Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dublin v Kilkenny & Galway v Tipperary

It's very much in vogue to discuss the woes of hurling. But much of this talk is quite simplistic. If for example Kilkenny had fallen prey to food poisoning, a la the All Blacks in '95, prior to either the 2007 or 2008 finals, resulting in liberation days for either Limerick or Waterford, it's likely that there wouldn't be anything like the waling and gnashing of teeth. Yet the fundamental landscape wouldn't be a jot changed. Those who may want to point to the disquieting aspects of the game currently though may use as an exhibit Kilkenny's 2011 league: That they are on the verge of getting to the final of a competition that they have put so little into: Or perhaps more accurately, that they have shone so dimly in, by comparison to recent years. Granted, as they displayed last year, it's possible for the cats to stutter through the league and still preform at a high level in August and September. But it is instructive for the summer ahead that the spring hidings that Brian Cody's charges have handed out to their main rivals in previous times appear to be a thing of the past. They have showed this year that physical strength and a deep panel can get you a long way in the shallow pool of hurling's top division. They benefited from a Tipperary hangover in the opening game and came through in desultory arm wrestles in Nowlan Park versus Cork and Waterford. But strange and unprecedented things have been happened to Kilkenny this spring that don't show up in as blunt an instrument as a league table. From the fifth to the 51st minute in the league game in Salthill they were outscored by 4-11 to 0-5. Dublin should have gone in at half time last Saturday evening in Croke Park having scored in the region of 3-16. If this may seem like nit-picking to Kilkenny supporters it's only fair to point out that we are dealing with a side that gave a display in the 2008 All-Ireland final the likes of which we'll never see again. It may seem risible to point out tiny chinks in hurling's version of the Three Gorges Dam, when the likes of Shefflin, Delaney, Walsh, Power, Tyrell and Rice are sitting games out. But recall that in previous seasons that Cody's response to winning All-Irelands was to do it all again with 3/4 changes in the starting line up. Bar the introduction of the effervescent Colin Fennelly there doesn't appear to be the same scope in 2011. Conor Fogerty and Paul Murphy had a trying day in Galway a few weeks ago, and being shifted outfield on Saturday didn't really lead to them making a better impression. PJ Delaney has also struggled to turn ample opportunity into productivity. And if Matthew Ruth took his goals well he may have to slot chances he has created himself before he makes a decent move up the pecking order. This blog is very far from saying the end is nigh: Kilkenny may after all be descending into an incredibly unsuccessful era where they win 2/3 of the next ten All-Irelands say. But it would only bear testament to their very recent greatness to point out that they are winning league games plying such utilitarian fare. It was pleasing indeed that until the last ten minutes Saturday's curtain raiser had the openness of a challenge match. Too often league games this season have been very decent advertisements for a 13 a side game. Naturally there are two ways to look at Dublin's progress. There is the rueful issue that they should have beaten both Galway and Kilkenny yet garnered only one point. On the other hand as recently as last summer most Dublin fans wouldn't have expected them to be,flat out, the best preforming side in the league. If some may feel that won't carry on to the summer then it's best to observe that the league table doesn't appear to lie in regard to other counties apparent worth: Kilkenny and Wexford are where you would expect them to be for example. Stephen Hiney will doubtless be missed but Shane Durkin may yet be a reasonable replacement in a less physical, more ball-playing way. Joey Boland will be welcomed back though. Not because Thomas Brady wasn't a barnstorming replacement but as Brady was consequently missed at full back. It will be fascinating to gather how Anthony Daly's team will line out in the summer from 8-15 if Alan McCrabbe and David Tracey force their way back in. Liam Rushe is currently plying his trade fairly well in unfamiliar midfield terrain. Indeed it's a feature of the league at present that there seems to be a partial reversion to tall wingforward types ( Pat Cronin and Conor Mahon ) plying their trade i lar na pairce. Also without much fan fare Daire Plunkett and Conor McCormack have pushed themselves into contention. The latter is a mobile tyro and the former could leave even the likes of Cathal Naughton in his wake in the spring heeled stakes. Plus Paul Ryan teased on Saturday that the undoubted ability he possess might begin to bare fruit at the highest level. If McCrabbe and Tracey aren't ready for starting duty by late May the Dublin management will be comforted that the forward cupboard, also augmented by Keaney and O'Dwyer, seems decently stocked. Galway v Tipperary Galway people have held great store for 2010 on the basis that they were only bested by a point by the eventual All-Ireland champions. A way of pricking that winter balloon was to point out the consequent improvement in the Premier County through August and September. The true worth of Galway thus in the close season was likely 6 or 7 points adrift of Tipp. That gap hasn't necessarily changed now just because they were the recipients of an 18 point caning last Sunday in Pearse Stadium. After a stop start league Declan Ryan had probably made his side aware that a performance was due. Galway on the other hand have, as is their league wont, been at full tilt since the slaughter of the innocents ( Wexford and Offaly ) in February. John McIntyre can at least console himself that he may soon have Collins, Kavanagh and Moore back to replenish the defensive troops. Actually, although the scoreboard wouldn't bear it out, his defenders battled manfully in the 2nd half against a gale force wind and a tails up Tipp. In some respects the complete lack of shape to the attacking play would be just as big a worry. Galway's depth is in some regards a curse, and one is never sure from one day to the next what to expect from Gerry Farraghar, Iarla Tannion Cyril Donnellan and Aengus Callinan. On a more jocose level the days of Galway trading with flighty skillful corner forwards seems a thing of the past. Indeed if one was to be slightly cruel it could be imagined that the aforementioned Tannion, young Joe Cooney and Joe Canning could form their own little mini sumo squad. For Tipperary the plethora of choice upfront still looks dazzling for them and daunting to others. Some may have taken succour from the relative spring struggles of Brian O'Meara and Sean Carey in making the seamless step up to senior. ( that's enough words starting with s-ed ) This has now been counterbalanced by the addition of Shane Bourke to the quiver of arrows; with the likes of John O'Neill also waiting around in the wings. Plus John Coghlan and John O'Keeffe have been more persuasive than the second string defenders tried out earlier in the league. The established players equally shone in what was the dictionary definition of a team performance. When the game was a game in the first half Padraig Maher bestrode like a colossus. If Lar Corbett was slightly at the fringes of proceedings, his contribututions were carried off with an insouciant class: He treaded softly but carried a very big and potent stick. Shane McGrath and especially Patrick ( we'll leave the 'Bonner' stuff to his brethren ) Maher showed there is plenty of brawn to go with the brain. Stapleton, Noel McGrath, Brendan Maher and Eoin Kelly are yet to return and the message seems clear. Other sides better hope Tipperary aren't as focused this year as last.

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