Wednesday, October 1, 2008

So what's going on in the big world of news. Well the timorous authorities, eager to please as many constituencies as possible. have bailed out the avaricious elites rather than make the more radical change that is required. And, oh yeah, the Government has saved the banking system from collapse.

It's often being stated that democracy is too widespread in the GA.A. But actually the issue of change to the hurling championship shows that this theory can be overstated. If all the competitors in the Leinster hurling championship bar Kilkenny don't want change to their competition ( an All-Ireland proposal that would seek to terminate the provincial championship would be a different matter ) apparently that isn't relevant if the hurling yeomen from the dreary steeples of Tyrone and Fermanagh decree it so. Doubtless if the denizens from the games frontier counties informed Cork and Tipperary that urgent change was required to their southern sacred rite, the big wheels at the Croke Park cracker factory would now be girding their loins to usher in change. I will leave it to the sober reader to gleen if there was sarcasm in the previous sentence.

And the propaganda has been very impressive mark you. Ned Quinn the head honcho at the Hurling Development Committee went on the radio last night to poor mouth the current state of the hurling championship. What's curious about this opinion is that by any fair criteria the competition is in as rude a health as it has been at any stage in the last 50 years, bar probably the Empires repose from 94-98. This year we had a participant in the All-Ireland final that hadn't graced that stage in 45 years. The Galway captain David Collins has confidently expressed the opinion that the change will improve their side. Maybe he will be right, but at least now the final fig leaf may be removed from the theory that Galway's recent lack of success wasn't down to the fact that the players, and specifically the backs, are not of the requisite quality. The decision makers have also been aided in their propagandist efforts by the wailing of Antrim who curiously appear to think that entry to the Leinster Championship will definitely improve their lot. This would be true if they were, by the proposed changes, guaranteed a gradated entry to the summer with, say, a couple of games against Offaly and Dublin. In reality it's eminently possible that the luck of the draw will pit them against their fellow neophytes Galway, and then one of the big beasts of the south.

Now the above polemic might lead the bedraggled reader to believe that this blogger thinks the proposal to re-site Galway and Antrim is a rank bad idea. This isn't the case, but rather our opinion is that the change is, despite the optics of the provincial system being tinkered with, relatively cosmetic. It's the "don't scare the horses" ( unless you're the helpless, powerless, Shetland pony Westmeath type ) variety of championship terraforming. It could well be that the likes of Offaly, Wexford and Dublin are "selfish" as their understanding overlord Nicky Brennan deemed them, and are fearful of Galway's possible arrival in the neighbourhood. But whether they give a damn or not about the aforementioned Lakesiders and Carlow, they can at least rhetorically point out that the putative changes literally sideline these counties for the moment.

So given that the changes are actually, on balance, a detriment to the weaker counties, why are they being proposed, bar to aid Galway, who in fairness don't deserve to exit the championship, on their first loss to another contender. But, as proclaimed by the president, is Joe Canning, kicking his heels( he of the one big championship match ) around the house in June a sufficiently serious reason for change. Another tweak to the system is more to do with avoiding any question of disbandment to the Munster Championship. Some may see the claim that "a winning formula shouldn't be tampered with" as akin to America stating that alls right with the world no matter what goes on in Bukina Faso. But the reality is that there is no desire amongst players and supporters, not to mind the nomenclature, for change in Munster. Thus when Nicky Brennan and his ilk say that the current structures aren't working, it appears they are clinging to the most tangible way of, by procedural hocus pocus, achieving the aim of making the Kilkenny giants play worse. As this corner has stated more than once, the perceived problems with hurling, are starkly as a result, although it can't be baldly enunciated, that the cats are just too good.

Monday, September 8, 2008

ten quick thoughts about yesterday & today

1. Next years final venue; Portlaoise- ample capacity for voyeurs.

2. There is some doom and gloom in Kilkenny. They didn't win either the u-14 or u-16 All-Ireland last weekend. ( Wexford and Cork respectively ) They'll probably be content enough for a few days but the crisis meetings are probably only weeks away.

3. This blogger is wondering about his advocation of a league-championship system. The Munster championship at least gives some of the other counties a chance for silverware. The six (or so) in a row is on, but if we had a league format, it would be a near certainty.

4. Please God we'll now be spared the wringing of hands guff the day after the Leinster final next year. As we said on July 9th; "we may indeed need to begin edging towards the previously unthinkable idea that the cats are actually now under-rated".

5. One was reminded yesterday, when analysts were musing on how the gap with Kilkenny could be closed, of the white women coming up to Denzel Washington in the movie Malcolm X asking what could she do, for his black consciousness movement. his answer was; nothing. There is almost censorship in the media about the topic, but a dual county could never give a display like we witnessed yesterday.

6. No offence to Michael Kavanagh and Jackie Tyrell, but you'd like your all-star corner backs to have to at least hit the ball occasionally. In fairness at least this year there aren't any other strong contenders.

7. Classy call by R.T.E to refuse to single one player out for man of the match.

8. Newstalk tonight rushed Nicky English and J.B.M into winding up their discussion about the cats with undue haste. There may have been an All-Ireland on but heaven forfend it might get in the way of their hours of soccer coverage.

9. Whether Joe Canning deserved to be on R.T.E's team of the year or not, ( nil, i mo thuairim ) here's a point. He was bested this year, in the Fitzgibbon final and at u-21, by two young full backs, John Dalton and Kieran Joyce, eager to make an impact at the highest level. Wonder what county they are from?

10. A new G.P.A ad for a star hurler; what drives me?; a glorious semi-final defeat so i'm safely in the stand on All-Ireland day, and not on the field facing Kilkenny's wrath.

Friday, September 5, 2008

All-Ireland Final Preview

And so the big day appears to be upon us, what with the county of Waterford not having spontaneously combusted in the last few days, as might have been feared. The Deise semi-final against Tipp was of course a red-letter, and indeed emotional day for many hurling people, not just those in the south-east. If this hurling obsessive tires of the sport being judged as interesting purely when there are novel events and pairings occurring, none one could fail to be moved by this current group of Waterford players, at least being presented with a view of the promised land. The obvious, and deserving names that are trotted out are Tony Browne and Ken McGrath. This in itself is a reflection of the fact that Dan Shanahan's current, fitness related torpor, is a return to the underachieving first half of his career. For this writer at least, another, currently buried comfortably in the bench, who would richly deserve an All-Ireland medal is Tom Feeney, whose diligent corner back play up till about 2001 made him one of the most under-rated players of his era. Despite his commanding body shape Feeney was never quite the same player when he wore the number three shirt and Declan Prendergast, in the starting xv is cut from a similar, if not quite as consummate a cloth as Feeney. One of the key factors that could bring Waterford a day to be treasured is for Prendergast to have the game of his life. And considering Brian Cody will will likely throw the impressive contents of his kitchen ( much less the sink ) at the Ardmore man to break him, and garner goals, hesitancy and mediocrity can't be a watchword. There are still questions, but the composition of the challengers defence is now at least more persuasive. Far too much focus was parlayed in the media as to whether Ken McGrath's positioning at the edge of the square was solidifying the last line of defence. What was more significant was that not only was McGrath missed at centre back, but that the defence was bereft, robbed of Tony Browne at wing-back. Of course none of this tinkering would ever have likely occurred bar Aidan Kearney's burst appendix. Last years debutant star showed up very well in the semi despite a lack of match practice, and he is the type of corner back to be wished for against Kilkenny, where a number two or four is as likely to need physical presence, against the cats rotating galaxy, as to be fleet of foot. The Deise will still hope though that a few of the best forward line since Tipp's in the early 90's have an off day. Rumours swirl that Martin Comerford's poor form may consign him to the bench. ( in any other county fingers would be crossed that cometh the hour..... ) Will will of the wisp Aidan Fogarty produce two days in a row. Can Eoin Larkin continue his player of the year form. If wishes were fishes possibly, from a Waterford standpoint.

Apart from the staunchness of the Waterford full back line, the other section of their team that might be crucial to maintaining nirvana is their corner forwards. Eoin McGrath may be in the oft mentioned form of his life, but his ability has often been underestimated. Even as a less confident player of yore he, at least, prevented top quality corner backs from bossing their patch, and when introduced as a sub four summers ago, caused Michael Kavanagh fits. If he and John Mullane maintain their positions and the Kilkenny wing-backs are prevented from giving optimum cover, they have the pace to trouble Kavanagh and Jackie Tyrell. The fulcrum of the full forward line Eoin Kelly is currently favourite for hurler of the year, and by gum he'll earn the award if it's won on the back of discommoding Noel Hickey, fast coming up on the rails on Brian Lohan as the best full back of the last twenty years. Waterford will feel they have to make hay inside, as they would at 48 hours remove bite the hand off anyone offering their half forward line parity. J.J Delaney is likely in the best form since he put a halt to a vastly more attuned Dan The Man in the 2004 semi. Stephen Molumphy, one of the best seven or eight players in the country last year, will not, despite incremental improvement deprive Eoin Larkin of the second annual All-Star reserved for service personnel.( named after Dermot Early snr perhaps ) It is in this area of the pitch that much of the 20/30% improvement more than one expert has trumpeted has to come from Waterford. All told they have to summon the best performance ever from within this panel. Better than anything seen in Thurles in 2004, or the first Cork game last summer. And even then Kilkenny have to come down from the stratospheric porch of the semi. Davy Fitzgerald's weekend started in the driving rain, and exit from the Clare County Championship for Sixmilebridge. The circle of life would indicate that it will end in salvation in the sun at Headquarters. But these are straitened disappointing times.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

This column would like to definitively say "i told you so" but when there might have been a preview to write last weekend it was otherwise engaged in a driving holiday through France. When Kilkenny were resting themselves in the final hours prior to battle, this writer was surveying the cliff top vista that arrested the American soldiers when they first set foot on the cloying sands of Omaha beach. As an aside Brian Cody would probably approve of the ascent of the hill as a training vehicle to bolster his troops ahead of the herculean task that will be next years Leinster Championship, with perhaps the reinstatement of the offending machine gun at the apex of the cliff, as an optional extra.

Still on returning from the continent it was a surprise to see the likes of Damien Lawlor, James O' Connor and Nicky English ( john Aleen could be forgiven for letting his place of birth blind his convictions ) either plump for Cork or give them a very sporting chance. If our declarations post match might be seen to be a tad pompous ( even more than usual ) then a polite direction might be made towards our column after the Leinster final, where we mused whether hurling's travails might be best treated by splitting Kilkenny in two. Indeed with Russian troops currently bombarding Gorey perhaps they could be prevailed upon to engage in some border re-drawing to the west. Short of this it might be as well for hurling followers to realign themselves towards the facts on the ground, which have been in denial about for the last few years. Kilkenny's uncharacteristic profligate shooting in the semi and final of 2006 took a little of the sheen away from their powerhouse performances. Last year the fact that a two in a row was annexed without tackling Cork, Waterford and Tipperary led to the mistaken belief that significantly mpre exacting tests could have been placed before them. It was also forgotten that Galway's nine point defeat came despite tracer like point taking from the Tribesman's forwards. Cork actually gave forth their most comprehensive display of the summer last Sunday. And if their efforts seemed to lack the pyrotechnic heights of the respective second halves in the qualifiers, factor in that Kilkenny arent well disposed to offering planning permission to fireworks displays.

It is certainly still possible that anything can happen over seventy minutes and that both Tipp and Waterford have the ammunition to pierce the only area of the cats armoury that looks semi-permeable. ( the corner backs ) But if the noresiders are to be defeated it is unlikely to be due now to any insufficiency in appetite, with Martin Comerford the only stalwart whose petrol tank seems appreciably diminished by miles on the clock. In our partly knock out system an off-day can lead to theories being formed that aren't easily disabused. But although many eyes might have glazed over Eoin Larkins's goal in the first half, the breathtaking quality of the performance over 70 minutes should have furthered franked, to those who have eyes to see, that we were watching the greatest side of the modern era.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who fears to compare to '98!

One of the most abused phrases in the G.A.A is that a a team is on its last chance. Beloved of the cliche brigade its a cast iron maxim, that as often as not tends to fall around the ears of those who preach it. Armagh tended to fall victim to its use in football; and yet here we are in 2008 with half of their All-Ireland winning team gone by the wayside and they remain perennial contenders. Funnily enough the Cork hurlers look more likely unwilling recipients of the tag. Sated slightly by the garnering of two hurling championships, they looked earlier in the season to be between a rock and the hard place of finding a new full back and other reinforcements. This side more than perhaps any other in the recent history of the game, forged as it was in the white heat of labour unrest in the winter of discontent five and a half years ago, has a unique Muskateeresque unity amongst its charges. Thus perhaps it was not surprising in retrospect that the infusion of new blood against Tipperary did not have the desired effect, akin to a body rejecting the wrong blood type. The convalescent ward that was the qualifier against Dublin didn't indicate that a complete recovery was in the offing, with only John Gardiner coming up to former scratch. This column hasn't anything particularly original to add to much of what has been written about their wondrous second half defiance on Donal Og Cusacks behalf last Saturday. Suffice it to say that Clare will hope that Corks championship graph in 2007/08 will continue to mirror their own of 1998/99, when the team was on occasion driven to fury by the temerity of other sides and disciplinary bodies, but couldn't sustain the ire over a whole season. This rebel collection has dazzled us with their feats in the past, not the least of which was winning titles with meagre enough resources of loaves and fishes in the forward line. But to produce another top notch display within a week of fighting for their lives on their backs, would match anything elicited in mid decade. It could be though that they don't need to hit those heights. It also shouldn't be forgotten just what important additions Shane O'Neill and Cathal Naughton have been to the package. To O'Neill's left Diarmuid O'Sullivan has been to the surprise of many restored to his full back berth. Considering he appeared unfit inside ten minutes of the Munster semi-final, the Cork managements loyalty to the Cloyne man seems almost touching. Yet with Tony Griffin seemingly afflicted by a combination of rustiness and dodgy hamstrings it could be Clare haven't the ammunition to expose O'Sullivan.

Having said that Clare will be fielding their strongest side of the summer. Mike McNamara having had to replace Conor Plunkett and Mark Flaharty two games in a row has eschewed the loyalty to both which has been a trademark until now. Gerry Quinn is back in harness and after a few years of being on the fringes Pat Vaughan has found an heretofore unlikely home at corner back. There are many in the county who ,despite the magnitude of the game, would like a new non-Lohan era at full back to begin on Sunday. But since the Scariff trainer didn't experiment in this position in the spring, Frank Lohan's uncertain manning of the square will continue for one more match at least. Clare will also be boosted by a level of midfield play that they likely haven't seen since the heady and incendiary days of '98. The fact that Colin Lynch doesn't show much signs of the intervening ten years is practically a miracle of modern science and almost overshadows his partner Brian O'Connell's new found consistency. Clare's forwards have had a few long nights of the soul since the Munster final. It is perhaps indicative of their status as a combination with a mite too few chiefs amongst plentiful worthy Indians that the good press they earned pre -munster final was franked with an underwhelming display. The last time they were talked up to this extent was prior to the first round Munster game against Sunday's opposition in 2006 when they also underachieved. The two Tony's and Diarmuid Mcmahon all played reasonably well against Cork in the semi-final in 2005 before fading in the last 25 minutes. But a repeat of that form on Sunday would likely be enough. Ultimately though after pricking the balloon of cliche earlier in the article, the ghost of Semple Stadium comes whispering into mind. When Clare beat Cork four times in a row in the 90's all bar one victory was achieved away from the home of hurling. If Cork mightn't have the same motivation to push themselves over a winning line eight days on, the very comfortable surroundings of Thurles may do the needful.

Having what Montgomery Burns would call "one of my unpredictable changes of heart" this column does however believe that this will be Waterford's last chance for a few years to win the All-Ireland. However it will take a mid-summer revival of the type that Michael Bond engineered ten years ago in Offaly by Davy Fitzgerald to bring Waterford to a level where the last big chance isn't already gone. Those who collate phrase books have probably scurried in recent weeks to include Ken McGrath's siting at full back as the most apposite example of the "robbing Peter to pay Paul phenomenon". If the Deise make a semi final and Aidan Kearney returns to the prime of his health it will be interesting to see if the experiment continues. If Davy is still in two minds the respective displays of Declan Prendergast and Shane O'Sullivan at corner and wing back tomorrow will be instructive. Waterford do look stronger on paper with the strange omissions of Brian Phelan and Stephen Molumphy being reversed. Also Seamus Prendergast seemed to be playing his way into form in last weeks second half. However when you compare the form of the aforementioned Molumphy, Brick Walsh and obviously Dan Shanahan with last year, its obvious the road that still has to be travelled. The burden will obviously need to be lifted off Eoin Kelly and John Mullane given their mercurial natures. The pair could however have another day in the sun given that Wexford's full back line are very unsettled this year due to injuries and form. Doc O' Connor has been dragooned into service at full back, on the published side at least, but this leads to Colin Farrell lining out at wing-back, a position in which he has no inter-county experience. It's surprising considering that he has been physically fit for a month or so that Barry Lambert, arguably hurlings most improved player in 2007, hasn't made the starting line-up. Wexford certainly have enough skillful players in Quigley, Lyng, P.J Nolan, Doyle and the undervalued Rory Jacob to produce a display to best an underpowered Waterford. But injury has blighted John Meyler's summer and there is likely too much sticking plaster in the Wexford configuration to overcome the recuperating Waterford.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekend Previews

One of the interesting aspects about the late spring prognostications in the media was not the perceived gap between Kilkenny and the likes of Clare and Wexford, but rather by dint of the favourable press coverage for Tipperary and Galway, the apparent divide between the league finalists and their benighted banner and slaney cousins. Yet Clare and Wexford vanquished Galway and Tipperary respectively in last years championship. Although recent history suggests that that a progressive league leads to Tipp being in rude health come the championship, are we in danger of overegging the spring pudding. After all the last time the Premier county emerged from an all singing and dancing league decider in 2003, they were a pallid concoction when they faced Clare in the Munster quarter final. Similarly have Clare presented an utterly different visage than could reasonably be expected in the two games so far. Undoubtedly, and this shows how superficial much hurling commentary can be, not enough account was taken of the absences of Tony Griffin and Tony Carmody for Clare's travails last year. Thus considering their return the prognosis was certainly too bleak. It is a boon to Clare's chances that Ballyea mans hamstring issues have cleared up, as it was hard to see them eeking out another result without a sizeable contribution from that quarter. If Griffin plays at right corner his physical presence may ask searching and different questions of Conor O'Brien, who showed undoubted promise against Cork. In the other corner Mark Flaharty could blame a hand injury for his form against Limerick, whilst Eamonn Buckley has evinced more persuasive form this year, but you suspect the the stock price of one or the other could take a major dent on Sunday. Further out Jonathan Clancy may seek to frank his best championship display in saffron and blue by exposing Shane Maher's maneuverability. This could be an even bigger issue if the Burgess man is not flanked by Conor O' Mahoney. The presence of Declan Fanning on the bench should not of be that much comfort for Tipperary as the seriously up and coming centre back would be a sizeable loss.

This blogger has noticed that he often hasn't signposted hostilities at mid-field as crucial to a result, but this doesn't apply on Sunday. Shane McGrath has been signposted as the coming exemplar of the thoroughly modern midfielder, whilst Brian O' Connell has perhaps had the mockers put on him with all the award giving that has been bestowed on him this week. Something may have to give. O'Connell will likely play a more stationary role than McGrath, by bolstering his half back line. That trio may be in need of some protection as there is a suspicion that Conor Plunkett and Pat Donnellan haven't yet been truly tested in the white heat. Indeed given Gerry O' Grady's apparent ongoing fitness concerns, there are valid questions of differing kinds regarding all of Clare's backs ( a far cry from their sextet in the last final between the counties in 1997 ) and Brendan Bugler's trifling misdemeanour at the fag end of the semi-final could be very costly. What might exacerbate the concerns is the feeling that Tipperary are inching towards a more balanced forward line with John O'Brien apparently back in form and Seamus Butler back in more familiar environs at corner forward. Furthermore do Clare have a plan for Lar Corbetts wanderlust that involves Frank Lohan?

Tipp have generally been talked up too much, e.g whispers of their possession of the best backline in the country, despite three of them being relatively unproven in the summer. Perhaps this comes with the territory when you are one of the "big three", a grouping that they may still be a part of due to the unswavering hubris of their supporters. A combined xv of both sides on anfearrua lead to many posters plumping for rookie Seamus Callinan at 11, decision making that may have had Diarmuid McMahon rolling his eyes. Yet there remains the nagging feeling that Clare will be fortunate to have defensive uncertainty not punished by Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett. Ultimately if O'Grady, Griffin and O'Mahoney are all in reasonable order, Tipp seem very marginally the safer bet.

Re Saturday nights fare, with Gerald McCarthy reverted to tried and trusted, and dare one say it stodgy, upfront, and Sean Og and Ronan Curran on the bench, Cork could be vulnerable to an up and coming formulation. The pity is that they wont be facing Dublin circa 2011 in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Keeping on the stodgy theme, Wayne McNamara's summer bow doesn't appear to be enough change to be confident that Limerick will come up trumps on Saturday week. As it is though an Offaly team most notable for having the sons of four All-Ireland winners in the starting xv, will likely be five or six points inferior.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

It's Groundhog Day.... Again

With the amount of hot air circulating around the hurling firmament in the last few days you'd swear the Montgolfier brothers were about the place. Another Leinster year over and hurling is apparently even deeper in debt. Galway, like the gadfly batchelor, are being asked once more to focus their mind and settle down with their eastern neighbours. About the only thing we have been spared is the "will someone please think of the children" catchcry. No amount of hyperbole has been spared in the p.r campaign. This blogger's former classmate the normally extremely clear headed James ( we never called him Jamesie ) O' Connor opined that a Kilkenny v Galway clash last Sunday would have brought 50,000 to headquarters. Granted the novelty and the very powerful Joe Canning hype may have brought a very decent crowd, but it would likely be nowhere near equalled in years two and three of the experiment. It may have been quickly forgotten that the meeting of the two sides in last years quarter final attracted only 40,000 to Croker; as part of a double header with Tipperary and Wexford. And ultimately for the switch to be effective there is the small matter of Galway's competitiveness. The way some talk about hurling realignment a force akin to the Rackard brothers Wexford of the 1950's is waiting in the wings to rattle Kilkenny's cages. We heard a lot last Sunday about hurling being a 70 minute game and the harsh reality is that three of the last four four times the counties have met in championship the tribesmen have been uncompetitive over the full duration of the game.

This isn't a carping cut at Galway ( we'll leave that for later in the summer when it all goes wrong and we'll hear the cry of where have all the minors gone ) rather a sober realisation of where we are. It's got to the stage where you half expect to see Bill Murray roundabouts the day after the Leinster final. There's more waling than at a banshee convention and sizable amounts of Wexford people questioning the manhood of their players, and wondering was it for this Vinegar Hill was fought. But didn't we have the same, only more trenchant, last July 1st only for Wexford to subsequently beat Tipperary whilst missing a hatful of goal chances in the process. Kilkenny meanwhile went on, either side of dispatching the Slaneysiders again, to vanquish Galway and Limerick without a blow scarcely being landed. But no lessons seem to have been learned. Wexford played a smattering of superb hurling last Sunday only to succumb when Eddie Brennan scored, extolling very different virtues, two truly brilliant goals. If the Wexford being intimidated by the black and amber theory can't be entirely dismissed, surely any county finding themselves ten points down after making a very decent fist of it, could be entitled to sidle every so surely towards disillusionment. Wexford's quarter final outing, particularly if the injuries to Keith Rossiter, Paul Roche and Stephen Nolan clear up will be fascinatingly instructive. If they are ultra competitive it could be time to start proceeding towards some unsettling conclusions. Like the tipping up of the Premier and Galway as serious threats to Kilkenny being the trumph of hope over empirical evidence. One of the more salient points in the whole talk show roundabout was that by a gentleman texter who wondered whether there would be as much concern if Kilkenny weren't as good. We may indeed need to begin edging towards the previously unthinkable idea that the cats are actually now underrated. Maybe there will be progress and by the next groundhog day we'll see the shadow of Kilkenny for what it actually is. Possibly by then we'll begin advocating some alternative ideas to improve the competitiveness of the sport. Like dividing Kilkenny in two or forcing those of their players suitably endowed, to ply their trade with the county's footballers.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

bald counties and a comb?

Clare and Limerick people often don't have a high opinion of their own. This blogger remembers reading a teacher on the Limerick/Tipperary border recounting how you could easily spot from where the players under his instruction hailed due to their gait. Thus your correspondent received texts on the night of the semi-final from both sides of the divide bemoaning the quality of the fare. Certainly there was a relative torper to the proceedings. But that could partly be expalined by the venue. In a week where the Leinster Council have admitted that a home and away arrangement for Kilkenny and Wexford is close at hand, it's good to reflect on the error of bringing Limerick and Clare to the half filled surroundings of Thurles. One would hope, with some in Galway and Antrim earnestly wanting new homes, that those who fix Clare and Waterford in Limerick, and Limerick and Clare in Thurles would find themselves, partly as a result of their machinations, out of business, leading us to gaze on the sunny uplands of an open draw championship, but that's a battle for another day.

Supporters filing home could have been accentuating the positive. Shannonsiders may have gaped in wonder at the accuracy of their maligned forwards who barely forsook a scoring proposition. Emblematic of this negativity is the almost collective shrugging of shoulders that greeted Niall Moran's five points from play. One would have thought that Limerick's attack had down the years featured enough rambunctious, but limited, types that a wan talent like Moran's could be appreciated. But for many supporters, and indeed the management, the glass seems permanently half full. Seanie O' Connor also faced the ire of the selectors and the faithful. The ridiculous decision of referee Eamonn Morris not to award the gangly full forward a free mid-way through the second half was symptomatic of his fortune on a day when the vagaries of the wind ( which irked all the players with it's swirl resulted in the sliotar having all the predictability of a beach ball ) didn't allow the ball to land around the square, a patch of ground where he had so discomforted Frank Lohan in March's league game. But this is not to gloss over the fact that the beaten All-Ireland finalists formulation could do with freshening up. Although no one ran riot under Paudie O' Dwyer's watch, it's now almost touching to see how eagerly supporters await the return of Brian Geary, given his under appreciation down the years. Worryingly though the likes of the unfortunate Denis Molony, Wayne McNamara and Conor Fitzgerald ( long absence has made the hearts of supporters forgetful ) mightn't be ready for action that soon, with the probable d-day ( with respect to Offaly ) against Galway or Waterford only three weeks away. Another area of concern is the form of Stephen Lucey since his display last week brought to mind similar hesitancy's against the aforementioned tribsmen and Cork in the spring.

As for Clare they got four goals, which is something that bears repeating. And if at least two of them will be remembered for the keystone kop impersonations of Limerick players, a viewing of the tape shows that the build up play for the fourth major was almost as impressive as that for Niall Gilligan's vaunted effort against Waterford. Initiated by Brendan Buglar impressively extricating himself from a tight corner that he sadly he won't be in for the Munster final, featuring a typically velveteen first touch by Barry Nugent, and franked by Diarmuid McMahon's undervalued nose for a goal, it was as noteworthy as the scruffy efforts that proceeded it. The goals got Clare out of gaol ( a nice headline in itself ) after they failed to settle in the first fifteen minutes, often a fatal error with a gale, however capricious, at ones back. One of the players that was on his game from the start was Pat Vaughan. We may not yet have the ocular proof that he is a championship corner back, but he evinced a sprightliness that one likes to see at this time of the year, resembling a top of the ground horse who wasn't discommoded by yielding conditions. Brian O' Connell and the ageless Colin Lynch's trojan work at midfield have allowed Jonathan Clancy's ever-ready bunny impersonation to be exhibited further up the field, where Niall Gilligan matched his more diminutive team-mates work rate, particularly when the hard yards were required in the second half. The huge negative though is Tony Griffin's hamstring, especially since his recent Clare People interview signposted the recurring issues he had with it throughout the spring.

There are perhaps less reasons to avoid the negative when assessing the future prospects of Wexford and Dublin after their semi-final replay. Wexford last year took two facile beatings from their Noreside rivals despite their full back line preforming more than manfully, after Keith Rossiter was switched to full-back early in the Leinster final. Indeed Rossiter, Malachy Travers and Paul Roche could very legitimately win the claim as the best full back line combo in the championship last year, given that their Kilkenny equivalents didn't have to face Shefflin, Brennan etc outside the confines of training at Nowlan Park. This year however, the excellence of David O' Callaghan notwithstanding, they are displaying an edginess which is worrying before a trip into the cats lair, with Travers in particular resorting to a lot of fouling. There have been some hopeful signs. The resourcefulness of all the half back line, especially Mick Jacob, in relatively unfamiliar terrain. The brio of Stephen Banville. The quiet leadership of Rory Jacob. It would be a boon if the aforementioned duo were joined in the full forward line sooner rather than later by Barry Lambert, arguably the most improved hurler in the country in 2007. But with one of their stars against Kilkenny last year Stephen Nolan still injured, you would still be very fearful for a Wexford side, which would struggle to get within 10 points if they were playing with a full deck. For Dublin a chastening experience away to a revanchist Cork may be in store, a trimming that would put the tin hat on a very disappointing season at all grades. The full back line seems no nearer definitive improvement in total, although Tomas Brady might be deemed the answer at no.3 now after his firefighting in the reply there, and an impressive display against Kilkenny at u-21. But although Ross O' Carroll and Joey Boland continue to mature, there is little sign that a cohort of five or six top-class players is close to formation, from which a serious challenge can be made. John McCaffrey has had a disappointing year and his laboured display at u-21 against Kilkenny was dispiriting. In a typically acute observation former Offaly manager John McIntyre signposted Kilkenny's facile 10 point victory against the reigning Leinster champions as the most depressing result of the summer. Heres hoping with recession, and the doleful weather holding its grip that the showery Thursday night in Parnell Park maintains that accolade for a few months.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I don't like ( post leinster championship ) Monday's

When you are an aspirant writer and seek out information about how best to aid/curb your affliction, one of the tips that is offered is that you should aim to write every day as a discipline. So following the maxim, the next question is; should time be spent breaking down the delights of the Leinster championship semi-finals. The attractions of a darkened room, and a wet towel seem manifold in comparison. Or perhaps time could be spent more profitably railing against what an ungrateful little country we showed ourselves to be last Friday. But the misery of an already established blog site loves company so we shall sally forth into the breach. Please read on. I know it mightn't be edifying for those of a sunny disposition. But Monday mornings can often be like that.

One thing you won't get for this blogger is any guff about the importance of development work being put into the Leinster counties lagging behind. This solution is usually postulated by folk who have no idea what work good bad or indifferent is being undertaken at ground level, and are unaware, for example, and care less, that Laois have been seriously competitive at under- 21 level for five years or so. So let's get one thing clear for those who might be wanting to plan their early summer weekends for the foreseeable future. It's likely that any of the other Leinster counties playing Kilkenny in the next few years will be an utterly futile exercise. Maybe if the cats have an off day ( and scarily it's arguable that yesterday wasn't an "on day" ) a Wexford combination bolstered by the return of Stephen Nolan, Barry Lambert, Des Mythen and Richie Kehoe might catch them if they have a large dollop of luck. If the volume of fine young Dublin players coming on to their panel continues at the current rate, it is theoretical that they too could pull off an unlikely win against the head. But a handful of these tyros will have to come up to Dotsie O' Callaghan's level for that to be achieved. But Offaly; sorry no chance. The quality,or otherwise, of Dublin's young players in their early 20's reminds one of one of the straws grasped to re the Faithful; that they have a very young panel. But where, alas, is the evidence that players who are at a certain level at 21/22 will burst into the stratosphere at a later date. It's instructive that Ger Oakley whose lack of skill stood out amidst the golden generation is a dutiful leader for the current side. The very sad reality is that Offaly haven't produced a top quality new player since Kevin Martin nearly fifteen years ago. Brendan Murphy, Rory Hannify and Brian Carroll haven't been the harbingers of hope they promised to be, and the coltish Stephen Browne and Michael Cordial have disappeared off the map altogether. And why should any of this surprise us. For the twenty years of success the county had husbanding the resources of effectively 20,000 people ( the aforementioned Martin was a rare example of a diamond being mined in the football end of the county ) created a loaves and fishes type miracle that the redeemer would have been proud of, and the Central Statistics Office could have done a glowing report about. It almost does a dis-service to the extraordinary deeds of 1980-2000 to write stories about Offaly's crop not being harvested with appropriate diligence. The media is periodically awash with stories about former greats now putting their shoulders to the wheel ( the same is happening in Wexford ) to arrest the decline. But although it does them great credit, when R.T.E announced in their pre-match colour piece that Johnny Pilkington was coaching the Offaly minors, they neglected to point out that the team were uncompetitive in the Leinster Championship. Sadly for little acorns to grow they need more than big men. More likely the unlikely fate of natural selection that we can't hope to understand.

As for Wexford it was only in the last few years that it dawned on this writer that they are the most unfairly scorned G.A.A county in the land. Most of their column inches reflect on their dismal underage hurling record and reflect on how the success of the Liam Griffin era was squandered. What is little reflected on is that with the exception of a few clubs in the north around Rathnure, and a few in the south bordered Fethard, most of the clubs in the county are of the dual variety. Look at the Wexford Senior hurlers in any given year and you'll find that more than half of them have played football for the county at some grade. This is a reality that can't but dilute their hurling output, even if that isn't being maximised to the nth degree. The argument put forward by the likes of Martin Breheny that Kilkenny should be forced to put far greater resources into football is unworkable, but it is still worth reflecting on occasionally that bar the attractions of a sunny evening in Mount Juliet, hurling is the only game in town in that neck of the woods. John Meyler's rant when Richie Kehoe left the panel may have been unfair to the young man in question, and not the right message to be send out. But it was perhaps an understandable reaction when you are attempting to thrive in the shadow of a neighbouring behemoth. If there has been a greater team in the history of the game ( the record book might suggest Cork of the early 40's or Tipp of the early 60's ) it's hard to imagine there has been a stronger panel than the current Kilkenny one. And their exemplary shooting yesterday brought to mind, that the 2006 All-Ireland was won with the team hitting wides for fun in both the semi and the final.

The rain at half-time yesterday brought a pathos to proceedings and a literal damp squib. But maybe we should all take a leaf from the Dr. Stranglove sub-title and stop worrying about the Leinster Championship, and if not love it, then scorn not it's simplicity, and just abide it. A final thought; on observing all the moderate and one sided G.A.A fare on offer at the weekend, it struck one that a golden age that started with Down's football semi- final victory over the Kingdom in 1991, ended unbeknownest to us with another rare Kerry setback in Croker, in that terrific final against Tyrone in 2005. And on that cheery note have a good week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


This blogger, amongst others, has pointed out the early similarities between Tipperary this year and 2001. Another occurred at the end of Sunday's game when Liam Sheedy was engaged in rapturous celebration, bringing to mind Nicky English's dance across the same pitch seven years ago, when his charges had prevailed over Clare by a point. The difference then was that game was a straight knock out affair and English's assiduously compiled formation was in danger of being derailed, perhaps permanently. Judging by Sheedy's celebration perhaps he saw the game deep down in the same manner as English, who opined in previewing the game that the winner would almost certainly be in the All-Ireland final. Certainly Tipp did enough to at least elevate themselves to the position as the side most likely to rattle Kilkenny's cage. Whether its a good portent or not their performance in the last ten minutes is obviously what sticks in the mind about a game that oddly lacked the clinical nature and intensity that had been expected. Amidst the feel good atmosphere regarding his return to the no. 1 position it could be forgotten that Brendan Cummins sprayed a couple of short puck-outs straight to opponents in the second half. Also the managements lassitude in giving the speed merchant Cathal Naughton the freedom of the park in the first twenty minutes suggested the nonchalance of the training pitch, where the premier backs were having their adversity put to the test by their manager. But it could be that Cork's failings have just allowed Tipp to iron out crimps that won't be on show again. In the round Stekhanovite zeal trumped casualness. Eamonn Buckley, Shane Maher and Conor O'Brien grew into the game in a manner that evinced that appetite and application, amongst other things, can bring you a long way. In this aspect of the game they have great examples set for them by Eamonn Corcoran and Paul Curran, the latter making a stellar start in his campaign to gain the All- Star at full back so unjustly denied to him in 2006. We are now also becoming used to Conor O' Mahoney's unfussy excellence at centre back, but it is worth taking a pause intermittently to remind oneselves that he is producing a standard of play at no.6 for the blue and gold that has likely not being seen for a generation. ( and remember we are having children later in life in these secular times ) Class Tipperary forwards have been much more ten a penny down the years but whilst Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett lived up to expectations, bar the slightly overstated contribution of Seamus Callinan, they received little assistance on Sunday and novenas should be led by the Archbishop of Cashel for their good health throughout the summer, something that can't be relied upon on past evidence.

The fascination with Cork will be learning later in the summer whether they contributed to their own downfall, or is the game well and truly up for the team as currently constituted. Certainly at times on Sunday they seemed to be under the misapprehension that Ray Cummins had come out of retirement. The rebels have perhaps fallen too much for the media led perception that their short ball game has been rumbled. As a result of wanting to mix up their tactics they ended up falling between two stools. Managements anxiousness to use Cathal Naughton out the field, but not in a three man half line with the similarly diminutive Ben O' Connor, led to Pat Cronin and Paudie O' Sullivan being ill suited to forage in a depleted inside line. The young Cloyne forward showed some nice touches, but may be better suited to full forward and Sean Moran's remark in Saturday's Irish Times that "if you gave him a brush he'd prefer to stand at an easel than on a ladder" seemed apposite in it's wittiness - as an aside it was only rivaled for quote of the weekend by the sagacious old hand on who stated that "Gerald McCarthy couldn't coach a frog to hop". Staying with O'Sullivan jnr there have been comments that he shouldn't have been landed with the penalty taking responsibilities, but that opinion masks the fact that this Cork team have never had a natural penalty taker, although this may be partly because their style of play hasn't led to many being awarded. It wasn't all bad news for Cork as Shane O'Neill franked his league form with an assured display and the aforementioned Naughton showed he can be more than a supersub. But ultimately as pointed out in this parish last week Cork are short of standard bearers at the height of their powers who haven't had their hunger sated. Whither Setanta O' Halpin and Thomas O' Leary anyone!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Cork v Tipp preview

It perhaps should be whispered in the company of vainglorious old firm types, but the sheen has fallen a little off this much trumpeted clash in the last few days. The tawdry events in Waterford have bossed the column inches afforded to hurling,- a cursory glance at the likes of Herald A.M would give the impression that the English soccer season was still in full swing- whilst despite inital ballyhoo the sold-out signs don't appear to have gone up yet. The anticipation about the match has also been put askew by the surprising Cork team news. It's ironic that the favourable press inches afforded to the rebels in championship previews were as a result of the new promising blood that had been on show in the league. However now that four comparative newcomers have all been included in the starting forwards, there is a perception that the balance is not quite right. If nothing else all of a sudden, a previous fault, that of forward depth, has been cast to the four winds. Someone like Brian Corry, impressive in the latter stages of the league, could now be included, with Joe Deane, Niall McCarthy, Niall Ronan and the two Kieran Murphys' in an impressive shadow selection.It could be that the Cork management, even sub-consciously, feels it has enough scoring power in say ten forwards, to get it over the line. Those with their ear to the ground like John Allen have expressed apprehension, but Cork have an impressive record when they have seemingly pulled selection rabbits out of hats. ( see '66,'90 and '99 ) The issues in the respect of the young forwards might be as much positional. Pat Cronin seems an ill fit for full forward, whilst Cathal Naughton's preternatural pace might be better suited for wing forward, albeit that a half line with he and Ben O' Connor would limit puck-out options. The problem Cork may have is not having enough players in the say 22-27 year old bracket. Men of relative experience, hungry, but perhaps not weighed down by the Celtic Crosses in their pockets. Also the O'Connor brothers have been plagued by niggling injury.

For Tipp fans the optimism comes from their being a distinct 2001 vibe about their panel. Then a diligent and hard working formulation galvanised by their young manager seemed to have enough of an 'x-factor' to overcome many teams of a similar standard. Indeed, with fleeting gnashing of teeth, Tipp fans might have observed after the league final that they have been badly managed for the last few years. They now perhaps see, even at this early stage, in Liam Sheedy a manager who can husband the resources far more successfully. Nicky English managed, in particular to wring every ounce of potential out of his backs seven years ago, especially Tom Costelloe and David Kennedy. Sheedy may yet need to work similar wonders. Eamonn Buckley seemed much improved in the latter stages of the league, but with he and debutant Conor O' Brien in the corners, the premier county may be exhibiting over confidence by feeling they can leave All-Star Declan Fanning in the stand. Shane Maher's selection, although he is of lionhearted stock, may lead to to one centre back too many being stationed in the halfback line. Equally whilst comparing with 2001 although Seamus Butler shares Mark O' Leary's ability to ghost on to loose ball, and dispatch it between the posts, it would be invidious to compare Ryan O'Dwyer with Declan Ryan. Furthermore the confidence behind Tipperary's charge towards silverware seems to take as utter red that Eoin Kelly has put the torper of last year behind him, and that Lar Corbett has cast the clothes of inconsistency from his back.

An acquaintance of this blogger related how few people will get off the fence in predicting a victor in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, and it's an understandable, evaluating the two sides, to seek comfort in procrastination. One hunch is that neither side are as far down the road to challenging Kilkenny ( unless the cats standards slip from 2007 ) as they might believe. The poor record of Tipp in Cork city, not having won since 1922, is overplayed as they have only lost eight times in that span. Thus although Cork might have more room for improvement in their panel, it could be that on the very scientific law of averages, Tipperary's time may have come. Possibly. Maybe.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Whiter Shade of ( Deise ) Pale

It was a day where the flesh burned in Limerick ,whilst the day trippers in Lahinch found themselves, perhaps karmically, shrouded in fog. The skies were clear in the Gaelic Grounds, but the elements of hurling light and shade were less certain, given Clare's comprehensive victory. A side that had been ranked, not only well behind Kilkenny, but also in a different parish to the likes of Tipperary and Galway, had with one bound been freed from years of Munster underachievement. On the other hand Waterford, twice victors over Cork last summer, have, post spring ennui, and an early summer injury crisis, been deemed to be now beyond the pale by many reasoned judges. A more hyperbolic analyst, Ger Loughnane, might, if he had been on television on Sunday, have aped his hasty opinion post the first round Munster clash between Tipperary and Clare in 2005, tailoring it in these circumstances to say; " Clare Back, Waterford gone". Three years ago Clare recovered from having their epitaph written for them by Mr. Biddy Early to be foiled by a point in an All-Ireland semi-final. And if a similar unfurling of Waterford's season might lead to mass hari kari down suirside, it at least shows that ill championship winds have been known to change direction.

James O'Connor made a prescient point on Sunday that in twenty years of sending out Clare teams at all four grades, Mike McNamara has never presented a side that was ill-prepared. The long suffering die-hards who have masochistically followed underage banner selections in recent years are au fait with his u-21 team two years ago, who were pipped in Thurles by a Tipperary outfit that subsequently on to lead an All-Ireland final in injury time. The squad's confidence was evidently not knocked by an underwhelming league, perceptions about which seemed to take little account of the panel playing, as they did last summer, with an underpowered attacking hand. Oddly enough the performances of Tony Griffin and Diarmuid McMahon, both recently returned from abroad, did little to advertise the importance of the gruelling spring training regimen their team-mates have supposedly endured. It could be that McNamara cannily observed that the wheel has turned full circle, and that his charges perhaps needed the training exertions that have entered the county's folk memory, given the relatively fallow fortunes of recent years, to boost their confidence.

As Clare showed in Croke Park in 2005/6 with all options available they aren't quite the inert attacking force they are often portrayed to be. But these shibboleths are hardly surprising given that many of Clare's forwards are often strangely unloved at home. There has been much pleasant surprise at Niall Gilligan's display on Sunday, which gives the mistaken impression that the Sixmilebridge man has been poor on many big days in the saffron and blue. Gilligan has, if anything, been the victim of lofty expectations due to his exploits when he burst on to the scene in the final three years of the last decade. Beside him Mark Flaherty stroked the ball beautifully from play and especially from frees. Indeed with Conor Plunkett doing a good Seanie Mac impression from long range it was hard to remember Clare's dead ball prowess ever being crisper in the modern era. But the achilles heel in the current attacking crop, a lack of aerial power, despite their non-diminutive status, will face greater tests down the line.

It would be a strange Galway-like pressure for the Clare forwards to feel that they have to continue winning shoot-outs, but those who felt there were elements redolent of Clare's glory days shouldn't have been referring to their defensive play. Against a half-forward line that could charitably be described as undercooked, the banner half-backs needed to be little more than energetic and diligent. If Clare had been told at the turn of the year that they would face Waterford's forwards without Gerry Quinn, Alan Markham and for half the game Gerry O' Grady they would have felt, correctly as it turned out, that a large score would be conceded and an onerous pressure would be on the forwards. Although many of John Mullane's scores came from loose play rather than the inadequacies of markers, it was instructive how much possession Shane O' Sullivan won in the latter stages of the game, in the unfamiliar environs for him of corner forward. Similarly Gary Hurney's inability to make an impact on the fray was more down to ball usage rather than being unable to get it in his hand. Thus Gerry O 'Grady's possible absence from the Clare team against Limerick might properly put under the microscope the frailties in the full back line which have not received due care and attention up till now. It could validly be argued that the Crusheen man, for all his inconsistency, is the most important player for the banner at present, and his loss may, at this remove at least, swing things towards Limerick.

As for Waterford, well it appears an open and shut case. most scribes have claimed their attitude and work rate was questionable. But as Tony Griffin declared afterwards, Clare always find matches against the Deise to be open affairs. The return of Ken McGrath and Eoin Murphy will doubtless improve matters, but in the formers case just as much for his creative potential as a libero centre back as for his prowess as a stopper. The Mount Sion great would have been as unlikely to track Diarmuid McMahon's wanderings as Brian Phelan was. One indirect boon to the return of the aforementioned pair would be that it might offer security to whoever had the poisoned chalice of the No. 3 shirt thrust upon them. One option, though admittedly it would be of the sticking plaster variety, would be for Justin McCarthy to offer James Murray an eleventh hour return to the panel. Murray, a conscientious and versatile contributor to the side throughout the decade, wasn't afforded a return after a winter abroad. When you consider some of the mutterings of dissention emanating from around the panel it seems like a hubristic decision to keep the 'bearded wonder' in purdah when other more volatile characters have been frequently indulged.

It would appear very difficult now for Waterford to knitt all the pieces together as impressively as in the last two years. But if, and it's a big one, Kilkenny have fallen from their perch, their southern neighbours might, with a bit of luck, not need to reach the heights of last season to be serious contenders. For Clare it would be wise, not that we forsee Mike Mac getting carried away, to beware the ides of 2003. Then, a victory over a pallid and injury hit Tipperary gave the county hopes that were snuffed out on the next day by far more cohesive opposition in Thurles. We shall see.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Clare v Waterford preview

Mike McNamara, whether he was a prime mover in it or not, once operated in a hurling context where perceived slights were seized upon. If he read some of the championship previews judging his charges hopes he might be inclined to pin articles on the dressing room wall, and slip into full Canon Michael O' Brien "donkeys for derby's mode". The Sunday Tribune was particularly uncharitable, it's hurling correspondent rating Clare beneath Wexford, and another journalist railing against McNamara for his antediluvian training methods. The redoubtable Sean Moran in the Irish Times slipped into generic cliche by terming the Banner county to be "in transition". Too often this term is used in politically correct terms to describe an outfit that is perceived to be not much cop, and with Clare naming only one player spending his first season on the panel, and with no u-21 anywhere near the starting fifteen, there is a patronising whiff in the air.

But this imagining of Clare still existing in an established patterns also exists amongst their supporters. Talk amongst them usually focuses on the malaise in the forwards, with an eye constantly fixed on the sky looking for a sign as to the arrival of the next James O' Connor. Conversely there is a curious "it will be all right on the night" attitude towards the sides backs, due to years of living on the fatted calf. This complacency seems to have infected the management. It's a little reported fact that two men who played corner back in last years championship Kevin Dilleen and Anthony Kilmartin are not involved this summer. The Clare selectors seemed confident that Tadgh Keogh would cut the mustard and didn't try any other players in the position, bar the ill-fated Conor McMahon, in the spring. But subsequent challenge matches have put the selectors off the Sixmilebridge man and Daragh Clancy, with no apparent corner back experience, has been dragooned into the position. In the half-line Conor Plunkett so long the dauphin to Seanie McMahon has been informed his time has come, a promotion that seems less logical and more ripe for disappointment than five years ago. On his right Pat Donnellan, hopefully not too chastened by having virtually all the media spell his name wrong throughout the league, will have to overcome the suspicion formed from his county u-21 career, that he is more a ball player in the Paul Kelly mode than a granite hewn championship wing back that Clare need. If Dan Shanahan and Seamus Prendergast have shaken off injury, and in the case of the former sonamblulent league form, we'll have a much better idea about the reasoning behind Gerry Quinn's omission, on Sunday night.

The saffron and blue selection has a wing and a prayer element to it in attack for different reasons. Tony Griffin and Diarmuid McMahon are only back in the country for just over a month, albeit they are reported to be in good physical shape. Tony Carmody has had very little spring hurling after a serious injury. Niall Gilligan and Jonathan Clancy have both suffered mild concussions in recent weeks. But with Declan O'Rourke invalided and Fergal Lynch and Barry Nugent failing to secure the trust of yet another management team, Clare are hoping that class ( yes there is plenty of it, despite urban legend ) will overcome the respective infirmities. One bugbear, the lack of a quality freetaker may have been treated by Mark Flaharty's inclusion. Another, the lack of goal power is, judging on the league and challenges still a sore point.

The comfort for Clare is that their undercooked forwards are facing underpowered Deise backs. Eoin Murphy, perhaps on the advice of a frustrated agent, attempted in the winter through a celebrity dancing show to raise his public profile. His worth may be more apparent on Sunday night, much to the chagrin of Waterford's supporters, if their Munster hopes have gone south. His direct replacement Declan Prendergast, although more suited to corner back than full, will likely mark the aforementioned Flaherty, and Clare's debutant might have faced a harder introduction to championship. The absence of Ken McGrath doesn't need to be dallied on the for too long. One thing Waterford could take from the league q/f defeat to Tipperary was how calm and authoritative Kevin Moran seemed in a the problem position of full back. And of course the injury worries aside- which prevent Eoin Kelly from starting- there is the suspicion that Waterford's forwards have too much heavy artillery for their opposite numbers. Bar the debutant dual player Gary Hurney, it is instructive that the most unheralded amongst them include the All- Star Stephen Molumphey, and the oft undervalued Eoin McGrath.

Clare could improve markedly later in the summer. This would be ironic considering managements desire to take the Munster Championship ultra-seriously, forsaking the policy of the Anthony Daly era. Their saving grace could be that their ill-preparedness due to events seems to be aped by Waterford. Indeed its possible that Clare might have more fight for a contest that may be prosaic for Waterford with their eyes on a much bigger prize. However despite the absentees, Waterford's xv still seems to have a smidgen more talent, and though the draw might be tempting for serious punters, the Deise are still the better bet.