All roads lead west tomorrow (Saturday) as Moycullen HC in Co Galway hosts a bumper programme of four O'Neill's Men’s Senior Doubles quarter-finals, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
All eight pairings will fancy their chances in what looks the most open renewal of this championship in many years.
First up, at 11am, are the top seeds Diarmaid Nash and Colin Crehan of Clare, who meet local stars Diarmuid Mulkerrins and Cian Ó Conghaile. Both Nash and Ó Conghaile are left-handers – always a very useful proposition in doubles play – and this should be an interesting game.
The younger Tribesmen have significant experience playing together, having won an Intermediate Doubles title, and home advantage gives them a good shout but Clare will start as hot favourites given their proven quality.
The second game will be contested by Cork and Wexford as Mallow men Tadhg Carroll and David Walsh meet Gavin Buggy and Adam Walsh.
Buggy and Walsh played together last year and beat a different Cork pairing of Brendan Fleming and Tadhg O’Neill in the round of 16 before losing a close one against county colleagues Galen Riordan and Mark Doyle.
Buggy, of course, later teamed up with Riordan to go all the way in the Softball Doubles.
Carroll, a former Intermediate Singles All-Ireland winner, and Walsh, who lost out in the semi-final of that competition this year, are superbly conditioned and a very solid, hard-hitting partnership. This one looks like a 50-50 clash.
Meanwhile, Corkmen Daniel Relihan and Michael Hedigan, the second Rebel duo in the field, take on the vastly experienced Michael Gregan and Johnny Willoughby of Wicklow. This, too, looks likely to be a close encounter.
The Liscarroll clubmen have been in the mix for a few years now and both have shown good form at different times in singles in recent months, Relihan making the final of the Southern Classic and Hedigan going to the All-Ireland SS last eight.
Gregan and Willoughby have proven their class on many occasions over the years, however, and it will take a very good team to beat them. Another pick ‘em quarter-final is in store.
Finally, the fourth of the quarter-finals pits the third Cork team, Brendan Fleming and Tadhg O’Neill, against Kilkenny brothers Patrick and Peter Funchion.
Fleming is in top form having won the Masters A Singles final against Offaly’s David Hope recently while O’Neill’s talent has never been in doubt. However, the Kells men will start as favourites given their past record and recent form.
“We are always within touching distance so I think if we keep training hard, keep appearing, eventually things will click,” Peter Funchion told GAAHandball.ie in relation to the doubles a few weeks back.
He will be hoping that rings true, although there will be nothing easy tomorrow.