Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hurling Quarter Final Previews

Dublin v Limerick

First things first: It is of course tough to bluff your way through previews for games, when team sheets aren't available. Even allowing for the calamity that has befallen the Dublin camp in the last 24 hours, one could point out that the 'sons of Ger Loughnane' Anthony Daly and Davy Fitzgerld are only repeating the sins of the father by keeping their cards so close to their chest until match day. Perhaps it's a quaint GAA tradition, ( Alex Ferguson isn't expected to announce who is playing three days before a match ) but also perhaps in this case both managers have very good reasons.

In Daly's case whatever plans and strategies the Clarecastle man had to recover from the Leinster final would have had Conal Keaney at their hub. Perhaps with the former football star being a focus for puck outs, he might have felt himself able to release Ryan O'Dwyer to the edge of the square. In a general tactical sense Dublin's task doesn't necessarily change too much for Sunday. Both sides, are to a certain extent, prisoners of slightly different formula that result in neither getting the ball into the full forward line quickly enough. In fairness to Daly he could at least make the point that he's using the players at his disposal close to their maximum. Whatever the effect of coaching it could never be said that it is the natural game of Dotsie O Callaghan, and to a lesser extent Paul Ryan, to charge towards goal the minute they receive the ball. But however it's achieved Dublin should be alive to getting behind a full back line that, thus far, has shown an over propensity to attack the ball. If Wexford were comfortably defeated in one respect in the qualifiers they were also a goal threat.

Donal O' Grady doesn't have the excuse of cutting cloth. He has at his disposal a goalscoring full forward throwback ( Kevin Downes ) the likes of which we haven't seen in a while. O'Grady apparently was annoyed at his players against Waterford that they didn't get the ball into the young Na Piarsigh star quicker. However one wonders why, on the evidence of the league final, that instruction wasn't drilled into the players in training ad infinitum. One suspects, despite media reportage that treats the Limerick manager almost a deity, that he still hasn't settled on a happy medium for his new side between long ball and possession keeping. In the Wexford match Downes was still rather starved of possession. Plus the talent that Graham Mulcahy evinced that evening would be better exhibited closer to goal rather than trying to pick and run at the physical Dublin side from midfield.

Dublin may still be a mite too intense and physical for the Shannonsiders. David Tracey could now be rushed back and resemble a new signing for the metropolitan project. Earlier in the week we would have mused that their best way to confront the season would be to bite the bullet and decide that Liam Rushe, rather than Joey Boland, is now their first choice centre back. But all bets are now off and Rushe may be firefighting in the half forward line. In the last couple of years this blog sometimes felt that Dublin hurling people pining for Conal Keaney was akin to a deluded flock beseeching for the return of a rusty prophet. This blog was wrong. Keaney's loss, from a work rate standpoint if no other, is almost incalculable. With a physical and solid platform from half back Limerick should have just enough to ride their luck.

Galway v Waterford

As at lunchtime Saturday Davy Fitz hasn't named a Waterford team. Conventional wisdom would relate that he's busy trying to rearrange the metaphorical deckchairs on the Titanic. Desperately trying to expel from Deise minds the ghost of Munster final horrors past. Former players haven't been slow to stick the knife into an outside manager who has made some tactical bloopers in his reign. This blogger was especially frustrated by the siting of John Mullane in a betwixt and between position in the All-Ireland semi in 2009: which made it all the easier for Kilkenny to get bodies on him. The placing of Jerome Maher on Lar Corbett also verged towards the death wish variety, especially since that meant that Brick Walsh was taken out of centre back, but not sited on the edge of the square.

Yet one does wonder though whether many Waterford people are now thrashing around for a scapegoat. If the manager's stratagems havent necessarily used the players at his disposal to the optimum; it could also be reflected upon that he hasn't had adequate replacements for the superstars of recent years in his squad. The preception is currently that Waterford are producing a bountiful crop of young players who are only waiting to be utilised. The fact remains though that, whilst Waterford may have 30 players of a higher standard than they had 10 years ago, you still need a minimum of 12/13 top performers to win an All-Irelands. After all the supporters of Waterford's opponents tomorrow may wryly reflect that Galway struggled depthwise in the late 80's. They had however enough great players to win 2 in a row. Having the B team win matches in training does not necessarily All Ireland contenders make. They may be a clamour for Waterford to make a raft of changes tomorrow. But the difficult truth may be that their best xv includes 12/13 of the Munster final team.

So Waterford may not have much scope to call in obviously superior cavalry. Galway, as this blog surmised a few months ago, may have their best team in years. So an easy win for the Tribesmen:Well not so fast. Displaying the same blind faith for Galway that the media have traded in for years, The Irish Times this morning predicted a Galway masterclass. But to achieve this, one would expect to have a defence that trades in excelling rather than coping. Masterclasses would emanate from backlines who have a full back who does more than play conservatively from behind; or wing backs who could dominate aerially. For Galway a relative master class would be Hayes and Canning putting up enough of a score to win a shoot out. Things seem all of a sudden rosy in the garden, but a day will likely come soon when Farragher at 11 looks a quixotic choice, or Iarla Tannion will get out of bed on the wrong side.

So this blog doesn't see Davy Fitz's little lamb lying down for the second day in a row. They have the physicality and athleticism to match their opponents. Richie Foley could yet get back to the form of last summer and the spring. We expect Brick Walsh and Mullane to lead from the front. Galway's firepower may just be enough to have Waterford carried out on their shield however.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Weekend hurling previews

Limerick v Wexford

The perception is that these sides are coming into the game on different wavelengths. The home team are emboldened by proving themselves to be better than Division 2 no hopers; not that this blog had believed that for a moment. Wexford meanwhile are becalmed after certain people had mistakenly ( again this blog didn't fall for the optimism ) divined that Kilkenny were vulnerable. Both physically and psychologically Wexford will find Limerick much more of a bespoke fit. Their full forward line who showed well for ball in the Leinster semi will fancy their chances, against a Limerick back three still seeming without a natural full back, and prone to indecisiveness. It will be interesting to view Garrett Sinnott again, as much to possibly dispel the slightly bizarre notion that Kilkenny made him look better than he is. Limerick also, rather like Donal O'Grady's former charges, still look betwixt and between a game plan: Whether it's nobler to adhere to O'Grady's tried and trusted tactics, or to get ball in quickly to Kevin Downes, perhaps on this occasion supported by a nippy corner forward or two.

On the flip side Limerick will feel that their 5-9 can get a sufficient foothold in the game. Wexford have changed both midfielders and will hope that Mick Jacob and especially Eoin Quigley will roll back the years. On the other hand they have left unchanged a half forward line that didn't lay a glove on Kilkenny. Gizzy Lyng can't return from travelling soon enough and for this game he has been joined on the unavailable list by Ciaran Kenny, an undervalued cog in Wexford's machine.

Kenny's injury is very frustrating as Wexford can never seem to get their best defenders ( Kenny, Stamp, Rossiter and Roche ) fit and firing. If they were all rearing to go Wexford could easily have squeaked a low scoring game. As it is, unless a Harry Kehoe or a PJ Nolan comes of age, Limerick should have enough to test their incremental progress in another match.

Galway v Clare

What are the bookies up to this week re these counties. We're talking of course of the Clare minors being a slightly loopy 6/4 to win the All-Ireland, when a county with the pedigree at the grade of Galway have still to be sighted. Having said that the pricing for Saturday's qualifier game could also raise eyebrows. A Galway side who barely looked interested in being in Tullamore a fortnight ago are still heavily favoured to advance to the next round. What was most disturbing about the defeat to Dublin on a second viewing was the wanton awfulness of much of the tackling, as if attempting a legal dispossession was far too much bother. If John McIntyre has responded by ringing the changes it is still of a type that will be characterised as moving of deck chairs variety if it all goes wrong. There has been a general welcome accorded to Galway's changes but the formulation still looks a fuzzy gamble. Four of the forwards have to find their form coming back from injury whilst a fifth was in inter county retirement a few months ago. If the tribesmen line out as selected Ger Farragher looks curiously positioned at centre forward, whilst Clare will feel their wing forwards can make aerial bustling hay versus Donal Barry and Adrian Cullinane.

Can Clare take advantage though of rolling dice. They have to cast off the ghosts of qualifier ineptitude the last two summers. This has to be done without Darach Honan who joins his club mate Domhnall O' Donovan on the sidelines. If Honan engages the ire of impatient countymen too readily his absence still potentially diminishes Clare's chances of posting a winning total. At the other end Philip Brennan retains his place despite a performance that unfortunately didn't end Clare's goalkeeping controversy. If the back six in front all performed manfully against Tipp, collectively they need to staunch the bleeding caused by soft goals. Plus some day soon to progress their last 20 ministers will have to match their first twenty.

A prediction of what variations of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde in maroon and saffron show up is tricky. If Galway get to the pitch they exhibited in last years All-Ireland quater final that will presumably suffice. They likely won't but they may fall over the line.

Kilkenny v Dublin

All has changed changed utterly a man from Clann Na Gael Fontenoy's catchment once said. It can be applied to the Leinster final just two months on from the thunder n' lightening League final. Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin, the two best players of the last 20 years have returned. Yet even more significantly so have Michael Fennelly and Richie Power. Fennelly-since Brendan Maher will likely be dragooned to wing back for the remainder of the summer- is comfortably the best midfielder in the country. Power is quietly beginning to show an interest in clasping the onerous baton sooner rather than later from Shefflin.

Since then Tomas Brady has joined Stephen Hiney on the Dublon sidelines, whilst David Tracey will not be fit even for a cameo. Plus even though Peter Kelly and Liam Rushe fitted seamlessly into the defensive cockpits against Galway it's hardly likely that they won't encounter bumps on the road on this occasion. It will be fascinating actually whether Anthony Daly now reflects that he has stumbled on his best centre back option ( Rushe ) or whether he reinserts the possibly ring rusty Boland. Another Dublin player to watch is Conor McCormack, who may be required to do even more of the heavy lifting in Ryan O'Dwyer's absence. McCormack evinced an incalculable ability to get up feline noses in the league final, and how perhaps he and the selected centre back go might indicate how Dublin's fortunes will come out in the watch.

For Kilkenny there is also a doubt as to whether they will line up as selected. The full back line, unchanged from the semi final, have got an exceedingly loyal vote of confidence. It could of course be that Paul Murphy will switch in and JJ Delaney out. If Kilkenny go under detractors may signpost the demotion of Paddy Hogan and declare Brian Cody has taken loyalty to unsustainable levels. It also must be pointed out that although lack of proven ability is not seen to be a Kilkenny shortcoming the starting corner forwards Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan have to prove themselves on this type of stage.

There's a school of thought abroad that everything is set up for Kilkenny. That Cody will have them primed like scalded, er, cats to whiplash the Dubs. But this might be easier screamed about than done. Ultimately, against a team they can't physically intimidate, will Kilkenny have the stomach for a torrid second half fight with their bounty of medals weighing down their back pockets. This blogger doesn't envisage Dublin being dumped in their place. But on this particular day the champs might have one or two more options available and a goal or two might get them over the line.