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Inside Track

Hurling’s mad-cap summer proves a breath of fresh air

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT’S not much more than eight weeks ago when there appeared to be an almost collective resignation about the outcome of this year’s All-Ireland hurling championship. Kilkenny and Tipperary had just served up another battle royale in the National League final at Nowlan Park with Michael Fennelly’s storming individual performance powering the Cats to glory in a high intensity contest.

Nobody could have imagined back then what was about to unfold in what has proven an electrifying championship so far. In fact, the title race has been blown apart with shock results littering the summer hurling landscape. Three of the four favourites for the Liam McCarthy Cup didn’t even reach their provincial finals, while two Division 1B teams have qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway and an emerging Clare had been perceived as the teams with the greatest firepower. After all, Limerick had failed – again – to emerge from the second division of the league; a callow Cork were relegated; Dublin were crucified by Tipp in the league semi-final in Thurles; gallant Waterford were perceived as being in decline; while Offaly and Wexford were so far off the pace, they hardly merited consideration in the context of winning titles.

But the first real indication that the 2013 championship was going to buck the trends of the past decade or so was Offaly having the temerity to score four goals – and concede none – against Kilkenny in the opening round of the provincial title race in Tullamore. With Henry Shefflin still injured and a few of their other marquee names struggling for form, suddenly some fault lines were being exposed in their ranks. The injuries began to mount too for the champions, but they were still expected to take care of Dublin in the subsequent Leinster semi-final.

After a disastrous year in 2012 and falling heavily in the league semi-final last April, the critics thought the Dubs were a busted flush and that assessment wasn’t hard to justify. But two tough battles in overcoming an admittedly moderate Wexford outfit had steeled Liam Rush and company for Kilkenny. They ought to have won in Portlaoise the first day – an injury time TJ Reid point saving the title holders – but they finished the job in the replay with Danny Sutcliffe netting the all important goal.

On the other side of the draw, Galway were in among the minnows but a defensively set up Laois caused them too many problems for comfort last month. They were still strong favourites to see off Dublin in the provincial final, but the Tribesmen were only a pale shadow of the team which had taken Kilkenny apart on the same occasion 12 months previously. Only Joe Canning and Shane Kavanagh, ironically the one player who hadn’t featured in the league, really measured up on the day, although substitutes Andy Smith, Damien Hayes and Aidan Harte did add some ballast to the team’s sails. It still couldn’t prevent a 12 point drubbing as a revitalised Dublin celebrated a first Leinster crown since 1961.

Over in Munster, there was similar upheaval. Tipperary, who we now all have to accept are lacking the physicality and primary ball winners to build on their epic All-Ireland triumph of 2010, collapsed in the closing stages against a typically fire and brimstone Limerick challenge, while Cork put paid to the provincial ambitions of a wasteful Clare in the other semi-final. It all cleared the way for the first Munster final between the Shannonsiders and the Rebels since 1992.

Not surprisingly, the Gaelic Grounds was packed to the rafters last Sunday and the match was still on a knife edge when Pat Horgan was harshly dismissed moments before half-time. The teams were deadlocked at ten points each, but the sweltering heat was always going to make it extra hard for the 14 Cork players to survive and they could manage five points in the second-half as Limerick, driven on by their passionate supporters, powered to a first Munster title since 1996.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Fearsome Limerick hit new high by tearing Tipperary rivals apart

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Galway’s Carrie Dolan breaking away from Laura Doherty of Westmeath during Saturday's All-Ireland camogie championship clash at Kenny Park. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

In the aftermath of a wonderful sporting achievement, it’s easy to get carried away and, perhaps, overrate what we have just seen at the expense of great deeds from the past. But even against that background, what Limerick hurlers achieved in the second-half of Sunday’s Munster Final was extraordinary.

They looked a beaten docket at half-time. Trailing by ten points to a Jason Forde inspired and a fiercely committed Tipperary, the All-Ireland champions were in serious trouble. They had conceded two goals directly from opposition puck-outs to Jake Morris and Bubbles O’Dwyer, and so many of their marquee players were off the pace.

In fact, Tipperary could have been ahead by more. With Dan McCormack playing deep to free up Brendan Maher as their sweeper, they created a world of chances with Forde – the most under-rated forward in the game – rifling over a series of points from all angles and distances. Limerick were all at sea and only Cian Lynch and Tom Morrissey were having a significant impact on the action.

But nobody could have envisaged the sensational turnaround in the third quarter. Within 18 minutes, a resurgent Limerick had gone a point ahead as reserves Aaron Gillane and Dan Morrissey added fresh vigour to their challenge at opposite ends of the field. It was like watching two different matches as Tipp were simply overwhelmed.

Their older generation really sagged in the unforgiving temperatures and by the time their management made changes, Limerick had already taking control. On the scoreboard, Tipp were still in it, but their players must have been in a state of shock over how a big lead had been so quickly and so ruthlessly wiped out. Limerick’s younger legs and sheer physical power were now dictating the terms of engagement.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Epic Portlaoise battle highlights what minor level is now missing

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Galway midfielder Kieran Hanrahan breaking away from Kilkenny’s Harry Shine during the 2020 All-Ireland Minor hurling final at O'Moore Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

WHAT unfolded at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise last Saturday evening again puts a negative slant on the GAA’s decision at the 2016 Congress to reduce the age limit for minor competition from U18 to U17 and the U21 grade to U20.
Sure, there were issues with Leaving Cert exams and hold-ups in fixtures at senior level due to the previous under-age structures, but the competitiveness of the minor grade has been drastically impacted by restricting it to U17s, while the former U21 competition carried more prestige than the current U20 championship.
These were hardly intractable problems in the first place, but it is another example of the GAA’s continuous meddling with their competitions and the rule book. On the other hand, you sometimes wonder do Congress delegates sleepwalk their way through proceedings by not anticipating the impact of certain decisions at ground level until it’s too late.
Back to O’Moore Park. Due to Covid 19, the 2020 All-Ireland minor hurling championship was run off about a year behind schedule and the upshot was that many players had reached 18 by the time it came to enter combat. In effect, it was the way things used to be and the resulting increase in intensity and physicality was welcome.
Galway and Kilkenny locked horns in a gripping battle on Saturday evening and there was no holding back to the exchanges. You just don’t have that at U17 level because the players are not nearly as well physically developed. The minor grade is currently a pale imitation of its former glory.
That reality was confirmed in the delayed 2020 championship with the All-Ireland final serving up a compelling struggle for supremacy. Early on, it seemed Galway were about to overwhelm Kilkenny as they established a seven-point lead but, by the end of the game, they needed a brilliantly created goal from Liam Collins to carry the day.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Hurlers are not a busted flush but long road now lies ahead

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Galway players, from left, Conor Slattery, Tiernan Leen, Michael Walsh and Shane Morgan celebrate after their 2020 All-Ireland minor hurling semi-final victory over Limerick at Cusack Park on Friday evening. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT happens to even the best of teams, especially when they are lulled into a false sense of security. The Galway hurlers headed to Croke Park last Saturday expecting to win their Leinster semi-final against Dublin but, unfortunately, their match-day attitude bore the gait of a men who weren’t mentally prepared to really work for it.

In their own heads, Galway probably thought that no matter how the match unfolded, they would still have Dublin’s number. That backdrop feeds over-confidence and complacency, and when things started going horribly wrong for the Tribesmen, their response was disappointing with only a handful of players escaping the wreckage.

This was not a game Galway could ever take for granted. Having lost to the Dubs two years ago and with the U20s coming unstuck against the same opposition a fortnight ago, the anticipation was that they would be in the zone from the off. They had the early pressure, and chances, but poor decision-making was to come back and haunt them.

Though Galway ought to have quickly realised that they were in a battle, the required intensity was missing. When you see the way the Kilkenny and Wexford players tore strips off each other in the second-semi-final, it underlined just how much Shane O’Neill charges didn’t front up physically. Sure, players were trying but few maroon bodies were repeatedly laid on the line.

Galway were curiously impatient as well. Their lust for goals early on did them no favours, especially coming up against a goalkeeper in Alan Nolan, who was at the top of his game. The fact that Galway couldn’t counteract or work through Dublin’s flooded defensive lines also reflects poorly on their tactical awareness.

When you consider the huge scoring totals Galway ran up in the league, their miserly tally of 1-14 last Saturday comes as a shock to the system. True, they had an abundance of scoring chances, but you couldn’t argue that their hurling ever really flowed. So many players were below par and under pressure, Galway struggled to get on the front foot for any sustained length of time.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

 

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