Friday, July 23, 2010

And now for something compleatly different....a quarter final preview

The eagle-eyed might have noticed that this is a quarter-final preview, not previews. Because, ahem, we have to confess we don't feel properly equipped to write a preview on Cork v Antrim, not having seen the Saffrons on either of their excursions to Dublin thus far this summer. The media will this weekend be full of poor professionals quite simply spoffing it about Antrim.Last weekend a decision had to be made, by this aspirant day tripper, which qualifier game might prove more fruitful. We likely made the wrong call and we all move on. What we can add about the tussle is that Cork appear quite familar to the Offaly side that staggered to the last six of the All-Ireland ten years ago. They got the fright of their lives from Derry, bailed out by the sublime accuracy of Johnny Dooley. Cork will probably get over Sunday's test, possibly by the skin of their teeth, and may go on to roar again in an All-Ireland semi. Mind you that Offaly team of 2000 who came back from the dead to beat the rebels didn't have to beat Kilkenny of the 2010 vintage. If one general point can be made about Antrim's success ( yes we know we're changing the subject here because of ignorance ) it is that it must be quite a while since the third rank of counties, such as Antrim, Laois and Carlow were in such comparatively rude health. At the fear of speaking too soon, should Antrim get the tanning they got from Cork in 2004, it's heartening that the excellent Antrim minor teams of 2005/06 haven't perhaps gone compleatly to waste.

Re Tipperary v Galway: To set the scene, two simple points: A Tipperary side that almost couldn't have played better in last years final ( bar a missed goal or two ) is not hitting the same heights this year. Key players like Conor O' Mahoney, Padraic Maher, Shane McGrath, Noel McGrath and Lar Corbett have gone into their shells somewhat. Secondly, despite this they should on this year's form, drawing a line through Wexford and Offaly, still beat Galway. Tipp seem to at least have cleared their heads since their Munster defeat, and held Offaly at arms length with a comfortable assurance. If their defending hasn't been showy, it has at least been tidely efficient. Brendan Maher has arguably been the best player thus far this summer ( neck and neck with Offaly's James Rigney ) who wasn't named in R.T.E's demi team of the year. Gearoid Ryan reminds of Mark O' Leary from the Premier's last All-Ireland winning team; an eye for a score being matched by allowing opponents to puck a world of ball. Whilst less showily than of yore, Eoin Kelly franked the Offaly game with occasional flashes of class; he hasn't gone away you know!

Galway though look more capable of taming Tipp's forwards than heretofore, partly because of Tipp's forwards being slightly becalmed, with Seamus Callinan currently consigned to the bench. This blogger hasn't been the biggest fan of Shane Kavanagh and David Collins, but both, especially the latter, are improved players. Ollie Canning has recovered from early season jitters, and Tony Og Regan suffers unfairly from over emphasis on his faults as opposed to his steady-eddie attributes. David Burke was missed at midfield the last day, and some Sunday he and Ger Farragher will string it all together. If there has been a theme to Galway's chopping and changing upfront it's been John McIntyre's preference for sturdiness up front, exemplified by Iarla Tannion's continued siting at corner forward. If Galway fail on Sunday supporters will perhaps point to the starting of Tannion, Cyril Donnellan and Eanna Ryan rather than the likes of Niall Healy, Aengus Callinan and Aidan Harte,and bemoan the plumping for grunt over guile.

So Tipp have the more pursuasive lineup with greater scope for improvement. An open and shut case then. Well at the risk of appearing querulous and opting for hunches over evidence, maybe not. It's put up or shut up time for many of these Galway players considering the expectations that have been heaped on them. The sight of the Tipperary jersey after a few weeks rest, should unleash Galway's best display of the summer. Tipp on the other hand have five under-21 starters facing into their third game in 11 days, with a Munster u-21 final on Wednesday in the rear-view mirror. Joe Canning has had a break after his hand injury and could faces Paul Curren, who was discomforted by Joe Bergin last Sunday. Tipp's team still looks like a staging post to a more settled selection with Shane McGrath out of place in the half-line. Plus one must always remember that the Tribesmen start every match with a 2/3 point start because of their superlative sideline cutting. Galway may not as yet have stumbled upon their optimum forward line, and would likely succumb to Sunday's opponnents more often than not. But being the irrational beasts we are, we sense that Sunday won't be one of them.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Over and Out- Wexford

So the first traditional hurling county ( would Laois people regard themselves as such, answers on a postcard ) has exited the championship. And without a whimper. Actually since we all often descend to using words we don't quite understand, we consulted the dictionary for a definition of 'whimper'. We found; 'make a series of low, feeble sounds expressing fear, pain or discontent'. Well it's probably likely that the only men who whimpered on Saturday were the Tipp players who came into close contact with the robust shenanigans of Stephen Banville and Tomas Waters.

So what's gone wrong with Wexford hurling. Well just as much focus should perhaps be paid on the Yellowbelly glories when things go right. After all before the uprising of the 1950's they were pretty much regarded as a football county. It's currently neck and neck down south-east way. And it is perhaps not commonly understood just how much of a dual opportunity employer your average Wexford club is, to the extent that many clubs in say, Offaly, Galway and Limerick wouldn't be. The mainstream media doesn't go out of its way to portray this, indeed Wexford are well used to getting kicks from some members of the scribe fraternity to their north-east. Yet on radio this week, when discussing their travails, former Kilkenny hurler John Henderson, to his credit pointed out that Wexford laboured under trying to keep both codes flourishing.
Whatever the reasons for Wexford's station, results at underage since, like, forever basically, don't indicate that matters will change anytime soon. Indeed the excellent Wexford teams through much of the 1990's weren't constructed with bountiful underage resources.

So what of the current rabble, and why they are at where they are at, as it were. Well, it may surprise those who looked at the bare scoreline on Saturday, but Wexford actually have a very decent back line. Part of the problem is keeping them fit. On Saturday Malachy Travers was missing, whilst Richie Kehoe and Paul Roche battled with knocks, to which Roche eventually succumbed. Even Keith Rossiter, who sadly battles injury too often, was only recently back from injury. But the fact that Dave Redmond, only just returned from Australia, was dragooned in to replace Travers reflected the wafer thin depth of the squad. At midfield Colm Farrell and Harry Kehoe battled away and both could contribute to Wexford's future but they were mostly outgunned. Ironically, one of the better midfielders of recent years Eoin Quigley was in purdah at wing-forward, trying to in vain to contain the point scoring machine David Young. Quigley is only recently back from serious injury and will hopefully be a crucial part of a Wexford renaissance; but the same can hardly be said about any of his forward compatriots bar Rory Jacob. True a case could be made that Jacob was the only one of the best six forwards in the county that was available to Colm Bonner on the day. But making too much of a deal about what the likes of Stephen Nolan, Stephen Doyle, Willie Doran and P.J Nolan may add would mask the real state of affairs: That a decent Wexford revival will need a paltry amount of loaves and fishes turned into a satisfactory feast. But all hands are now needed on the pump. With talk of Gizzy Lyng taking a year out due, partly, to weary resignation, perhaps some of the hero's of '96 are required to grist the mill.

Dublin and Tipperary- Not a football preview

This column won't delay too long about the Dublin hurlers. We elucidated pretty much what we think all spring: They're making fine progress, have been starting from essentially scratch, yadda yadda yadda. This theory appeared to be blown out of the water by the Leinster semi-final. Dublin have now gone backwards say the scribes. Well firstly that wouldn't be too surprising when their best forward of note ( Dotsie O' Callaghan ) has been moving so tentatively around the field, likely weighed down by recurring injury. Concurrently rising star, and the teams other starting corner forward, David Tracey has been crippled by recurring hamstring problems. With Alan McCrabbe seemingly so disinclined to put his heart and soul into playing corner, pining, parrot-like for the open spaces of midfield, the balance of Anthony Daly's team has been seriously askew. Whether this malaise can be rectified in time for the Clare game is doubtful, ( Tracey may yet play some part ) so a manger who has never been averse to the two man full forward line may, ironically, find his hand forced. Certainly for Dublin to make some progress they have to develop more of a killer instinct in front of goal. They may though comfort themselves that Peter Kelly showcased an intriguing short cameo of his talents in the semi-final. ( short cameos have evidential value when they are against Kilkenny ) Also Tomas Brady, Oisin Gough and Joey Boland battled bravely and with no little talent for an hour, before the helplessness of their teams fate overcame them. Gough indeed looks like he was moulded by central casting for the key job of picking up Darach Honan.

The second reason not to lose all faith in Dublin would be that it is always perilous to write obituary's based on an unfortunate coming together with Kilkenny. Past experience has shown that teams can revive themselves when they subsequently operate in less rarified air. If Tracey and O'Callaghan can make some contribution on Saturday, Dublin, with Antrim likely awaiting, can still end the summer in the debit column.

Tipperary connections were quick after their non-event triumph against Wexford to state that it was only the first step on the road to redemption. Bit of a garbled phrase as it indicates that they are confident that they can continue to improve through quite a few other tests. On all known form this summer Offaly should give them their full of it, but the Premier County are perhaps more used to operating at a highish level, whilst Offaly may struggle to gird their loins on a third occasion. Certainly Tipp will have learned little, apart from perhaps that Brendan Maher can ( if Shane McGrath hits previous heights ) provide them with a superior midfield. Maher's covering of the ground and de luxe striking to find team-mates should have garnered him a man of the match award. But rather like Waterford's Richie Foley versus Clare his industry had to compete with a wing back that was floating over points for fun. In fairness at least Toomevara's David Young, unlike Declan Prendergast, played the full 70 minutes; but it's unlikely that someone like Brian Carroll or Derek Molloy will allow him to ease into the role of auxilary wing-forward. To these eyes Padraic Maher, Conor O' Mahoney and the aforementioned McGrath still aren't in the from of 2009. Whilst, in the reconfigured half forward line Gearoid Ryan and Patrick Maher looked to have all the skills a half forward requires, but in two bodies rather than one. Tip might have time on their side, and the usual nutters in their own tent have been silenced for now. Plus it is often forgotten that they are practically as callow as Clare, abeit much the more rounded current article. But one feels the missed goal chances in last years final, might still be a topic for gnashing of teeth in Tipp hostelries this winter.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

the feel good hit of the far- Offaly

Of course that only applies for those who have caught the Faithful hurlers live at Croke or O'Moore Park, or who have tackled the capricious delights of the feed over the inter web: Offaly haven't been on telly so far, the clash of the titans that included Limerick being far more attractive to TV3. Lets hope they don't end up being like one of the those summer hits that is forgotten as autumn's bite draws in. A little further searching test against a revitalised Tipp likely awaits them the weekend after next. Still kudos to Joe Dooley whose teasing tenure over his county is once again on the upward curve. Tipperary, with their current defensive uncertainty, are. like Galway, a side that Offaly may match up well against. Although it could look like being very wise after the event, if Galway's successful league campaign was to be taken at face value ( as it was by the media ) it included Offaly giving them their full of it in Salthill. The Faithful have skillful mobile forwards, who do though struggle against unstinting physical back lines like Kilkenny and even Cork. Being hyper critical it is frustrating that you aren't quite sure what the likes of Joe Bergin and Derek Molloy ( when fit ) will do from one day to the next. The same is somewhat true of Shane Dooley but he, already in his short career, operates at a higher level to the aforementioned. It was also noteworthy that Brian Carroll, in the replay, produced the type of display he's been threatening since he burst onto the scene in the classic All-Ireland Colleges final in 1999. Ditto Rory Hannify, who has perhaps suffered in recent years from having to be a leader rather than a follower, was lionharted in both matches. The pleasant surprises extended to the defence. James Rigney looked an unprepossessing midfielder two summers ago, but now he and newcomer Derek Morkan are identikit, mobile, tigerish wing backs. If there is a qualm in the case for the defence it is that it isn't possible to clone David Kenny, so that he can play full and centre back. Kenny is a versatile sort, Nicky English's comparison to Kevin Kinihan doesn't ring quite true in that the full back of yore likely couldn't have started a Fitzgibbon Cup final at corner forward. Kenny and his full back line compatriots David Franks and newbie Stephen Egan all had to go off injured in the reply in Portlaoise. If Offaly avoid further injury another stout display against Tipperary will, all patronising aside, result in a successful season.

p.s this column is aware that Offaly have an outing with Limerick next Saturday.

the ( neverchanging ) story so far? - Galway

Yikes the Leinster Council won't be employing former Kilkenny hurler John Henderson as a P.R.O anytime soon. On radio last night he opined that there was a lack of atmosphere at Croke Park last Sunday and that Wexford were missed. Many Wexford people are probably happy enough that their days as the sacrificial lamb for Kilkenny in early June are likely over for the moment. But Galway were, we were told, going to bring a new vibrancy and unpredictability to final day: The combination of Henry Shefflin, Joe Canning, et al was going to bring a huge walk up crowd to Croke Park. ( 31,000 was a decent attendance in the real world ) Now those of us who carped against the sticking plaster that was Galway and Antrim's entry to the Leinster Championship will admit that it certainly hasn't been a bad thing. If for no other reason than it allows neighbours like Galway and Offaly to meet more often in championship than when there is a blue moon. But certainly, as Sunday showed, this fixture isn't a panacea for the ills of hurling. Those, such as Cyril Farrell and other cheerleaders in the media may be distraught at Galway's performance. But when viewed through the prism of the major loss of David Burke and the absence of Niall Healy ( he of the goalscoring record against the cats ) the defeat wasn't that injurious. Healy would have least have given the Tribesmen the option of playing someone comfortable at corner forward, a crucial piece of any armoury versus the All-Ireland champions. Given that Galway have gained a reputation in recent years as a team that can discommode with pace, it's slightly troubling that John McIntyre clings to playing big men at corner forward. Even without Healy someone like Aengus Callinan could have tried his hand there rather than banging his head against J.J Delaney's wall. But he, Damien Hayes ( who gallantly tried to fight many fires on Sunday ) Aidan Harte and Healy give Galway enough options to play a more conventional game, preventing Joe Canning from being a fish out of water. Canning has in some senses become the team in microcosm. Very gifted in parts but someone whose faults don't get scrutiny in the media. In fairness to Canning his drawbacks are very minor. But if he's going to be exposed to players who can match him for physique and best him for pace, it should at least happen with him at the edge of the square rather than corner forward. Not that he should just be left at full forward. It's not as if Kilkenny decide to limit Henry Shefflin thusly. Canning has contributed handsomely from play this summer up to last Sunday, and has an injured hand, but because of media hype eyebrows are now raised if he doesn't produce heroics. Returning to Galway in macro the media have continually not dealt with the issue that they haven't in recent years held opponents to low enough scores that would entitle them to be labelled All-Ireland contenders. This continued on Sunday although in fairness it was against the most exacting test. This blogger has never been the biggest fan of Shane Kavanagh and David Collins but both, especially the latter, have improved as players in recent times. Ollie Canning and Donal Barry, at opposite ends of their inter-county careers have also steadied up since the first Offaly game. If you engage in slightly silly crystal ball gazing, perhaps the most likely opponent for Galway in a couple of weeks would be Clare, who Galway would almost certainly be too seasoned and physical for. A team with ambition can't necessarily treat a game with the All-Ireland champions as a write off, but, now armed with more realistic expectations, it's not time to panic about Galway yet.

Monday, July 5, 2010

the ( neverending ) story so far- Kilkenny

So you thought that you had seen all the rabbits in Brian Cody's baseball cap. So consider this. Galway secured their first line ball in a scoreable position in the last ten minutes of yesterday's Leinster final. A coincidence, or does Kilkenny's powers extend to being able to prevent put-upon opponents from even garnering side lines, for their deadly coruscating duo of Ger Farragher and Joe Canning. At this stage if one is to plump for Cody's battalions or the certainty of chance, this quarter knows whose side he is on. One suspects that if Kilkenny were a soccer team Rory Delap would be looking for alternative employment.

If Cody has such as hold one wonders why so much time is wasted in the media ( old and new ) talking about trying to negate the All-Ireland champions. Two-thirds of R.T.E's panel fulminated about Damien Hayes being re-located out the field in the second half, only for Cyril Farrell to point out that it occurred because Galway were being beaten up a stick at mid-field the the Michaels Rice and Fennelly. One didn't think that Kilkenny could have as intimidating a duo i Lar na Pairce as Derek Lyng and Cha Fitzpatrick anytime soon. But that poverty of imagination didn't take account for the fact that the cats are continually reinventing the hurling wheel, with the 2008 All Ireland final being but the most awesome manifestation. And of course they may be more to come from the forwards. Eddie Brennan is evincing the fire and brimstone of yore but not the rapier hurling. Eoin Larkin will likely not always hit wides for fun. Richie Power continues to provide tantalising cameos without quite bringing consistency to his game. Ditto T.J Reid has managed to shoot five points from play so far, but not quite copper fastened his starting place after previous super-sub heroics. Cody has, unwittingly, shown that early summer is a time where he feels he can experiment. Witness the esoteric placing of Richie Hogan at centre-forward against Dublin and Martin Comerford at corner-forward versus Galway.

Galway's tactical plotting yesterday wasn't entirely knuckle-headed. The placing of Andy Smith in a deep position had at least the virtue that a tribesman forward wasn't detained with the forlorn task of trying to win 50-50 ball against Tommy Walsh. Without getting into too much jiggery pokery this blogger would at least offer this simple suggestion. Whilst lining out forwards basically in their proper positions make sure that corner forwards ( preferably light speedy ones ) get at least some chalk on their boots. This at least would ensure that players like John Mullane don't spend their time 25 yards infield like De La Salle's finest did in last years All- Ireland semi. It also would ensure that John Dalton, his finest hours previously at full back, will be properly tested. The result will likely be the same however. Yesterday's facile victory has brought to the fore again the question of the death of hurling. In reality the sport is in decent health but is portrayed to be otherwise partly because one competitor currently operates in a different world to other (dual) counties . If obviously the cats can't be punished by ordering them to devote resources to the big ball game, it's equally unrealistic to expect that many of their rivals can ramp up their hurling resources significantly at gaelic footballs expense. So come to think of it maybe asking Shefflin and co. to wear tennis shorts replete with lead weights in their pockets isn't a bad idea.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Clare hurling- from bust to boom?

Apologies for firstly focusing on the vanquished in the recent Munster semi-final. But it's apt to reflect on the dramatic turnaround in the 'happiness index' on the Clare hurling scene. Suddenly the young cohort of players are all the rage and more than one hurling journalist has even name checked the reservoir of other up and comers bubbling under. ( Pat O' Connor and Kevin Moynihan would have perhaps have preferred to prove themselves at U-21 level before being name checked. ) Of course there isn't any smoke without fire and a second viewing of proceedings in Thurles showed a decent game and ipso facto much hope for Clare. Donal Tuohy has been blooded in goal and not before time. His club mate Cian Dillon also had a decent bow, but a more mobile full forward will be a different test. To Dillon's left even the most optimistic Clare fans couldn't have hoped that Conor Cooney would have looked so to the manor born as a championship corner back, despite getting no favours from referee Brian Gavin. Nicky O'Connell too showed promise in that many Clare fans would have seen him as a square peg in a round hole at midfield rather than wing back. Sean Collins cut quite a dash in the opening period albeit his manager did him no favours by letting him battle away under puck outs with Declan Prendergast in the second half. John Conlon predictably went to war against Brick Walsh and mostly partly faltered as there wasn't really any cavalry from the bench to bolster him in the second half. And as for Darach Honan: Well like a few other Clare forwards of recent years he has fallen foul to a strain of opinion in the county that prefers to focus on what a player can't do. But even the most gloomy prognosticators about the Clonlara man's future must perhaps recognise that even if he struggles against top quality corner backs, he is likely to garner say 1-2 from winning 30% of possession.

But the qualifiers are still likely to posit many teething troubles to test supporters patience. This blogger has previously praised An Moltoir's terrific forensic analysis on anfearrua re championship matches. But one flaw in his point system may be that , taken in isolation, they don't take account of mistakes. This came to mind when examining Diarmuid McMahon's performance. McMahon, like a few other of his generation has perhaps been a little unappreciated by his own, and he typically did a stand up job in extremis on Monday week last. But his display was of the curates egg variety in that three points came directly from mistakes by the Kilmaley man. With James McInerney injured there's a convincing argument that McMahon is the best centre back available. But it was a conservative selection at odds with Ger O' Loughlin's other preferences. Plus there is a cogent argument that McMahon's physical presence would be more beneficial to the team taking some of the stone breaking pressure off John Conlon in the half forward line. Can a half forward line include two players who are not a threat to garner primary possession from puck outs as Clare were constituted against Waterford. Where An Moltoir was spot on though was in pointing to Waterford's dominance at midfield. This central sector has become a running sore for the Banner since the decline of Brian O' Connell's form and the retirement of Colin Lynch and in the relief after the promising display the issue has been glossed over for the moment.

Shane O' Sullivan and Richie Foley were the midfield combination that ruled the roost and the tireless display of the latter was especially encouraging . However some of that superiority was aerial based on the wind dropping half of the day's puck outs on that sector. A dry airless day at Semple against Tom Kenny and Cathal Naughton would be an altogether different test. The composition of the Waterford team in the Munster final ( AGAINST CORK ) will be crucial, and not just in regard to who fills the revolving door at full back. This observer isn't a fan of the way the Waterford forward line often resemble 'sheep in a heap' with players often congregating in the central areas confusing themselves as much as the opposition. Waterford would perhaps be best served with John Mullane and A.N Other keeping chalk on their boots, as much because the De La Salle star couldn't in any way be double teamed. Granted this policy would be easier if Thomas Ryan hadn't recently suffered a serious injury or if Eoin McGrath regained the form of three or four years ago. What was most apparent in the semi final, bar the excellence of Tony Browne and Noel Connors at very differing stages of their careers, was the depth of their bench. The Prendergasts especially and the McGraths to a lesser extent contributed when they came on. The bench also has Aidan Kearney and several promising members of last years U--21 team to call upon. Unlike a few years ago one imagines that training matches in Waterford are intensely competitive with the reserves giving the anointed ones their fill of it. Whether they have a xv to win a Munster final or get to an All-Ireland is a different matter.

what have the dublin hurlers done for us lately?

Your blogger met a media type person who moonlights as a big Dublin hurling fan last week. He got his retaliation in first by declaring his admiration for Anthony Daly, principally his approachability and candidness towards members of the fourth estate. But his head then started to shake, slowly and with an element of resignation at some of his strategic decisions. There is some ammunition to fire at the Clarecastle man. My 'true blue' friend expressed exasperation at the decision to start Dotsie O' Callaghan against Laois. And certainly on the face of it the St. Marks man appeared nowhere near 100% fit. But in defence of Daly, with David Treacy also marked absent, he perhaps felt he had to take a chance. Misgivings could also be expressed towards the Dublin manager's almost knee jerk ability to find himself deploying a two man full forward line. Supporters are entitled to criticise their steward, and no manager should find himself above reproach. The way the Metropolitian's forward line was chopped and changed willy nilly,and skittishishly in the All-Ireland Quarter Final last July would have been familiar to Clare supporters and indicated an achilles heel in Daly's thinking. But one needs to take the rough with the smooth. When Dublin met the same opposition in the championship only five years ago just two of last Sunday weeks starting xv- Gary Maguire and Stephen Hiney- took the field. So every now and again Dublin supporters need to reflect that their charges have had a 'year zero' in recent times. A few summers on from that new dawn Dublin scored 25 points in high summer whilst only shooting a handful of wides. The positives are apparent if one isn't spooked by the looming shadow of the big bad feline awaiting in Croke Park on Sunday. Good accurate shooting from long distance and acute angles is one of the indescribable joys of hurling, but one that often curiously takes a back seat to personality, tactics, athleticism and machismo. Teams, especially developing ones, are often denigrated and stereotyped for profligate score-taking, but not given commensurate praise when they shoot the lights out. Galway's extraordinary accuracy, when notching their second wide in injury time, in an All-Ireland quarter final three years ago, deserved to be focused on for ascetic reasons alone. Both Liam Rushe and Peter Kelly contributed handsomely to the exemplary shooting but also displayed that they are terrifically built Rolls-Royce athletes. Another boon was signs of a return to form of corner-back Oisin Gough. On the debit side the Laois mid-field pucked plenty of ball despite the score-taking of their Dublin opposite numbers. It still occurs that playing Alan McCrabbe at corner forward rather than i lar na pairce doesn't favour the Craobh Chiarain man: However it could take at least a return to fitness of O'Callaghan and Tracey to rectify that issue. The exit of Ronan Fallon from the panel also precludes the possibility that, should Fallon return to form, Dublin might have a natural stand-up centre back later in the summer. Daly's players may also not have been fully tuned in, as the fact that with 14 men Laois were still able to pull off short puck outs indicated.

In defence of Dublin, as Cyril Farrell related the other day, Laois may be better than people think. The frustrating statistic for the O'Moore county was that their premier forward ( who the Premier County would love to have ) Willie Hyland had pretty much as many wides as the whole Dublin team. Hyland still showcased his talents by scoring three from play, but he and Zane Keenan were guilty of over exuberant shooting too hastily from all manner of angles. Brian Campion may have been slightly unlucky to have got the line: But on the other hand his first yellow card was for a foolish tackle on the sideline, and he didn't consequently take appropriate care when lunging for his second. Otherwise the Laois defence, despite the scoreline, coped admirably. John A. Delaney is a corner back par excellence, Michael McEvoy continued the qualities he has evinced for several years, whilst some more prominent hurling counties would kill for a natural centre back like Matthew Whelan. But ultimately these are only hunches. Maybe the relative revivals of both counties will be put in perspective as the summer goes on.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Galway v Wexford

It's indicative as to where these two counties are at that John McIntyre had time to ruminate at leisure afterwards about the sending off of Andy Smyth. The Galway manager must be a godsend for put upon journalists, more used to parsing p.r guff from most banisteoirs. Unfortunately on this occasion his analysis contained the canard used with ever increasing frequency; that the perpetrator is not a malicious player. There's an arguable case that the Portumna player was unlucky to receive a red card. But why allowances should be made for any player on whom the red mist falls just because it's out of character isn't clear.

Even allowing for the insouciance with which they shot wides, it was a very satisfactory night out for Galway's continuing development. Colin Callinan showed the type of prowess that might have won some knife edge matches for Galway in the past. ( and at the other end Damien Fitzhenry was missed ) Donal Barry continues to intrigue although a physical wing forward will provide a more instructive test. Ditto Tony Og Reagan who benefited from Colm Bonner forgetting that most of Eoin Quigley's best hurling has been evinced at midfield. Still Regan did little wrong and he and Barry keep John Lee and Adrian Cullinane, integral members of Galway's '09 vintage, kicking their heels on the bench. McIntyre was typically astute to point out that David Burke and Aidan Harte kept shooting when it was prudent to so, despite any number of wides early in the game. A few cavils could be made. This writer, and he knows he's in the minority, remains to be convinced that Kavanagh, Collins and Farragher are top class when tested at the highest level. The first name has a dangerous tendency to play too much from behind at full-back, but he and Collins weren't in any way exercised by the opposition. If Farragher is going to be as profligate from play as he was on Sunday his overall worth could be a consideration, since big Joe can take over the place balls. Indeed if there's one convincing reason to plump for Galway in September it is that no team in recent history seems as bomb proof from frees, 65's and line balls.

As for Wexford. Ah poor old Wexford. This quarter had drawn ire in recent years for talking them up, almost needlessly. We mused that they never got the credit they deserved for the quality of their stick work in the middle of the last decade. And that they were too often damned for being run over by the big cat constantly in Leinster finals. Certainly they seemed fated to never be able to husband all their resources. Every year since what seems like forever not all the best players in the county have made themselves available, or in some cases been discarded. This season Stephen Nolan, Stephen Doyle and Doc O' Conner have, for various reasons, been marked absent. No sooner had Des Mythen and Barry Lambert strode the summer stage than unfortunate injury overtook them. Also Wexford could ill afford to be effectively without three of their best defenders, as they were for most of the match, with Paul Roche, Malachy Travers and Richie Keogh afflicted. Also a bit of heft that someone like Wille Doran could have provided at half-forward was sorely missed. But only so many excuses can be fermented to cover over the lack of talent that has trickled down from under age for years. Without naming names at least two of the yellowbelly combatants didn't look up to this level as yet. The capable David Redmond was press ganged into service in the early stages of the game, despite only recently returning from abroad. The manager also has to take his share of the flack. To send out his starting forward line in exactly the same positions as they started, with Stephen Banville palpably out of position, seemed fool hardy no matter how limited his options. Wexford have just about enough raw material to put the fear of god across someone later in the summer. But they'll need a very fair wind. What was depressing about last Saturday was that in giving them next to no chance the bookies were prophetic.

Cork v Tipp- Is everything we knew now wrong?

Well in a sense yes. Though the Cork display wasn't dredged from the mists of time as much as some might believe. The Rebels never got the credit they deserved for 50 minutes or so of terrific hurling in the All-Ireland semi final of 2008. That nine point defeat looked, in isolation, a black stain on Cork's hurling character. But a few weeks later Kilkenny, surprisingly until then under-rated, finally got the credit they deserved as a team for all the ages. If Cork had repeated their '08 semi performance with reasonable consistency last year they too would have been within a heartbeat of threatening Kilkenny's title. So, with the hurling world unsure as to the cats form this year, it's only fair to say Cork are currently contenders. That they weren't regarded as such by many, including this quarter, last week, was down to lazy analytical thinking. Your correspondent felt that Cork would need to be the side they were from 1-9 five years ago to return to the winners enclosure. Well, on Sunday they were, and if anything there is scope for improvement, when Tom Kenny is fully fit. It may be inevitable, but too often matters other than Donal og Cusack's goalkeeping prowess features in discussion about the Cloyne net minder. His pin-point puck outs, especially in the first half, were a crucial factor, although Tipp's laxness in this regard was mighty careless.It was interesting that Cusack's determination, nay taciturn nature, also extended to the post-match interview. As an aside, one feature of Sunday that pleased some of us not necessarily always well disposed to Cork victories, was that it showed that there can be a reward for serious players who stick to their guns in the face of conservative county board intransigence. Sean og O' Halpin and Brian Murphy ( without the same media fanfare ) also overcome the collywobbles that beset the left side of the Cork defence in the league final.

Cusack's puck outs were crucial especially in a first half where Tipp had as many shots at goal as the rebels. This was highlighted in the excellent detailed analysis by Moltoir on He also related how the perennial ball-winning issues in the Cork half-forward are not yet solved, although Michael Cussen could aid in that regard. Patrick Horgan has also yet to prove that he will win a decent percentage of ball in the summer, although he sniped mightily. Regarding Aisake, this quarter hasn't anything that original to add about his quasi-match winning display, save that the former Cork selector Joe O'Leary who compared to Ray Cummins might hold his whist a while yet, even if his comments could be read slightly out of context.But this blogger doesn't doubt that the gangly full forward wont be, at the very least, a nuisance for the rest of the summer to come. He also commends Kieran Murphy's work-rate, without thinking, as Cyril Farrell does, that this facet of his game has been under valued until now.

As for Tipp, apart from the existential issues discussed elsewhere. Well, all of a sudden whither the 3 and 6 jerseys. For a man who commanded the square in an imperious u-21 campaign in 2008, Padraig Maher has as a senior full back looked like a talented defender out of position. Even in last year's lauded All-Ireland showing there was a looseness that offered opponents a chance. Conor O' Mahoney's subbing was curious, if for no other reason than Cork didn't make much headway through him. But there must be an increasing worry that, like a brittle race horse, it's difficult to get the Newport man fully wound up. Up front gold seems to have turned to a less valuable type of dust very quickly. It could be that Eoin Kelly's on- off physical decline is again an issue. That the Mr. Hyde side of Lar Corbett's personality has returned. And that Noel McGrath could be having what the Americans term 'the sophomore slump'. Of course it could also be that they could shoot the lights out again in Croke Park in the autumn. If the internal bastards don't grind them down!

Is Tipperary hurling like a shark?

......Or indeed a relationship. At the end of his film Annie Hall Woody Allen claimed that a relationship was like a shark: If it doesn't keep going forward it dies. Woody's ghost came whispering to mind this week when considering the put -upon Premier forces in the aftermath of their defeat to Cork. In fact the comparison was summoned a few weeks ago. Then a Tipperary minor team that had been defeated in a high scoring jamboree with Cork ( am I being mischievous to think that de paper down south gets overly excited about such jousts ) gave a pallid display in a qualifier against Clare in Ennis. On the night it occurred that the Tipp hurling psyche rails against having to navigate the Championship other than through the front door. The quite hysterical media reaction amongst old Tipperary sweats to the reverse in the Munster quarter final only seems to confirm this impression. One of the interesting features of logging on to hurling chat rooms in recent years is to notice how Tipperary fans see themselves: A clue; it isn't that they rank the county as being equivalent in the hurling firmament to say, Offaly, a county that have won an equal number of senior All-Ireland's in the last 45 years. The counties that might be seen to be in the mid-rank of hurling powers ( Clare, Wexford, Limerick etc ) are somewhat haughtily viewed from a height. Conversely the windmills of Cork and Kilkenny are tilted at with a righteous determination, even though those two counties have disappeared into the distance on the honours board in recent years.

If you've missed it, all hell broke loose in Tipperary this week. Michael Cleary wondered whether the modern player are enjoying their lot. He also advocated a return to the sudden death format, obviously wanting this years squad put out of their misery. County board President Tommy Barrett almost invoked every Tipperary hero from the ages bar Charles Kickham as he preached a back to basics philosophy. And as for Babs Keating: Well our hero is always one to stand out from the 'flock' when criticising his inferiors, especially Liam Sheedy. He suggested that things would have been better for Sheedy if he had sat down with Babs to talk through a few things. So it appears that what Tipperary hurling requires is less 'development squads' and more 'Council of States'. Of course the rich irony in all this is that Tipp were smited not by a team direct from 'hells kitchen' but by one that has railed against all antediluvian hurling practices and want only modern training methods and preparation.

The record book tells us that this Tipp team was neck and neck with a side going for four in a row less than nine months ago. It's a long summer and even last Sunday's display would likely see them getting to a quarter-final at least. But it will need very strong and blinkered ( in a good way ) management for Tipperary to fulfill their potential in 2010: Now that the Pandora's box of a hurling culture with delusions of grandeur has been opened.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cork v Tipperary

Very strange goings on in Cork. Loads of excited patrons milling around jubilant players and management under the covered stand in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. In April, nay very early April. Okay it's no harm to smite the old enemy, ( wrong term perhaps as their relationship has often struck outsiders as rather chummy ) even well before the hay is saved. Perhaps Cork's enthusiasm was inevitable considering recent militancy may leave the squad feeling they have something to prove. Plus although a 'league hero' mightn't be high on the list of something to be, Cork haven't grasped the trophy since 1998. The ancien regimes have in most cases not wanted to downplay the importance of the league in any event. The exception was Tipp, in the era, around the turn of the century, when the Munster draw provided them with annual cage matches against Clare. This led to one captain ( was it Tommy Dunne in Ennis ) taking a tentative hold on the cup like it was something toxic. In fairness to the Premier, Nicky English's management team set the modern precedent in 2001 for what a good habit winning in the spring can be. However the current Tipperary incarnation lost this league tussle ultimately in the first 15 minutes, as, with the sleep still in their eyes, Cork set about their task at a championship pace.

The presence of an out and out ball-winning half forward mightn't, on the evidence of last September, be as crucial to Tipp's cause as it appeared heretofore. But the rangy athleticism of Pat Kerwick and John O' Brien for the full 70 was, at least, subtly missed. It was instructive though, if its ever deemed necessary, that Lar Corbett did a much better impression of a stand up centre forward than Seamus Callinan ever does. Taking hints from the spring is always fraught with danger, but up against Cork's hall of fame half back line in full tilt, Noel McGrath, flanking Corbett, looked a little callow for the task yet, and might still be advantaged, in the main, by tilting at the ramparts of defences from corner forward come the summer. Still though he took his scores with insouciant ease and combined sublimely with Corbett on a couple of occasions, one brilliant exchange resulting in a terrific save by Cork's valiant stand-in goalie Martin Coleman. At right corner forward on this occasion Paul Kelly, in some respects, presented a career in microcosm, by ghosting in for a stylish 1-2 when Tipp were lording it early in the second half, before returning to anonymity; a state of affairs he will sadly now remain in for the summer because of subsequent injury. Overall though Liam Sheedy will scarcely lose sleep by being on the wrong end of the hop of a ball. For instance, corner back has been a quiet sore point for Tipperary at times in recent years, but Paddy Stapleton showed much of the skills required for the unheralded art, not least the ability to effect last ditch interceptions.

Cork will always get more press clippings for beating Tipp than they will for besting Dublin: But many of the same attributes were on show here. Brian Murphy, on return to his recognised patch at corner back, evinced, along with his namesakes Shane O' Neill and Shane Murphy, that Cork have three reliable and occasionally ( in O'Neill's case) flamboyant full-back line players. Whether one can be moulded into a full-back is a pertinent question now in light of Eoin Cadogan's untimely injury. With Tom Kenny's almost princely excellence again to the fore Cork's 1-9 seems to be in almost as good a shape as it was a half decade ago, although the faster ground and increased tempo may tell us more. Overall though there is still the nagging impression that the defence and midfield may need to be dominant to cope with the fact that forward options have to be carefully husbanded. Pat Horgan again thrust himself forward as a player aching for summer responsibility. His terrific goal aside he also ploughed plenty of the hard yards. Aisake too brings at the very least nuisance value, but one suspects he may end up having an onerous responsibility to win possession at half forward in the summer, which may not be the most optimum use of his talents. It was also disappointing how meek Paidi O' Sullivan's goal efforts were, as one suspects it would be a penchant for poaching that would make him indispensable for Denis Walsh. Still though there is more than enough on show, thus far, to indicate that Cork could benefit from any slight slippage from Tipp, or a further tarnishing of Kilkenny's gold standard. Given the labour disputes of recent years and the lack of bountiful under-age crops, it is, for the more realistic supporters Leeside, enough to be going along with.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Two smaller cities

In dispatches, after Galway's victory over the All-Ireland champions last Sunday, mention was made to the 2005 semi-final between the counties. It was an apt reference in some ways. ( in as much as league and championship fare can ever be compared ) On both days Kilkenny had a thrown together nature to them, usually anathema to a Brian Cody stewarded side, and narrowly lost a high scoring thriller. The papers have spent the first half of the week reading the tea leaves over Kilkenny's muted league performances. It has been rightly noted that it's not all doom and gloom. John Mulhall has brought the swashbuckling ( everyone with long hair has a fair shot at that epithet ) brio he exhibited at u-21 to the National League. The usually acute judge, Sean Moran in the Irish Times, also name checked John Dalton. However to this observer's eyes Dalton, previously a hero of the 2008 Fitzgibbon final in shackling Joe Canning, spent the whole of Sunday on the back foot. When decent ball went into Galway's right corner Aidan Harte and 2009 minor Richie Cummins were well out in front and made hay. Unless injury is an issue, one wonders why the excellent u-21 of the last two summers, Paul Murphy hasn't been given a chance to ply his wares. If Kilkenny haters are looking for further signs post- 2009 final that the gold might be rusting a little, it may be that if the miles on Michael Kavanagh's clock become an issue the full-back line will look increasingly vulnerable, given that Noel Hickey's last appearance in black and amber is becoming a distant memory. Kilkenny fans will perhaps seek succour ( they are a serious and fretful lot you see, when it comes to hurling ) that none of last Sunday's defensive corp may line out in the same positions in the summer and that JJ and the aforementioned Kavanagh and Hickey can return. In the prime of his competitive life having Tommy Walsh at corner back is not so much robbing Peter to pay Paul, as robbing St Peter, rock of the church to pay Paul. Still to score 1-23, without Shefflin, Larkin and Brennan, against one of their leading rivals; what crisis indeed!

Amidst the good vibes apres the vanquishing of the All-Ireland champions, Galway will do well to remember that too many of their noteworthy victories come in shoot-outs. True their defence has Adrian Cullinane and Ollie Canning to return, ( as an aside it's only fair to point out that this quarter doubted whether Canning could revert to former glories on his return, and was completely wrong ) but do they have the look of an All-Ireland winning defence though, especially if John Lee teases and taunts as to whether he can make the step to excellence on a permanent basis.

There were bountiful positives though and not just the forward depth that was signposted by the 2-3 from play by substitutes. Ger Farragher's almost nonchalant excellence from dead balls, is amazing not least since he may be second choice for the task in the summer. Sean Ban Breathnach's observation that last years u-21 team was the worst in yonks ( conceivable considering how brilliant Canning was in the semi-final? ) may be leavened if David Burke and the aforementioned Harte continue to make a good impression. Plus Cyril Donnellan, on this and last summer's evidence in Tullamore, if nothing else, has the rather positive attribute of playing well against the sports standard bearers. It's possible that like 1988 Galway may win an All-Ireland with an Eanna Ryan on the team. If they can find a Peter Finnerty or Gerry McInerney in the next few months they will really be quids in.

A tale of two cities

The return of winter came a couple of days too late. Metaphorically the Dublin hurling community huddled in Donnycarney on Sunday, shivering in the apparent malaise. The chat rooms since have wallowed in the depression, turning their lonely eyes to the injury- afflicted Ronan Fallon, or writing the playing epitaph of former hero Dotsie O' Callaghan. So perhaps time for a little perspective. If six or seven years ago Dublin stood toe to competitive toe with all the traditional powers, week-in week-out, the majority of supporters would have hailed hosanna on Easter week. Putting a positive spin on it, they now have a team with a paltry amount of passengers, if any. John McCaffrey has had a progressive spring. Joey Boland continues to fill out physically. One pity is that their contemporary, Ross O' Carroll has been lost to the big ball game. The return to hurling of Shane Ryan, and the Hamlet like indecisiveness of Conal Keaney might have garnered more pre-season headlines; but this was due more to the headlines capital footballers can attain, rather than what they could bring to the hurling table in comparison to O'Carroll. ( and his younger brother Ross, a fine U-21 centre back could have been a handy squad member ) The Kilmacud Crokes man may have rounded out a tasty starting forward sextet, along with Liam Rushe, Peter Kelly, David Tracey, Alan McCrabbe and O' Callaghan. He may also, if he had played against Cork, have managed to avoid the long walk to the bench, which all bar McCrabbe were subjected to. McCrabbe may have validated his manager's judgement with his spectacular late goal. But he was, if anything, even more out of sorts than his substituted team-mates. But five changes was more than enough, as Anthony Daly showed off his penchant, also signposted in last years All-Ireland quarter- final, for a somewhat skittish helming of a forward line. Of the replacements only Paul Ryan ( who was unavailable last season ) looked of a calibre to be an improvement to the off-colour regulars. But, as previously stated, it is enough of an achievement that Dublin now have nearly a XV of proven championship standard. The next step, in order to be competitive in an All-Ireland semi final say, would be for the likes of Tomas Brady, Rushe or Tracey to become amongst the leading players in the country in their positions.

On the final whistle a somewhat rueful looking Anthony Daly greeted his seemingly unruffled opposite number Denis Walsh. The Cork managers insouciance was to some degree apt considering things came slightly easier to his team on the day. This was mostly due to Pat Horgan's unflappable eye for a score, with Dublin shooting 18 wides. Walsh will hope now that the Glen Rovers man can carry this form into the summer, as he showed a frailty in terms of winning his own ball in '09. The evidence in Parnell Park wasn't supportive of Cork's incipient 'twin towers' strategy, albeit that, Aisake O'Halpin's sidekick, Michael Cussen looks like a skillful fledgling in a beanpole'sbody. The league success heretofore may lead Cork fans to believe that the gap to the other traditional powers can be bridged. 1-9 looks very solid if the half-back line and midfield are returning once more to the well. ( Tom Kenny's bucket did, in fairness, runneth over against Dublin ) And one presumes the manager won't forget Cathal Naughton's attributes for the second summer in a row. But there are still four words that would instill terror in any Cork supporter: Injury to Ben O' Connor.