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.