 2 are in for a treat.

These are old rivals of course, long ensconced in the annual battle for ultimate honours. It is exactly ten years since one of them wasn’t in the final. They have clashed three times with the O’Duffy Cup on the line, including in 2019, when Galway prevailed, and 2020, when it was Kilkenny’s turn.

Galway returned to the summit last year thanks to a strong finish against Cork and there is little Kilkenny won’t know about them. The opposite might not be the case though, with so many changes in the Kilkenny ranks, due to the retirements of Davina Tobin and Collette Dormer, and the absence through travelling or injury of Meighan Farrell and the Doyle sisters, Aoife and Kellyann.

Workrate remains their watch word however, and after accounting for Down, Limerick, Antrim and Offaly, they travelled to Athenry with the purpose of having a true barometer of where they stood.

No better test than the most consistent side of the past four seasons, brilliantly managed by Cathal Murray. But Murray and his crew, who like Kilkenny, had a 100 per cent record from their four group ties, were relieved to escape with a draw thanks to a late point from Áine Keane, who along with Sabina Rabbitte has made a big impact breaking into the side this year.

Kilkenny showed that though they were different, the calibre of ability and attitude remained the same. Miriam Walsh has been magnificent all season, scoring goals for fun and a threat to any defence once she gets the sliotar in her paw. Denise Gaule remains a heavy scoregetter and influential playmaker. Katie Nolan is busy bee who invariably weighs in with a few scores while Claire Phelan and Grace Walsh are experienced defenders.

They recovered from a slow start against Dublin in the quarter-final to win by 14 points and among those to shine was Julianne Malone, a 2016 All-Ireland winner who last played for the Cats in 2018 before moving abroad.

But, of course, Galway are a tremendous outfit, blessed with a strong spine starting with goalie Sarah Healy, and through to skipper Sarah Dervan, while the likes of Aoife Donohue, Niamh Kilkenny and Siobhán McGrath operate often, though not always, up the middle. That flexibility is a real advantage, as is the depth of panel which allows them to make impactful changes.

Veteran defender Heather Cooney has battled back into the side in defence, after missing last year with a cruciate knee ligament injury but Rebecca Hennelly is sidelined having suffered her third such injury, while Orlaith McGrath is another to fall foul of the cruciate curse.

Nobody scored more than Galway in the group stages, where they totted up 12-79, and by only conceding 4-39 into the bargain – the second most miserly defence after Cork – they had the superior score difference that earned them the direct route to the last four at Kilkenny’s expense.

Just as with the first pairing, the question will be asked beforehand about which is the preferred way to the semi-finals but perhaps the answer in this instance is that both would have been happy with how they made it, with Murray being fairly clear on what he has and Brian Dowling perhaps looking for a big knockout game on live television for some of his less exposed players.

There are countless questions and the only certainty is that there will be huge entertainment in the provision of the answers.

GALWAY: Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, S Dervan (capt), H Cooney, S Gardiner, R Black, D Higgins, R Hannify, N Kilkenny, C Dolan, N Hanniffy, A Donohue, S McGrath, A O’Reilly, S Rabbitte. Subs: F Ryan, T Kenny, C Donohue, M Cooney, E Helebert, C Murphy, C Finnerty, S Spellman, A Keane, N McPeake, C Cormican, R Hennelly, O McGrath

KILKENNY: A Norris, M Teehan, G Walsh, M Bambrick, T Fitzgerald, Claire Phelan, L Murphy, S Fitzgerald, K Power, D Gaule, K Nolan, J Malone, M O’Connell, M Walsh, M Kenneally. Subs: E Kavanagh, A Prendergast (capt), Ciara Phelan, A McHardy, N Deely, S Dwyer, S Crowley, L Fennelly, S O’Keeffe, A Curtis, R Breen, C O’Keeffe, D Quigley, C Comerford, M Corcoran


GALWAY (v MEATH ICC): F Ryan, C Starr, C Donohue, C Hickey, K Manning, L Casserly (capt), K A Porter, A Hesnan, J Hughes, S Divilly, K Gilchrist, T Canning, O Rabbitte, N McPeake, L Loughnane. Subs: C Reidy, S Lyons, A Kelly, T Lawrence, A Donnellan, E Gilmore, L Kelly, C Kenny, N McInerney, G O’Neill, S Corcoran, C Farragher, E Dolphin, E Madden, S Coleman

MEATH (v GALWAY ICC): M Randle, S Payne, M Clince, S Leonard, T King, A Keogh, L Devine, E Burke, G Coleman, A Maguire, A Gaffney, A Minogue, O O’Halloran, J Dolan (capt), S Hackett. Subs: A Farrelly, A Slattery, K Troy, A McNerney, E O’Connell, N Daly, E Regan, C O’Riordan, S Kelly, L Doherty, R O’Neill, S Kealy, R Dunne, R Moran, C Coffey

CORK (v DERRY ICC): S Beausang, A Moloney, N O’Leary, G Hannon, J O’Leary, K Kilcommins, L O’Sullivan, L Callanan, R Harty, J Casey, M Murphy, S Hutchinson, L Homan, H Ryan, C O’Callaghan. Subs: S Ahern, A O’Callaghan, K Hickey, R O’Shea, D Carroll, C Finn, Á Crowley, L Doyle, C Crowley, T McCarthy, L Mannix, K Falvey, C O’Leary, C Hurley, F Neville (capt)

DERRY (v CORK ICC): N McQuillan, R Kirkpatrick, M Mooney, M Kerr, R Bradley, G McNicholl, C Glass, Á McAllister, A Ní Chaiside, D O’Kane, M McNicholl, S Mellon, A Shaw, S O’Doherty (capt), T Mellon. Subs: N Gribben, M Rafferty, S McGill, Á McGill, D McGuckin, R Downey, S O’Connor, R Cassidy, C Ní Mhianáin

ARMAGH (v CAVAN JCC): C Devlin, M Lenehan, N Woods, É O’Kane, G McCann (joint capt), E Hayes, T Maguire, M McArdle (joint capt), L Donnelly, J Curry, S Quinn, E McKee, E Smyth, C Donnelly, R Merry. Subs: K Comiskey, C O’Kane, B Murray, E Lavery, O Curry, C Hill, C Doyle, C Beagan, C Murray, A McKearney, E Duncan, E Mone, Á Maguire, N Forker, A Forker

CAVAN (v ARMAGH JCC): J O’Rourke, Á Finnegan, E Galligan, N Majola, A Coyle (joint capt), R Crowe McKeever, S Cusack, J Maguire (joint capt), H Fitzsimons, C O’Reilly, R O’Keeffe, N Keenaghan, C Fitzpatrick, S Fitzsimons, É Brady. Subs: E Mulvaney, E Cahill, E Fitzpatrick, K Fitzpatrick, A Brady, C Keenaghan, Á Corcoran, L O’Rourke, C Fay, A Collins, A Keenaghan, C Finnegan, A Crowe, L Bambrick, K McGuillan

ANTRIM (v CLARE JCC): Á Grahan, M McLarnon, E Kearns, E McShane, C Crawford, M McGarry, S Cosgrove, C Kearney, E Laverty, T O’Neill, B Magill, C McNaughton, D Cosgrove, E Leech, A McNeill. Subs: O Laverty, F Kelly, C Heggarty, L McConville, E Trainor, N Devlin, B Magill, B Abram

CLARE (v ANTRIM JCC): l Solon, R Crowe, M Powell, S Hogg (joint capt), R Powell, K O’Gorman (joint capt), S O’Keeffe, R Kelly, A Walsh, G Carmody, E Casey, A Anderson, S Canny, N Mulqueen, A Hickey. Subs: S Loughnane, O Phelan, C Lally, S Lenihan, F O’Brien, A Cooney, E Kennedy, R Conway, G Ryan, L O’Donnell, E McInerney


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