Next weekend provides the first action in the 12-county race for the GAA All-Ireland senior hurling title with two games scheduled in the Leinster championship and one in Munster.

The honour of launching the 2009 campaign will fall to Wexford and Offaly who meet in the Leinster first round in Wexford Park on Saturday evening, followed on Sunday by Galway’s history-making entry into the Leinster championship where they play Laois in Portlaoise. Sunday will also feature the eagerly-awaited launch of the Munster championship when Tipperary host Cork in Semple Stadium, Thurles.

REBELS HEAD FOR BIG THURLES TEST Sunday (4.0pm): Munster SHC first round: Tipperary v Cork, Semple Stadium, Thurles.
Ref: B Kelly (Westmeath)
Live on RTÉ 2
One of hurling’s most historic rivalries resumes for the 78th time in the championship in what promises to be another wonderful occasion. It’s fitting that Thurles, birthplace of the GAA, should host this clash between Munster’s most successful hurling counties in the 125th anniversary year of the Association.

Cork v Tipperary is a rivalry which stretches back to 1888, one which has remained remarkably close in terms of head-to-head clashes. Cork lead 36-34 while there have been seven draws. It will be the seventh championship meeting between them this decade with Cork having won four to Tipperary’s two of the previous six. Cork reeled off four wins over Tipperary in 2000-2004-2005-2006 before Tipperary turned the tables in the 2007 All-Ireland qualifiers. They won again last year, beating Cork in the Munster semi-final in Páirc Uí Chaoimh en route to winning the provincial title.

Cork are chasing their fifth Munster title this decade, having previously won in 2000-2003-2005-2006 while Tipperary are pursuing their third having triumphed in 2001 and 2008. The last time Tipperary won successive Munster titles was in 1987-88-89.

Tipperary easily won this year’s National League clash with Cork (2-15 to 0-9) in February at a time when Cork were fielding a weakened side due to the players’ strike.

The winners of Sunday’s game will play Clare in the Munster semi-final on June 21.

Last Five Championship Clashes
2008 – Tipperary 1-19 Cork 1-13 (Munster semi-final)
2007 – Tipperary 2-16 Cork 1-18 (All-Ireland qualifier)
2006 – Cork 2-14 Tipperary 1-14 (Munster final)
2005 – Cork 1-21 Tipperary 1-16 (Munster final)
2004 – Cork 2-19 Tipperary 1-16 (All-Ireland qualifier) Cork 3, Tipperary 2

Last Championship Clash: Tipperary 1-19 Cork 1-13, Munster semi-final, Páirc Uí Chaoimh (8 June 2008) Cork led by 1-5 to 0-2 after 16 minutes but Tipperary rallied and won the remainder of the game by 1-17 to 0-8. Eoin Kelly scored 1-7 for Tipperary while Ben O’Connor was Cork’s top scorer with 1-3.

LEINSTER LAUNCHES WITH ‘LIVE’ TV CLASH Saturday (7.0pm); Leinster SHC first round: Wexford v Offaly, Wexford Park.
Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary)
Live on RTÉ 2
Wexford have won their last three championship clashes against Offaly in 2003-2004-2006, leaving Offaly seeking their first win over the purple-and-gold since 2000 when they easily won a semi-final, 3-15 to 1-8. Offaly had an excellent run against Wexford between 1979 and 1995, winning all six Leinster championship games. Wexford fought back, winning in 1996 and 1997 before Offaly reeled off three wins in 1998-99-2000.
Wexford are setting out in pursuit of their first Leinster title since 2004 while Offaly last won the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in 1995.
This will be the third meeting between the teams this year, having already clashed twice in the National League (Division 2). Wexford won by 5-14 to 0-17 in Wexford Park on April 5 but Offaly turned the tables four weeks later when they beat Wexford by 1-13 to 0-13 in the final to earn promotion to Division One.
It was quite a turnaround for Joe Dooley’s men who had been hit by a goal rush in the first game. However, they were far more defensively secure next time, restricting Wexford to 13 points.
The winners will play Laois/Galway, Dublin/Antrim or Kilkenny in Leinster semi-final on June 20 or 21.

Last Five Championship Clashes
2006 – Wexford 0-9 Offaly 0-8
2004 – Wexford 2-12 Offaly 1-11
2003 – Wexford 0-16 Offaly 1-12
2000 – Offaly 3-15 Wexford 1-8
1999 – Offaly 3-17 Wexford 0-15
Wexford 3, Offaly 2.

Last Championship Clash: Wexford 0-9 Offaly 0-8, Leinster semi-final, Nowlan Park (11 June 2006).
Wexford edged home by a single point in a remarkably low-scoring game. It was the second time in three years that Wexford beat Offaly by a point in the championship,


Leinster SHC first round: Laois v Galway, Portlaoise, Sunday, 3.30pm
Ref: B Gavin (Offaly)
A historic occasion in O’Moore Park as Galway enter the Leinster championship for the first time as part of the revised system. They played in Munster throughout the 1960s before reverting to their role as Connacht’s representatives in the All-Ireland championships.

Despite being in the Leinster championship for the first time, Galway are quite familiar with playing Laois, having met in the All-Ireland qualifiers over each of the last four years. Galway won easily on all four occasions.

Laois are seeking their first win in the Leinster championship since 2005 when they beat Dublin in a first round tie. Galway finished third in this year’s Division One campaign after winning four and losing three games while Laois finished fifth in Division Two after winning three and losing four of seven games.

Last Five Championship Clashes
2008 – Galway 1-26 Laois 0-9 (All-Ireland qualifiers)
2007 – Galway 3-20 Laois 1-14 (All-Ireland qualifier)
2006 – Galway 7-18 Laois 2-13 (All-Ireland qualifiers)
2005 – Galway 2-22 Laois 2-11 (All-Ireland qualifiers)
1979 – Galway 1-23 Laois 3-10 (All-Ireland quarter-final)

Last Championship Clash: Galway 1-26 Laois 0-9, All-Ireland Qualifiers, Pearse Stadium (5 July 2008).
Joe Canning scored 0-9 as Galway easily beat Laois for the fourth successive year. Galway have won those four games by an average of almost 16 points,

Saturday: Ulster quarter-finals: Derry v London, 5.15pm; Referee: T McIntyre (Antrim); Armagh v Down, Casement Park, 7.0pm: Referee: R Matthews (Antrim).

With defending Ulster champions, Antrim having a bye to the final, the race to line up against the only team from the province who will compete for the Liam MacCarthy Cup continues on Saturday evening when two quarter-finals will be played in Casement Park.

London, who easily beat Fermanagh (1-23 to 0-7) last weekend, take on Derry while Down and Armagh also clash. Armagh have already had impressive wins over Monaghan and Donegal.

Next Saturday: First round: Wexford v Offaly, Wexford Park, 7.0pm.
Next Sunday: First Round: Laois v Galway, Portlaoise, 3.30pm.
June 7: First Round: Dublin v Antrim, Croke Park.
June 20/21: Semi-finals: Winners of first round games plus Kilkenny play each other. The draw will be made on Sunday week, June 7.
July 5: Final, Croke Park.

Next Sunday: First round: Tipperary v Cork, Thurles, 4.0pm June 14: Semi-final: Limerick v Waterford, Semple Stadium.
June 21: Semi-final: Clare v Tipperary/Cork, Limerick or Thurles.
July 12: Final.

May 9: First round: Fermanagh 0-13 Cavan 1-9, Enniskillen; Armagh 1-22 Monaghan 1-8, Armagh; Donegal 1-21 Tyrone 0-6, Letterkenny.
May 17: Second Round: Armagh 3-24 Donegal 2-12.
May 23: London 1-23 Fermanagh 0-7, Ruislip.
Next Sunday: Quarter-finals: Derry v London, 5.15pm; Down v Armagh 7.0; (Both in Casement Park).
June 14: Semi-final: Down/Armagh v Derry/London, Casement Park.
June 28: Final: Antrim v semi-final winners, Casement Park.

All-Ireland Qualifiers
July 4: Phase One: The losers of Cork v Tipperary and the losers of Wexford/Offaly, Galway/Laois, Antrim/Dublin will play off to provide two winners to advance to Phase Three.
July 11: Phase Two: The beaten provincial semi-finalists in Leinster and Munster play off to provide two winners to advance to Phase Three. Teams from the same province will not be paired against each other in Phase Two.
July 18: Phase Three: The two winners from Phase One will play the two winners from Phase Two.

All-Ireland Quarter-finals
July 25/26: Beaten Leinster finalists v Winner from Phase Three; Beaten Munster finalists v Winners from Phase Three.

All-Ireland semi-finals
August 9: Leinster champions v Quarter final winners, Croke Park.
August 16: Munster champions v Quarter-final winners, Croke Park.

September 6: All-Ireland final, Croke Park.

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