Monday, March 7, 2011

National Hurling League Week Three

Tipperary v Waterford

There have been too many games in this year's league decided long before the finish. But despite Tipp's victory being certain half an hour before the finish, the second half was strangely compelling. Waterford reacted to the bizarre actions of Shane O' Sullivan and Clinton Hennessy by keeping their cool and finishing the game with a controlled fury that ensured they kept the score line respectable. What will be particularly pleasing was the performances of the greenhorn fullback line, especially corner back Darragh Fives. Fives, indeed was one of three 2010 minors who saw action on Saturday night. Also, even though he was bested by Padraig Maher in the first half, Richie Foley again adorned a league match with beautiful striking from frees and play. On the negative side there wasn't any tangible signs that the gap between the two teams would close come the summer. Brick Walsh has had an uncertain start to the league albeit that he's had to operate in the orbits of Conal Keaney and Noel McGrath to date. Davy Fitz, and indeed other managers, might have to consider a man marker for the Loughmore prodigy come the summer. The traditionalists may feel it's a bridge too far, but the alternative of letting McGrath ( who scarily looks physically much bigger this spring ) and Lar Corbett to drift around with alchemy in tow is even less appetising a prospect.

Tipp stopped the rot and likely will have forgotten in a few days their torpor against 13 men. Paddy Stapleton was back to his best at corner back, albeit that's a state of affairs that sorely tests the referees patience when it comes to professional fouls. It is indeed one of the vexing issues in the modern game that fouling by the rulebook is so rife that referees feel compelled to let so much go, and also to play advantage when a forward clearly hasn't accrued any. Upfront the contrasting fortunes of ex- underage stars proceeded apace. Pa Bourke continued his renaissance, whilst at the other end of the spectrum 2010 under 21 starlets Brian O'Meara and Sean Carey found the going exacting. This is particularly surprising in the case of the former who would have the physique to handle the slings and arrows of League hurling. But then not every young player will come to senior as fully formed as Noel McGrath.

Cork v Galway

Nothing like the same fervour on show at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, which given the red mist that descended on a couple of Waterford stalwarts is perhaps just as well. A notion has entered hurling thinking in recent years that counties 'target' certain league games, according to the opposition and their place on the table. With four points safely in the bag and still nagged by an onerous injury list, one suspected that Galway didn't prioritise this match quite as much as their opponents. That said the tribesmen could still have stolen the spoils if their shooting has been more considered in the first half. One of the culprits was Iarla Tannion and in some respects his display at full forward was his inter county career in microcosm, with real flashes of potential not ending in much of substance. Tannion's full forward line colleague Aengus Callinan has often been in the same frustrating boat, but he at least thieved 1-2 in a match where Galway's midfield and forwards, score happy until now in the league, huffed and puffed. The central planks of Galway's defence also creaked. If Tony Og Regan's slight off day was forgivable, John Lee's struggles were more perplexing. After captaining an All-Ireland winning minor team from centre back in 2004 Lee was the next big thing in a county which often is teased by underage achievement. Almost to the weekend a year ago Lee was imperious at no 3 for NUIG on Fitzgibbon weekend. In 2011 however he looked a little out of condition and slightly frayed at the edges. When injured players return Lee may struggle to find a niche in Galway's defence. Even more so if Adrian Cullinane gives tidy wing back displays, like Sunday's, that were redolent of his fine summer's hurling in 2009.

Cork's manager Denis Walsh made no bones about the fact that his side needed a win. He will also be pleased that, unlike in the 2nd half comback against Kilkenny, it was his younger players that were to the fore. Cian McCarthy brought a very decent amalgam of work rate, catching and score taking to the party, and was decidedly unlucky that tg4 plumped for Pat Horgan as man of the match. Paudie O' Sullivan also recovered from early wides to have a productive afternoon, whilst Pat Cronin put in a decent shift in the slightly unfamiliar position of midfield. In a sense the league won't tell us much more about the aforementioned players, it being crucial from a Cork point of view that they preform in the summer. At wing back Ray Ryan was capable before his day was ended prematurely by injury but his distribution was not up to that of a previous incumbent of the number 7 shirt. Speaking of the O'Halpin's it's only fair to point out that for sheer awkwardness alone Aisake will be missed at some point during the season.

Offaly v Dublin

This missive will strive to mostly be a Conal Keaney free zone. Although this was likely his least stellar display of the spring he looks so fully formed at this level with that we can now only await the summer with impatience. Perhaps better to concentrate on the other 'big money signing' Ryan O' Dwyer. Along with his other aggressive virtues O' Dwyer ( or Dwyer as some elements of the media have curiously began to call him ) took both his goals adroitly. There will be greater tests ahead doubtless. Derek Morkan is a stylish young wing back, but is at best Offaly's fourth choice full back after David Kenny, Pat Cleary and James Rigney. What was most apparent on Sunday was the gulf between the sides depth wise. The sending off of Brian Mulrooney ( referee Alan Kelly had a quixotic afternoon to put it mildly, Mulrooney was unlucky, Ger Healion and Peter Kelly fortunate to stay on the field for other incidents ) almost certainly affected the scoreline rather than the result. Most managers will want to add a couple of players to a seasoned line up every summer but one wonders if Joe Dooley will readily accept at this point being able to field on May 29th the same xv that competed so well against Galway last season.

Anthony Daly played down the relevance of the gulf between the sides given Offaly's list of absentees. But since he'll gladly welcome back the likes of Alan McCrabbe, David O' Callaghan and David Tracey he'll have been encouraged by the younger forwards especially the fleet footed Daire Plunkett. Elsewhere John McCaffrey is in confident early season form and Peter Kelly has showcased his athletic versatility by slotting in at corner back. One position he likely won't fill will be goal keeper, where, as we come towards the end of a golden era for net minders, Gary Maguire is becoming a gold standard for quiet excellence. And how about that Conal Keaney.....

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