5 early fixtures to look out for in the 2017 senior football and hurling championships
1. Tipperary v Cork – Munster SHC quarter-final
It’s Tipp against Cork again in the Munster senior hurling championship.
Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO
For the second successive year, Tipp and Cork will battle it out at the quarter-final stage in Munster.
There’s now a huge incentive for Cork chiefs to get Páirc Uí Chaoimh ready in time to potentially host the game, as Tipp had home advantage this year.
Given Tipp’s stellar form in 2016, this was surely the draw that Cork and manager Kieran Kingston wanted to avoid early on but the Rebels should relish the opportunity to pit their wits against the best team in the country.
It’s an age-old rivalry between these two counties and the prize for the winners isn’t easy either as Waterford await them in the Munster semi-final.
If Tipp want to retain their All-Ireland crown through the front door, they’ll have to win five matches again, excluding potential replays.
2. Tyrone v Derry – Ulster SFC quarter-final
Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO
Tyrone beat Derry at this stage of the Ulster championship this year, running out comfortable 3-14 to 0-12 winners, but the Oak Leafers have the chance to avenge that loss at the same juncture in 2017.
It has been reported recently, however, that Derry have lost as many as nine players from their squad ahead of the new season, and manager Damien Barton has a big task on his hands.
After winning Ulster this year, and running Mayo close at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, boss Mickey Harte will be confident of building on that progress.
Tyrone and Derry is a traditional rivalry but the Red Hands, at this point in time, are a far superior side and will be expected to get their 2017 campaign off to a winning start.
3. Galway v Dublin – Leinster SHC quarter-final
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
A real rivalry has built up between these two sides in recent seasons, as evidenced by their infamous Fenway brawl last year.
Galway battered Dublin in a Leinster quarter-final replay in 2015 but the scene is set for another championship showdown between the counties, after they were pitted together in tonight’s draw.
Both sides will go into that fixture knowing that the stakes are high. The pressure is on Dublin manager Ger Cunningham and his players to make some inroads next year while Galway will hope to push on after losing the Leinster final and All-Ireland semi-final in 2016.
Dublin have already been dealt a blow ahead of the new campaign with the news that Danny Sutcliffe will be unavailable once again, while Galway are sweating on the fitness of ace forward Joe Canning after he sustained a serious hamstring injury against Tipperary in August’s All-Ireland semi-final loss.
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4. Clare v Limerick – Munster SHC semi-final
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Avoiding a quarter-final in Munster is a bonus for Clare, Limerick and Waterford.
Clare and Limerick will renew acquaintances for a place in the provincial decider, having last met in championship hurling in a 2016 qualifier, won by Clare.
That game marked TJ Ryan’s last in charge of the Shannonsiders and he’s since been replaced by John Kiely, a former senior selector who guided Limerick’s U21s to an All-Ireland final win last year.
Clare will also go into championship 2017 under new management, as Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney join forces again following their All-Ireland three-in-a-row exploits at U21 level.
Both counties will fancy their chances of reaching a Munster final – with the added bonus of a straight route to the All-Ireland quarter-finals on offer for the winners of a tasty last four tie in the Southern province.
5. Offaly v Westmeath – Leinster SFC quarter-final
Source: Tom Beary/INPHO
The winners of this game will progress to a semi-final against Carlow, Wexford or Dublin.
And on all known form, it will be Dublin in the last four of the Leinster championship for Offaly or Westmeath.
At the quarter-final stage this year, Westmeath edged out Offaly by a point and went on to contest a final with Dublin.
For ex-Westmeath boss Pat Flanagan, now in charge of his native Offaly, this is a huge opportunity to atone for that narrow loss.
The challenge for Westmeath is to first of all get past Offaly again, and then aim for a third successive Leinster final appearance.
For manager Tom Cribbin, that will be the clear goal but Flanagan and Offaly will hope to stop the Midlanders at the very first hurdle.
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