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Inside Track

Pacey Banner boys can finish year in a blaze of glory

John McIntyre

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

IT’S a measure of the unexpected upheaval in this year’s hurling championship that for the first time since 1997, the All-Ireland final will go ahead without Kilkenny, Tipperary or Galway parading behind the Artane Boys Band in September. In fact, the three favourites to lift the Liam McCarthy in early summer had all fallen by the wayside before the semi-finals and nobody saw that scenario coming.

Instead, youth will be having its fling in Croke Park on Sunday as both Cork and Clare, appearing in only their seventh ever senior final, battle it out for hurling’s greatest prize – two Munster teams in the decider and, curiously, neither of them heading to GAA headquarters as provincial champions which underlines just how much improvement the two finalists have made in the interim.

In spite of the county’s great tradition, Cork’s return to the big stage is something of a bolt out of the blue. Sure, they have come from nearly nowhere in the past to mould championship winning teams, but after losing to Clare (0-31 to 2-23) in a Division One relegation play-off at the Gaelic Grounds last April, key forward Paudie O’Sullivan on the long term injury list, and continuing grumbles about the axing of long serving goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack from the squad, even die-hard Rebels supporters were pessimistic about the summer campaign ahead.

They renewed rivalry against Clare in the Munster semi-final and emphatically turned the tables on a 0-23 to 0-15 scoreline. Newcomer Seamus Harnedy caught the eye in attack on a day the Banner forwards lacked the killer instinct when playing with the strong wind in the opening-half. Clare spurned several goal chances too amid mounting criticism of manager Davy Fitzgerald over his continuing deployment of an extra-defender. Cork dovetailed Brian Murphy to man-mark the roving Tony Kelly and the tactic paid off.

Murphy, however, was an absentee for the subsequent Munster final against Limerick after picking up a shoulder injury in a club match and with Pat Horgan controversially dismissed before half-time, Cork were unable to cope with their numerical disadvantage on a hot day at the Gaelic Grounds, losing by 0-23 to 0-15 and again failing to find the net. It left them facing an All-Ireland quarter-final against the fading title holders Kilkenny in Thurles.

Critically, Horgan had his red card rescinded and though Cork finished another big game without a goal, their overall pace had battle-weary opponents in trouble as they came through on a 0-19 to 0-14 scoreline. Kilkenny finished with 14 players after the harsh dismissal of Henry Shefflin and Cork were also to benefit from the teak-tough Ryan O’Dwyer getting his marching orders in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final.

It was the game of the year and Dublin, if anything, were starting to dictate the terms of engagement and were a point ahead when O’Dwyer picked up his second yellow midway through the second-half. That incident turned the game on its head and with an opportunist goal from Horgan – incredibly, Cork’s first of the championship – the Rebels finally began to put some daylight between the teams, having five points to spare at the finish.

On the other side of the draw, Clare were also regrouping well. After hammering Laois in Ennis in the opening round of qualifiers, they were then careless against Wexford before readily pulling clear in extra time with the help of two Cathal McInerney goals. That victory set up a quarter-final date against Galway and with Pat Donnellan cleaning up in his sweeper role and Conor McGrath firing home a first-half goal, they were nearly always in the driving seat against disjointed opposition.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Canning’s harsh sending off pulls the plug on Portumna’s challenge

John McIntyre

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David Hickey of Tommy Larkins battling for possession with Loughrea's Conor Jennings during Friday evening's senior hurling championship tie at Kenny Park. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

THERE’S no prize for guessing what was the biggest talking point from the opening round of the Galway senior hurling championship last weekend – the dismissal of the Cannings, Joe and his nephew Jack, for Portumna against Sarsfields at Kenny Park.

A red card for such a high-profile player nearly always generates widespread publicity, but with the match also having a deferred showing on TG4, hardly anyone with GAA marrow in their bones would have been unaware of Portumna’s strife on Sunday evening.

The outcome was still in the melting pot with about ten minutes remaining. Sarsfields were protecting a three-point lead, but were by no means out the gap against a new-look Portumna outfit. Sure, Canning, his brother Ivan, Andy Smith, Ronan O’Meara and Martin Dolphin were still around, but a lot of their team-mates were novices at this level.

Still, Portumna were hanging in there with O’Meara having set the tempo for them with a string of quality efforts from play early in the game. Sarsfields were struggling to shrug off Portumna despite Kevin Cooney and Jeffrey Lawless doing most of the scoring damage.

But this senior A group battle was completely turned on its head in little more than 60 seconds. Firstly, Joe Canning got his marching orders after a tussle with former inter-county colleague Kevin Hynes, while Jack also suffered the same fate after interfering with Ian Skehill’s helmet.

Even Portumna people are prepared to accept that Jack Canning gave referee Shane Hynes little option, but there is understandable anger in the camp over Joe being banished to the sideline. TV evidence shows Hynes’ helmet coming off as he exchanged pleasantries with Canning on the ground, but it appeared accidental.

Canning was leaning on Hynes when the helmet was displaced, but he didn’t interfere with it. In the circumstances, he shouldn’t have got the line but you would still have some sympathy for referee Hynes and his officials as they didn’t have a close-up view, only seeing the Sarsfields player’s headguard being sent flying.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

The one size fits all approach doing sport no favours in strenuous times

John McIntyre

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Loughrea Golf Club officers attending the launch of the Mary Costello Memorial Classic, left to right: Padraig Hedderman, Vice captain, Anne Gilchreest, Lady Vice Captain, Martin Broderick, Club President, Peggy Gilligan, Lady Captain, Ollie Newell, Captain. Photo: Joe Keane.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

WELL, that was an unexpected blow to the solar plexus late last week. There was most of us thinking that crowds allowed at matches in this Covid-19 environment would be increased to 1,000 for sporting activity, only to be hit with something of a double whammy.

Not alone has that not materialised, but the 500 figure which had been flagged in the lifting of the last phase of the coronavirus restrictions from last Monday has fallen by the wayside as well. The consequence is that gatherings of 200, including players and mentors, are all that will be permissible.

As we go to press, the GAA is lobbying hard for that number to be increased to 500 and though nearly all of us appreciate the Government’s cautious approach given the worrying rise in inflections all over the globe, there is surely some grounds for leeway here, especially as being outdoors is the safest place to be.

Moreover, a gathering of 500 won’t compromise social distancing guidelines given the vast area around pitches. This is just common sense, but the GAA and other sporting codes are paying the price for the ‘one size fits all’ approach. The two big problems now are house parties and international travel in and out of the country.

Even with the figure of 500, club officials were already in a nightmare situation. There is such a pent-up desire among people to go out and see something, that crowds going to games were anticipated to be bigger than normal. Now, we are in a scenario resembling the ‘loaves and fishes’ miracle.

In many cases after the players, mentors and officials have been looked after, clubs have barely 30 tickets left to distribute, leading to understandable frustration and agitation. And it’s the bigger matches held at the best equipped venues which will have the numbers attending most rigorously enforced.

There were a series of minor and U21 held games held in various counties last weekend and we are hearing reports of over 500 attending in some cases. Venues that aren’t fenced in are obviously more difficult to patrol, but hosting clubs are just being sensible . . . how can you turn away the parents, for instance, of a player involved.

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

Long wait is nearly over as clubs fine tune for championship battle

John McIntyre

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Michelle Kelly of Michael Kelly Engineering presents a set of jerseys to members of the St Thomas' U12 camogie team, from left: Kayla Burke, Aoife Flannery and Ciara Mullins.

Inside Track with John McIntyre

All over the country GAA club teams are putting the final touches to their preparations for county championship campaigns which earlier in the summer looked poised to be one of the casualties of the global Covid-19 pandemic. There was widespread gloom and despair over the toll the coronavirus was having on the sports calendar a few months ago, but the various stakeholders had their sense of perspective kept well in check due to the hundreds of Irish people who were losing their lives from the disease.

Ireland is far from out of the woods yet, especially as global figures for new infections are reaching daily records, but some form of normality has returned over recent weeks even if the economic scars of Covid-19 will be felt for many years to come. In the interim, every Irish citizen has a duty of care and to act responsibility to avoid the virus flaring up badly again on these shores.

Though the GAA, like other sporting organisations, has had to seriously restructure its fixtures calendar, we must be grateful for small mercies. The Inter-county scene will be a throwback to the era where one off day was enough to end the championship aspirations of Gaelic football teams, but their hurling brethren have, at least, been spared the ‘one strike and you’re out’ scenario.

At club level, there is also less of everything. Championship groups have been reduced in number and teams can hardly risk pacing themselves. It will be all about hitting the ground running. In Galway, the local GAA administrators have done an excellent job in coming up with championship structures which are admirably equitable in the circumstances.

There are fewer margins for error but one defeat in the group arena won’t necessarily be fatal. It will also eliminate any element of shadow boxing and should guarantee matches with a real cut and thrust nature to them, bar those when there is a big disparity in standard between the teams.

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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