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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

Energetic Fitzy hops back onto the hurling managerial merry-go-round

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Barna's Seán Fitzgerald is pursued by Rory Melody of St James’ during Friday's Senior Football Championship tie at Pearse Stadium. Photo:Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

WHETHER you’re a fan or not of Davy Fitzgerald, nobody can dispute the reality that he’s mad for road. Within days of stepping down as coach to the Cork camogie team, the former Banner goalkeeper is off on his managerial travels again – this time, however, he will be returning to an old stomping ground.

Fitzgerald, a fearless competitor between the posts, was one of the lynchpins of Clare’s long-awaited and emotional All-Ireland triumphs in 1995 and ’97, but his profile has moved onto a different level over the past 15 years. Whether it’s through his management roles or TV shows like Ireland’s Fittest Family, he is rarely out of the limelight.

And that’s basically why some people don’t like him . . . they basically see too much of him. He was even added to the Sunday Game analysts panel this summer where he was something of a muted observer on hurling’s finer arts. Apart from the three counties – Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork – who would never countenance an outsider, Fitzy is nearly linked with every managerial vacancy that crops up these days.

For a few days last winter, he looked the number one candidate to replace Shane O’Neill in Galway, but his bubble was burst somewhat when County Chairman Paul Bellew launched an audacious and successful attempt to entice Henry Shefflin west. Having just finished up with Wexford – a project which flatlined in his last two years in charge – Fitzy is clearly not one for standing still.

But why are some counties still inclined to swoon about the prospect of having Fitzy on board? For starters, he landed two Fitzgibbon Cups with Limerick IT before taking over as Waterford manager in mid-season in 2008 after the players revolted against Justin McCarthy. He guided the Deise to that year’s All-Ireland final only for them to suffer a humiliating 3-30 to 1-14 loss against Kilkenny.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Lyng taking over from Cody leads to an outbreak of relief in Galway

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Galway's Ciara Donohue breaking out of defence against Lauren Homan of Cork during Sunday's All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Final at Croke Park. Photo: INPHO/Bryan Keane.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THERE was surely a collective sigh of relief in Galway’s hurling strongholds when former midfielder Derek Lyng was appointed to succeed Brian Cody as the new Kilkenny manager last week – the first time since the winter of 1998 that a new senior supremo has been unveiled down Noreside way.

After Cody somewhat surprisingly ended his long tenure as Kilkenny manager in the wake of last month’s battling All-Ireland Final defeat to Limerick, it was only natural that current Galway team manager Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny’s most decorated player of all-time, would be linked with the vacancy.

“Don’t do it Henry” was a common refrain on social media as Galway supporters understandably feared the Ballyhale Shamrocks clubman would find the prospect of talking over his native county impossible to resist. Lyng, Martin Fogarty and ex-Laois boss Eddie Brennan were also touted as being in the running.

A similar precedent had been set this summer when Liam Cahill abruptly departed Waterford to return to Tipperary after the local County Board hardly covered itself in glory in the manner it ended the tenure of former player Colm Bonnar after just one year in charge. Admittedly, it had been a tough championship for Tipperary, losing all four games in Munster, but there were extenuating circumstances.

For starters, Brendan Maher and Padraic Maher retired – the latter was forced to hang up the boots due to a neck injury – while other heroes of past All-Ireland triumphs, Bubbles O’Dwyer, John McGrath and Seamus Callanan, were also notable absentees. It meant Bonnar took over a Tipperary team in transition.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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

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

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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

Lots of positivity around but Galway will now have target on their backs

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Owner Annette Mee with Monday’s Galway Festival bumper winner,This Songisforyou. Also included are Emmet Mullins, trainer, Laura Keir, and jockey Derek O'Connor. Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

ALL around Ballybrit last week, the post All-Ireland football final verdict was virtually unanimous: Galway were unlucky against Kerry but had done the county proud. Naturally, the big focus was on the harsh free awarded against John Daly as he attempted to break out of defence late in the match.

Of all the varying opinions on the controversy doing the rounds at the races and in the media at large, former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness probably put it the most succinctly of all in Saturday’s edition of the Irish Times. He said anyone just focusing on the first part of the incident would award a free out to Daly, but those only seeing Killian Spillane’s arm being pulled in by the Galway number six would have sided with referee Seán Hurson’s call.

And that’s in a nutshell. The first foul was committed on Daly and that should have led to a crucial free out for Galway just seconds after Damien Comer had forced a terrific turnover. In that moment, however, Kerry got a break they weren’t entitled to, and the Munster champions weren’t slow in taking advantage.

Galway were that close to ending 21-years in the All-Ireland wastelands, but Padraic Joyce and his players don’t need any reminding that it’s a long way back to next year’s final. Sure, they have made huge progress over the past few months and their camp will now be stacked with belief, but there are no guarantees that they will enjoy another protracted run in 2023.

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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