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Inside Track

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

John McIntyre

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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

Missing out on the opportunities that lay ahead will haunt Galway

John McIntyre

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Galway football manager Padraic Joyce digests their Connacht final defeat to Mayo at Pearse Stadium on Sunday with members of his backroom team, Cian Breathnach and Michael Comer. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

NOBODY needed to tell Padraic Joyce the consequences of their narrow defeat to Mayo at a near-deserted Pearse Stadium last Sunday. Losing Connacht’s showpiece match was bad enough, but the real pain was realising that the Tribesmen’s enticing pathway to a first All-Ireland final appearance in 19 years had been completely closed off.

With an All-Ireland semi-final date against either Cork or Tipperary the reward for the winners of the Connacht title, there was a lot more at stake in Salthill than provincial glory. Had Galway got the better of Mayo, they would have fancied their chances against either of those opponents. Suddenly, they would be preparing for an All-Ireland final.

And Galway are one of those teams whose tradition suggests that they would be capable of anything in that environment. Sadly, they are now denied that prospect after a muddling performance against their arch Western foes. Yes, Mayo were the better team and spurned two goal chances, but it was still a match the home team could have won.

Though some of the officiating didn’t do the hosts any favour, it was Galway’s carelessness in possession which must really haunt them. Some of their players were turned over too easily, while their decision making going forward in the opening quarter also left a lot to be desired. Nobody could question the team’s spirit or desire, but they needed to mind ball much better.

Given their injury woes, together with no competitive championship prep for the final and the recent trauma of that league trouncing by Mayo, the hosts’ preparations were far from ideal but Joyce wasn’t inclined to go down the excuses road. He was understandably more frustrated with Galway’s own inadequacies and mistakes, along with the team’s modest scoring haul of 13 points.

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

Galway hurlers must be careful but footballers have to go for it

John McIntyre

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Galway’s Rebecca Hennelly in the swing against Cork’s Laura Treacy during the All-Ireland senior camogie championship clash at Pearse Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

BASING a team’s worth and probable fortunes on one match alone has led many astray – look at the transformation in Cork hurlers in the space of a week – which means there has to be a certain amount of caution in assessing Galway’s chances against Kilkenny in Saturday evening’s provincial decider at Croke Park.

In contrast to the Rebels, the Tribesmen really hit the ground running in their opening championship outing by dismantling Wexford in a one-sided Leinster semi-final. On the evening, Galway were a revelation in sauntering to a 13-point victory. Getting their match-ups right and performing with admirable purpose, Shane O’Neill’s squad looked close to their All-Ireland winning form of 2017.

But are Galway that good? We will certainly know a lot more after their latest tussle with the Cats who are bound to provide a far more searching test than Wexford despite their staggering second-half collapse against Dublin in the Leinster semi-final. Losing a 16-point lead is unheard off in the Brian Cody era and their defence struggled badly when ran at.

Kilkenny’s second-half woes, however, guarantee that they will be really up for the Galway match. Can you imagine the grief Cody has given the players in the interim? Remember too, when Kilkenny have a cause – like in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Limerick – they bring an extra manic desire to the battleground. Galway need to be braced for that.

Yet, they remain hugely dependent on the inspirational TJ Reid to weave his magic up front, but he’s not getting any younger and one wonders will Galway hand the versatile Joseph Cooney the brief of not letting the Ballyhale clubman out of his sights. Obviously, Colin Fennelly is a danger too with his direct style of running, while the Tribesmen won’t need any reminding of the damage Walter Walsh can cause if on a going 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

Galway and Limerick look best equipped for a December date

John McIntyre

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Galway’s Fabienne Cooney geting the better of Tipperary’s Aisling McCarthy during the All-Ireland ladies football senior championship clash at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds on Saturday. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT’S time to nail our colours to the mast. In the wake of the ten contenders for this year’s All-Ireland hurling title making their championship debuts, we are predicting a December showdown between Limerick and Galway – the two most formidable physically equipped teams out there.

Of course, there’s still a lot of hurling to be done, but even neutrals were impressed by the power shows over the weekend from both Limerick and Galway. One team defeated the reigning champions by nine points; the other humbled Wexford by a 13-point margin. And it just wasn’t about the gulf on the scoreboards at the end either.

Tipperary and Wexford simply couldn’t cope with the physicality of their respective opponents. They were both ground into submission and as weather conditions are bound to worsen over the winter, it’s the team with the big men who will have an inherent advantage. Bulk and physique alone won’t win All-Irelands, but both Galway and Limerick are also blessed with an abundance of natural talent.

Steady on John, I can hear the local sceptics say. Are you talking about the same Galway team which only drew with Wexford last year and were subsequently sent tumbling from the championship by Dublin at Parnell Park?  Yeah, but 2019 was a season of massive under-achievement for the men in maroon who now look revitalised under Shane O’Neill’s tenure.

On the evidence of Croke Park on Saturday evening, the bite is back in Galway’s hurling. Furthermore, newcomers Eanna Murphy and Fintan Burke are proving big defensive assets, while Brian Concannon looks primed to deliver on the promise of his under-age days judging by the way he tormented Wexford in the Leinster semi-final.

Sure, the title holders didn’t raise much of a gallop but Galway didn’t let them. Seán Loftus, the Mannion brothers, Padraic and Cathal, and the outstanding Conor Whelan were way too slick for Wexford and if Galway bring the same urgency and purpose to the battleground against Kilkenny on Saturday week, I can see only one outcome.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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