Saturday, June 20, 2009

weekend previews

Waterford v Limerick:

Hard enough to know what's going on here. When one manager releases a team-sheet that's brazen nonsense and the other thinks he's more put upon than Brian Cowen, it's difficult to parse what to expect from their teams. A general prediction though. The standard won't be as significantly in advance of last weeks shambles as some hope for. There is still an element of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic about Limerick's forward options. In fairness James Ryan rewarded his manager's faith and dispelled this quarters doubts with his second-half industry. Dave Breen showed enough to start in the real world, as opposed to Justin's fantasy team sheet. Yet they still seem one corner forward short, not to mind that Andrew O' Shaughnessy was as relatively anonymous as was feared last Sunday. At wing-back Denis Molony, not for the first time in an injury riddled career, showed flashes of brilliance. Limerick may also hope for Seamus Hickey to have a more consistent influence on the game.

But if Limerick are inching forward, Waterford are running to stand still. Ken McGrath's absence has made the headlines but younger brother Eoin's dropping from the team leaves a large chasm based on his excellent 2008. Last week the selection seemed to have merits, with a decent bench to fall back on. Now it looks wing and a prayer stuff. The failure to re-instate Aidan Kearney could be regretted. It's been many the year since Tony Browne played mid-field. The balance of the team looks unwieldy, especially if, as one suspects Stephen Molumphy has to come firefighting back to lar na pairce. How does extra-time grab anyone?

Galway v Kilkenny:

An esteemed Sunday newspaper hurling correspondent constantly seeks to play down Kilkenny's supposed strength in depth. In general he doth protest too much and admirably does Brian Cody's bidding for him. But it really ought to be sorely tested this evening. The importance of Noel Hickey to the side is understated, not least because JJ Delaney tends to carefully mind only his own patch in his sojourns at no.3. Thus Michael Kavanagh, recently returned from injury and Jackie Tyrell will be more on an island than of yore, also missing the wing-back version of JJ and Brian Hogan to protect them from outside the castle walls. Hogan suffered from the reticence of All-Star selectors to give the cats a clean sweep of the defensive positions last autumn, But he was unfussy, physicality personified and John Tennyson's injury problems have disrupted his career at this level. Finally as for the person in a GAA chat room this week who said Cha Fitzpatrick isn't in Shane McGrath's league. Well........ agree to disagree might be the best way to put it. Upfront the selection of Martin Comerford is slightly surprising given that T.J Reid and Richie Hogan, who would comfortably make every other team in Ireland, are at his heels. Perhaps it is felt that Comerford is a horse for the course of Galway's soft physical centre.

And yet........ this blogger has bored whole nations with his annoyance on the "Galway have the talent" canard. Lets have a look at 1-12 then shall we. The player with very comfortably the best record at this level, Ollie Canning, last excelled at inter-county in 2005. Fergal Moore would likely be more comfortable at corner-back. John Lee is decidedly undercooked in a week that the term was reserved for South-African rugby players. Those not in the know might be interested to garner that we have just referred to their three most likely prospects. But with the full-forward line and the primed to explode Aengus Callnan the Tribesmen have some serious ammunition. Niall Healy has form against this opposition and Damien Hayes may be reborn with the long shadow of the Feakle man a distant memory. Word has it the u-21 full-forward shows promise.

If Galway can force a lot of one-to-one match ups they will likely put up a big score. But the big bad wolf like cat will blow enough of a gale at the other end to get over the line by four or five points.

Wexford v Dublin:

Wexford's display against Offaly was almost too good to be true albeit that the Faithful sagged disappointingly. So some sectors of their team will come under greater scrutiny tomorrow. Much of what Wexford do goes under the radar but to this blogger they had the best full-back line in the country in 2007. But Malachy Travers seems to have slipped a tad and Keith Rossiter has essentially been less than 100% fit since. The lovely louche combination of striking and athleticism that Eoin Quigley brings to the party can hardly fail to be missed for the second day in a row. Upfront the shortage of specialised corner-forwards may well bring to mind another denizen of the treatment table Barry Lambert.

But will any two of those three be missed anymore by the Slaneysiders than Dublin will bemoan the absence of Roan Fallon and Ross O' Carroll. The latter especially would have been a boon to a half-forward line that seems to have been picked to achieve a no-score draw. Wexford still seem the more convincing selection but could it just be the day where destiny and a dollop of luck goes Dublin's way. As James O' Conner said during the week, the prospect of a tanning from Kilkenny might be more appealing for them than it is for Wexford.

Tipperary v Clare:

Move along, nothing to see here. Well that's what the bookies and many of the pundits say. The nervous propensity of Tipp's corner backs to foul in the quarter-final; of trifling concern. Their absence of natural wing-backs; merely a detail. In fairness the premiers lack of consistency at half-forward is more of an exasperation than an extreme annoyance, given that it has very rarely put them on the wrong side of a scoreline in the last 18 months. Also the two current most important players Conor O' Mahony and Eoin Kelly should have regained much of their match fitness.

If Clare strike against the head, the league might as well be shelved immediately as it will be declared (pun just noticed) utterly worthless. Any new Clare revival, to aptly take the title of a Stockton's Wing song, will require Phillip Brennan to put behind him any thoughts that the nickname 'calamity' might soon be bestowed. Also James McInerney must grasp his responsibilities with both hands and not be overawed by the fact that Clare full-backs have fallen away with the rapidity of Spinal Tap drummers since Frank Lohan's retirement only months ago. The banner's experienced quintet of Markham, Griffin, Carmody, McMahon and Gilligan are likely drinking with their manager in his saloon of the last chance variety in Scariff, although in Gilligans case it is likely of his choosing. Teams usually overstate the extent to which they have been written off but since the actual talent deficit between the teams is far smaller than is generally perceived, you would despair for the Clare hurling if they don't at the very least die a ferociously contested death.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Limerick v Waterford preview

Well it's all about the Deise seeking to atone for the All-Ireland calamity isn't it? Or about Justin McCarthy looking to put one over the players that shafted him surely? One wonders though whether there is something of an over-simplification going on here from a media that is attuned to analyse soccer and rugby more rigorously. Although it would not be the minority opinion, this column thinks the Waterford underachievement in last years final has been overstated. If they did underperform, in any case it was in contrast to what they had achieved in previous seasons, rather than their output on the road to the final. Perhaps there is still an unwillingness, as your blogger has previously stated, to fully appreciate the true wonder of the Kilkenny '08 model. Also is Justin, truly the type to be banging sliotars off the dressing room wall to rouse his new charges into a more heightened sense of dudgeon. It was easy, when the draw was made, to look at the game from afar and see that a case of 'what goes around comes around would await the Waterford players. Over seven months on and Stephen Molumphy is not off defending President and Country in foreign climes. Tony Browne is also still available if needed, so a simple scrutiny of both sides firepower might be the best way to unlock the key to the match.

The common and mostly correct perception about Waterford down the years was that they were always struggling to have a bulletproof starting xv and had little depth beyond the first 18 or so. This has certainly changed but conversely one would have serious doubts whether any starting combination this summer can hit the heights of the 2004-2007 period. One can imagine in an AvB training game that the second string of say, Browne, James Murray and newcomer Richie Foley could outshine what has been selected for Sunday. Aidan Kearney's switch to wing-back is slightly curious since he didn't look in obvious need of a change in scenery. On the other flank Kevin Moran, albeit solid last year, still looks like he may require a central position to achieve his optimum. Brick Walsh's move to centre-back hasn't received much appraisal, but at some point tomorrow Waterford fans might hark back wistfully to Ken McGrath's superior stickwork in the position. In fairness to Walsh his aerial prowess not being utilised at mid-field.

For Limerick the selected team doesn't appear to have the settled air one would have hoped for this far into Justin's tutelage. If Stephen Lucey's torpor last season is to put down as an aberration the worry is that he is now serving the football master also. Overall the defence as a whole doesn't seem strong enough to banish doubts that Seamus Hickey won't be missed. Albeit that, with Hickey's switch to midfield, he is being assigned a position where he excelled in the 2005 All-Ireland minor final. Injury and depreciation mean that three of the forward line that played in the senior final two years ago wont even tog out tomorrow. Nothing that James O'Brien and Championship newcomer James Ryan have heretofore shown has indicated that they are likely to hit the ground running. Niall Moran had a upwardly mobile league but his last summer performance against Offaly in the qualifiers elicted howls of derision from the demanding Limerick supporters. His older brother Ollie could be undercooked after injury whilst Andrew O' Shaugnessy didnt convince in the spring after the opening game.

Since this corner of the interweb doesn't think that Waterford's brains will be too frazzled solely by what happened last September they logically, given that John Mullane is fit, they have enough firepower and options from the bench to find the answers for any adhesive questions Limerick might doggedly provide.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The season so far

Well the new championship season has roared into life. The oddity about that comment is what one perceives to be acuity would be another man's dry sarcasm. The entry of Galway into the Leinster Championship, with a sleepy turkey shoot in Portlaoise, was with the whimper that can only be expected from the contrary organisation that is the G.A.A: That clarion calls it's secondary competition with a full house at headquarters in balmy February and then lets its championship unwind unhurriedly over a few weeks. At least the soccer juggernaut will slow down for a few weeks bar the process of all the best players in the world conglomerating at a few clubs and R.T.E happily trumpeting that the delectable spectacle of European Champions Spain taking on, er New Zealand on our t.v screens.

The long anticipated meeting of Kilkenny and Galway, the pairing that, to listen to some of the talk last autumn, would save hurling, will be upon us on Saturday week in the apposite citadel of O' Connor Park in Tullamore. What was curious in the last few weeks was that conspiracy theories existed both that the sides would be foisted together in the semi and that they would be kept apart. The latter premise seemed more likely especially when we have been told that a Croke Park showdown between the teams would be a seriously sellable commodity. That it is not being hosted in Croke Park indicates that the game will not attract the rapturous sizeable attendance some of the hyperbole had indicated.

But that game is for another day. The initial clash of the titans in Thurles Sunday week last was an odd affair. The combination of the closeness of the exchanges, some of the scores taken and the ushering in of the championship proper on the dry summer sod in Thurles led to the game receiving much favourable coverage. What was strange though was that, in a repetition of recent patterns, Cork's forward line flopped with four of the selection being subbed. Yet in no sense could any of their Tipperary opposite numbers be said to have dominated their patch. Tipp will be comforted by the fact that the match fitness of their two best players Conor O'Mahoney and Eoin Kelly will come on for the outing. But the continuing fitfulness of their half-forward line ball winning has been well signposted in the last two weeks. Tipp will, overall, be glad that the overplaying of a league final display against the Kilkenny gold-standard hasn't been starkly shown to be as false a currency as it was in 2003.

Bar minor quibbles about their fitness in the last ten minutes of the game, Cork once again showed that a disastrous spring preparation isn't as discommoding as continuing to rely on the McCarthys to lead the attack. Niall McCarthy in particular is beginning to resemble a middle aged dog, formerly of war, who finds that the surfeit of youthful energy he used possess had a vital kryptonite element. The other thing that occurred to these possibly jaded eyes was that Ben O' Connor may, curiously for a Cork Hurler, end up not being as lauded at the end of his career as he should be. Will the player who has been unquestionably the best, all out half-forward of his generation ( the Kilkenny giants move around too much to be allocated a pigeonhole) get the credit he deserves when he calls it a day, or will some not be able to differentiate his achievements from those of his twin brother Gerry. To remind, Ben and Wayne Sherlock were the little boys with their fingers in the dyke in Cork's shambolic 2002 season, before Jerry had yet to make an impact on championship hurling.

As Nicky English graciously admitted ( and he not adverse at times to doffing the hat at the traditional powers ) the standard in Wexford Park the previous night was not far removed from Thurles. Kudos to Colm Bonner for raising his charges above the get-out clause of the emergency ward 9 scenario that has bedeviled his panel. Bonner could have been forgiven for wryly sympathising with his predecessor John Myler when Rossiter, Stamp, Lambert and Stephen Nolan, all of whom were only fit to come as subs on in last years All-Ireland quarter final weren't good to go again at the start of '09. Yet Wexford almost made a hindrance out of a virtue. If truth be told only the subsequently afflicted Eoin Quigley and Barry Lambert, on his 2007 form, were acute losses to the starting xv. Indeed Wexford, with the continued development of Stephen Banville and the hints of potential in Tomas Waters and Andrew Shore appear to have added a physicality they sorely lacked in the last 5/6 years. Plus Richie Keogh, another absentee last season, indicated that he could emerge as one of the country's best centre-backs. Your blogger is also tempted to know if Gizzy Lyng worked on the turnstile on the evening in question. Given that he scored sidelines, saved penalties, stroked frees and pilfered points from long distance on the night, there would appear to have been no limit to his possibly productivity.

For Offaly it was a dispiriting defeat. Your correspondent who lamented the state of Offaly hurling 12 months ago, before David Kenny, Derek Molloy and Shane Dooley subsequently strutted their stuff, will be careful not to leap in with studs showing again. But the anonymity of Molloy and Brian Carroll was fatal to a burgeoning side who still have square pegs at corner-back and centre-forward and require most of their big guns firing on any given day. Their next clash against a top ten side will be crucial to the Joe Dooley project. They will at least expect David Kenny at full-back to be over his injury concerns.

Whether Colm Bonner sees the decidedly sketchy form of his semi-final opponents Dublin as a boon or something to be roundly ignored is questionable. Even allowing for having to face the stiff wind in the first half against Antrim, Dublin were well short of the mark that they have been talked up to after their spring exploits. Tomas Brady evinced an unsteadiness at full-back that could be fatal against the buccaneering Banville. The lack of production from their half-forward line was such that there have been whispers that Ross O' Carroll could be rushed back to action, despite the fact that he has barely swung a hurl in anger in the calender year. And the consequences if Dotsie O' Callaghan is held in check don't contemplate thinking about. Yet history teaches us that an Anthony Daly stewarded side are unlikely to withholds their bristles two days running. As their runaway u-21 victory against Wexford on Wednesday last shows, the Dublin hurling graph is unlikely to flat line anytime soon.