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.