The hurling championship resumes this weekend with both quarter-finals taking place in Cork. With the provincial championships wrapped up, there are only five games left in Championship 2017.
Both Wexford and Clare will be looking to bounce back from provincial final defeats, while, Tipperary and Waterford will hope to carry their qualifier form as they bid to reach Croke Park once again.
Waterford will be confident heading into the weekend having overcome Kilkenny in the qualifiers. Mixed performances have been the theme of the Déise’s season so far, however.
Tipperary may just be coming into form at the right time. The All-Ireland champions embarrassed Dublin last time out and may just be back to their best.
With all this said, let’s take a look at a combined XV between the four sides playing at the weekend.
1. Stephen O’Keeffe (Waterford)
Stephen O’Keeffe has been in top form this summer. The Ballygunner net-minder has produced miraculous saves against both Cork and Kilkenny.
The quality of goalkeepers is staggering at the minute. The race for an All-Star may come down to O’Keeffe, Nash and Colm Callanan yet. But O’Keeffe is certainly the outstanding choice for the team.
2. Michael Cahill (Tipperary)
Twice an All-Ireland medalist, Cahill will be hopeful he can add a third this summer. His importance has become even greater since Cathal Barrett was dropped off the panel.
Cahill faces a tough task this weekend as he is likely to match up with Conor McGrath. McGrath has been in top form again in 2017, but it would be no surprise to see him neutralised by Thurles Sars’ Michael Cahill.
3. David McInerney (Clare)
Clare have been less than impressive so far this summer. One man who cannot be faulted for this however is former Fitzgibbon Cup winning captain David McInerney.
A former All-Star, McInerney has been hit with injuries for the past couple of seasons. Seamus Callanan struck 3-11 against Dublin, it would be hugely surprising to see him do the same from McInerney.
4. Noel Connors (Waterford)
As consistent a hurler as you’re likely to meet, Connors has been a nightmare for corner forwards ever since his debut in 2009.
With Wexford likely to set up in a similar fashion to the Déise, defences are likely to come out on top. Passage’s tight-marking defender should be more than comfortable this weekend.
5. Tadhg de Búrca (Waterford)
Many have criticised Derek McGrath’s system over the past three seasons. No man has been under the spotlight more so than Tadhg de Búrca, but time and time again, he excels in his performances.
Davy Fitzgerald will undoubtedly set up with at least one extra man in defence this weekend, which should once again leave the former Croke Cup medalist free to sweep. A role he knows all too well.
6. Ronan Maher (Tipperary)
All-Star centre back in 2016, Maher quickly followed this up with a Fitzgibbon Cup medal in 2017. The Mary I student has been the best centre back in the game over the past 18 months.
Thurles Sars’ Ronan Maher is one of the brightest talents in the game, but will face a tricky task in Podge Collins this weekend. Should Maher triumph here, it will go a long way towards a Tipp victory.
7. Diarmuid O’Keeffe (Wexford)
O’Keeffe is just one of the many players who have benefitted from Davy Fitzgerald’s takeover of Wexford. Under the Clare man’s stewardship, he man has excelled.
An attacking wing-back, he has been one of the top performers of the 2017 championship. While Wexford were defeated in the Leinster final, OKeeffe got the Wexford goal in Croke Park as they fell short against Galway.
8. Lee Chin (Wexford)
An early candidate for Hurler of the Year, Chin has hit peak form in 2017. Under Davy Fitz, Wexford have blossomed beautifully, Chin will be hopeful the journey doesn’t end this weekend.
Facing Derek McGrath’s Waterford outfit this weekend, Chin poses the biggest threat to the Déise. A battle between him and Jamie Barron may well determine the result in this one.
9. Jamie Barron (Waterford)
Similar to the past two seasons, Jamie Barron has been sensational yet again this season. Proving just how valuable he is against Kilkenny, he bagged 1-3 from midfield.
As we mentioned above, Barron faces a massive battle this weekend as he is likely to go toe-to-toe with Lee Chin. This is set to be a titanic clash, and have no doubt both men will relish the task.
10. Tony Kelly (Clare)
After a highly disappointing display in the Munster semi-final, Tony Kelly did look more like himself in the Munster final. After a long winter, Kelly will be hoping for a successful summer.
Clare have struggled largely, but talent is something they possess in abundance. With Kelly clearly the biggest talent in their arsenal, if the Ballyea man can cut loose this weekend, who knows what lies ahead for Clare.
11. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)
Often a victim of his own insanely high standards, the current Hurler of the Year has been in great form since his poor showing against Cork.
Striking 0-11 from play in his previous two outings, Gleeson’s confidence will be sky-high heading into this weekend’s fixture. Should he hit top form, Wexford may have a big problem.
12. Dan McCormack (Tipperary)
A hugely underrated cog in this Tipperary engine, McCormack has been in outstanding form this season. In a struggling Tipperary half-forward line, McCormack has been one of the only positives.
McCormack’s ball-winning ability is crucial to this Tipp side. For the years between 2010-2016, it’s a player of his style that Tipp have lacked. Could he help Tipp claim a second All-Ireland in 2017?
13. John McGrath (Tipperary)
The Loughmore-Castleiney hurler has struck the net in each of his three appearances to date in the championship. McGrath is undoubtedly one of the biggest threats in the championship.
John McGrath’s link with both John O’Dwyer and Seamus Callanan is truly unique. If this trio click on Saturday, it is near impossible to believe they will be beaten.
14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)
For a hurler criticised in his earlier days for not showing up on the big day, Callanan has answered his critics over the past four seasons.
The Drom and Inch man is unquestionably the best forward of the decade. Striking 3-11 against Dublin, Tipperary supporters will be counting their blessings that their main man has returned to form.
15. Conor McGrath (Clare)
Over the past few seasons, it looked as though Clare hadn’t utilised one of the most talented forwards in the country. That was supposed to change this year, but as of now, Clare are still starving Conor McGrath of possession.
Even with that said, McGrath has managed to strike 2-4 in two games this summer. If Clare were to set up with a system that allowed their full-forward line to receive quick ball, who knows the amount of damage McGrath would do.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena