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Will the Cats be purr-fect on their first outing of the summer?

by Aidan Elder | June 22, 2012
Tommy Walsh

UP AND CAT ‘EM – Tommy Walsh and Kilkenny begin the defence of their title this Saturday

We’re only a few more days of monsoon away from July and it’s time to get our first look at the defending champions. It’s relatively late into the Irish ‘summer’ that we get our first look at Kilkenny in Championship action. Dublin are the opponents and if the Cats aren’t at the top of their game, there’s every chance of only their first defeat in the Leinster Championship since 2004.

Since winning the league title at the start of May, the Cats have been as idle as a banker’s conscience, That victory was a resounding one over Cork and it put the cherry on top of the cáca milis that was a very satisfying league campaign.

Traditionally Brian Cody likes to use the less important competition for a touch of experimentation. This year it was more out of necessity due to injury rather than choice. But the outcome was reassuring as Kilkenny romped to the league title, handing their biggest rivals some sound hidings along the way. Squad depth was highlighted as an issue last year, but it didn’t matter a whole lot as they marched to glory. With returning stars and emerging young talent, they looked well placed for the defence of the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Dublin’s league campaigned ended up with them slipping through the trap-door, but they bounced back by trouncing Laois earlier this month. Despite their improvement, the Jackeens are still reliant on catching the Cats on an off-day and if there is any rustiness, Anthony Daly’s men will exploit it. Getting a win at 9/2 might be too big an ask, but the +6 handicap at 5/6 looks like it’s got a great chance of happening.

It’s early in the Championship, but in Munster we have a clash that wouldn’t look out of place closer to the first Sunday in September. Cork host Tipperary on Sunday in the province’s second semi-final and the Rebels must be feeling far more optimistic than they were this time twelve months ago. Even though the league campaign ended in that heavy defeat to Kilkenny, it was progress. They’re going to be without Donal Og Cusack for the summer, but the emerging and eager talent up the field could compensate for his loss.

Declan Ryan clearly wasn’t happy with the heavy weather the Premier County made of beating Limerick in the quarter-final and stalwart, Eoin Kelly is on scapegoat duty. He’s dropped to the bench for this one. Alongside him on the sideline furniture will be the returning Lar Corbett who put a swift end to his self-imposed exile. If things don’t go to plan, they’re some handy options to have in your back pocket and the strength in-depth might just be enough to trump their ancient rivals.

In the football, it’s a relatively quiet weekend, but the meeting of Down and Monaghan in an Ulster semi-final is interesting. The Mournemen are favourites to progress to the provincial decider, but manager, James McCartan as warned his players to expect a tough day of it. He highlighted Monaghan’s physical approach to the game, managing to stay on the respectful side of factual when explaining “It’s a man’s game. Monaghan treat it that way and quite rightly so.” If they can handle the physicality – which they should – the All Ireland runners-up of 2010 have the class to prevail.

In Connacht, it looks like being a more straightforward proposition as Mayo host Leitrim. Mayo rustiness is likely to be the only glimmer of hope for Leitrim as their league campaign suggests a wide gulf in class. The Heather County disappointed in the league final, but all in all it was a decent campaign and the signs are Mayo are going places under the guidance of James Horan. The men from Lovely Leitrim just about squeaked past London earlier this month and although that showcased their battling qualities, it doesn’t say a lot for their current form. Match Betting

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