Two in-form Tribes going back to war
Allianz HL Div 1 quarter-final: Waterford v Galway (Nowlan Park, Tom 3.30, Live TG4)
Two quarter-finals played on opposite coasts last Saturday showcased a pair of All-Ireland contenders moving ominously into form as the Allianz Hurling League edges towards its climax.
More specifically, the second halves of their respective quarter-finals revealed Galway and Waterford in such rude health that you wouldn't be remotely surprised to see either coming home with the cup next weekend.
But which one? That is anything but clearcut heading for Kilkenny.
First, back to last Saturday. The circumstances were similar and different in the same breath.
At a blustery Salthill, Galway trailed Wexford by a point at the break after leaking three goals, two of those partially gift-wrapped by 'keeper Fergal Flannery.
Starting with just six of the team that lost last year's All-Ireland final to Limerick, it looked worrying for Micheál Donoghue. Whether or not his half-time words ignited the reaction, Galway tore into Wexford and outscored them 2-5 to 0-1 in the next 15 minutes. Ultimately they won the second half by 3-8 to 0-6. An 11-point turnaround.
Waterford's second half domination of Clare was even more absolute: having trailed by 1-10 to 0-11 at the break, they won the second 35 minutes by 0-20 to 0-4.
In both the above, faltering losers were complicit in their own downfall. Still, you couldn't but admire the slick interplay and mesmerising execution of Waterford who, under Páraic Fanning, are playing with ever more freedom.
Already the top scorers across Divisions 1A and 1B, they amassed 0-31 against Clare, albeit the Banner finished with 13 men.
Stephen Bennett has flourished in his new deadball duties: last week's 0-16 brought his six-match haul to 3-69 (2-12 from play).
No longer consumed by frees, Pauric Mahony is producing the goods in open play (0-5 against Clare). The roaming Austin Gleeson hit the same tally but was arguably better still, the audacity of his scores harking back to his Hurler of the Year heroics in 2016.
Here's another cause for Déise optimism: two weeks ago, in a repeat of the 2017 All-Ireland final, they trailed Galway by ten points at the interval but won by two.
In mitigation, that was essentially a dead-rubber contest dominated by Arctic conditions and a wind that was probably worth a double-digit advantage.
With a league final at stake, and even some way off optimum strength, Galway might fancy making a pre-summer statement here. Joe Canning gave an exhibition of freetaking against Wexford, but his back-tracking work ethic was arguably just as noteworthy. Our hunch? The Tribe by a short head.
Odds: Waterford 11/8 Draw 8/1 Galway 4/5