The 2017 Munster Senior Football Championship kicks off this weekend, as Waterford host Cork and Clare take on Limerick.
David Smith previews the six counties in contention for the title.
Cork have been sliding for a while, and haven’t beaten a team in the top two divisions for two years.
The Rebels face Waterford this weekend in Dungarvan, and the winners will take on Tipperary on June 10th.
Peadar Healy’s men would enter the clash against Tipp as underdogs, something which would have felt inconceivable two years ago, and would be keen to exact revenge on the Premier County, who beat them in last year’s semi-final.
Two-time All-Star midfielder Aidan Walsh makes his Championship return for the first time since 2014, and Cork will need big performances from veterans Colm O’Neill and Paul Kerrigan.
One to watch: Aidan Walsh
Clare consolidated their position in Division Two this year, and the Banner face Limerick in their opening Championship game this weekend.
Colm Collins’ side will face Kerry in the semi-final at Cusack Park if they overcome Limerick, and it is extremely difficult to imagine the Banner County producing a scalp against the reigning Munster champions.
That said, Clare are improving, and were the only team in all four divisions to score a goal in every game, so a run in the qualifiers is a strong possibility.
One to watch: Gary Brennan
Kerry are the clear favourites to seal a fifth consecutive Munster title.
The Kingdom finally ended Dublin’s unbeaten run in a memorable Division One final earlier this year, and have aspirations to prevent Jim Gavin’s side from lifting the Sam Maguire again in September.
Paul Geaney is one of the best (and most pleasing to watch) footballers in the country, and new recruits such as midfielder Jack Barry showed promise in the league.
I expect Kerry to beat Tipperary in the final, and for them to pose the biggest threat to Dublin’s All-Ireland ambitions.
One to watch: Paul Geaney
Limerick failed to get out of Division Four this year, and stand little chance against Kerry if they triumph over Clare this weekend.
Billy Lee’s side have lost some good players, and I expect Clare to beat them this weekend.
However, despite losing their first three league games, Limerick went on to win four in a row, and will be desperate to cause an upset on Saturday evening.
There was only three points between the sides in last year’s Championship, and Limerick will be hoping to narrow that gap this time around.
One to watch: Ian Ryan
Tipperary’s rise has been hugely satisfying.
The Premier County stunned the country by reaching the All-Ireland semi-final last year, and continued their momentum by winning Division Four in dramatic fashion.
Goalkeeper Evan Comerford could reportedly receive a lengthy ban for an altercation with a referee at club level, which could be a huge blow for Liam Kearns’ side.
Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan can terrorise any defence, and I fancy Tipp to repeat last year’s semi-final victory over Cork, but I think they’ll fall short against Kerry in the final again.
One to watch: Michael Quinlivan
Waterford travel to Fraher Field this weekend to take on Cork, and enter the game as the underdogs, and are the weakest team in the province.
Paul Whyte is excellent, and Tadhg O hUallachain, Donie Breathnach, and Gavin Crotty are also important players for the county.
Simply put, Tom McGlinchey’s side are not strong enough to compete for a Munster title. They lost five league games in a row this season, and a short summer surely awaits.
One to watch: Paul Whyte
I expect Kerry to reach the final comfortably, and they should have too much for Tipperary, who I feel will narrowly edge out Cork in the semi-final.
Kerry won Division One, and won’t be happy with anything less than lifting the Sam Maguire this September.