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Inside Track

Portumna let All-Ireland Club champions off the hook

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Inside Track with John McIntyre

SINCE the club’s last of five senior hurling title triumphs in 2009, Portumna could be forgiven for thinking that fate is conspiring against them in their efforts to chalk up the half-dozen of championship successes.

A combination of injuries, suspensions and some bad luck has thwarted their efforts to even reach another county final in the interim, but they still appeared the team to beat in 2013.

A first round group win over reigning All-Ireland champions St. Thomas’ certainly laid down a marker for the rest of the campaign, but Portumna are no longer bullet proof like they were when in their prime. They subsequently carelessly lost to Clarinbridge and also flirted with a shock defeat to an admittedly much-improved Ardrahan outfit in the recent quarter-final.

Advancing years is clearly catching up on some of Portumna’s great servants, but there remains an aura about them and the vast majority of other clubs around the county would still be less intimidated at the prospect of facing St. Thomas’ than Ollie Canning and company. Their movement and link up play can still be exceptional, but the team’s defence lacks the overall security of a few years ago even if the Portumna forwards remain nearly as menacing as ever.

Portumna were the better team in the second of last Sunday’s county semi-finals and when Andy Smith sent over a glorious effort from the left wing to put them six clear in the final quarter at Kenny Park, they looked to have the hard work done. Joe Canning had started to cut loose around midfield and it was difficult to see how an injury-hit St. Thomas’ were going to salvage a result, even if young Eanna Burke’s probings were just about keeping them in the hunt.

In the end, an opportunist flicked goal from substitute Richie Murray and an injury time pointed free from the impressive Conor Cooney somehow got the champions out of jail, but even neutrals felt that Portumna were hard done by as referee Alan Kelly controversially penalised Gareth Heagney for overcarrying in the dying embers of a struggle which rarely produced the fire and brimstone exchanges many had anticipated.

From my vantage point on the terrace directly across from the incident, it was impossible to justify Kelly’s harsh call while his failure to award Damien Hayes and Ollie Canning second-half frees when they appeared illegally challenged were also bones of contention, but St. Thomas’ will have their own gripes as well with Anthony Kelly arguably unfairly pulled up for holding onto the ball in the opening half . . . it’s just that Portumna were more sinned against in this regard.

For all that, Kelly awarded the challengers ten scoreable frees, eight of which were converted by Canning, and Portumna can’t ignore the fact either that they failed to close out a game in which they were in control of heading down the home stretch. And substantial credit must also go to St. Thomas’ for battling to a replay when their cause seemed lost. They didn’t panic and though most of the swashbuckling hurling came from their rivals, Eanna Burke and Cooney still managed to pick off some quality points when most needed.

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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