Dublin v Tipperary:
A couple of weeks ago this blogger muttered out of the side of its mouth that Conal Keaney's return to hurling would get plenty of attention: Perhaps we were being a tad bitchy. He is being exposed to journalists waiting for the main event at Croke Park, what with the 'spring series' mopping up most of the paltry media coverage GAA gets in early spring. Plus he has a larger profile with the fourth estate than the likes of Tomas Brady and Liam Rushe because of his footballing exploits . Yet after two rounds of the league one is tempted to declare that if you can't beat them join them. On this winter evening at least ( we can always try to backslide by saying the fog clouded our judgement ) his performance was Shefflinesque. An intriguing concoction of muscularity, long range point taking and astute teamwork. To this, perhaps untutored eye, his free taking has been especially eye catching. Of course the Ballyboden man does bring a physique seasoned by years for inter-county football. But he is only augmenting a Dublin panel that, in the physical stakes at least, is well able to mix it with Kilkenny and Tipperary. To compete with the All-Ireland finalists you must first match them physically, an actuality that is still perhaps underplayed. With the likes of the aforementioned Brady and Rushe, Peter Kelly, Stephen Hiney, and Joey Boland, Dublin will fail only if their hurling lets them down. Presumably a lack of craft was the reason why Ryan O' Dwyer didn't make it in these competitive times in the premier county. But his re-location means that Dublin have another combative presence in the mix. Also Ruairi Treanor showed flashes that he can shadow inter-county corner forwards, although his clearances could do with work, whilst Joey Boland and John McCaffrey teased that they could still raise their games up a notch.
Tipp won't press any panic buttons about losing a game where four of their All-Ireland forwards didn't start. Plus they will trust that the rust will soon fall from their first choice fill back line. Though their sonambulance did at least let goalkeeper Darren Gleeson ply his wares convincingly. Declan Ryan will also take comfort that Pa Bourke and John O'Neill are continuing to tap on his door persistently. Yet is was odd that the Tipp management last week dropped from the panel four players who started in their first two league games. Albeit that this blog did point out that their defender depth was perilous if ( the now dispatched ) Conor O' Brien and Hugh Molony were on the fringes of the first xv.
Kilkenny v Cork
Viewing this tape wasn't even a labour of love. We took one for the team in the interests of keeping a blog updated. Granted the weather was vile, with wind, rain and pitch all discommoding the players. And the modern inter-county player can't be blamed if he's now a seriously dedicated athlete. But it truly was an impressive advertisement for a change to a 13 a side game. Combatants frequently got immersed in skirmishes around an ill-fated sliotar; akin to a schoolyard or a World War One battlefield. Still Kilkenny are an equal opportunities vanquisher. After all, in horse racing parlance they are more of a Denman than a Shergar. Even if the best Henry Shefflin impression thus far this season has been pulled off by a Dublin man, Brian Cody will be quietly satisfied with his forwards at this point. Adrian Fogarty and Colin Fennelly have relished the challenge of unfamiliar positions and Eddie Brennan has started 2011 better than he ended 2010 in his new role as semi permanent target man. The Kilkenny plan for this season will presumably be to get more pace and movement into their forward division. To overcome the loss of Ballyhale's finest is an onerous task. But Cody would surely have been a smidgin' disappointed that his attackers, to quote a famous philosopher, slightly resembled sheep in a heap in the All-Ireland. They will definitely upgrade if Richie Hogan forages and snipes all season like he did at Nowlan Park agaisnt Cork.
Hogan was comfortably the best forward on the puddin' pitch, but Pat Horgan's second half work rate would also have brought some warmth to Cork hearts. ( bovril could only do so much in the conditions ) The rebels desperately need last spring's sensation to develop a capacity to win his own ball in summer. For if he gets the sloitar in his hands he likely will trouble the scoreboard. The disquieting thing for Cork is that, Cian McCarthy's resilience apart, there is little sign of new forwards to freshen the menu. Cork's second half comeback involved the O' Connor twins and Tom Kenny hurling bravely at Kilkenny's ramparts, but none of that trio looked the same players as of yore when it counted last summer. In defence Stephen Mc Donnell and William Egan showed promise, ( where as an aside John Gardiner was characteristically belligerent ) but it is upfront where Cork need fresh blood if they are going to trouble 'the big two'. The game appeared to have swayed towards the rebels when they levelled matters against fourteen men, with the wind at their backs and a couple of minutes to play. Yet it was the cats who emerged with the victory. it would be stretching things to say they won playing within themselves there was little evidence on show that a summer encounter would be as tight.