[tps_title]The End of the Summer[/tps_title]
After a glorious week of weather in this beautiful little country of ours we are being told to prepare for a return to the normality of changeable weather in the coming weeks. “The summer is over” people will laugh and say “wasn’t it great while it lasted!”. It’s a typical Irish approach to our lot, grin and bear it and get on with it. And after all there is little we can do about it after all. No man controls the weather.
Funnily enough though it really IS the end of the summer for a certain section of our country. The hurlers who showcase their wares in the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups have seen their inter-county seasons draw to a close on the first weekend of June. They finished with a bang though, with Warwickshire eclipsing Longford before Donegal and Down came out on top in thrilling encounters in the Rackard and Ring finals respectively. Games that would be lauded as instant classics were they to occur between Cork and Clare or Galway and Kilkenny, received their five minutes in the sun this weekend but now they are done and dusted normal service can be resumed. Back to the real business of summer hurling. Stand aside lads, let the hurling counties at it seems to be the message.
Amazingly Down had to play six games in six weeks to finally capture the Christy Ring Cup after defeats in their two previous appearances at this stage. Kerry were on the verge of their second Ring triumph in three years and on the back of three All Irelands in a row at under 21 B level there was optimism that maybe they were ready to take a giant leap forward. But these are only sub-plots, if even, to the rest of the summer. By the time Limerick face either Clare or Cork in what will undoubtedly be a wonderful Munster Final occasion, the hurlers of Down and Kerry will be long forgotten, a footnote in the season.
Even when it is pointed out that these counties can concentrate on their club championships at the height of summer, let’s not forget that their winners will go onto provincial level where they have to wait for the representatives of the Liam McCarthy counties. At club level they still have to end their season playing in October and November alongside the big guns.
This does not seem right or fair. On the Sunday Game after the three games (three All Ireland finals let’s not forget, which is why the tickets for the games were priced at €25) received the obligatory quick recap of the three games there was at least some discussion of the lower-tier of hurling. This contrasted with the frankly pathetic coverage of the finals on Thursday’s Championship Matters which amounted to one question from Marty Morrissey to Vincent Hogan. Woeful but not unexpected. Much more important obviously was the light-hearted exchange as to whether or not John Tennyson might possibly switch to play for another county.
On the Sunday Game Donal Óg Cusack put forward the idea of a Team Ulster to compete in the Liam McCarthy Cup. Cusack is a shrewd reader of the game and is a wonderful analyst and may in time become an even better administrator such is his passion and understanding of the game. He was lauded in some areas for this idea, giving a shot at the big time to players in Ulster who might not have the chance to play Liam McCarthy Cup hurling otherwise. The main area of criticism that I could see though was coming from the counties of Ulster themselves, some complaining that it was a quick-fix solution to the problem.
Cusack must to be given credit for trying to come up with a way to broaden the appeal of hurling north of the border but at the same time this idea would more than likely be a hindrance rather than a help.
If we look at the idea of Team Ulster, it was proposed to take the best players from each county and from the team, almost like a Railway Cup style side competing in the Liam McCarthy. But this idea is flawed because once again we are creating an elite. The likes of Down’s brilliant Paul Braniff would be plucked away from the Mourne side and while it would give him a chance to compete at the top level, what of his Down team-mates? Do Down try to compete at Christy Ring level while their four or five best players are off training and playing for Team Ulster? Would there be a similar approach to Connacht hurling or would Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim become a Team Connacht in the Christy Ring Cup? What of the Leinster teams such as Kildare and Meath, would they get their chance, and where do Kerry fit into the wider picture? It is a complicated situation.
Worse than that is the further knock-on effect that this will have on the most important entities of all, the clubs. This is where the work needs to be done. Building from the ground up, not the top down. Where would the benefit to the clubs come? Cusack’s idea deserves consideration but really it is only the start of a bigger conversation that needs to take place.
Hurling at the lower levels can be poor and sometimes hard to watch but isn’t that the case at the top level as well? There are as many if not more exciting, fluid, tense games of hurling from Lory Meagher to Nicky Rackard to Christy Ring level as there are in the Liam McCarthy Cup. The players, managers and administrators who toil away without the credit they deserve need to be given a voice. Go to the grassroots and ask them for solutions. They are the ones who see the problems first hand, they are the people to talk to.
Hurling needs change and no matter how exciting it is to see Limerick back in a Munster Final, work still needs to be done. It won’t be easy but every team deserves their day in the late summer sun. And unlike the weather we CAN do something about this.
Cormac O'Malley - @CormacPro
Humdinger in the Gaelic Grounds edged by Limerick
Limerick 1-18 Tipperary 1-15
Limerick recorded their first win in the Munster Championship in 6 years, edging out the reigning champions by three points, at a sun kissed Gaelic Grounds. This was classic Munster Championship fare in all its glory and there was even a throwback to the 90’s with the Limerick contingent spilling on to the pitch at the final whistle to fervently celebrate a famous and much needed victory.
The first half was tame by comparison to what was yet to come, but Limerick set out their stall early, pressuring Tipp at every opportunity, with some exceptional hooking & blocking throughout. Work rate and desire was the foundation for this success with Limerick perfectly marrying a mixture of physicality, with deftness of touch. Declan Hannon roamed all over the Gaelic Grounds, leaving Tobin & Mulcahy to form a two man inside line, with Tobin in particular looking sharp early on and notching a poachers goal.
Noel McGrath dropped to midfield also, but was seen to much better effect when switched to the 50. He pulled the strings from centre forward and was a joy to watch. It took Tipperary much longer to settle into the pace of the game, casting further doubt on the argument that Division 1B is a death sentence. Nickie Quaid made 2 excellent saves in the first half, one in particular from the mercurial Seamus Callanan. Tipperary managed to snatch three of the last four points of the first half to leave them right in contention at the break, only two points adrift.
The start of the second half was dominated by Tipperary substitute John O’ Dwyer, who racked up an impressive 1-3, in just fifteen minutes. Paudie Maher was beginning to assert himself, as was Conor O’ Mahony at centre back. Limerick fans will be forgiven for fearing a repeat of 12 months ago, was now on the cards, especially after Hannon missed a straightforward opportunity from a free. But Richie McCarthy was inspirational at full back for the Treaty County and the Limerick rearguard didn’t let Tipperary out of sight on the scoreboard.
Shane Dowling & Niall Moran were both sprung from the bench and managed to influence proceedings. With the scores level, Dowling landed a free from deep inside his own 70 to take the lead. The momentum was now with the home side and, the belief they exhibited belied their recent appalling record. The excellent Donal O’ Grady landed his third point, a monster from well inside his own half and Hannon rounded off the scoring with a beauty from the left touchline, to leave three points between them at the death.
Limerick were excellent throughout and the defence, led by the outstanding Richie McCarthy, kept the shackles on the Tipp attack. Funnily, for a man that led Cork to All Ireland glory, this felt like the moment John Allen truly broke out from under Donal O’ Grady’s shadow. Tipperary seemed to wilt in the closing stages and that will disappoint Eamon O’ Shea greatly. The back door now beckons for Tipperary, but I would be slow to rule out a run at the Liam McCarthy cup. A restorative path through the back door has worked for Tipperary in the past. The lack of a ball winner in the Tipp forward line was an issue and they seem to have very little variety, with only Bonner Maher providing something different. The Tipp bench nicked it for them a year ago, but the roles were reversed this year, with Moran & Dowling hitting crucial scores at decisive times. Limerick now have a real chance of a first Munster title since 1996. The sky is the limit for this talented Limerick team, who have the touch to match their toughness.
Mark Fives - @MFives86
Wexford & Dublin must do it again after tepid affair
Wexford 1-17 Dublin 1-17
Wexford & Dublin played out a draw in Wexford Park on Saturday night, in a disappointing contest, in which neither team deserved to win. Both teams were short on belief, in particular, a fragile Dublin forward line that just didn’t fire. The replay is fixed for Parnell Park on Saturday night.
Daly usually opts for a conservative game plan, highlighting his defensive upbringing, by often dropping one forward into the back line. The All Ireland semi final of 2011 against Tipperary proved that this tactic might keep you in games against the big boys, but coughing up easy possession in this manner won’t win you many. In a departure from this tactic, Daly moved his best attacker, Conal Keaney, to centre back, to shore up his defence, but played with a traditional six forwards.
The key to success in modern hurling is dominance at half back and Dublin’s three best players lined out here, with Liam Rushe & Mick Carton flanking the former footballer. Their dominance in the air was such that Mark Fanning had no choice but to go short with some puck outs. It is a rarity that a half back line can be so dominant in the air and not win the game, but such was the profligacy of the Dublin forward line. They simply lost their nerve over the course of the evening.
Dublin started brightly, leading by six points to one, showing some nice touches in the process and a marked step up on their last outing against Tipperary. But Wexford kept themselves in contention through Rory Jacob and the impressive Jack Guiney. As the half wore on, Dublin displayed some decent, sharp, short hurling, setting up numerous chances, which all too often went a-begging, from eminently scoreable positions. Jack Guiney scored an excellent goal after some direct running from Eoin Quigley, that raised question marks over Keaney’s ability as a defender. However, Dublin rallied well through Boland from placed balls and the reliable Danny Sutcliffe to lead at the break by the minimum.
The second half failed to fire as a contest and Dublin struggled to win possession in the forward line. Wexford were becoming more dominant and what possession Dublin did manage to attain was wasted through either, poor shooting, dire decision making or both. Rory Jacob, Jack Guiney & increasingly, Garrett Sinnott made their mark up front for Wexford, but with Dublin continuing to waste opportunities, Liam Dunne’s men should have been out of sight. Dublin went almost twenty minutes without a score in the second half and it took an inspirational point from Mick Carton, the best player on the field, to shake the Dubs from their slumber. This was quickly followed up by a goal from Eamonn Dillon that looked like giving Dublin an undeserved victory. However, Jack Guiney held his nerve to convert a free from the 50 in injury time, to set up a replay next weekend.
Anthony Daly will be the more relieved of the two managers to emerge with a draw, given the 14 wides his charges amassed over the course of the evening. Their forwards, with the exception of Danny Sutcliffe, looked like rabbits caught in headlights, when in possession in front of goal. Daly will have to use all of his famed man management skills to coax a return in confidence, before next weekend. Liam Dunne will have a better idea of his starting 15 next weekend and the industrious Lee Chin looks certain to start. Brian Cody certainly won’t be having any nightmares about what he saw in Wexford Park, but the extra game will stand to whoever emerges victorious.
Mark Fives - @MFives86
Lacklustre Kilkenny ease past ill disciplined Offaly
Offaly 4-9 Kilkenny 0-26
Kilkenny defeated a spirited Offaly in Tullamore on Sunday, to set up a Leinster Semi-Final clash with the winners of the Dublin/ Wexford replay. The concession of four goals will worry Brian Cody, as will the general nature of the Kilkenny performance, which wasn’t up to their usual lofty standards.
Offaly went route one in the first half, playing direct ball into their powerful full forward line, to great effect. They competed manfully in the air at both ends of the pitch, in particular Colin Egan, Offaly’s best player on the day. The Faithful County also flirted with the line, as evidenced by the five first half yellow cards they picked up. Joe Bergin showed his class with an absolute cracker from 21 yards. Offaly ended the first half just a point to the good, having had the better of Kilkenny and the benefit of the elements. Kilkenny somehow snuck back into the game with the last three points of the first half and it was the concession of so many frees, ably dispatched by Eoin Larkin, that kept The Cats in touch.
Offaly resumed the second half in the same manner as the first, fouling needlessly, some distance from the danger zone. Offaly, who successfully fed the full forward line in the first half, now struggled to get a foothold in opposition territory. Kilkenny seemed to have more players around the little breaking ball that did find its way to the Offaly full forward line in the second half. Kieran Joyce was excellent throughout at left half back. In a matter of minutes, Kilkenny had put daylight between themselves and Ollie Baker’s men, it was as if Offaly didn’t even realise that they were genuinely in the game.
The pace of the game which was crisp and exciting in the first half dropped significantly and a malaise fell over both teams, best evidenced by some sloppy striking from the usually reliable Richie Power. Just as Kilkenny were meandering to a comfortable victory Dan Currams hit the onion sack in the 62nd minute to cut the deficit to just four points, to breathe life into the Offaly challenge. It would prove short lived, as a couple of chances went astray and Kilkenny managed to pull clear without any great fuss, before a late Joe Bergin consolation goal narrowed the deficit.
Brian Cody expressed his satisfaction with the result afterwards, talking up the Offaly challenge, but, in truth, he will be far from pleased with this lethargic Kilkenny performance. There is plenty to work on and he will be glad to be able to call on a fit again Michael Fennelly for the Leinster Semi-Final. Kilkenny notched a massive eleven points from frees, with Ollie Baker referencing the pace of the game as the cause. The fact of the matter is that only one free was conceded with a Kilkenny player bearing down on goal and many were lazy, late fouls that left the Kilkenny attackers off the hook. It’s possible that this was a premeditated move, designed to limit any potential development of a goal scoring threat, further out the pitch. Offaly can rightly take heart from this performance, but they only managed to annex three points in the second half before Currams’ goal, a return that wasn’t good enough to win this match, and won’t be good enough in the qualifiers against Waterford in two weeks time.
Mark Fives - @MFives86