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13 July 2012
The race for the Liam McCarthy Cup hots up this weekend.
Wexford v Cork, Thurles, 5pm
The counties meet in the championship for the first time since 2004 when Cork comfortably defeated the then Leinster champions Wexford in the All-Ireland semi-final. The Rebels also prevailed after a replay in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final. In fact, Wexford have to go all the way back to the 1956 All-Ireland final for their last championship win over Cork.
Can the Model men finally beat their long-time Munster rivals this weekend? On the evidence of their lacklustre display against Carlow in the last round, it's hard to see it happening. They were, however, much more impressive against Westmeath and almost beat Offaly - who Cork struggled to put away last weekend - in their previous two outings.
While Wexford are always capable of producing a big performance, they have a lot of ground to make up on Cork who have improved immeasurably under Jimmy Barry-Murphy, and love playing in Thurles. Apart from their Allianz League final meltdown against Kilkenny, they have been very impressive this season and it would be a big surprise if they aren't in the All-Ireland quarter-final draw come Monday morning. Verdict: Cork.
Limerick v Clare, Thurles, 7pm
The third part of the Semple Stadium triple-header and arguably the most attractive, the Munster neighbours will meet for the fifth time this year with Limerick still awaiting their first win. Clare prevailed after a replay in the Waterford Crystal Cup quarter-final before trouncing John Allen's men in the first round of the Allianz League.
When the sides met again in the Division 1B final, the Banner came from eight points down to pull off an unlikely victory, while there was also heated exchanges on the sideline between Allen and his Clare counterpart Davy Fitzgerald. Since then, Limerick gave Tipperary a big scare in the Munster SHC, which they lost by four points, before hammering Laois and Antrim by 25 and 32 points respectively in the qualifiers.
Clare were unlucky to lose to Waterford in the Munster SHC semi-final, but bounced back to beat Dublin last weekend. Both teams are improving with each outing and this has the potential to be one of the games of the championship. Limerick, who are expected to be without Conor Allis and Paul Browne but have Seamus Hickey and Declan Hannon back to full fitness, will not be lacking in motivation after the previous encounters this year.
Their demolition jobs on Laois and Antrim suggests they are in fine fettle, and they may just have enough to get the better of the Banner at the fifth time of asking. Verdict: Limerick.
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