All Ireland Senior Hurling Final: Preview

Kilkenny and Tipperary seventy minutes away from All Ireland glory

It all comes down to this. The traditional All Ireland Hurling final is in place with perennial rivals Kilkenny and Tipperary one fixture away from lifting Liam McCarthy. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the final showpiece and what to expect.

Team News:

It is as you were for Tipperary as Liam Sheedy names an unchanged lineup from the side which came back to beat Wexford in the All Ireland semi-final. Kilkenny make one personnel change from the side which held on to topple reigning All Ireland Champions Limerick. Richie Leahy makes way for fit again Cillian Buckley.

Puckout Strategy Key:

The early puck out exchanges are going to be fascinating viewing. Kilkenny looking to crowd out the middle third and forcing Brian Hogan to be deadly accurate with his distribution. Hogan will need to look to keep the tempo high, look for easy out balls from the corner back and half-back lines to launch attacks.

Eoin Murphy has excelled Kilkenny this season; his opening half puck out strategy was the best I have seen all year against Limerick. His decision making to hit short or go long had Limerick scrambling for answers, a key foundation for Kilkenny’s victory.

Full Forward Threats Aplenty:

This final could be a game for the full forward positions on either side. TJ Reid has been a standout and will be exemplary but the role of the two full forwards in opposition is a keynote pregame commentary.

Colin Fennelly in recent months has provided the additional scoring and attacking leadership that Kilkenny have craved; to supplement and reduce the burden off TJ Reid who for me is HOTY candidate heading into this final.

Fennelly in the All Ireland Series has been a player with a point to prove; an extraordinary comment given vast his medal haul for club and county. The Ballyhale Shamrocks full forward has provided attacking threat aplenty and chipped in with some key goals.

His ability to take his full back marker on and create goals has been a hallmark of this Kilkenny campaign down the stretch and it is going to be interesting how Seamus Kennedy combats the threat. Does Ronan Maher drop in the pocket to nullify the threat but then leave space for Reid to score at will and deliver a man of the match performance?

Seamus Callanan at full forward as well has been exemplary. His goal scoring prowess seen throughout the year; give the Drom-Inch clubman a half a chance and he will bury it into the net.

Huw Lawlor has grown into the full back role but he faces the ultimate test. His corner back colleague Joey Holden knows firsthand what happens if Tipperary manage to supply Callanan with increasing frequency on All Ireland finals. You are chasing shadows.

Whoever wins the battle of the full forwards could be decisive in the final outcome when it all said and done.

Tipperary Midfield / Half Forward Units:

If there is a vulnerability in this Tipperary outfit, it is in the midfield and half forward line. Will they win enough primary and secondary ball to provide for their dangerous inside full forward line?

Michael Breen is a player who I rate extremely highly but he has failed to fully fire on all cylinders this season. The stage is set for the Ballina clubman to demonstrate his powerful running game and set the platform for Tipperary. If he does not, then Kilkenny have negated a key player for Tipperary.

The half forward line without Bonner Maher is a work in progress. There have been flashes of brilliance in open play but given Kilkenny’s setup and their ability to crowd out opposition, will the likes of O’Dwyer, McCormack or O’Meara get sufficient primary possession to be a factor in the contest? It is a major concern.

Kilkenny combating the run game?

The Limerick All Ireland semi-final was a strange contest; an emphatic first quarter and that was the foundation for victory but Limerick when they established the run game posed serious issues for Kilkenny defensively.

Limerick carved out goal chances in that second half; a superb Shane Dowling strike and then the late David Reidy effort where Kilkenny’s defensively were stretched to breaking point.

For Tipperary to win this contest, the run game has to be a key factor. The direct ball route to the full forward line is their strength but they will need the Maher’s in the half back line to drive forward from deep.

Michael Breen has to be ferocious in the run game; provide key deep runs at different intervals to ask the question of Browne and Buckley to allow Noel McGrath to sit in the pocket and orchestrate in the midfield and pick out colleagues with accurate distribution.

Kilkenny will pack the middle third; expect Donnelly, Mullen and Walsh to counter attack and attempt to pack out the Tipperary middle third allowing the likes of Deegan and Fogarty to sweep the threat of the direct ball to the inside full forward line? Intriguing stuff.

Tipperary combating the run game?

The two finalists have shown vulnerabilities in combating the run game. I am not convinced on the full back and center back positions in the side. Seamus Kennedy ably deputized at full back.

Ronan Maher was superb when switched to half back in the second half. This has to happen again to allow Padraic Maher to game read and provide a match winning contribution.

Tipperary though were exposed by the explosive Wexford run game in the first three quarters of their semi-final game. McGovern was giving acres of space and expect Kilkenny’s half forward line to test the defensive shape of Tipperary by making lung bursting runs from deep.

Given the vulnerabilities of both sides in the run game, this game could suddenly open up in the third quarter and goal chances could be created given the defensive struggles.

Verdict:

This is a tough final to call. Both sides have key strengths but also have vulnerabilities. The final lineup’s look strong and this could well be decided by the bench. Kilkenny were impressive against Limerick but were made hang on at the end. Tipperary battled well with fourteen players to advance to the final.

This final ultimately comes down to who will be defensively sound on the day. The Kilkenny stifling work rate without the ball against Limerick is something that Tipperary could struggle to combat. Tipp squad bench impact looks good with Kehoe and Morris in sparkling form.

I would not be surprised if this was a draw and a replay but if you had to ask me to pick a winner. I think Kilkenny have the aces in the attack. Reid, Fennelly and a player called Richie Hogan hold the key. The others will follow suit. Kilkenny to win by two / three points in my opinion as Tipperary’s lack of half forward primary ball winners minus Bonner will rear its head.

Premier League: Teams Hopes and Fears

Premier League is back!

First blog posting in how many weeks. Someone pinged me during the week asking what was the story? The story is that this site is not a full time thing, it is a part time / hobby interest and for the last couple of months, I have been undertaking certification in PSM I and Financial Investment (CFA Investment Foundations). All passed with flying colors but the same cannot be said for the runners and riders who take to the start line for the commencement of the English Premier League. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the hopes, the fears and expectations of each side.

Arsenal:

The hope: secure top four football next season.

The fear: defensive and goalkeeping vulnerabilities exposed against the top teams; lack of leadership due to player departures in the off season. Can Pepe deliver immediately?

The expectation: Solid start to the season. An exciting strike force which should produce goals, the question marks are defensively and whether David Luiz in particular can provide the leadership and nous to settle the side in the key games against the top teams.

Aston Villa:

The hope: survival in the top flight. Home form is paramount. Tom Heaton signing was an astute buy, defensively upgraded after that deal.

The fear: Will the side be the Fulham of last season? Massive investment on numerous players who are unproven in the league. Will Dean Smith get the time to gel the side together before being given the dreaded vote of confidence by the board.

The expectation: Big club. Jack Grealish will provide the inspiration for Villa and I see them just about staying up despite squad depth issues midseason. John McGinn and Conor Hourihane could be prospective targets for the better teams come January; expect them to make an immediate impact.

AFC Bournemouth:

The hope: keeping Callum Wilson fit and healthy. Ryan Fraser to continue his good form of last season. Home form solid and away counter attack potent to nick points on the road.

The fear: defensively were stretched to breaking point last season; have the reinforcements at the club sufficient quality? Nathan Ake is a major cog in this side. Any injury or suspension for Ake and the side are in trouble.

The expectation: established side in the top flight; a good early start is essential, fancy Bournemouth for a top ten position this season.

Brighton & Hove Albion:

The hope: new manager, new ideas, new ethos, new philosophy. Potter will aim to excite the fans with an expansive style of play. Early wins should solidify his situation; otherwise could be in trouble and an early candidate for the push.

The fear: A poor start to the season. After their ruthless sacking of Chris Hughton, Potter could follow and the club could spiral out of control with a new manager with more new ideas to throw to the mix.

The expectation: The Maupay deal is make or break for the club. Glenn Murray dependency last season for goals was huge. Maupay has the talent and whether he can bring that form from Brentford to the top flight is another story. Relegation dogfight, will just about survive with a new manager in charge come the end of the season.

Burnley:

The hope: after a trying last season where injuries, lack of form and unusually generous defensive gaffes plunged the team into a relegation dogfight, it is hoped that this season will see a much improved side.

The fear: Squad depth is tight, hard working unit but the question remains on the goals front. Who will score?

The expectation: Sean Dyche will be focused on a good start to the season; no European football to contend with which hindered the side early doors. Mid to lower mid table is achievable. Turf Moor fortress will secure the forty points required.

Chelsea:

The hope: Frank Lampard era. The Chelsea playing legend returns to the Bridge, looking to galvanize the side.

The fear: The transfer embargo. Departure of Hazard who is huge, key player for the club last term. The owner and his thoughts on the club will be interesting as the season progresses.

The expectation: Early season form due to the new managerial arrive will make way for some trying results. The defensive side of the team looks vulnerable. Cahill and Luiz left the club; two solid professionals. Sixth place position for Chelsea.

Crystal Palace:

The hope: Wilfred Zaha’s head space is on point from this weekend. The player wanted out of the club but failed to secure a move away from Selhurst Park. He carries the attacking threat. Palace better hope that Zaha lights it up and secures as many points to forty before January before he goes to another club then.

The fear. Wilfred Zaha attitude. The squad need the player to deliver, a job for Roy Hodgson to energize and cajole the player.

The expectation: Palace and goals are always a problem. Apart from Michy last season, who else stood up along with Zaha upfront? Sufficient squad depth to just about survive but it won’t be pretty.

Everton:

The hope: more investment, more players, more potential and squad competition. Can Silva galvanize the new signings and make a concerted bid for top six this term?

The fear: the new acquisitions need time to settle. Are Everton defensively solid to keep clean sheets early in the season? The jury is out.

The expectation: Top eight position again beckons for Everton. Silva may be put under pressure early if the results are not good.

Leicester City:

The hope: Brendon Rodgers era. Attacking football philosophy, playing to Vardy’s strengths with early quick ball behind defenses.

The fear: Harry Maguire departure. There should be sufficient coverage with the likes of Evans in the squad but Maguire was a huge player for the club in previous seasons.

The expectation: Top ten finish for me. Leicester City have pace to burn on the flanks. If Vardy hits form early, there should be no relegation worries.

Liverpool:

The hope: can they go one better than last season? So agonizingly close. The players could not give anymore; the hesistation in January 2019 was decisive.

The fear: squad depth, interesting fixture calendar for Liverpool with the World Club championship in December. Can the squad sufficiently balance another competition to an already hectic calendar?

The expectation: unless City are taken off their perch, Liverpool are destined to be second again. They are the side who could topple City but need to take four points off City to secure the title.

Manchester City:

The hope: an incredible domestic season. Can they deliver this dominance in the Champions League? Keeping key players fit in the season. Sane out for seven months is an ominous start to the campaign.

The fear: Keeping key players fit in the season. Sane out for seven months is an ominous start to the campaign.

The expectation: they are the side to be beaten this season again. Pep and the squad are the best. The clear favorite again but a slip in form like in December could still happen.

Manchester United:

The hope: Harry Maguire signing is the catalyst to provide more stability at the back, improve the passing game from the back to boot.

The fear: lack of signings in central midfield and attacking positions. Herrera and Lukaku gone so the onus falls on the young squad players like McTominay and Greenwood to deliver.

The expectation: squad depth deadwood to be exposed at various points of the season. A sneaky top four if United beat Chelsea this weekend; otherwise Ole is under pressure along with Ed Woodward.

Newcastle United:

The hope: Mike Ashley leaves the club.

The fear: Mike Ashley stays at the club.

The expectation: Relegation dogfight. Wily Steve Bruce needs results past given his managerial resume which included a stint at Sunderland. The squad looks exposed if injuries play a part. Who scores the goals upfront with the likes of Perez gone to Leicester? Relegation beckons.

Norwich City:

The hope: Carrow Road fortress.

The fear: Squad effort not in doubt, squad quality is.

The expectation: Farke strikes me as a measured manager but he will have his work cut out for survival. Decent quality but don’t look like keeping enough clean sheets and scoring enough goals. A baptism of fire at Anfield tonight. Damage limitation. If they are thumped tonight, then they are doomed. Relegation.

Sheffield United:

The hope: Bramall Lane is a fortress. The home support is vocal and make an intimidating atmosphere.

The fear: Lack of goals becomes an issue early and often.

The expectation: Out of the promoted sides, Sheffield United may impress early doors but squad depth issues may surface. If sides can cope with Sheffield United uptempo game in the opening half of games, then Sheffield United could get picked off. Brave attempt to stay in the league but fear that they may be relegated.

Southampton:

The hope: new manager has had the summer to part his football ethos to the squad; got rid of Charlie Austin and Matt Targett surprisingly to spook the rest of the squad to perform.

The fear: If Danny Ings gets injured, who takes on the goalscoring mantle? Long is honest as the day is long but the goal / appearance ratio is low.

The expectation: Difficult season if Redmond fails to fire early doors. Just about will survive. The youth setup at the club will come to the club’s aid once more.

Tottenham:

The hope: Pochettino has a settled squad, no major squad inclusions and the side will look to rebound from the disappointment of the Champions League final. The first full season at the Lane; home form paramount.

The fear: The lack of transfer activity in the summer defensively. Trippier departure means that squad depth must deliver early. Can Dele be the key player for the club in midfield given Eriksen and an impending departure from the club in January?

The expectation: Flirting with a title race but will sit in third place again. Pochettino will look for pastures new come the end of the season.

Watford:

The hope: continue the good form of last season; early form was the platform. The attacking threat with Deeney and Success should pose issues for sides.

The fear: The chopping and changing at the club. What happens if there is an indifferent start to the season? Garcia immediately on the backfoot.

The expectation: Top ten position. Watford have sufficient quality to stay in the division yet not in the mix for top eight.

West Ham United:

The hope: the squad will galvanized after the departure of Marko. The squad looks settled for the most part and the emergence of Declan Rice as a leader this season. Felipe Anderson will be a key threat.

The fear: the love / hate relationship of the fans with the owners could influence matters on the pitch. An indifferent start to the season – take note.

The expectation: Midtable position again. Squad form inconsistencies key throughout the season.

Wolverhampton:

The hope: continue the form and quality of last season, an incredible debut season in the top flight. The football on show was sublime at times.

The fear: Europa League commitments means extra strain on the team. Burnley had challenges last season. Will the same fate fall on Wolves?

The expectation: Top eight / top ten berth would be considered a successful second season. Attacking qualities will pose opposition problems.

Kilkenny vs. Limerick Senior Hurling Reflections

Thrilling win for Kilkenny

A thrilling contest. A contest which went down to the wire, a contest where composure and calmness were tested to maximum, a contest where the physicality and work rate were at a different stratosphere. Kilkenny emerged victorious, dethroning Limerick from their All Ireland berth by the bare minimum. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the game the morning after.

Opening exchanges absolute key

Folks will point to the closing stages but this game was won in the opening quarter. Kilkenny as expected coming out of the traps superbly. Their play was incredible for the first opening twenty minutes. Kilkenny hunted in packs; they were ravenous in their appetite to chase and harry Limerick players with possession. Limerick particularly in the middle third could not settle into rhythm, tempo and the run game from deep was completely stifled. The four week hiatus appeared to be a factor for Limerick.

Kilkenny clearly benefited from the momentum built in recent weeks. That second half performance against Cork two weeks ago was the springboard for this early opening period salvo. With Reid, Fennelly causing massive issues with their pace, movement and scoring ability, Limerick were on the back foot, always chasing the game and as a result that poise and composure required to get over the line was constantly out of reach.

Credit to Limerick for the comeback, they could have easily folded in that opening quarter. The 1-8 to 0-2 deficit after the first quarter coupled with nine wides for the reigning All Ireland championship in that opening seventeen minutes were key factors to the overall outcome.

Limerick game plan derailed early

Kilkenny took the Dublin NHL semi-final and raised it up a few notches. Kilkenny management saw at first hand during the NHL that you give Limerick the time and space from deep to create their run game, it is curtains. This was not going happen yesterday.

The sheer intensity of the harrying and closing down Limerick’s key play makers in the middle third was a video exhibit on work rate. Everyone Kilkenny emptied the tank for the cause, once they could give no more, they were whipped off and the new player would come in with further gusto.

Nicky Quaid struggled to identify a primary ball winner in the Limerick half forward line throughout; sheer numbers and astute second ball winning pivotal by Kilkenny. The short puck out option was also negated by the early head knock to Declan Hannon who is the fulcrum for this Limerick side. He could not set any tempo from the half back line pocket.

Limerick Shot selection

You have to credit Kilkenny for the wide count tally for Limerick. It was the end result of pressure exerted from the Cats throughout. The nine wides at the start of the game, at least 2/3 of the wides came from rushed efforts with Limerick players under pressure to strike their effort. The pressure of getting back into the contest all too apparent with some misguided shot selection from long distance in the second half. It will be a sore video analysis from a Limerick perspective when they review the shot selection this week.

Cool heads were required at the death and two key cameos down the stretch come to mind. David Reidy went for the goal but given the angle, was a point a better option? The final sideline cut at the end. Was their sufficient time to look to create a chance better inside? Big moments down the stretch.

That 65

The post match reaction has centered on that final sideline cut. A couple of things to note on the play. Was Buckley back the sufficient distance? The cut was deflected but no one from the officiating crew saw it. It is a clear systems failure.

The ghost goal from last season between Tipperary and Waterford was supposed to be an one off but another key decision was missed. Can technology assist further on plays like this? Can a review system come into play where a team have two reviews during the contest, if a review is unsuccessful, loss a review.

Can VAR or the fourth official on the sideline not have access to replay footage and be alerted by officials if a decision such as this is missed? Big season call missed. The All Ireland final could have something similar.

There is the small matter that if the 65 was awarded, there may have been a chance that the effort could have gone wide. Given Limerick’s shooting from distance during the encounter, there was no guarantee that the game would have been level. A big call but the question is how Limerick got into that position before this incident?

There were other official decisions that can be scrutinized but the final play of the game has stuck out. The penalty call. The helmet shots which only saw yellow cards issued. TJ Reid handpass pinged. Swings and roundabouts but the 65′ miss is a bad one. GAA officialdom have to do something on stuff like that.

Looking Forward Limerick

Incredibly proud of the Limerick side yesterday. The opening quarter start was horrendous; they could have been overwhelmed but they refused to give up and their comeback has to be applauded. The age profile of this squad means that this side should be contending for All Ireland honors for years to come. The loss yesterday is a tough one to take, it will add hunger and dog to the side next season. I am excited to see how the side develops next season.

Kilkenny and Cody Deliver Again!

What a credit Kilkenny are for hurling. Cody emerges from the contest with his reputation further enhanced (if that is possible). This squad have had their challenges this season but when it has come to the crunch in the last two weeks, Kilkenny provided cohesive performances to get over the line.

Eoin Murphy outstanding in the goals; shot stopping and then his puck out strategy was clinical providing platform for Kilkenny to prosper. The full back line stuck to their task throughout.

Lawlor at full back emerged from this contest with enormous credit. The penalty call was 50/50 at best but how Lawlor responded and then took the game to Limerick with several outstanding defensive clearances bodes well for Kilkenny in a problematic position.

The half back line were heroic. Deegan work rate and ability to burst through Limerick challenges were eye catching.

I was delighted for Padraic Walsh yesterday; his performance at half back was all action, some terrific catches aerially and stifled the influence of Kyle Hayes to the extent that the Limerick man was forced back into his half back line looking for primary possession. Mission accomplished. Fogarty is an unsung hero in this side. His versatility to play multiple positions in the half back and midfield emerged yesterday with an assured performance from wing back.

The youth and experience upfront was a decisive factor in the outcome. Mullen for such a young player is playing at a level of a seasoned professional. The leadership down the stretch was incredible and along with John Donnelly was standout.

TJ Reid — outstanding. The complete player. The complete package with his free taking and then his open play which saw some vital primary ball possession in the final quarter which shifted momentum back into Kilkenny’s favor. Hurler of the Year is locked down surely after yesterday.

Colin Fennelly inside in full forward provided key cameo moments. His goal provided Kilkenny with their rewards for a dominant opening quarter. His ability to turn Finn and then clinically dispatch the sliothar into the net was top class. The goal provided further impetus for Kilkenny.

Brian Cody. Incredible management performance yesterday. Sixteen All Ireland semi-final wins out of nineteen. The greatest manager the game will ever see. This victory will be a sweet one for Cody; the satisfaction on his face post game was all you needed to know. His side had gone to the well again and they delivered for him again. The Kilkenny juggernaut never went away you know?

Limerick vs. Kilkenny: Key Battles

Evening throw-in is setup to deliver fireworks

The summer is hurtling along at a rate of knots. Wimbledon, One Day Cricket World Cup are in the books for another year. The Tour is about to conclude at the weekend which means that the All Ireland series is getting to the business end of the championship.

Limerick after their impressive Munster Senior Hurling final victory over Tipperary four weeks ago face a Kilkenny with momentum aplenty after an eye catching second half display against Cork. Will the four week layoff hinder Limerick? Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Curse of the Munster Senior Hurling Champions

In recent times, victors of the Munster inter-provincial senior hurling crown have struggled in the All Ireland semi-final fixture to get over the line. Limerick must be wary of the lay off effects today as they look for a second consecutive All Ireland hurling appearance.

The parallel for Limerick is when they entered the Munster SHC this season. After an excellent NHL campaign, John Kiely’s charges were caught cold at home to Cork; a performance which lacked composure all over the field. Limerick must start the game today on point; otherwise it could be a long evening at HQ.

Limerick run game

The intriguing pregame note is how Kilkenny look to stifle the Limerick run game. Limerick’s middle third when in full flow are incredibly hard to stop and was seen to full effect when the two sides met at Nowlan Park in the NHL. The running game from Limerick creating goal scoring opportunities which Kilkenny defensively had precious little answers on the day.

Their All Ireland quarter final fixture last season saw Limerick victorious and in the process creating several wonderful goal chances which only for Eoin Murphy would have seen Limerick win by a more handsome margin. The physicality and hard running lines of Limerick if on point will be extremely hard to stop.

Do Kilkenny deploy sweepers in the half back line to combat the run game of the likes of Lynch, Hegarty, Morrissey and the marauding Hayes at half-forward? Given the full back line vulnerabilities, this option looks likely at some points during the contest. I would expect John Donnelly to hover around the half back and midfield for a good chunk of this contest but by doing so could leave someone like Diarmuid Byrnes in acres of space to score from long range at will.

Kilkenny look to their experienced forwards

Kilkenny’s team selection is do or die from the first whistle. Zero room for error. A squad bench which has potential if unproven. The fact that Walter Walsh starts an indication that Kilkenny are looking to establish early momentum and a primary ball winner in the air in the opening period.

Kilkenny will look to go for the throat early as they typically do. TJ Reid has been wonderful this season. 5-52 so far this season. His contribution on the scoreboard a major factor for Kilkenny negotiating the Leinster SHC this season. His free taking unerring and his ability to score from play and provide stealth assists to the fore in recent fixtures.

Richie Hogan provided a timely cameo of his class last time out. A superb goal and a couple of instinctive points showing that Hogan is hitting form at the right time of the championship year. Given Limerick’s fitness and conditioning, can he play the entire contest?

Limerick man marking decisions

A couple of key decisions for John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and management to get right this evening. Who will pick up TJ Reid? I suspect that it will be a collective responsibility player call, some zonal marking mixed with William O’Donoghue looking to track Reid at various times to throw different looks.

The Fennelly man marking job inside will be Mike Casey with Sean Finn providing support if required inside. Declan Hannon at half back will look to sit in the pocket and dictate play from just inside his half back line. Hannon cannot be moved around the field like what happened against Cork at the start of the championship.

Hannon dictates the run game for Limerick from deep. Hannon establishes tempo. Hannon is a primary game player from deep for Limerick. It will be interesting to see how Kilkenny look to negate Hannon’s influence as if unaffected, Limerick will be in prime position to win this fixture with a bit to spare.

Can Limerick convert goal chances?

The Kilkenny full back has been under the microscope this season. The full back position is an area where Huw Lawlor, Joey Holden have been exposed due to lack of defensive shape in front of them. Galway this season ran at Kilkenny from deep and created several goal scoring chances.

It is a day where Aaron Gillane could flourish if given the opportunity. His 2-36 tally has been excellent again and there have been spurned goal scoring opportunities as well. Gillane’s pace, power and ability to pick off full back’s with his pace and movement could be seen yet again today.

If Kilkenny decide to negate Gillane’s influence, Peter Casey and Graham Mulcahy also come into the reckoning. Casey’s performance last time out was sensational. His scoring prowess, work rate to the fore. Mulcahy has quietly gone about his business this season and I believe is primed for a huge performance today. His pace and eye for a score is never in doubt.

The Kilkenny full back line are in for an arduous task provided their colleagues can stifle Limerick’s run game and quick ball distribution inside. The threat from Limerick attacking line is relentless; their pace and power has caused endless issues for teams this year and I don’t see that changing today.

Verdict

The four week hiatus is the only concern I have for Limerick today. The bench impact is huge for Limerick in the final quarter of games, something that Kilkenny have yet to prove. If Limerick can get into tempo and scoring form early, they are well placed to win this fixture.

Kilkenny must start with gusto and go for the throat early. A couple of early goals to rattle Limerick confidence, build the lead heading into the final quarter where the Limerick bench impact will come to the fore.

The verdict rests in the defensive lineups. Given that Limerick have a more settled feel and look to the defensive units, they get my vote. Kilkenny’s full back line is a concern and Eoin Murphy will need to produce a top quality performance in the goals for Kilkenny. Limerick if on form will get goal chances and this time will convert.

An interesting throw in time. A fixture which needs to light up the championship. Kilkenny to provide a serious challenge but if this Limerick side are to be considered in the elite team ranks of recent times, they need to deliver a dominant, classy performance today. This group of players want more, want more silverware. Limerick by four points.

Munster SHC Final Preview

Intriguing subplots at LIT Gaelic Grounds

Apologies one and all. A quite hectic couple of weeks on the day job front has meant little time to blog, little time to reflect on the shadow boxing which went on two weeks ago in Thurles. This weekend should be completely different proposition as Limerick and Tipperary lock horns again for Munster SHC bragging rights. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the team news and key contests that will decide this provincial decider.

Team News:

Limerick team news was hardly a surprise. The return of Gearoid Hegarty into the starting lineup and Declan Hannon back at half back with Paddy O’Loughlin making way. Peter Casey gets another opportunity to impress in the forward line after a mixed performance last time out. The rest of the team ran along familiar lines. Cian Lynch back in the midfield area as well.

Tipperary’s selection was an intriguing one. We knew that Bonner Maher was out for the rest of the season and that Cathal Barrett was going to miss out on the provincial decider or was he? Barrett is named at corner back, a welcome boost for Liam Sheedy but is Barrett’s hamstring fully recovered?

It is a big call from Liam Sheedy and Tipperary management. The squad depth chart at corner back perhaps a concern for management. If Barrett plays on Sunday and pulls up with a more severe hamstring injury then conceivably Tipperary’s All Ireland hopes could be up in smoke before the All Ireland series begins.

Key Battles:

Can Limerick’s half back line set the platform to create the running game? Hannon’s return to the half back position will see game management and much improved distribution from defense. He will look to slot in front of the full back line and look to set the tempo and launch attacks from deep. The counter argument is that Hannon could be moved around the half back line thus negating his impact and allowing Callanan the space to produce a match wining performance yet again.

Tipperary’s middle third has impressed throughout this championship. Their ferocious work rate, slick skill set and movement has caught the eye with numerous attacking contributions from the Maher’s in the half back line, the play making brilliance of Noel McGrath, the energy and power of Michael Breen and the slick attacking lines of O’Dwyer, Bonner and Forde.

How Limerick look to negate these units will be intriguing to see. O’Donoghue and Lynch in midfield have huge roles to play on Sunday. O’Donoghue providing defensive nous and looking to man mark Noel McGrath at all times. Lynch’s running game from deep should pose Tipperary defensive issues to combat and his ability to create for the likes of Gillane inside.

The story of the full forwards could be a key talking point pregame. Both Aaron Gillane and Seamus Callanan have shown their brilliance this season and Callanan was sublime in Thurles two weeks ago. His goal oozed class and his movement caused Limerick’s full back line endless problems. Gillane had good moments as well but Tipperary adjusted well in the third quarter to cut the supply of ball into the Patrickswell clubman as Limerick’s running game waned significantly in the second half.

For Limerick to win, the run game is paramount. The run game needs to put Tipperary defensively under pressure. The run game should yield frees to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The squad depth looks favored for the reigning All Ireland Champions. The likes of Dowling, Flanagan, Ryan, O’Donovan to come in and make an impact.

Tipperary have massive potential in the likes of Mark Kehoe but the bench looks unproven and the decision to start Barrett an indicator that the corner back options in reserve are a tough vulnerable. If Tipperary stop the Limerick run game like they did last time out, then the Munster SHC title will be headed to the Premier County.

Verdict:

Plenty of Limerick supporters are quietly confident of a win this weekend but Tipperary personally are the favorites heading into this contest. They have been the form side of the province this season; their defensive and attacking performances have been standouts. 4/4 in the round robin. It seems harsh that they have to travel to their opposition for the decider.

Limerick management will have learned plenty from the loss to Tipperary two weeks ago. Tipperary’s full back line will be tested from minute one and if there are any doubts on Barrett”s fitness, they will be answered in double quick time. Sean O’Brien as well could be tested more extensively particularly if Peter Casey is deployed in a more advanced position.

Tipperary need to have this game put to bed heading into the final quarter so expecting a fast start from Liam Sheedy’s men. The bench impact is a concern and whether Tipperary will have the gap required to close out this contest heading into the final quarter remains up in the air. The absence of Bonner Maher is huge.

Head on the block time. Tipperary go into this as favorites but I suspect that Limerick management have devised a game plan and strategy to unsettle the Tipperary middle third to secure this victory. Peter Casey needs to deliver on Sunday and expect him to be a prominent player at the weekend. Limerick to edge this encounter by three points but Limerick’s middle third work rate and execution must be on the money this weekend.

Heineken Champions Cup Pool Reflections

Pool of Death: Pool 4

It was only a couple of weeks ago since Saracens triumphed in Newcastle to lift the Heineken Champions Cup but the Heineken Champions Cup tournament organizers are keen to start discussions about the new season in earnest with the completion of the European Cup draws this afternoon. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the pool match ups.

Heineken Champions Cup Pools

Pool 1: Leinster Rugby can have little complaints

A satisfactory draw for Leinster Rugby on reflection. The pool opposition comes in the form of Lyon who showed little regard or attention span for this tournament last season. It remains highly unlikely that the French side track record in this competition will change next season. A talented squad but the priority is elsewhere: domestic success is paramount.

Northampton Saints will look to profit from Lyon’s lack of interest in this pool. The Franklin Gardens’ outfit have marquee players in the pack with Hartley and Lawes in the ranks. The emergence of Mallinder to orchestrate the back line evolved as last season progressed and should continue for upcoming season.

Benetton Rugby were the revelation of the Guinness Pro14 last season and should have taken the scalp of Munster Rugby in the playoffs only for lack of experience to close out the contest. Astute signings like Ian Keatley will boost the squad depth chart and expect the Italians to be uncompromising opposition for all their pool opponents this term.

Verdict:

Leinster Rugby should be looking to run away with this pool. The long term goal is to secure a top two seed for the quarter finals. Given the opposition, they should achieve this aim with ease. Northampton Saints potentially may sneak the runner up spot here despite good cameos from Benetton Rugby.

Pool 2: Evenly poised pool

On paper, a pool which looks quite close to call. The main talking point being the return of Stuart Hogg back to Scotstoun with his new club Exeter Chiefs. It was bound to happen that Glasgow Warriors and Exeter Chiefs would lock horns and so it has proved given this backdrop.

What to expect from this pool? I am rather interested in how La Rochelle evolve this season with Ronan O’Gara now the head coach. The French side’s expansive, attacking approach was so easy on the eye but it also resulted in the side conceding too many points to opponents. Can O’Gara address the concerns on the defensive side of the ball while not tampering with the fabric and attacking ethos of the club? The results could be a mixed bag initially.

Glasgow Warriors come into the new season with renewed determination to right the wrongs of last season. This pool does not have Saracens so the Scottish side can to be looking at top spot here but there have been key personnel losses and whether the new recruits can bring the same quality is too early to judge early doors. The jury is out on the Warriors for the new season.

Exeter Chiefs have bolstered their squad with the acquistion of Stuart Hogg, a full back with devastating attacking line ability and a big boot to execute the kicking game. The side continue to evolve but their pack is the cornerstone and it will continue to be in their set piece and attacking maul. Glasgow Warriors have been warned! Devoto, Slade and Nowell are quality back line options.

Sale Sharks are the mysterious side of this pool. They have potent attacking options. Strauss, De Klerk, McGinty and Ashton can provide key cameo moments and then you add the versatility of Beaumont in the back row at the breakdown and this is a side to be fully respected. AJ Bell Stadium is a tough place to go and get a result; expect a couple of teams to get turned over by Sale Sharks.

Verdict:

Great opportunity for Exeter Chiefs to stamp their authority early on this pool given the personnel and coaching changes in Glasgow and La Rochelle. Sale Sharks have the potential to turn over any one of these sides at home. Exeter Chiefs impressed me massively last season, they are primed for a good run in this competition this year and suspect that they will target this competition given this pool. Exeter Chiefs and potentially La Rochelle to advance.

Pool 3: Can ASM Clermont Auvergne deliver on the road?

This pool is intriguing for a number of reasons. ASM Clermont Auvergne make a welcome return to this competition; their squad is stacked with talent and quality. Their home form imperious but there are question marks on their form on the road still, something that the other pool opponents will look to exploit.

Ulster Rugby come into this season with renewed heart, a complete transformation from twelve months prior where there was doom and gloom. Dan McFarland, coaching staff and playing staff should be commended for last season; competitiveness restored and on another day could have taken the scalp of Leinster Rugby in the quarter final of this competition.

Ulster Rugby will be only too aware that they will need the likes of Rob Herring to step up big this season given the imminent retirement of Rory Best. The pack platform with Coetzee and the continued improvement of O’Sullivan and Moore in the pack is required for Ulster Rugby to unleash their exciting back line.

Bath Rugby and Harlequins will be eyeing up this pool with interest too. The West Country side showed good cameos in the competition last season but there were too many lapses, none more so than Freddie Burns try cock up against Toulouse at home. A managerial change in direction should provide renewed focus to a squad who have the talent but whether they have the consistency to deliver for an entire pool campaign remains unanswered.

Harlequins. A strong second half to the Gallagher Premiership season, a club with tradition and noted for their cohesive attacking play. A youthful side with the likes of Marchant and Smith looks potentially mouth watering and expect plenty of quality attacking cameos from the London side.

Verdict:

ASM Clermont Auvergne with their home form look odds on to qualify but there is hope for the other three in the pool. Ulster Rugby may profit from the two English sides cancelling each other. Home form and loser road trip points will be huge. 50/50 whether a second team comes out of this pool.

Pool 4: Pool of Death

No other words for it. Munster Rugby fans were forewarned after the seeding draw this week but the pool was not kind. Saracens, Racing 92 and Ospreys means six titanic pool games in store.

A pool like this has to be embraced by all sides. The pool fixtures will be immense and the players and coaching staff teams will relish pitting their wits against each other.

Saracens will obviously enter the pool as favorites. They are the reigning champions. They are the side to be knocked off their perch. Quality squad depth and numerous match winners in the pack and back line. Owen Farrell leadership at half back continues to impress.

Racing 92. A team who left plenty of regret this past season. Undoubted talent and scoring prowess but were opened up far too easily at times. A return for Simon Zebo back to Thomond Park, bound to be an emotional return as well for Donnacha Ryan as well.

Ospreys. The sole Welsh side in the competition will look to impress early. Jones’ leadership along with Tipuric in the pack will need to set the tone for a side who have had a number of notable player departures. Interesting to see how Allen Clarke gels the side; early Guinness Pro14 momentum required.

What of Munster Rugby? Coaching personnel appointments in recent weeks; excitement from the supporters on what Rowntree and Larkham will bring to the table. The pressure is now on the playing squad, the skill set has to evolve and improve. The acid test will be answered sooner than in previous campaigns.

Verdict:

Tough pool. Tough fixtures. Home form is paramount and also the objective of not given pool opposition any points from these fixtures could separate the victors from the vanquished. Early fixture results will be crucial, cannot be behind the eight ball early in this pool. Saracens with their squad have to be favored to progress, prospect of another side coming from this pool looks remote. Bonus point try wins look problematic.

Pool 5: French teams hold the key

Toulouse and Montpellier are paired in this final pool. Toulouse’s recent domestic league success will only bring on the likes of Dupont and Ntamack. A side who impressed with their attacking play last season. Huget and Medard will look to stamp their authority on proceedings early.

Montpellier. A true enigma. The squad depth is incredible. The coaching ticket world class but they have not been able to deliver in this competition. Ruan Pienaar’s departure looks a massive void. The domestic focus becomes a factor here and Montpellier will look to rotate their squad on the road trips which provides hope for the other non-French sides in the pool.

Step forward Gloucester Rugby and Connacht Rugby, two sides who have the attacking capability and home confines to make their French juggernaut opponents feel very uncomfortable. The fixture between these two sides will be key to seeing if either one of them are involved in the shakeup. Danny Ciprani holds the keys of the Kingsholm side. If he fires, the side are on it.

Connacht Rugby for me need to embrace this pool, play without fear and look to execute their uptempo attacking game plan in these fixtures. The pack platform may be problematic to establish but excited to see how Andy Friend’s side fare; expecting a couple of marquee results here.

Verdict:

Toulouse have unfinished business with this competition after this past season. Their pack and attacking play should see them advance as pool winners and potentially a top two seed. Montpellier are a side whose interest could wane quickly. Gloucester Rugby and Connacht Rugby potentially could be the shakeup for the final best runner up spot, too hard to call.

Early Predictions:

Pool Winners: Leinster Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Saracens and Toulouse

Best Runners Up: Northampton Saints, Ulster Rugby and La Rochelle

UEFA Champions League Final: Key Talking Points (Preview)

The waiting is finally over. Madrid. June 1st, 2019. An All England UEFA Champions League final showpiece between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the fixture, identifies the key talking points leading into this fixture.

Does Harry Kane start?

For me, the answer would be no but whether Mauricio Pochettino thinks so is an entirely different question. Kane is a potent striker but there are questions on match fitness here. If he is to start, then it is a massive gamble as if it is not fully right, an early substitution would derail Tottenham.

The performances of Moura and Son in this tournament have been excellent. Both players have pace to burn and would pose serious questions for Liverpool’s defensive back four. Pochettino has to trust his squad tonight, pick the players who are fully fit and ready to do a job. Kane can be left in reserve and brought on in the second half to score the vital goal.

Tottenham formation?

It is a tricky question to answer. There are issues in the full back positions for Tottenham to address. Can Rose and Trippier provide sufficient defensive cover from the threat of Mane to allow Tottenham to go three at the back? Mane and Salah are going to rotate and probe on the flanks all night and can Robertson and Alexander-Arnold provide the attacking threat to overwhelm the Tottenham flanks?

Liverpool midfield?

It is an area of the park that Liverpool have excelled in this season. Henderson, Fabinho, Wynaldum and Milner have provided the side with stability defensive while also supporting the front three consistently all season. You then add the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain who is looking to impress and you have serious competition for those starting three midfield berths.

Milner is going to feature tonight, expect him to start ahead of Henderson who will be summoned to close out the contest. It is a tough, tough call for Klopp to make. Someone in this midfield engine room is going to be disappointed by the omission.

Liverpool Front Three

This is where the final is won or lost tonight for Liverpool. Firminho needs to be fully match fit and be on it from the opening minute. His work rate without the ball sets the tone for others around him to press. Mane and Salah can then look to probe more on the flanks to exploit Tottenham.

Will Daniel Sturridge provide a key cameo tonight? Firminho for me may only go sixty / seventy minutes tonight given his injury issues as of late. Sturridge is the type of player who revels in occasions such as tonight. Do not be surprised if Sturridge popped up and scored the winner?

Managerial Composure

The cup final record of Klopp is poor (lost last six finals). Pochettino has never won a managerial honor to date despite his excellent managerial resume. Can Klopp control his emotion enough tonight to allow his side to impress? Can Pochettino trust his squad to execute the game plan, stay compact for the opening hour to potentially allow Harry Kane to come on and win the final?

Verdict

As a neutral tonight, I am hoping for an early goal to set the tie alight. This final could get increasingly cagey and nervy otherwise. Liverpool will enter the final as warm favorites but I expect Tottenham to come into the fixture with no pressure and with Eriksen, they have a match winner in their ranks. If Tottenham Hotspur can keep in the game after sixty minutes, they are my tip to win with Kane to come off the bench and score the winner!

Munster GAA Hurling Championship: Round 3 Preview

Plenty at stake this weekend

After a week’s hiatus, the Munster Senior Hurling Championship is back. An opportunity for sides to review their performances to date as well as a chance to earmark this weekend as the weekend to send out the performance to spook the rest of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixtures up for decision.

Do or Die contest at Walsh Park

Waterford are in must win territory; two disappointing losses to Clare and Tipperary has the Deise with their backs against the wall. This weekend sees Limerick travel to Walsh Park who themselves are looking for a performance and result after a disappointing opening fixture loss to Cork at home.

How is the fixture going to go? I expect Waterford this time around in Walsh Park to produce a stirring display. The shackles of the opening home fixture are a distant history and the side know that they have to deliver this weekend, otherwise their season is up at 4pm tomorrow.

Waterford need their leaders to set to the mark. Austin Gleeson needs to be the focal point for this side; his performances to date in the championship have seen flashes of brilliance but Waterford need more from their outfield talisman. Dare I say will Waterford management ask Gleeson to roam in the middle third for possession as his vision and game reading are sensational.

With Philip O’Mahony out of the fixture, the mantle of defensive leadership needs to come from the likes of Connors, Moran and Fives. These players are vastly experienced and need to create the defensive platform for the middle third to prosper.

Can Maurice Shanahan provide the physicality and composure in the full forward line to unsettle Limerick defensively? Shanahan on his day is an absolute nightmare to contain so it will be interesting to see if Limerick decide to withdraw Declan Hannon back in front of the full back to mope up Waterford long ball in?

Limerick have been stung after their home loss to Cork. It can be seen as a blessing given that it happened so early in the championship. This two week window has given John Kiely and management an opportunity to reflect and regroup the panel to deliver a better overall performance this weekend.

For Limerick to win this fixture, look at the performance of the middle third in the first quarter. The half back line so usually a rock for this side were pulled out of position and Cork were able to create numerous opportunity for Horgan and Cadogan inside. The Limerick half back line never setup the platform during the contest; a repeat of the Cork showing and John Kiely’s men are facing into another loss.

The Limerick management have tweaked the starting lineup. Two personnel changes from the side that lost to Cork. Byrnes and O’Donovan drop out for O’Loughlin and O’Donoghue who will bring height and physicality to proceedings but will this affect the Limerick running game in the middle third?

I was surprised that Limerick only dropped two players from the starting lineup. Several forwards were on the cusp after their Cork cameos. It is a huge day for Peter Casey tomorrow; ability is not in question but he needs to provide scoring threat inside to complement Gillane now as he was sporadic in his contribution last time out.

50/50 call. I always fear a side who are facing a potential last man standing scenario. This is where Waterford are this weekend, expecting the home side to tear into Limerick early. The Limerick performance in the opening quarter should set the tone for them, players will look to rebound from that troubling opening day loss.

The tight confines of Walsh Park does no favors for this Waterford side, they have played better in the confines of Thurles in recent years which showcases their pace and mobility out wide. This is a contest where physicality could be decisive and I think Limerick have the edge in this department.

There is a question mark on the Waterford full back position and with Aaron Gillane looking to provide a reminder of his talents, Limerick for me have the edge by three to four points. A far from perfect Limerick performance but I think this group of players are looking to redeem themselves after the Cork loss.

The real test starts for Tipperary

There has been plenty of positive, feel good commentary coming from the media and within the Tipperary camp in the last two weeks. Tipperary are back. Hold on, not too quickly as the next two Munster Championship fixtures will tell plenty of where Tipperary are.

Why do I say this? Cork were indifferent in the opening round, exposed Tipperary discipline in the opening period. Waterford were reduced to fourteen players, staged a superb twenty minute salvo thereafter until Tipperary scored that opening goal. There are areas of both performances which Liam Sheedy and management will not be happy with.

Saying that, Tipperary’s forward line units have gone extremely well aided in no small part to the performances of the Maher’s in the half back line and the resurgence of Michael Breen in the middle third. The movement and scoring prowess of the Tipperary has been sensational.

The Tipperary forward line face their toughest test to date. Cusack Park is an old school pitch, tough road trip venue, supporters are on your back from minute one. The Clare setup will be interesting in the middle third, look to cut the space for the Tipperary forward line by deploying the likes of Ryan and Duggan in deep positions.

Clare are my fancy for Munster SHC honors this season. There is a potency in their aerial threat with Ryan and Duggan in the half forward providing excellent primary possession options for Tuohy in goal. Tony Kelly free flowing displays, game reading par excellence lit up the Waterford opening round victory.

The Banner County have superb options in midfield to contribute in the scoring department. Colm Galvin is a player who continues to excel and then you have the threat of the front two of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell inside where their understanding and prowess is impressive.

The role of Podge Collins in this fixture could make or break this fixture. The Cratloe man will be roaming around the middle third, picking up the second ball and looking to provide both defensive and attacking options for his side. What do Tipperary do with the player? Zonal mark Collins or look to man mark the player out of the contest but leave space inside for Conlon and Collins?

This is the pick of the games this weekend. Clare are a formidable side at home and expect that to continue. Tipperary’s back line is prone to conceding easy frees and with Peter Duggan looking as sharp as last season, it will provide Clare with easy scores to settle into the contest.

The manner in which Tipperary will look to solve Clare’s middle third setup will be the talking point; potential and skill set in the side but Liam Sheedy and management may need to execute a running based game at times to create space for the Tipperary inside full forward line in the final quarter. It is all set up to be an excellent day of small ball.

Leinster SHC: Reflections

Trends emerging!

Two rounds of games into Leinster SHC and we have learned a couple of things. Kilkenny will be advancing deep into the championship and Carlow have found life tricky with the Leinster Hurling elite. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action so far and points to areas where each side will focus on in the closing rounds of the provincial championship.

Kilkenny impressive early

Top of the table – look good

Kilkenny have started this championship in good form. They were given a scare from Dublin in the opening round but thanks to some shrewd managerial half time switches and the attacking threat of the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent, the game was secured and was followed up with a routine victory over near neighbors Carlow on the road.

Two games left on the schedule with a home game against Galway and a road trip fixture to Wexford; two games which should provide plenty of evidence on how deep Brian Cody’s side will go in the championship this summer.

Looking Forward:

TJ Reid has been in sparkling form for Kilkenny this season. He has continued his club form with the county and coupled with the likes of Colin Fennelly and rookie Adrian Mullen, they have lit up the championship.

The potential issue from Kilkenny is who else can fill the void for TJ Reid if the talisman threat is restricted from the forty. The panel contains plenty of promising prospects but can the likes of Richie Leahy assume the leadership role in the scoring department?

The injury list for Kilkenny has allowed Brian Cody to run the rule over his goalkeeping and full back positions. The schedule has been kind to Kilkenny but tougher tests lie ahead. Kilkenny defensive middle will be peppered in the next few weeks and whether Kilkenny have a backup plan if the defensive middle is exposed is a different story.

Galway: Life without Joe

Galway tests begin now

The injury to Joe Canning saw plenty of Galway locals question how the squad would cope without the talisman. We are going to find out now as Galway’s key tests begin in this championship with a crunch fixture against Wexford.

The win over Carlow was an interesting affair. Carlow provided stiff resistance for long periods and it was a good test for the Galway players looking for game time to impress management. Niall Burke took his chance and should be a key player for Galway in Canning’s absence.

A win over Wexford will see Galway within touching distance of securing a top three berth and with Dublin already under massive pressure, Galway could be in prime position to qualify before this fixture takes place.

Looking Forward:

Has Galway built up the squad depth in the off season to offset any further injury blows? Canning is out and what happens if someone like Daithi Burke were to go down with injury. The full back options look limited. This series of games will test squad depth and rotation. The squad depth verdict is still open for many Galway hurling supporters particularly the spine of the side so it will be interesting to see how the panel fare.

The scoring impetus will be duly noted. The absence of Joe Canning should mean more added responsibility to others in the forward line to express themselves. The hope is that Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Joseph Cooney, Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion provide the scoring nous required. Leadership is required from the forward line.

Dublin: Under pressure, backs against the wall!

Dublin struggling

This championship season saw optimism aplenty for Dublin. New management, a promising NHL campaign suggested that Dublin would be competitive but only one point from their first two championship games has exposed issues at both ends of the park.

The road trip to Kilkenny on the opening championship weekend was seen by many as an opportunity for Dublin to expose the injury crisis of the hosts. It all started so well but once Liam Rushe threat was snuffed out in attack, Dublin were unable to score at the rate required to secure the win. The defense also struggled to contain the threat of the Kilkenny forward line.

The home fixture against Wexford was a mixed bag. The exhilaration of a last gasp goal to salvage a draw but for long periods, Wexford controlled the middle third exchanges and Dublin’s attacking threat was inconsistent. There are issues to ponder for Mattie Kenny and backroom staff ahead of the final championship fixtures which sees a do or die fixture against Galway and a road trip to Carlow.

Looking Forward:

The key indicator for Dublin is how the likes of Danny Sutcliffe and Liam Rushe are involved in proceedings. If these two star players are on the ball influencing events, good things will happen for Dublin.

Both have had good cameos but they need to come more into these games. They will only achieve this influence if the side are on the front foot and look to attack with the sliothar and not look to clog up the middle third from a defensive sense.

The Galway fixture is the key game for Mattie Kenny’s side. They need to win this fixture, a home game and one where the side must deliver a performance. The thinking would be that they account for Carlow and five points is the magic number. All to play for but attacking potency needs to improve.

Wexford tactical switch required

Wexford face key weeks in their side development

Wexford were a puck of a sliothar away from securing a massive road trip to Dublin last weekend; thought they deserved the win on the balance of play as their key men delivered.

The goal conceded at the death was a mysterious concession with so many players on the line. Once the goalkeeper made the decision to come out and save the free, the responsibility is on the net minder and once he missed the sliothar, the ball evaded several others players in the goal. Disappointing concession.

The first game out and Wexford have hit the ground running. Impressive conditioning and work rate last weekend from the side when you compare Limerick’s performance. The opening championship game can be a tricky one to get right from a performance. Davy Fitzgerald got the team prep spot on.

Looking Forward:

Another road trip game, this time to Galway. Wexford should be looking to deliver a performance against a side who embarrassed them badly last season at Innovate Park. The work rate and tempo will be key for Wexford to unsettle a Galway side without the leadership of Joe Canning. Do not be surprised if Wexford get a result in Galway!

The tactical game plan may require a tweak. This Wexford side can express themselves more in attack but they are setup too defensively personally. There are times when Wexford will need to be defensive but would like the side to take a game by the scruff of the neck. They have the players to do so. O’Connor, McDonald, Chin are attacking threats. The running game should be a key weapon for Wexford considering their middle third pace and power. A key season for Davy Fitzgerald and team. Wexford expects!

Carlow look to take a notable scalp!

Carlow have endured a tricky start to Leinster SHC

Carlow have drawn a tricky opening first two rounds of the Leinster SHC. A road trip to All Ireland finalists Galway and then a home game against near neighbors and hurling aristocrats Kilkenny has provided Colm Bonnar’s side with first hand knowledge of the level required to compete in Tier I hurling.

Carlow impressed me when they played Galway in round one. They were well conditioned and several players caught the eye. Kavanagh and Doyle in forward line hit some lovely scores. Carlow were unlucky with some officiating decisions against them which thwarted any momentum to reduce the deficit to less than three points in the third quarter of the second half.

The home fixture against Kilkenny was a tough ask; they competed well but Kilkenny were typical Kilkenny. They went for the throat early and secured the game winning margin early. I am sure Carlow will dust themselves down and look with optimism for the rest of the championship.

Looking Forward:

Carlow are looking for a scalp in this championship. Dublin at home could be their opportunity provided that their discipline defensively improves. They have conceded far too many needless frees in the opening two rounds. The attacking threat is good and with Dublin under pressure, it is an opportunity for an upset. The Wexford road trip; another local derby game. The shackles should be off Carlow and they should go out and play their best hurling. No regrets!

Munster SHC: Reflections

Interesting subplots in the opening fixtures

A week to get our breathe back after an exhilarating opening two rounds of the Munster SHC. The supposedly home comforts theory has been smashed with only Tipperary the only side to enjoy a home win so far. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at each county, where they are and what improvements are required for each to make the top three.

Tipperary: Looking good but tougher tests lie ahead!

Tipperary attack potent

The Tipperary team have started the championship with gusto. They have signaled their intent with two outstanding attacking performances.

The way they dismantled Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was noteworthy; their middle third work rate and tackling was unrelenting from minute one, something which was lacking last season.

The distribution from the back line and midfield to the forward lines have been noteworthy. The quick precise distribution into space for the likes of the McGrath’s and O’Dwyer to receive and create has caused nightmares for both Cork and Waterford so far. The movement of the forward line unit coupled with the goal threat inside means that Clare defensively must be on top form to thwart Liam Sheedy’s men next time around.

Looking Ahead:

The real test begins for Tipperary. Waterford will point to the red card of Conor Gleeson. Cork can argue that perhaps their side were slow to get into the tempo and rhythm of championship hurling the first day out. What is assured is that Clare will pose serious questions of Tipperary defensively.

Clare’s running game will look to expose any pace issues in the Tipperary rearguard and the fact that Tipperary’s back line have conceded their fair share of frees in the opening two games suggests that there is scope for improvement from the Premier County defensively in this area of the game.

Cork: Back in contention but consistency is key

Cork back in contention

The reaction of Cork’s backroom staff last weekend during their victory over Limerick said enough. They fought for every decision for their side. I have never seen Kieran Fraggy Murphy so emotional on a hurling pitch.

The team had to endure a week of critique from hurling pundits and supporters in their own county. The Limerick game was a release of energy to silence the doubters and they delivered a performance particularly in that third quarter where they made their game winning run.

The immediate aftermath has seen Cork get the plaudits they so richly deserve but the management and players must now knuckle down and focus for the rest of the championship. Nothing is guaranteed with this win and more hard work is required in the coming weeks.

Pa Horgan has been heroic for Cork this season. He is the talisman. He is the player that looks to create and score for the Rebel County. Horgan must be a lock for a nomination as Hurler of the Year already.

His scoring averages are through the roof and his contribution from open play has been sensational. His goal against Limerick in round two sensational; his ability to win the aerial duel with Mike Casey and the composure to dispatch the sliothar into the net oozed class.

Looking Forward:

The blueprint for Cork’s performance levels were set at LIT Gaelic Grounds. The work rate, the tempo and tackling ethos must be present for Cork for the rest of the season. Any ingredient missing from Cork’s display in the next few weeks will see losses particularly away to Ennis where realistically they need a result to get through to the top three!

The defensive back line was excellent against Limerick. Eoin Cadogan needs to continue to keep the shackles on opposition forward threats and the half back line of Downey, Ellis and Coleman will continue to dominate like they did against Limerick.

Bill Cooper and his fitness is paramount to this side. Cooper was so badly missed against Tipperary. His organizational skills and ability to read the game was so underrated.

Cork need to spread the attacking scores more from Pa Horgan. It started last weekend with Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan taking on the mantle. Lehane and Kearney will also need to continue to provide attacking threat for the rest of the season. Cork are a threat to anyone this season on the back of that Limerick performance but was it an one-off? Time will tell.

Clare: Ominously well placed

Clare ominously placed

Clare sat out last weekend’s action. Their one point win over Waterford on the road on the opening round of the championship was a superb start.

The side were excellent for fifty minutes of the contest. The inside full forward unit of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell had Waterford’s full back line in serious trouble and were unlucky not to score more than the one goal.

The middle third was aerially dominant during that period, impressed with the likes of Diarmuid Ryan whose height and physicality complements the threat of Peter Duggan in the half forward line. Tony Kelly was his marauding best; his run game and long range shooting is sensational. Kelly is a majestic stick player!

Looking Forward:

The one critique for Clare to address is that they made life extremely hard for themselves in the last quarter of the Waterford game. They allowed Waterford to setup a platform in the middle third as they pulled players back defensively to close space in the Waterford forward line.

There is a question mark on how Clare close these games? I would like to see them go for the throat and close out games with attacking play. The summer championship see teams with vast array of long range shooting options so to deploy additional players forty meters from your goal is at times questionable.

Clare management need to pick and chose their moments to become ultra defensive. This side is naturally setup to attack teams and perhaps they should let the team attack as their best form of defense. Kilkenny in their prime were sensational in attacking teams to submission. Clare should follow suit.

Clare’s home form will be tested with home fixtures to Tipperary and Cork plus throw in a small derby clash with near neighbors for Limerick. This is not the time for Clare to become ultra cautious in their approach. Trust the player’s skill set and good things will come!

Limerick: Champions must regroup fast!

Regroup required

Limerick may have received a timely reality check in their loss to Cork. They have two weeks to regroup as management and squad to reflect and address the work rate and middle third issues which were exposed against Cork.

This side does not become a poor one overnight. The fact that Cork had a serious seventy minutes of championship hurling under their belt prior to last weekend was a key factor. Limerick struggled to get to the rhythm and tempo of the contest; were put under incredible pressure by a Cork middle third who worked tirelessly throughout.

The fixture at Walsh Park was always a crucial fixture but it is do or die for both Waterford and Limerick sides in round three. A loss for either and their championship season is done and dusted. Limerick with two games to go would then need to turn the tables on Clare and Tipperary which is a tall order so this fixture is a massive must win.

Looking Forward:

Time for Limerick to do their talking on the hurling pitch. Cork successfully got under Limerick’s forward threat skin with Gillane continually looking to engage with Eoin Cadogan in the sledging stakes when he should have been focused on making those trademark diagonal runs to create attacking opportunities.

The Limerick half back line cannot play as badly as an unit as they did last weekend. Their positioning, their lack of dominance under the dropping ball and the lack of running game from them to setup an attacking platform all hurt the side. Two weeks of preparation to address this.

Limerick management must regroup the players and look to restore confidence in the ranks. The loss will have dented confidence but now is not the time to ditch their trademark game plan. The focus should be on the basic skill set, the first touch and passing was inconsistent last weekend.

This is a side that needs to deliver a performance. Waterford away is a tough assignment. Time will tell if this Limerick side can embrace the favorites / champion tag? They are the side to be shot at.

Waterford: Backs against the wall time!

Waterford backs against the wall

Waterford are 0/2 from the championship so far. A one point loss to Clare at home in Walsh Park was a disappointment given the excitement of the Waterford public that their side would be playing their home games in the county.

Walsh Park is a tough venue for any visiting side but the occasion on round one got a couple of players. The shackles came off with twenty minutes to go against Clare and despite not playing to their full potential could have snatched a draw.

The Thurles road trip was summed up by the second yellow card for Conor Gleeson, a clear game changer but the resolute fight from the Deise immediately after the red card at the start of the second half was commendable. The losing margin means little as they were then forced to chase the game and left a potent Tipperary forward line with the space to create and score.

Looking Forward:

Waterford management and backroom staff need to answer two key questions. How do they involve Austin Gleeson more in these contests? Gleeson is their standout talent and the fact that he has fleetingly featured in the two championship games is not good enough.

Is Gleeson a wing forward? He is not asserting any dominance or influence on proceedings. I sense Gleeson needs to be deployed either at half back or midfield in order to run with the sliothar. The fixture against Limerick is make or break for Waterford. If Gleeson is subdued yet again, the championship will be over.

The free taking issue is one to watch for Waterford in the remaining championship games. Bennett or O’Mahony? O’Mahony is a stand out free taker. Every point will be required now, no brainer decision.

The scores against in the last two championship is a source for concern as well. Quick ball from Limerick to the inside full forward line has the potential to create havoc for the Waterford full back line so the game management of Tadhg De Burca will be vital next weekend given the injury of Philip O’Mahony sustained last weekend.