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.

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