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.

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