GAA nerd Mark Fives previews this weekend's All Ireland Hurling Championship semi-final.
The first All Ireland semi final gets underway this Sunday in Croke Park with the bookies struggling to separate the four remaining contenders in the most open All Ireland series in recent memory. Many counties will harbour regrets long into the winter months and this All Ireland will be viewed as one that got away for many of them.
Dublin have had an odd championship to date, being involved in two drawn games, playing five consecutive weeks before a similar length lay off after their Leinster Final victory. The form of the Leinster championship looks inferior to its Munster counterpart, Kilkenny were dreadful in the early parts of the summer and Galway were no better in the Final. Even allowing for the Shefflin sending off I would put more stock in the Cork win over Kilkenny than anything Dublin have achieved to date this year. That being said Dublin have left the impression that there is significant scope for improvement, Daly has indicated as much over the course of the championship and almost seemed embarrassed to admit it after the Kilkenny win.
It was hard not to be impressed by the Cork performance against Kilkenny. They hurled intelligently at times, dragging the Kilkenny half back line out of position and hitting the inside forward line as quickly as possible, avoiding the dangerous Kilkenny half back trio in the process. Although there was still a lot of wayward shooting from distance which seems all the more crazy given the form Horgan is in this year, you expect him to raise the white flag every time he gets the ball in his hand. Dublin have a formidable half back line but Seamus Harnedy proved an accomplished ball winner in the Quarter Final and has been a real find for JBM. His subsequent form has made Sean Óg’s dig ahead of the Clare game about players coming from unknown clubs look all the more offside.
In many ways it was easy for Dublin to bowl along from week to week in the Leinster Championship hurling on instinct and not being able to get too carried away as has been the case in the past. The long layoff does them no favours and if they are defeated this weekend it may prompt another discussion about the equality of the hurling championship. If a county has been beaten it can have no qualms about having to play consecutive weekends, even if it is an All Ireland Quarter final. Undefeated teams should be given every advantage to progress.
Dublin seem to personify the template for the modern hurler; strong athletic physical players. They are probably only second to Clare in terms of the intensity they bring to the tackle. The legality of which is questionable right across the country and in fairness to referees can often be extremely difficult to pick up on which makes the correct implementation of the advantage rule all the more important. Too often this year no advantage has accrued to the transgressed.
The benefit of those drawn games was that Daly discovered his best 15 (Keaney was tried at centre back not that long ago) and he was able to blood new talent and they now have plenty of options off the bench including the likes of Conor McCormack & Mark Schutte. It also allowed Dublin perfect their style of play which coincidently is not all that different from the remaining teams in the championship. They are as adept at playing direct diagonal ball into their inside line as they are running with ball in hand and creating overlaps.
Anthony Nash has yet to concede a goal in this year’s championship and has been the outstanding goalkeeper in Ireland over the past two years. It’s hard to imagine Paul Ryan being as prolific as on his last visit to Croke Park and with Shane O’ Neill likely to lock down Dotsy, Cork give the impression that they will be able to come across scores with greater ease than The Dubs and that should be enough to see them over the line.
Cork and Dublin are both evens to win on Sunday.
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