Thursday, March 7, 2013


The Power of the Scrum:

Ireland's pack was shunted around Murrayfield Sunday week last in the set piece. By contrast, at the same time, Galway and Kilkenny basically scrummaged each other to a status quo in Salthill, albeit the scoreboard declared that Galway had prevailed on goals scored.

The prevalence of groups of hurlers gathering round a woe begotten sliotar, much as a wolf pack administers the kill has generated comment recently. Principally because former Limerick great Eamonn Cregan lamented how messy the game has become. He has of course a point on an aesthetic level, although his own Mary Immaculate charges hit plenty on aimless aerial deliveries in last weekend's Fitzgibbon Cup Final.

But a game descending into such tumult shouldn't necessarily be a badge of dishonour to practicioners. In fact the free flowing nature of Cork v Tipperary clashes in the last couple of years have been an indication of the relative soft centre of both sides.

Partly the reason that Kilkenny and Galway are top of the pecking order at the moment is because of the physicality that leads to scrimmaging. The quality on show in their  first round league clash was decidedly spotty. For example Kilkenny's starting forward line only scored three points from play, yet Galway's backs, with the exception of an eye catching display from Joseph Cooney, didn't pull any trees either. It may matter little as we know that these two sides set the physical pace. Never mind the quality, feel the scrummaging width!

Five Years on the Go:

The full quote from Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea read, 'a lot of these fellows are five years on the go and quite simply we need to come up something different.' The comments could be seen as somewhat alarming, (one imagines Brian Cody and his venerable lieutenants throwing their eyes to heaven) especially as Tipp fans hoped that the return of O'Shea to the fold would re-awaken the team of 2010.

Tipp's recent travails-albeit that other counties would settle for back to back Munster success- are down to quite different issues in backs and forwards. In defence even three years ago there was a lack of depth. The subsequent loss of Declan Fanning was insufficiently remarked upon. No new players on display in the heavy defeat in Pairc Ui Rinn. Conversely there is plenty of talent in the forwards, and, with the introduction of John O'Dwyer, not all of it reheated. Yet the likes of Noel McGrath and Seamus Callinan badly need to sting like bees in 2013. Floating like butterflys wont do for a forward line needing the leadership mantle to move from Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly.

But just as pertinently why is the Tipperary manager hinting at a jadedness in his panel, when the likes of Henry and JJ keep coming back for even more. Does it point to a weakness in the modern Tipp psyche? Were they sated by 2010, believing that all was now right with the world and they could party like it was 1971. Tipp won their 22nd All-Ireland in that year, they have won four since)

Watch this space.

Quantity and Quality(?) in Waterford

Prior to the victory against Clare all was seen to be doom and gloom down Suirside. Especially since the retirement of John Mullane and the announcement of the unavailability of Stephen Molumphy. Only four members of the 2008 All-Ireland Final side ( Moran, Walsh, Nagle and Seamus Prendergast ) will likely line out in the summer. The likes of Ken McGrath, Dan Shanahan and Tony Browne are well nigh irreplaceable.

But no matter what happens in 2013 the Waterford hurling future isn't as stark as might be imagined. If the hurling die hard dusts down his 1998 Munster Final Programme, he(or she) would note the huge percentage of the players that came from just three clubs, Mt. Sion, Ballygunner and Lismore. Talent is much more broadly spread around the county now. And indeed there is more of it. There was a very thin pool beneath the golden generation of the 1998-2008 era. Nowadays Waterford compete much more consistently at underage level. Their minors have made it to Croke Park in three of the last four years.

Surprisingly this competitiveness hasn't translated to the under-21 grade in recent times. But five of the players ( Paudie O'Mahoney, Gavin O'Brien, Darragh Fives, Jake Dillon and Jamie Barron ) who featured in the opening round league victory in Ennis will face Clare in a Munster under-21 semi-final in July, where Waterford will attempt to dethrone the Munster and All-Ireland Champions. Sods law indicates that Waterford can't continue to underachieve at this grade.

Although Waterford and Clare will meet at least once more at senior level this year, it could be the under-21 clash that is the one to watch.

The haves and have nots amongst the hurling counties

As a general guide the counties who are perceived to be All-Ireland contenders are those who have their full complement of players available, i.e Galway, Kilkenny, Tipperary. Clare and Limerick wouldn't be in that category, but the fact that essentially all the best players in those counties are available for selection indicates that their fortunes are perceived to be on the rise.

On the flip side the apathy, first weekend victories notwithstanding,  about the 2013 prospects for Cork, Waterford and Dublin are linked to losses to their panels. The absences of quality players is just as marked at the next level of counties. It's hardly likely that promising young players such as Wexford's Matthew O'Hanlon and Diarmuid O'Keeffe would have gone travelling if they had been born across the border in Kilkenny.

This topic came to mind to this blogger whilst watching the Division 1B League game between Dublin and Offaly. The high water mark for Offaly hurling in recent years was the exciting Leinster Championship draw against Galway in 2010. Of the nineteen players who lined out that day for Offaly, nine featured against Dublin, with only David Kenny and Daniel Currams likely to return for 2013 combat. Also the classy Diarmuid Horan, who returned to the panel last year has apparently left again. Granted the sands of time ran out for a few, notably David Franks and Brendan Murphy, but some other talented  players don't seem to want to give the commitment to a county that would struggle to get to an All-Ireland Quarter Final even with a favourable wind.

As each year passes by the magnitude of the achievement, that saw a county win four All-Ireland's between 1980 and 1998, essentially picking from 20,000 people in the area surrounding Birr, seems more incredible.