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 anfearrua.com. 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.