All Ireland Senior Football Semi Final: Dublin 2-12 Mayo 1-15

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Match Report Summary

Lightning does strike twice. Mayo are involved in yet another All Ireland Football Semi-Final replay next Saturday. After a heartbreaking replay reversal against Kerry last year, it would have being accepted for Mayo to accept defeat heading into the last ten minutes. Dublin courtesy of Kevin McManamon with an instinctive finish to the net had given Dublin a seven point lead and appeared to be cruising entering into the final ten minutes. The Hill was in full voice, celebrations were in full flow from the Dublin fans and it looked curtains for Mayo but credit the team from the West to have the resolve, character and sheer balls to come roaring back into this contest at the death. Cillian O’Connor placed balls and his emphatic penalty gave Mayo the lifeline required, albeit have to credit Donal Boyle for a lung bursting run into the Dublin box for the penalty award. Andy Moran provided the composure at the death to draw Mayo level and cue a manic five minutes of injury time. Stephen Cluxton had the chance to rip Mayo hearts with a late injury time free but the ball went wide and cue the replay.

The last ten minutes of this contest were exhilarating but the remainder had a distinctly flat feel  to it. Both teams setup extremely defensively and the enormity of the fixture got to several players from each side. The decision to introduce Drake into the Mayo ranks did not work. The player who played as a defensive sweeper worked hard but his inclusion appeared to make his colleagues around him distinctly unsettled in terms of their positioning. This uncertainty led to Ciaran Kilkenny getting ample space to kick some lovely scores. Dublin always appeared to have the upper hand in the opening period after Diarmuid Connolly dispatched Dublin’s first goal from the penalty spot after ten minutes. It was an emphatic strike. Mayo goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly had not a hope of saving it. It was a hammer blow for Mayo who had started the game on the front foot. Tom Parsons continued to win and distribute ball effectively with Lee Keegan and the ever hard working Diarmuid O’Connor prominent during this spell providing support for the player in possession. Dublin to their credit refused to panic and after the penalty grew into the contest. Kilkenny’s open play scores helped Dublin to extent the lead to four points and Mayo were extremely dependent on Cillian O’Connor’s free taking. The Mayo forward was lights out on his frees and he had to be to keep Mayo in the contest. Dublin led by three points at the break and may have felt a touch disappointed that the gap was not more considering their domination in the middle of the opening half. Their forward line was performing well with Andrews and Brogan dangerous inside.

Mayo will rue that they did not drive their early second half dominance with a couple of additional scores. They came out with renewed vigour and intent. Parsons and Seamus O’Shea in midfield started positively and provided the platform for Mayo’s forward line to create scoring chances however the statistic of fourteen misses from twenty chances will not go unmissed by Mayo management this week. Several misses lacked composure and the ball into Aidan O’Shea was far from ideal. The Breaffy man won his ball but considering Dublin’s strategy of having at least three players on him when with the ball, it was a difficult day for O’Shea to make the required impact. Mayo’s inability to not take their scores looked to have bit them again once Dublin struck for their second goal. It was a goal which Mayo will look back on with disappointment. Hennelly did superbly to save the initial effort after Dublin created a player overlap inside but Mayo failed to clear the ball and McManamon took full advantage. It looked like the knockout punch. Mayo were on the ropes but they fought back dramatically. An exceptionally busy weekend for GAA HQ next weekend with this replay and the All Ireland hurling final on consecutive days. It is a nice problem for Croke Park, supporters and GAA neutrals to have and the pre-game comments will be interesting heading into the contest. Mayo’s running lines caused Dublin problems while Dublin will look at vulnerabilities in the Mayo full back line as an area of promise for next weekend.

Flash Points

There were plenty of talking points from this game. The spotlight will be firmly on the man in the middle tonight. I sincerely hope that the Sunday Game tonight review some of the contentious incidents from this afternoon. Joe McQuillin appears to officiate Dublin quite a lot and Dublin players know what they can or cannot do. The black card debate will rage on into the week. The decision to not black card Cian O’Sullivan for a blatant shirt pull in the first half smacked plenty of people in the face; the first set being the GAA congress who passed the introduction of the black card and secondly for the GAA neutral who want to see consistent refereeing decisions. No complaints on the Dublin penalty award but why was Jason Doherty not punished for the indiscretion leading to the penalty award? Aidan O’Shea could not buy a free today. The decision not to penalise Phil McMahon in the first half when the Breaffy man won possession and was dragged to the ground in the Dublin penalty area was incredibly harsh. Mayo’s tacking style got on the wrong side of the referee in the first half but it changed significantly in the second half. McQuillin was pinging Dublin more and the black card awards will enrage Dublin. McAulay’s black card was harsh and it cost Dublin a primary ball winner for Cluxton on the kickouts. Bastick’s involvement came to an end early, another black card whereby on another day a yellow card would be merited. Cian O’Sullivan again blatantly playing the player and not the ball should have issued a black card but it failed to materialize. Dublin will contend on Aidan O’Shea clash with McMahon midway through the second half – the hits from both teams at times were devastating evident in Vaughan’s shoulder injury and O’Carroll’s ten stitches to a facial wound which looked more at home in an UFC event. McQuillin had a difficult afternoon but some of the decisions contrary to what the GAA President wants to say have to be discussed. It is a free country to speak about these things. There is a lot at stake for these two teams today and one of those decisions could have cost them big time. Both teams will look for clarification on tackling and black card implementation after today. Diarmuid Connolly’s straight red is a huge loss for Dublin. His personal foul count and lip to the match officials, he was walking the tightrope. Johnny Cooper’s challenge on Diarmuid O’Connor in the first half? Outrageous challenge.

Replay Venue

Mayo and Kerry football fans must be laughing with the irony of Croke Park head office on the “needs and ticket demand” as the driver to use Croke Park next weekend for the replay. It is a right decision but last year – the same logic went out the window and a trip to the Gaelic Grounds for the love of the US dollar and collegiate football game which let us be frank is not a long term return of investment. Wonder if it was not Dublin involved, would there have being an inkling that the replay would be switched to a regional venue like Thurles?

Minor Game

Massive props to Tipperary for a fantastic win over a gallant Kildare team in the curtain raiser. Jack Kennedy was the standout player by a country mile. His ability to run with the ball and dispatch points from long range were a joy to watch. The win justifies Tipperary’s decision to invest in football in the county? U21 and Minor final appearances this season is a remarkable achievement. Tipperary’s game plan was structured, no naivety in their approach which did roll into the cynical with professional fouls but I think Tipperary learned that lesson from Tyrone in the U21 Football final earlier this season. Kildare lacked the marquee inside forward to score while Tipperary had potency inside with at least three goal opportunities created in the hour of play. The Tipperary red card was merited but it made Tipperary even more determined to win this contest. Kildare tried as they might could not conjure a goal at the death and it was Tipperary who actually finished the stronger. Tipp minor double? They will be underdogs in both deciders but rest assured that Galway and Kerry will have to bring their ‘A’ game to beat this well drilled Tipperary minor setup. Great day of sport. Roll on next weekend.

Guiness Rugby Summer Series: Ireland 10 – 16 Wales

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What we learned today: 

The Ireland rugby team must be sick of the sight of Wales. Yes, Ireland did beat Wales in the Millennium Stadium a couple of weeks ago but let us not kid ourselves. that Welsh team was predominantly fringe players seeking to impress. This test match today was the real McCoy. Wales came to Dublin to win evident by Warren Gatland’s decision to call on his big names for the contest. They duly delivered the win with a performance full of work rate and determination. Wales started the game with intent, dominating the gain line exchanges early door thanks in no small part to the performance of Justin Tipuric. The Ospreys players was simply outstanding from start to finish. His eighteen carries, ten tackles and numerous steals at the breakdown set the tone for the rest of the Welsh pack throughout. Wales deservedly scored their try in the first quarter after Gethin Jenkins scored from a Welsh forward maul. Ireland were struggling to get to grips with the tempo of the game but got back into the contest courtesy of a Sexton penalty and after concerted pressure on the Welsh line deep into first half injury time scored a try from the excellent Ian Henderson whose strength to hold off several Welsh players was impressive. Ten all at the break, a touch kind on Ireland given the dominance that Wales enjoyed.

The second half was extremely interesting. Ireland try as we might were losing the contact area. Wales were tigerish in defense similar to their 6N outing in Cardiff last March. Ireland soon started to look devoid of creativity to breakdown Wales and the aerial bombs were launched in the last quarter to gain field position. Ireland’s opponents in the RWC will have taken note of how Ireland were stifled today. The first line defense from Wales was extremely fast and gave Ireland little opportunity to launch the three quarters. The breakdown area is where Wales excel and today was no different as Tipuric, Faletau dominated in the area. Jordi Murphy and Peter O’Mahoney were ineffective and one wonders what Joe Schmidt will do to counteract the Wales tactics if other opponents start to deploy the same tactics.

For the record, Wales absorbed all Ireland could throw and won the contest with two Leigh Halfpenny penalties. The penalties conceded courtesy of Ireland indiscipline at the breakdown. Joubert was a hawk on the breakdown exchanges but was extremely lenient on offside rule. Both teams got away with plenty in this facet of play. Wales had to defend at the death but cue Tipuric, Lydiate to prevent Sean Cronin from grabbing a try which would have wholly undeserved. It was excellent defensive work holding Cronin up and cue the final whistle. Both teams will be benefit from the outing. Wales go into the RWC Pool of Death with a much needed morale boosting win. Ireland receive the reality check (which should have happened potentially against Scotland two weeks ago. Both teams need to refine their play behind the scrum but this will be addressed in the weeks to come. Good test match.

Ireland Squad Form:

Ireland squad selection has raised more questions than answers today. Keith Earls’ participation in the RWC must be in doubt after being stretchered off with concussion. Luke Fitzgerald’s big day at thirteen never materialized, starved of ball and went off late with a rib injury. Ireland’s RWC rests on Sexton. If the Leinster talisman gets injured, then Ireland can kiss goodbye to this tournament. Sexton showed glimpses of promise as he got rid of the pre-season cobwebs in his first start of the campaign. Murray had a solid outing, super footballer but would have liked his pack to be more dominant in the clearout. Ireland ruck ball was extremely slow, credit to Wales for that but Ireland failed abysmally to contend with the issue (throwing more players made more of a hindrance). The slow ruck ball resulted in Henshaw and Fitzgerald devoid of any platform. Henshaw was solid defensively. Earls prior to his injury was admirable in his defensive work but no go forward ball may have cost him his chance to shine for RWC selection. Rob and Dave Kearney excelled in aerial ball contests, looked for work but no real genuine gaps emerged from Wales defensively of note this afternoon. The Ireland prop situation looks intriguing. Who does Joe Schmidt bring? Healy obviously will go (albeit not 100% fit). The question mark is who from Moore, Kilcoyne or White misses out. White and Kilcoyne have had good cameo roles in this pre-season where as Moore who was hotly tipped to impress in the RWC is lacking fitness and now looks under pressure. Interesting selection week beckons and there will be at least four players who will feel aggrieved of their exclusion. Paddy Jackson, a players who seems to take one step forward, two steps back with the national side – several questionable game management calls during his cameo will not have impressed management. He is a lock for the squad but needs to step up his game if Sexton falters fitness wise.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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What I learned today.

All Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final: Kerry 0-18 1-11 Tyrone

What a game at Croke Park today between Kerry and Tyrone in absolute horrendous weather conditions. The pregame media thoughts were very much in the camp good and evil. The good being the Kerry team, free flowing football and skill against Tyrone (the baddies for the weekend) whose play acting against Monaghan grew the ire of many seasoned pundit. I think a couple of pundits should give Tyrone the credit they deserve now. Mickey Harte’s charges are in a transitional phrase and when you consider their performances in February, the mere fact that Tyrone were standing toe to toe against the reigning All Ireland champions spoke volume. The tactics may be not to the football purist but by god did Tyrone believe in the system and nearly pulled off the upset today.

Kerry have to be credited for their victory today, the mere fact that they scored eighteen scores in a horrific rainy day spoke volumes but when Tyrone asked questions in both halves, the Kingdom management and players found the answers necessary. Kerry’s management must be credited for several key personnel changes before and during this contest. Peter Crowley produced a near perfect man marking job against Sean Cavanagh whose influence was nullified. Stephen O’Brien and Johnny Buckey’s cameos in the opening period cannot be understated, their five points from play in the first half gave Kerry the platform to drive on in the second half. Both players’ inclusion may have caused a stir in the Kingdom but both delivered in spades with performance full of intensity and work rate. However, the decision to call ashore Donaghy for Paul Geaney was the game changer. Tyrone were able to nullify Star’s influence in the opening period cutting out the aerial threat albeit the Austin Stack’s talisman did hit a good score just before the break. Geaney brought pace, power and movement which Tyrone were struggling to contend with. His three points were crucial to the final outcome and shows how Fitzmaurice and management were not afraid to make the big calls.

Kerry looked home and dry with fifteen minutes to go, four points up and Tyrone looking a bit leg weary in the middle third of the pitch. However, Kerry were their own worse enemy with two aimless passes leading to Tyrone hitting a quick 1-1 on the score board. Peter Harte’s penalty was as emphatic as you will see all year at Croke Park and when the impressive Ryan Bradley hit a splendid point to equalise affairs at 0-14 to 1-11, it felt like the game was going away from Kerry. Cue the experience and guile of the Kingdom to close out the contest with Anthony Maher, Paul Geaney and a sensational Barry John Keane long distance effort sealing the win. Tyrone tried to get back into the contest but a combination of poor free taking from distance and their inability to take several goal opportunities throughout the seventy minutes ultimately were the nails in the coffin for this year. This was an excellent contest and Kerry will look with interest to see how Dublin and Mayo fare next weekend. Kerry minors were too good for a gutsy Derry outfit. The Kingdom’s team ability to take scores from distance was the difference. Geaney and Foley look like two Kerry players that we will hear an awful lot more of in the years to come. An epic day for the Kingdom. Tyrone go home with their heads held high and with Mickey Harte’s intention to manage the team next season, a couple more additions to the panel could be the difference to get them over the line.

Quick note about the man in the middle. Decent performance considering the weather conditions. Marc O’Se’s black card was deserved. McNamee’s black card was questionable, yellow card was the maximum but how McNabb was still on the pitch after his head shot at Gooch late on was unbelievable. Shane Enright perhaps lucky not to get a black card also late in the second half. However, Deegan tried to let the game flow and it contributed to an absorbing contest. I wish the linesmen would assist the man in the middle more.

Athletics:

Not every day that I mention the sport but Athletics was saved from massive reputation embarrassment by Usain Bolt’s victory in the 100 metres final. Justin Gatlin (the baddie, the two time drug doping offender) looked like the winner midway through this contest but Bolt’s wore the American down and won the race in 9.79 seconds and 0.01 seconds faster than the American. Blood doping profiles need to be made public to allay fears of the sporting public. The recent allegations in the media have identified several loop holes on how athletes could potentially beat the system where that be athletics and cycling. Interesting times ahead with Seb Coe taking up the IAAF head job after the conclusion of this World Championship.

EPL:

Could we be seeing the beginning of the end ot John Terry at Chelsea? The veteran centre half has struggled early for form this season and his red card today will not have appeased the critics or Mourinho. Courtois’s role in the sending off was pivotal too and Mourinho has problems defensively to address. Chelsea beat WBA and the highlight for the Blues was the performance of debutante Pedro. How did Manchester United let this player slip away? Pedro at twenty-one million is a bargain when you compare the bust signing of Di Maria. Chelsea have two high caliber players in Hazard and Pedro who will setup Costa for numerous goals this season. United look well short in this department already and massive question marks around Woodward’s ability to secure top world class player deals is becoming a massive weakness for the Manchester United’s teams ability to compete. Manchester City are the form side of the league so far this season. They were defensively tight against an Everton who probed for an opening but were ultimately undone by two second half goals from Kolarov (Howard beaten at his early post again) and a late Nasri strike. City’s squad is working cohesively at the moment and with three consecutive clean sheets in the league already this season, things are looking rosy on the blue side of Manchester. Southampton have the Europa League virus, contagious when infected with hangover symptoms on Sundays. Southampton could be dragged into a relegation battle this season. Watford’s lack of strike power will see them relegated by Christmas.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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What we learned today.

All Ireland U21 Hurling Semi-Finals

Before I comment on the games held at the pristine Semple Stadium today, there has to be a serious look at the format of the championship. August 22nd was the day that both Antrim and Galway hurlers entered the championship and was the day that they both exited the championship. No amount of challenge games for the two counties could have sufficiently prepared them for the challenge that awaited today. What was the benefit for Antrim to enter the championship at this juncture? Twelve point loss will do nothing for the development of hurling in the county. The U21 championship should be used to experiment with fixture format and see if group / pool games would benefit the overall quality of the competition. The critics may say it is further fixture congestion, potential dead rubber games but it is a shame to see the likes of Waterford, Clare, Cork, Kilkenny out of the tournament so early in the year and it would also allow Antrim and Galway to enter into the competition at the same stage as everyone else. Some will say Antrim and Galway have an unfair advantage in advancing to the last four before a ball is hit but imagine the lack of preparation in terms of quality competitive games was ultimately evident today. Time for a rethink for GAA HQ?

As for the U21 hurling today, the first contest was a damp squid. Wexford will thank their lucky stars that they were facing Antrim and not Limerick or Galway today. Their performance was sloppy throughout, poor shot selection was the prevailing theme – nineteen wides spoke volumes. This should have being the day where the Wexford forward line should have soared but it was again left to Foley and McDonald to provide the leadership and scores. The positive for Wexford was the performance of their midfield partnership of French and Devitt who 1-4 from play collectively. It saved face for several Wexford forwards inside but JJ Doyle will not be fooled by this performance and plenty of work is required from the Model County in converting scoring chances ahead of the final. Wexford’s defense was rarely threatened throughout as Antrim adopted a defensive game plan, leaving only one to two players in the full forward line at anytime. Kevin Ryan’s comments pre-game was the prospect of a unmerciful hiding but Antrim can hold their heads high. Their physicality in defense unsettled Wexford and they were dogged throughout. The work rate was never an issue but the lack of attacking threat was sorely exposed. The game never took fire and raised question marks of Wexford ahead of the final where they will meet Limerick who beat Galway by six points in the second game. The scoreline of 1-20 to 0-17 spoke volumes, plenty of high quality scores throughout. Limerick started the game impressively and after twenty minutes roared into a six point (0-10 to 0-04) with the lead established by a dominant half back line where Diarmuid Byrnes led by example hitting two inspirational long range scores. O’Connell and Hegarty were dominating their aerial duels and built the platform for Limerick early. Galway to their credit started to gain a foothold in the contest and with Brian Molloy looking dangerous when provided good early ball, the Tribesman slowly ate into the Limerick advantage. Jason Flynn recovered after an early facial injury hit a couple of long range scores and Molloy continuing to be a menace inside, Galway were level at ten points a piece. The half time whistle came probably at the right time for Limerick whose work rate and dominance faded in those last ten minutes of the first half. Limerick were indebted to goalkeeper David McCarthy for a smart double save during this period from Flynn and Whelan. Limerick started the second half as the first, re-establishing their dominance in the half back line and with Pat Ryan and Cian Lynch prominent in their movement and ball distribution, Limerick again went out in front. As both teams tired, it allowed the likes of Brian Molloy (Galway), Tom Morrissey and Colin Ryan (Limerick) more space. Tom Morrissey was having an excellent evening already hitting four points struck for the decisive goal with ten minutes left, creative strike on his knees to dispatch the ball past Loughnane. The goal spelled the end for Galway who tried as they might were never getting back into the contest as Limerick courtesy of David Dempsey and Ronan Lynch tagging on late scores and the Limerick back line were resolute albeit sometimes cynical in their fouling to prevent goal chances. Limerick had several keynote performers throughout the pitch, their work rate was infectious at times and when Galway asked questions of their character towards the end of the first half, they answered them emphatically with a storming second half display. Galway will rue the fact that they had no championship involvement prior to today. They were sluggish out of the blocks and Johnny Kelly’s attempt to salvage the situation resulted in several substitutions which did not work out evident in the introduction of Jason Kennedy midway through the second half only to be then hauled off ten minutes later. Mannion was a non-factor tonight and must have had his heart in his mouth when he pulled wildly in the first half, thankfully for the player a yellow card was only issued but it could have easily being red. Apart from Molloy and Flynn, Galway struggled for a foothold in the forward line. Paul Killeen was his typical abrasive self in the full back line and led by example. The half back line were solid throughout particularly Cooney and Burke. Molloy is a talent and hit some lovely scores. A championship revamp can only be good for Galway, game minutes and player development increased.

English Premiership

Manchester United finally get their reality check today with an unexpected stalemate at Old Trafford against a Newcastle United side who worked extremely hard throughout. United may complain about the Rooney offside (goal disallowed) but it highlighted issues in the side’s ability to take their chances. Tim Krul did play well but United on another day could have scored four or five. The result is welcome for Steve McClaren, his charges worked hard throughout and Wynaldum looks a prospect. Mitrovic did not get carded so happy days who will look with more confidence to the season after today. Newcastle fans were terrific today. As for the other games, it is a bit early to be hitting the panic button but David Gold and Sullivan should be getting worried about West Ham United. Bournemouth thoroughly deserved their first league win in the top flight. Callum Wilson introduced himself to the EPL with a hat-trick, all goals showing his pace, power. Bournemouth’s passing style is very pleasing on the eye and they will win more fans as the season progresses. They were royally screwed over at Anfield but they got their result today albeit defensively look a little short at present. Leicester continue to impress and continue unbeaten. Mahrez is a fantasy football league stud at present, already on thirty plus points this term. Palace will be a top eight team this season. Cabaye was sensational today. Villa have a goalscoring issue. Gestede needs quality crosses in the box. Sunderland buoyed with John O’Shea’s inclusion in the first team got their first point of the season. Swansea look a tricky proposition for Manchester United next weekend. Early days but Manchester City look the team to beat in the league and Ed Woodward looks like an Aldi shopper looking for cheap bargains in the transfer market. Some things never change.

All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Final: Galway 0-26 – 3-16 Tipperary

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What we learned today at Croke Park.

  1. The GAA will be relieved as we witnessed the first proper exciting championship contest of the year. Yes, it is nearly the end of August but Galway / Tipperary SHC contest was absolute quality. Massive credit and respect has to go to both teams for a tremendous match full of intensity, endeavor and excitement. The start of the contest set the tone immediately with the mercurial Seamus Callanan netting after thirty-seven seconds. Promising Galway defender Cathal Mannion would have to get used to the Drom Inch star soaring high for the ball throughout the contest. Callanan’s 3-8 haul was undoubtedly the best GAA player performance of the year has propelled the Tipperary star as a viable candidate for the HOTY accolade come the end of the season. The Drom Inch star is a lock for an All Star and it was a shame that he was not on the winning side.
  2. How did Galway win this contest? Galway won this contest because of three simple reasons. Galway’s midfield pairing of Andy Smyth and David Burke routed Shane McGrath and James Woodlock throughout and launched numerous player advantage overlaps with their hard running lines and precise quick ball distribution. McGrath and Woodlock try as they might were overwhelmed by the intensity of the Galway half-forward and midfield line pressure. Neither player had the time or space to impose themselves on the contest. Galway management just about stemmed the influence of the other Tipperary forwards apart from the rampaging Callanan. Daithi Burke broke even with Bonnar Maher who worked tirelessly throughout. Tannian was effective in his work and Aidan Harte typified Galway’s desire by picking himself off the ground in the early exchanges to produce a performance to nullify Jason Forde so much so that the Slivermines player was subbed at the break. Shane Bourke did not fair much better. Tipp management reluctance to trust the new players in the panel was ultimately their undoing. While Anthony Cunningham and Galway selectors trusted the likes of Conor Whelan and Shane Moloney, Tipperary went back to the tried and trusted substitutes. Michael Breen had a brief cameo appearance but the Tipperary substitutes brought little to the table albeit it was great to see Noel McGrath back on a hurling pitch after his health scare.
  3. Sledging and referee pressure is alive and well in small ball. The problem is not confined to Gaelic Football. The television clips of Cunningham constantly on the verbals to beleaguered Barry Kelly was shameful in the opening half. Yes, there was a lot at stake today – the winners advance to the All Ireland hurling final but there are limits to how much you can influence the match officials. It was a sad sight to see how the match official in the middle ultimately caved into the criticism from the sideline. This was a day to forget for the Westmeath referee in all aspects of plathery, the sledging certainly did not help but you could see his confidence drain as the game wore on. His lack of trust towards his umpires was quite damning throughout. The sixty-five reversal against Tipperary was a huge call at the death. The art of tackling legally a player with the ball is officially dead — it looks like a full body assault is now legit.
  4. Galway advance to the final and there was plenty to admire from their performance today. Their ability to get up off the canvas when Seamus Callanan hit those goals was admirable as their response was to tack on points immediately after each strike. Their work rate was superior to Tipperary today. Their tackling and support of colleagues caught the eye but question if the same tackling tactics will be acceptable in the final showpiece against Kilkenny in three weeks time. Galway have showed the hurling world that they do not have to rely on Joe Canning to win a game. Cathal Mannion was immense again with several key long range scores and Jason Flynn continues to grow with each championship game. The glaring problem is the full back line and their ability to prevent goals. Padraic Mannion struggled in the air. John Hanesbury did not fair much better on Seamus Callanan and only for the heroics of Colm Callanan in the Galway goal could have seen six goals go easily in. Brian Cody has plenty of options to expose this weakness in the final showpiece and is an area which requires immediate attention from Galway. It is great to get to the final but it is only good if you win the final, defeat is a bitter pill to swallow and no worse a team like Kilkenny to inflict a nightmare final appearance on an opponent.
  5. Tipperary’s loss spells the end of the managerial rein of Eamon O’Shea. A Munster final triumph is the only silverware achieved by the Kilruane McDonaghs clubman with a group of players who now are looking down the barrel of oblivion. This may sound harsh but this group of players have being around for a while and only one All Ireland title to show for their efforts. When you consider that threats from Waterford, Galway and Kilkenny, has time run out for this group of players to win additional All Ireland finals? Michael Ryan succeeds O’Shea and questions may be asked on the new management selection within the county given that the current management team have failed to deliver an All Ireland crown which Ryan is a part of. A long winter beckons in the Premier County and questions on the centre back role have to be asked. For all of Padraic Maher’s swag and talent, he is prone to lapses and so it proved today with several scores coming from the Thurles man’s failure not to clear ball. The lack of potency in the forward line was evident in long periods. O’Dwyer and O’Meara were kept in check throughout. The midfield area requires examination. James Barry is wasted as a full back. Several brave decisions to wield the axe on the current squad is required by the new manager to blood the new talent required to get over the line again.
  6. The penalty and introduction of the black card debate will need to be examined again. The professional foul in preventing goal chances is now acceptable in hurling. John Hanesbury won the contest today with his deliberate tackle on Callanan late on and not Shane Moloney. Tipperary was guilty of committing similar offences today. The penalty rule is totally in favor of the goalkeeper, move the ball in and the attacking penalty taker will have a better chance. Great game but less of the sledging please.

Guinness Rugby Summer Series: Ireland 28 – 22 Scotland

What we learned today.

  1. Simon Zebo is going on the plane to the Rugby World Cup. The Munster man was asked the question from Ireland management to show his versatility and adaptability and he produced in spades. Zebo was exemplary under the high ball and was always looking for the gap when in the line. Zebo could do nothing for the tries but his cameo today has probably ended Felix Jones’ ambition of going to the tournament.
  2. Scotland are showing huge signs of improvement when compared to the dismal 6N campaign. They defended well in the opening half and then won the game line battle either side of half-time fronted by the Glasgow Warriors contingent. Ryan Grant injury looks like a serious blow but Scotland’s free flowing off load game will poise problems for South Africa in the RWC. The main improvement area is their ability to defend wide. Ireland found plenty of joy out on the flanks and Fitzgerald’s try exposed Scotland’s defensive strategy. David Denton’s carries were a huge positive. Vern Cotter needs to find a more reliable kicker than Peter Horne.
  3. The Ireland fringe players failed to fire today and suspect that Jack Conan and Gordon Darcy may be given the dreaded call to meet Joe Schmidt in the next couple of days. After promising starts, both players started to fall off the tackle count and Conan was exposed in the breakdown battle as O’Brien and Henry were more prominent in the opening exchanges.
  4. Ian Madigan is the enigma of the Ireland World Cup squad. Where do you play the Leinster man? His penalty kicking is good, his game management is improving with each passing game. Joe Schmidt has a decision to make at out-half. Jackson or Madigan as Sexton’s backup? Intriguing squad selection beckons.
  5. Ireland missed tackle count. I know it is pre-season but Ireland missed tackle count (21) was very high even for a pre-season match. Scotland’s offloading strategy isolated Ireland defensively which led to a couple of missed tackles but Schmidt will not be happy. The Wales game last weekend was the same recurring theme.
  6. Dave Kilcoyne posed Ireland management with a squad selection poser. The UL Bohs man produced an action packed performance in open play and was competitive in the set piece. Can Schmidt afford to leave Kilcoyne out of the squad with recurring injury concerns over Moore and Healy? Nathan White’s brief cameo did not shed any light to his World Cup prospects but Kilcoyne certainly made an impact.
  7. The officiating. Berdos was average at best and left several calls go. Zebo was maybe fortunate to stay on the pitch after his leg tackle in the second half. David Denton’s deliberate pulling down of the Ireland maul in the last five minutes should have seen yellow. The scrum was hit and miss – his emphasis on supporting body weight was fair enough but was too inconsistent with the scrum half delivery of ball into the scrums. The offside rule was never applied. Both teams required better officiating ahead of the RWC.

Random Sporting Thoughts

What I learned so far this weekend. I arrive back to Limerick (after a week hiatus in lovely Rome) and back to day job in Galway to hear that the Andy Lee boxing world title fight scheduled for Thomond Park was off and relocated to Manchester in October. It is a massive disappointment for Andy Lee who has gone on record stating his desire to fight in Thomond Park defending his world title but the fact of the matter is that professional boxing is built on financial numbers and how viable a world title will be to the coffers of the boxing promotions involved. Andy Lee could not have done anymore to promote this contest, endless appearances on local media and national television with interviews with Miriam O’Callaghan but it was unrealistic to think that thirty thousand people would be appeared to pay top dollar for tickets (starting from around $150) when you consider the crowd attendance for Andy Lee in Limerick early in his professional boxing career. The numbers in my eyes never really added up and the decision this week was expected. The warning signs were there when Katie Taylor pulled out of the event last week and this week was no surprise considering the sluggish ticket sales to date.

The television aspect to this event also raised question. Love them or loathe them but if this boxing event was managed by Sky Sports and Matchroom Sports, I would guarantee that the event would sell out. You only have to look how they managed and promoted the recent Hull professional boxing event culminating with the Hull boxing headline clash between the impressive Luke Campbell and the hard working Tommy Coyle. This particular contest on paper was as one sided as the clash turned out to be on the night but the event sold massively in Hull and surrounding hinterland and the ticket prices were affordable for locals to attend. Adam Booth’s record as a trainer is second to none but his promotional skills have left a lot to be desired. No national media advertisements on the event was damning. Andy did his part but his promotional team did not. The local media was covered but that only goes so far.

Andy Lee’s viral infection may be valid but everyone knows there was more background to this cancellation that meets the official press release. Manchester Evening Arena is a fantastic venue but I question if this event will sell tickets in October given the lack of exposure on the world title bout so far on the more established boxing media houses. Andy Lee has every chance of retaining his title against Billy Joe Saunders, his boxing skills on paper look the superior. His jab will be pivotal in frustrating Saunders to such an extent that the Englishman may lose concentration and leave himself open later in the fight. An Andy Lee victory would be a sensational result considering the rubbish that he has had to deal with in the last couple of weeks. It is an opportunity lost for Limerick to host a world boxing title event but the factors were not right on this occasion and hopefully there may be another opportunity for Lee to accomplish his dream and fight at Thomond Park.

Manchester United win their second league game of the season against Aston Villa in Villa Park but this was as dire a EPL game that I have seen for some time. Villa were hard working but were extremely limited upfront so much so that the hosts decided to launch long ball down the channels throughout in the hope that United’s back four would make a mistake. On this occasion, United’s back four held firm. Smalling is starting to lead by example in the back four and while there are question marks on Blind in terms of defensive ability, the two full backs have started well. Darmian was pinned by the media last night for the Richards corner kick incident in the first half but the Italian was excellent again in open play – solid player and executes the full back basics well. Darmian complements Smalling perfectly by anticipating the second ball when the centre half is contesting in aerial exchanges. United continue to lack pace and tempo in the midfield area, too often were labored in possession and no distinct width meant that Rooney (despite looking out of sorts) had little service to work off. Memphis Depay’s early cameos suggest plenty of scope for improvement but if the Dutch player can score a goal soon, confidence and form should pick up. Schneiderlein and Darmian have being the standouts so far and Romero in goal has looked solid. Bastian’s quality was evident on his introduction, the only player on the park to look up and try to spot a pass. Villa will be fine provided that Gestede and Ayew can provide the required goals. They are a young side but defensively look well short. Gana and Clark will not look too fondly on their roles in the game winning goal, one did not track the runner while the other was playing United onside. Their set piece defending at times last night bordered on the ridiculous, no tracking of United player making runs at the back post. Both teams were guilty of poor ball distribution and this was not an advert for Friday Night Football.

Random Thoughts: August 9th, 2015

What we learned this weekend. Apart from the fact that Rome is an awesome city (blog post to follow this week), this weekend may be remembered for the official arrival of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry to the sporting elite. The Clara man won the WGC Bridgestone International by two shots and his final round demonstrated composure under pressure and clinical short game. The quality of the field was there for all to see and Lowry had his work cut out to challenge as he was two shots back at the start of the final round but what a triumph. This success has announced Lowry to the US golfing public and one suspects that this is not the final time that the Offaly man will win over in the USA. Magnificent triumph. Roll on US Open!

I will go on record. I am getting incredibly disillusioned by the standard of the Senior GAA Championships this year. While at the Dublin Airport Terminal 2 (running around like a headless chicken last weekend), witnessed the most embarrassing one sided contest seen at Croke Park for many a year. I thought Kildare were genuinely better than that. Kerry did not have get to get out of second gear throughout. Dublin’s eight point win saw the usual taps on the back for plucky Fermanagh but did anyone feel that Dublin were going to be upset at any stage? The media can paint and hype the fixtures to the hilt but the real championship in football starts in two weeks.

Mayo and Dublin (fingers crossed) will be an incredible encounter, two teams who will be willing to attack their opponent rather than defensively setup to stifle, frustrate and look for opponent players to get dismissed. Mayo and Donegal was an excellent game compared to the UFC style matchup that preceded it (Tyrone vs. Monaghan). Mayo’s win was based on the rampaging form of Aidan O’Shea in the full forward position, Paul Durcan’s karate kick on McGee in the opening half which forced the full back to retire from the game which allowed Mayo to expose the loss evident in the Lee Keegan’s goal right after the break. Donegal never recovered from the O’Shea’s goal right on half-time, an emphatic finish from the Breaffy man who held off both McGee and McHugh to dispatch to the net. Donegal apart from Michael Murphy who was superb yet again in on all round play offered little upfront and became more disillusioned as the game wore on. Mayo were dominant in the middle third with Tom Parsons influential yet again. Mayo were deserving winners, their counter attacking pace and intensity without ball is very impressive which sets up the semi-final intriguingly. For Donegal, it is back to the drawing board. The team were yet again exposed when asked to chase the game, evolution is required in the game plan.

The less said about Tyrone and Monaghan the better, the cynical nature of the game forced me to look at the Chelsea match unfortunately in the Scholars Lounge in the GAA hotbed of Rome. All I will say is that Mickey Harte and Sean Cavanagh are two absolute legends, both men owe nothing to Tyrone football and they are the reason why Tyrone are in the last four – a tactical genius on the sideline and a superstar maestro conducting on it. For Monaghan, this was an opportunity spurned and questions will be raised on yet another flat performance in All Ireland Quarter final at Croke Park. Tyrone jinx strikes again. The intensity seen to full effect in the Ulster final was not at the same level at HQ and Tyrone’s stifling defensive setup led to Monaghan increasingly frustrated evident in the Finlay red card. Darren Hughes’ red card was a joke and is the low point of the championship this year. Hoping Kerry take care of business against Tyrone in a couple of weeks to give the neutral a more open footballing finale in September.

Kilkenny have to applauded for their six point win against a Waterford outfit whose defensive setup again exposed their inability to compete in the forward line. Waterford’s effort was evident throughout but the unforced error count defensively caused by over elaboration in clearing their lines allowed Kilkenny to easily score points (at least 12 points conceded). Walter Walsh was dominant in aerial exchanges particularly in the opening half and TJ Reid / Richie Hogan controlled affairs throughout. How Waterford did not stick a designated marker was astonishing? Kilkenny’s back line had a routine afternoon with their numerical advantage as Waterford decided to only have two forwards inside throughout. Prendergast and Holden had the luxury of pushing forward in the last quarter to create the space for Hogan and Alyward to score long distance points. Waterford can hold their head high. They are NHL winners this season, only lost two out of twelve competitive games this year but the defensive setup in their team did not allow them to genuinely cause an upset to either Tipperary (Munster Final) or Kilkenny today. O’Mahoney was a big loss upfront and credit to Maurice Shanahan for stepping up to the plate but no goals in either of those two losses spoke volumes. The game plan has to evolve and Waterford’s back line (man for man) need to take more responsibility for winning their individual battles. No risk reward from Waterford management or trust in their youthful squad on the bench in the last quarter was also noted. They ever had a chance of winning. Kilkenny will start the All Ireland final as overwhelming favorites but Tipperary or Galway surely will not be as naive in their defensive and attacking responsibilities as Waterford today. TJ Reid or Richie Hogan for HOTY even before a ball is thrown in for the All Ireland final — immense talents. TJ Reid goal was pure class.

EPL has started – hurrah for some but looks like winter has arrived for me. Arsenal fans, do not press the panic button. Cech is going to be a great signing, a debut to forget but will come good. Arsenal out field looked pleasing on the eye but are wholly dependent on Sanchez for any attacking potency. West Ham could have bagged the signing of the season with Payet – excellent today. Newcastle may have bagged themselves the dud of the season – Mitrovic is a liability and his first sixteen seconds does not bode well. Manchester United despite winning on opening day have not learned from last season, ball possession does not translate to goals and allow teams to hang on into games. Tottenham deserved at least a point from the game at Old Trafford. Chelsea and Swansea was probably the most entertaining game of the weekend. End to end action, sending off and chances galore. Swansea have a nice striking partnership in Ayew and Gomis as Chelsea struggled to contain the pair. Hazard continues to impress but Fabregas was anonymous throughout. Liverpool beat Stoke Spanish Armada – great strike from Coutinho. Sunderland, Norwich and Bournemouth will struggle in the league this term, naive defensively would be an understatement. Watford will join the party in a couple of weeks but did show glimpses offensively that suggests that they pose teams problems. Rudy Gestede – the new Benteke? Time will tell but with the right service could prove a success. Palace to finish comfortably midtable with Cabaye in the midfield engine room. My fantasy football league team looks in shambles already. If I was in real-life, would be first managerial axing. Reece Taylor, sixteen years and playing like a stud – bright future for the young West Ham midfielder, had Ozil in his pocket all day. Limerick FC win again – mission impossible (staving relegation) back on?