Random Sporting Thoughts

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Five main talking points this weekend:

  1. England shocked by Wales at Twickenham. The incrimination has started in the English press. The chariot has stalled and covered in red after an exhilarating Welsh second half performance. I will put up my hand, wrote Wales off when Halfpenny and Webb succumbed to tournament ending injuries. Wales’ hero last night was Dan Biggar, what a game from the Ospreys stalwart, deadly accurate on the penalties but used his nous and experience to drive Wales on late on to shock England. Wales play Fiji on Thursday, a bonus win against the Pacific Islanders and suddenly England are then back into the corner without no way out. England must beat Australia next weekend or else the dream of a home World Cup win is left in tatters. What went so wrong for England? A comprehensive first half display which exposed Wales’ issues at the set piece (scrum was destroyed, lineout misfunctioning) should have seen England further ahead at the interval. Their sheer inability to not put teams away has being a theme since Lancaster took over the England job but last night it came home to roost. Wales won this match on a determined game plan, high work rate in tackles and breakdown area which resulted in England getting further and further frustrated as the game wore on. The English media can point to Robshaw and his decision to go for the line late in the game but the subsequent lineout call lacked the cohesion required to breakdown a resolute Wales defense. Owen Farrell went missing when England needed him most. The decision to replace Burgess was a clear mistake. How Brad Barritt continues to get in the England team is beyond me? Do England recall now Joseph or do they go for more of the same, conversative rugby. England lost the arm wrestle last night and the pressure is now excruciating ahead of the Australian clash. What more would the Australian enjoy but to dump England out of the RWC after England cricketers beat Australia in the Ashes? I was delighted that Wales won merely because of how ridiculous Owen Farrell’s penalty kick celebrations were during the contest. Wales got on with the job while England believed their own hype. It is amazing how one result can turn a press corp and England are now like a boxer after being down on the floor twice in a round, the fate blow should be only days away. Cue absolute murder in the English back pages if that takes place. Wales, guts and determination. The back row and half-back pairing stayed strong throughout despite England controlling the set piece affairs. Gatland must recall Hibbert in the squad if only for his precise lineout throwing ability. Baldwin struggled to find his jumpers last night and the scrum was shambolic. A couple of injuries to contend with but Wales are exhibiting resilience galore. Gatland’s finest coaching triumph? It has to be up there. Biggar should not have to buy another drink in Swansea after that performance over the arch enemy.
  2. Australia and Ireland record comprehensive wins: Both teams know serious tests lie in wait but their first two games have caught the eye. Australia enjoyed the fast Villa Park track to record a facile 65-3 win over Uruguay who were exposed defensively throughout due to impressive Australian clean out work at rucks and the mercurial Quade Cooper controlling the game from half-back. There are still questions on the front five, soon to be answered next weekend but their ball handling ability is on a par with New Zealand. The speed of thought and decision making from the back line today was excellent. Chieka’s team is building serious momentum. England need to test the front five in the scrum and challenge in the lineout. England can only beat Australia if they decide to take the game to the trenches. It is a no contest frankly if England decide to go gun oh and take on Australia in an expansive shoot-out. There is only one winner with the likes of Folau lying in wait for turnovers. Cooper today showed great skills, creating space for his three quarters. Yes, there was a sin bin – high tackle but it showed the South Americans that Cooper would be no soft touch. Impressive cameo and they look forward to the England clash. Ireland recorded another comprehensive win over a gallant hard working Romania team 45-10. Ireland’s main positives were the back three. Zebo, Earls and Bowe when presented with ball from Madigan was a joy to watch. They dominated in all facets of play. Bowe’s expertly taken try set Ireland on their way and Earls ability to create a try out of nothing was further enhanced by two quality scores either side of half-time. Madigan at ten was good, game managed when required and his ability to create space for colleagues with or without the ball was a joy to watch at times. Ireland enter the Italian with a key question yet to be answered. Who will be the three quarters combination? Payne is doing little in creating any attacking threat. His defensive work is impressive but thirteen should be calling the shots in terms of attacking play. Payne reneged on a lot of attacking responsibility today, it was left to Reddan and Madigan to orchestrate Ireland. Henshaw’s fitness is a concern. Ireland management can say the word “precautionary” but the Connacht player has not yet featured in an Ireland RWC contest yet. It is going to be a tough ask for the player to get into RWC tempo required. Ireland should not fear Italy. The focus should be performance. Italy’s underwhelming performances will not improve significantly in seven days but with Parisse’s star quality, Ireland need to have a plan to nullify his threat. Ten points from the pool minnows, good start but still plenty to work on.
  3. Cork Ladies Footballers: Ten All Ireland’s in eleven years, two five in a rows is a testament to all concerned with Cork Ladies football. Rena Buckley and Breige Corkery’s All Ireland medal haul would rival anything in the men’s game. Thrilling win over Dublin today (0-12 to 0-10) and was a good advertisement for the women’s game. Hopefully the Irish media laud praise on this team in the weeks and months to come.
  4. Limerick SHC – Adare Sunday stroll and Kilmallock dethroned: I was in the Gaelic Grounds today to witness the dethroning of county and Munster SHC kingpins Kilmallock by Na Piarsaigh and a quite facile victory for Adare over a hugely disappointing Ahane outfit. Adare and Ahane started the action at 2pm at Limerick Hurling Headquarters. There was plenty a miss at the venue as the electronic scoreboard and timer were out of action, some neutrals may have added Ahane to that sentence such was the display produced. Adare were by far the better side, dominant in most lines. The West Limerick outfit’s star performer was Willie Griffin, the full forward must have thought Christmas had arrived early as spaces was afforded throughout by Ahane whose tactics were naive at best. With Mike Carr tracking Declan Hannan throughout, space was created for Griffin inside to exploit and did he punish the inability of Ahane to deploy a sweeper in the half back line? The full forward hit four points from play in the opening thirty minutes as the Ahane full back line was being worked to exhaustion. With no genuine threat upfront apart from John Fox who scored a fine individual goal after two minutes, Ahane lacked any cutting edge throughout and were frankly on the back foot throughout. When Mike Mackey struck for Adare just after the interval, the contest was killed off. Adare cruised in the final quarter of the contest and Ahane scored 1-4 late on to add some respectability to the scoreline. Adare’s star performers were Willie Griffin, John Fitzgibbon and Jody Hannan. Ahane’s top performers (I say that loosely) were Jonathan Hayes, John Fox and Seamus Hartnett who never gave up throughout. Ahane exit the championship in most disappointing style. There was no fight in the side for long periods, tactically were inept and the basic skills were executed in woeful fashion. You wonder where the senior team goes if loyal club servants like Niall Moran, John and Brian Meskell decided to call it a day. The young kids on the block in the side lack physicality (work in progress) and it is a concern. Ahane can have little complaints with the result. Seven points loss was kind to them. Adare gain momentum ahead of their clash with local neighbours Patrickswell next weekend, it will be a cracker. The second game was Na Piarsaigh and Kilmallock. The game was a far better contest than the curtain raiser but first touch was poor at times. The Gaelic Grounds pitch looked a bit long, not cut in a while and both teams suffered. Na Piarsaigh fronted by their county contingent strode out to a five point lead at half-time. Dempsey, Dowling and Peter Casey catching the eye in attack. Kilmallock struggled to get into the game until the late on in the second when they were seven points down (0-19 to 1-9). Maybe Kilmallock played a bit more abandon or Na Piarsaigh tensed up at the end? Whatever it was, it setup an intriguing conclusion. Kilmallock brought physicality into their play in the last ten minutes of this contest to the extent that Na Piarsaigh’s manager Shane O’Neill did not agree with and subsequently was sent to the stands – foul and abusive language to the match officials (some it probably merited). Hanley’s bundled goal two minutes into injury time left only the bare minimum between the sides and then came the late drama. Kilmallock were awarded a late 65 but Jake Mulcahy hit the free wide and cue the end of the game. Na Piarsaigh should never have being in that position, they were by far the better side throughout. David and Aidan Breen were prominent throughout but it was Peter Casey’s cameo that caught the eye. The minor and U21 player is a star of the future for Limerick, comfortable with the ball, good first touch and eye for a score. Casey’s afternoon was ended after a finger injury, question mark over his final appearance will ensue. A decent second game but it was not a day that the hurling county board can be proud of. A pitch which was clearly not prepared, faulty equipment, refereeing performances which were at best average — things have to better than this.
  5. EPL: Manchester United top of the league. Amazing statement when you consider City’s start to the season. Tottenham’s 4-1 win over City was the surprise of the weekend but spoke volumes of City’s dependency on Hart, Kompany and Silva. All three players are vital cogs in the City side and their omissions were key to this loss. De Bruyne may have scored three goals in three games but is he really 50 million plus player? Caballero will resume his bench warming duties. City have made the league interesting again. United were the only team to take advantage, brushing aside the challenge of Sunderland 3-0. Martial continues to catch the eye. Chelsea’s season continues to uninspire. Newcastle’s surrender of a two goal lead should not let Chelsea off the hook. They were ponderous throughout and the absence of Costa is glaring. Pedro’s lack of defensive nous is causing Ivanovic massive headaches. Zouma and Cahill as a centre back pairing looks mediocre at best. The Special One has problems, caps a miserable week for Chelsea. Eva looking for a new football club to attend to? Tottenham or Arsenal should offer her a job just to provoke Mourinho even more. Liverpool win against Aston Villa 3-2. Rodgers safe for another week until Klopp is spotted in Morecambe looking at holiday homes? Bournemouth look doomed if Wilson’s injury is long term. A league which flattered to deceive. Fantasy football league has gone a bit Pete Tong. Arsenal’s 5-2 win away to Leicester could be pivotal for both team. Arsenal should move up the table while Leicester’s inability to keep a clean sheet will mean that they are down in mid table obscurity by November.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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Leeds. End of September. Rugby Union. Elland Road. It has an unusual ring to those words. Leeds, a note rugby league stronghold holding their first ever RWC fixture. Hawkeye Sidekick casts an eye on the action which followed with Italy doing an Ireland 2007 performance to just get over the line over an incredibly determined Canadian team 23-18.

I am going on record. This is the poorest Italian side seen in the last decade. An Italian team without the mercurial Sergio Parisse is an Italian team without any soul. This Italian side is bereft of any leadership without the absence of Parisse. No genuine identity to their play; they are caught in the headlights. Do they use their pack to create a platform or throw the ball out wide? The players do not know seem to know what to do which begs the question what the Italian management are doing during training.

Canada will rue this game for some time to come. They controlled possession (60 / 40) to their more illustrious opponents but key unforced errors were their downfall (missed tackles, kicking the ball from outside their 22) and the errors were real schoolboy errors. Van Der Merwe was the standout player of this game, constantly menacing with ball in hand, great try in the first half which started deep in Canadian territory on fifteen minutes. However, the Scarlets player will rue the pivotal play of the game. Van Der Merwe excellently caught an Italian kick but just outside his twenty-two passed the ball to his full back Evans who kicked it directly into box. It was a massive lapse in concentration and Italy did not have to be asked twice to punish the error. Italy created the phrases from an uncontested lineout (yet again) and allowed Garcia to drive over the line (Canada again missing tackles). It was the key moment of the game. Canada had chances thereafter to score a try but a lack of composure and questionable officiating calls from Clancy and Jackson made sure that Italy would hold on.

Italy win but it looks like the camp is in siege mentality mode. Ghiraldini looks to be out for the Ireland match which means that the Italian lineout is depleted without their first choice hooker. Italy’s missed tackle count (30) was incredibly high and Ireland will hope for the same statistic next weekend. The lack of dominance in the back row battle has trouble written all over for it for Italy. Clancy was kind to Italy in this department where the Azzuri were killing ball consistently. Italy need Parisse back, otherwise Ireland should take Italy to the cleaners with a comprehensive victory next weekend. Exciting game but neither side realistically have the talent to get out of this pool. Ireland have little to worry about with Italy, focus on their own performance and the result will take care of itself.

Rugby World Cup – September 23rd, 2015

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Midweek grind at the day job was tempered somewhat with the prospect of watching a couple of RWC matches upon my return to the manor (sorry, watched a bit of Downton Abbey for the first time) so had to reference it in today’s column. There is one game in progress but I think it is safe to say that Romania are done. Let us review the action shall we.

Scotland 45 – 10 Japan

The world’s affection for Japanese rugby was tempered somewhat this afternoon at Kingsholm when an impressive Scotland five try second half performance blew Nippon away. There will be questions on the scheduling of this fixture. Japan only realistically had two days preparation after the sensational South Africa win on Saturday. With recovery time, players needing rest, Eddie Jones realistically only had two days to prep his team for Scotland. As I say this, Japan were the ideal opponent for Scotland. Scotland were never going to be exposed by Japan’s front five and the fast paced brand of rugby that Japan play means that Scotland’s back row strengths at breakdown time would come to the fore. Japan were in this contest for the first half, a sensational kick to touch was adjudged to be fine from referee John Lacey and the subsequent lineout to the back exposed Scotland’s maul ability. Samoa and South Africa will have taken serious note. Scotland soaked up waves of Japanese pressure but their defensive line stayed intact (albeit a couple of line breaks were created by Japan). Scotland to their credit punished any Japanese indiscretions. Laidlaw’s familiarity for Kingsholm meant that Scotland were 12-7 up at the break. Cotter and management then went to work to nullify Japan in the breakdown and also exposed flaws in the Japanese inside out defensive scheme. The second half in truth was a harsh reality for Japan in terms of being punished for defensive weakness. The first Scotland try highlighted the fact, several misreads from Japan’s three quarters resulted in Scotland getting prime position just on the try line. A quick pass out to Scotland flanker Hardie and the scoreline suddenly had a completely different complexion. Scotland running lines improved rapidly after the interval and was emphasized by Mark Bennett’s first try. Bennett’s run off the shoulder was good but Richie Gray’s dummy run from deep meant that Japan had not a clue who to focus their defense on. It was a great team try as Finn Russell and Greg Laidlaw were starting to orchestrate from half back. Japan after a promising start in the second half (early three points in the bag) were now chasing the game and the Scotland third try (an interception from their ten meter line) spelled the end of the game. Scotland continued to impress in the closing stages and Bennett scored his second and his nation’s fourth with a jinxing run evading a now every tired Japanese defense. Mafi’s injury for Japan in the three quarters was a massive blow. Finn Russell’s excellent performance at half-back was awarded with a late try. Great work from Scotland at scrum-time allowing the Glasgow Warrior the platform to go over untouched. Japanese players were now exhausted. Scotland’s bonus point in the bag and thoughts of USA at the weekend. Scotland will realize that tougher tests lie ahead but Japan tested their defensive line with their uptempo brand of rugby. Scotland’s half-back options are excellent and provided that the pack can secure parity against Samoa and South Africa, aspirations of top spot in this pool are very much alive. Japan will dust themselves down, they are far from out of this pool and their game with Samoa will make or break their campaign. USA look the whipping boys at this stage of the pool.

Australia 28 – 13 Fiji

Australia and Michael Chieka in particular were very attentive during the England vs. Fiji game last Friday night. This result was built on a dominant set piece. Australia flat out destroyed Fiji in the lineout and the Fijians inability to defend the lineout was ultimately their downfall. It was too easy for Australia their first two try concessions. David Pocock will not score two easier tries in his career; his pack comprehensively repelling Fiji’s ability to hold the Australian pack’s advances after excellent lineout work. Fjii tried hard, attempted to open the game up but Australia were having none of it – kept it tight and got their rewards. It was only in the second half when the likes of Folau started to express themselves in the contest. Folau’s penetrating run on forty-five minutes set the platform for domineering Kepu to rumble in under the posts. Fjii’s fate was sealed albeit their try was gratefully received on sixty minutes. Volavola show and go was bought by everyone in yellow and green. Australia score three tries, the lack of bonus point will hardly matter with showdowns with England and Wales looming large. Chieka’s mantra was clear today; wanted to send a statement that his pack are not going to be a soft touch in this tournament. The jury is out on that statement but the signs are promising so far. Fiji destined to finish fourth in the group.

France 17 – 6 Romania (45 Minutes)

This has being an intriguing contest. Romania have dominated a nice portion of that first half but with no dominant half backs, no points on the board. Ireland will note the abrasive nature of the Romanian pack, the scrum was strong early doors but has tired in the last ten minutes. France’s tries have come from increased tempo at clear-out and exposing Romania when down to fourteen players. The Romanian prop’s sin bin was justified. The officials have being guilty of a horror call for the French first try, surely foot in touch before Guitoine touched the ball down. The second try was well worked, peppered Romania fringe defense on thirty-three minutes before Nygana scored again from the corner. Romania’s ability to game manage from ten has being damning and Ireland will look to put pressure on in this area at the weekend. Romania’s back line have had precious little to work with but the only chance they did have, they squandered (failed to ground the ball when over the France try line on eighteen minutes). France doing enough. Parra and Picamoles are the key French players in this tournament. Picamoles runs from the back of the scrum is creating the platform for all that is good for France. I am expecting a four win try for this youthful French team. How many Polynesian natives will be wearing a France jersey come full time whistle?

Yogi Berra

The man, the USA baseball legend passed away today. To end the column, I will leave you with these gems:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
You can observe a lot by just watching.
It ain’t over till it’s over
It’s like déjà vu all over again.
No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.
Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
We made too many wrong mistakes.
Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken.
RIP Legend.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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Japan – Rugby World Cup Legends

They may not win this competition. They still have work to advance out of their pool but their sensational upset win over South Africa has kicked the competition into action. It should give the minnow teams encouragement to take on their more illustrious opponents with renewed confidence. Michael Leitch, what a player. Japan’s all action rugby game tired out the physically more domineering South African team. Their decision to go for the win when other teams (Northern Hemisphere) would have gone safe and go for a draw has to be applauded. South African’s management post game was “shame”, but in all honesty, this result will do so much for the development of the sport throughout Asia. Japan Rugby World Cup will be more the spectacle and this victory will focus the nation’s eyes on the oval ball. Eddie Jones will be a wanted by a couple of Super 15 or European clubs once this tournament is concluded. Japan, thank you. September 19th will live long in the memory. Great scenes in Cardiff, Brighton and around the globe apart from South Africa with that last minute try. The upset of upsets?

Ireland – Rugby World Cup Chances

A professional performance against a hard working Canadian side. 50-7 was an accurate reflection of how the game went. Ireland dominated for long periods and that period when Jamie Cudmore was sin binned was very impressive. Ireland put Canada to the sword and their four tries were already in the bag by half, showed England how to kill games off. The pluses were a solid set piece. Sexton’s game management was excellent particularly in that first half, kicked for touch when required to put pressure on Canada. The pack worked extremely hard throughout and the try for O’Brien was a great team effort. The negatives if any are knit picking. Payne will be disappointed with his part in the Canadian try, the kick was never on but Payne will improve as the tournament progresses. Luke Fitzgerald’s attacking threat was obvious early doors, busy in midfield and his runs stretched Canada throughout. Ian Henderson, what a player. Devin Toner has to produce this weekend against Romania, a nice problem for Schmidt to have in the weeks to come. Cian Healy’s cameo was superb to see and will be required for France for at least sixty minutes. Encouraging signs, the majority of the squad have game time and the rest will feel engaged with the tournament this weekend with quality minutes. Let us hope that there are further impressive performances for Ireland against Romania to throw up selection posers to Ireland management.

Rugby World Cup – Other Thoughts

Argentina – hats off to them. They went toe to toe with New Zealand today. They may have lost but they have won many fans with a performance full of creativity and aggression. The Argentinian pack were excellent for sixty minutes today, the breakdown was superb so much so that McCaw was sinned bin for persistent breakdown infringments. 16-12 and the shock was on but how awesome were New Zealand in the last thirty minutes? Offload heaven, gain line yards and with Dan Carter orchestrating the back line plays with a pack who were now starting to dominate, it was only a matter of time when tries would be scored. The New Zealand tries were well worked, stretched Argentina to breaking point. Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Savea – when you nullify one, another players looms large. Only a choke act similar to eight years ago will prevent New Zealand losing this title. South Africa are still in the equation despite the loss yesterday, they are the only team capable of beating New Zealand in the pack battle.

France and Italy was a dour affair. Huget’s tournament exit is disappointing but Fickou is a quality addition. The only weak point is that Fickou is a twelve and now playing in the back three. Italy were extremely poor. Their pack was destroyed in the set piece. Their scrum was annihilated and when referees start to ping you consistently, reputations are formed. Good news for Ireland in two weeks. Sergio Parisse’s absence was massive, the leader of the team was missed in the breakdown and ball running. Italy have massive issues from scrum half. Masi has probably played his last game as a professional (achilles), no game management from ten and Luke McLean continues to do little at full back when attacking the line (or lack of). Pool C suddenly looks straight forward. Ireland and France to advance from the group. Italy are going backwards. Ireland should beat Italy with a bit to spare in two weeks. Parisse will need to perform a super human effort to even allow Italy to compete with Ireland.

English Premier League

Arsenal produce their annual self destructive performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Costa’s action were thug like but Gabriel’s reaction was embarrassing, needless red card and it cost Arsenal the game. I am sorry to say it but Arsenal look well short of mounting any serious title challenge. No leadership in the middle of the park when the pressure is applied, very soft belly to the team and their surrender so quickly will only raise further question marks over Wenger at the club. Chelsea got the result but the lure of negative publicity is not far away. How long will Costa get away with his antics? Mourinho tries to deflect the ridicule but there are still big problems with the team. Drogba is a miss in terms of dressing room leadership. City loss to West Ham who when you look at their losses must be kicking themselves that they are not top of the league. West Ham’s appointment of Slaven Bilic was mixed but his organizational skills have being highlighted with stunning away victories at Arsenal, Liverpool and now Manchester City who without Kompany and Silva look a pale shadow of themselves. Payet looks like the signing of the season so far. His play making ability is superb. West Ham will be a top eight side this season and any fears of a relegation battle ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium next season have being allayed. What chances Brendon Rodgers be sacked by Liverpool this week? A dismal 1-1 draw to Norwich at Anfield must be adding further pressure to the Liverpool manager. No realistic league title challenge, several summer players are failing to deliver and the fact that several summer buys last season be farmed out only highlights FSG’s concerns on Rodger’s ability. United beat Southampton 3-2 but the win was built off David De Gea and Anthony Martial. De Gea’s save on Fonte was world class. Martial’s pace and power gave Van Djik and Fonte nightmares today. Memphis – raw diamond who needs plenty of work. Super Son Day at White Hart Lane.

Solheim Cup

I am delighted USA won today. The controversial European decision to penalize USA this morning was disgusting and goes against everything golf stands for. America’s Alison Lee missed a putt on 17 and picked her ball up under the assumption Europe had conceded it – Pettersen’s partner Charley Hull was already walking to the last tee – but the Norwegian claimed she had not and Europe were awarded the hole, going on to win the match 2 up. It was a shambolic situation. USA were my winners from then on. Europe were trounced in the singles format. Justice with a capital J. Spirit of the game lol.

All Ireland Senior Football Final: Dublin 0-12 Kerry 0-9

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There will be celebrations a plenty around the nation’s capital tonight after Dublin triumphed to win their second All Ireland Senior football title in two years with a hard fought three point victory over Kerry at Croke Park. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the game and pick out five key talking points from the game.

Talking Point 1: Kerry’s Downfall

The reigning champions came into this finale with a very low profile lead-up. The media focus predominantly focused on Dublin and their exhilarating victory over Mayo in the All Ireland Semi-Final replay. Kerry’s performance in the All Ireland Semi-Final over Tyrone looked like an ideal platform for the team to review and improve for the final but today it flat did not happen for the Kingdom. Dublin controlled the tempo of play for long spells and try as Kerry did to stem the kick out platform created by Stephen Cluxton, Dublin enjoyed outfield supremacy in the middle of the park. Fenton and Bastick formed an effective partnership for the boys in blue. Bastick’s focus on his defensive duties, to cut out Kerry attacks allowed Fenton to stride forward and kick some fine points. Fenton’s emergence for Dublin in midfield, an area where Dublin have sometimes struggled allowed the half-forward line to contribute more up the pitch. Fenton is a dead cert for young footballer of the year such was his performances in recent weeks. Kerry’s movement and quick passing were not as sharp as it should have being.  Dublin and Kerry were cagey in the opening quarter of this final, putting their wing forwards line to prevent any goal threat from their opponent. However, Dublin then let loose in an impressive last ten minutes of the half with McCaffrey and McCarthy striding forward with ease. McCaffrey’s score just before half-time was sensational and gave the Dublin the confidence to finish the half in a positive manner with additional scores from Phil McMahon and Paddy Andrews who looked a threat all day. Dublin’s forward movement was in stark contrast to Kerry who were ponderless at times. O’Brien was forced to retreat to his half-back line thus reducing the Kingdom’s attacking threat. Donnacha Walsh’s influence waned as the game wore on. Cooper’s role as a sweeper flat out failed and allowed McMahon to become an attacking threat for Dublin. Kerry will rue their spell of pressure from minute seven to minute eighteen where they hit four bad wides in succession. Buckley’s wide was terrible considering that the Dr Crokes player did not have the confidence to take on his player so close goal. Lyne, Moran and Anthony Maher’s pot shots were more a plea for movement from their inside forward line. Geaney and O’Donoghue were the only genuine threat for Kerry in the forward line, two points each spoke volumes and Kerry management needed to make changes. Kerry’s back line did as much as they could to win this final but it was the sheer inability of Kerry to increase their tempo and passing accuracy led ultimately to their downfall. Kerry management will need to review their team selections. Star and Gooch as an inside forward line pairing came too late in the day. The decision to bring on Paul Galvin may have raised eyebrows, minimal championship time this season and it showed. Kerry’s ultra defensive tactics allowed Dublin to control the game tempo and it cost them the game. Kerry players and management must shoulder equal responsibility for this final loss.

Dublin – Deserving Winners

The Dublin football team have played the most attractive football this season. Yes, the Mayo game was their first realistic challenge but Dublin showed everyone how they have evolved. Committed to working hard without the ball and their ability to launch attacks with blistering pace from either the full forward line (Brogan, Andrews) or from deep (Connolly, Fenton, McCarthy and McCaffrey). Dublin’s win today was based on their dominance in the half back and midfield areas. Dublin’s half back line were nothing short of sensational. Kerry’s inability to pass through the Dublin half-back line was evident throughout. Cian O’Sullivan’s cameo today cannot be underestimated, provided the defensive cover for his full back, game managed superbly and allowed McCarthy and the all marauding McCaffrey to go forward when the opportunity presented. Fenton and Bastick’s performance in the midfield was the surprise of this final. They nullified the threat of David Moran in the aerial battle and while Maher was solid, his influence from an attacking standpoint was rather muted. Dublin’s half forward line were excellent today. Paul Flynn showed his class with two lovely scores, worked tirelessly throughout. Diarmuid Connolly was superb, his game management to predict Kerry attacking threats (moped up ball) and his passing and shooting were top notch on a horrendous day for football. Kilkenny may not have scored today but his overall work rate was excellent. No weak link in midfield and either forty provided the platform for Andrews and Brogan to excel. Their three points were key to this victory. Andrews’ point at half-time was a super score, fought off the attentions of Fitzgerald before dispatching over the bar. Dean Rock’s cameo was effective in terms of free taking and was replaced by super sub McManamon. Dublin deserved this triumph. Cluxton and full back line were excellent when Kerry decided to launch aerial bombs late on. McMahon nullified Gooch’s threat. O’Carroll and Cooper were dominant at various parts of the game and when man marker Fitzsimons came in, Dublin did not skip a beat. This was an excellent Dublin performance and three point victory was probably kind on Kerry given the supremacy that the Dublin team had throughout.

Weather

It was flat out horrendous, torrential rain plumping Croke Park throughout. It made the game into a lottery; passing had to be so precise, players ability to move in slippy conditions were key and it was something that Kerry were slow to adapt to. Gooch and Moran’s knee problems may have being a contributory factor in their ineffective performance, the slippery conditions required swift movement and both struggled to twist and turn throughout. The weather added an extra dimension to the final, some players excelled in the conditions while other crumbled. The number of scores on the day was indicative of how tough the conditions were.

Man of the Match

I think the man of the match has to go to Diarmuid Connolly. McCaffery was superb but Connolly’s threat throughout and game management were different class. Connolly is like marmite; you either love him or loathe him. I was not an admirer of the player until today. His performance in the final spoke volumes, forsaken his scoring for the benefit of the team. How many times did he intercept Kerry ball? His ball distribution to his inside forward line were superb. A worthy winner of the accolade. A season of ups and down but Connolly excelled when his team required him the most.

Referee

Coldrick had a thankless task but the Meath native by and large had a good game. He tried to let the game down despite the conditions. Kerry could point to a couple of incidents. McMahon’s close attention to Gooch Cooper, zero protection for Star for a couple of aerial bombs. His reluctance to not ping Dublin for time wasting (bring Cluxton up) was infuriating and there was occasions when Cluxton delayed his kick out horrendously long. Coldrick got the black card spot on. O’Mahoney had to go for his rugby tackle challenge late on. Kerry can have zero complaints on the referee today. Tough assignment and Coldrick worked well with his match officials throughout. I would like to know though how many steps you can now take with a gaelic football now? Both teams were running with the ball for at least eight steps. Rating: 7.5/10.

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Rugby World Cup 2015 Predictions

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And so it is here, the Rugby World Cup kicks off on Friday with the hosts England entertaining Fiji. For many households, the fight for television supremacy will be akin to the two packs trying to wrestle control of the tv remote control. For the die hard rugby fan, this is Christmas ninety-nine days early, pool game overload in the next four weeks will lead to the exciting knockout action. Hawkeye Sidekick casts his crystal ball on the pools and looks at the potential stories which could dominate this tournament.

Host Nation Apathy?

Will the English public embrace this tournament? The answer is trivial in the rugby heartland which is the West Country, East Midlands and around London. The question is whether rugby union will catch fire up north such as Leeds (strong rugby league heartland) and Newcastle (Falcons do play there but St James Park gives the game a bigger profile). It is imperative that the English public gets behind the tournament, otherwise English media coverage could wane in the weeks to come with soccer fixtures going on as normal. The rugby public waits with baited breathe.

High Hopes?

IRB organizers have to be applauded for introducing the four try bonus point and also the loser point (loss the game by less than seven points). It should result in more attractive pool games and force teams particularly at the end of the pool phrase to go for the juggler. Cautious conservative game plans will not top pools in this tournament. The officiating will be under the spotlight. Let us hope for some level of consistency in the application of the laws of the game. I would hope that the attacking team gets the benefit of the doubt, defensive teams are getting away with several infringements (offside, killing ball at the breakdown). It is time that this tournament is remembered for flowing running rugby and not depressing stalemates in the breakdown and laborious kicking tactics from opposing back threes.

Pool Predictions:

The toughest pool to call is Pool ‘A’ – the pool of death between the Commonwealth buddies of England, Australia and Wales. Wales have being dealt two massive blows with injuries to Rhys Webb who has excelled in the scrum half position since taking over from Mike Philips last season and Leigh Halfpenny for his full back and goal kicking, what an asset lost before a ball was kicked in the tournament. I still am baffled why both played against Italy in that fateful international pre-season game after a massive game against Ireland the previous week. Wales can go in two directions now, offer little in resistance or regroup and come out fighting. I sense Wales will come out swinging but there are massive issues at front row. Samson Lee will be rushed into action with achilles not fully healed. Hibbert’s exclusion is still baffling as the other Wales options offer little in terms of dynamism around the field and their throwing at set-piece to second and third lineout options leaves plenty for improvement. Wales’ success will be based off their back row. Their back row options are embarrassing. Tipuric who was superb against Ireland in the recent friendly match may not get into the starting lineup. Lydiate, Faletau and Warburton will be selected and their experience, know how in disrupting opposition ball could cause both England and Australia massive problems. Mike Philips will be asked to control affairs, nothing too flashy as without Jonathan Davies and Halfpenny, there is no real cutting edge to Wales’ back play. Wales will try hard but the injuries and lack of squad depth in the front row area will prove fatal. England and Australia to advance but questions abound on their chances. England are solid, waiting for Sam Burgess to explode for initial gain line advantage but their inability to reduce the penalty count (scrum time and offside) in addition to not putting teams to bed when having them by the throat will only be exposed when the knockout phrase of the tournament commences. Australia on paper have the most free flowing rugby team in this competition but questions on the front five continue to haunt Chieka. Australia in seven days in August proved the point, a sensational victory over New Zealand based on excellent running lines and a pack which fronted up to New Zealand was then reduced to rubble in Christchurch. Their pack were second best and this is the achilles heel which will dent their tournament hopes. England to top the group and Australia despite their pack problems will advance. Wales unluckily exiting the tournament at this early stage.

Pool B should see South Africa and Scotland advance to the last eight but Samoa are the dark horse that could wreck that prediction. Samoa’s aggressive running rugby style will pose problems for Scotland. Will Scotland be able to nullify the threat? Missed first time tackles count will spell disaster for Scotland. South Africa come into this tournament with allegations of discrimination in squad selection ringing in their ears. Victor Matfield’s led pack have the best lineout in the tournament, incredible options with Matfield and Etzebeth. The Boks are an extremely solid unit, no obvious weak links and with Ruan Pienaar and Morne Steyn at half-backs, a solid platform will be laid for the likes of De Villiers and Habana to flourish. Pollard and Le Roux have the potential to turn a game on its head. Patrick Lambie’s ability to fill most back positions is a real asset to the team. They will advance to the last four and after that, it is the lap of the gods and lady luck to decide what happens. Scotland should be buoyed by recent pre-season outings. Vern Cotter has had to look for a quality front row replacement to the retired Euan Murray (what a massive loss) but has being comforted by the form of his Glasgow contingent who won the Guinness Pro 12 playing a brilliant brand of running rugby. When you add the late season emergence of Edinburgh who won the European Challenge Cup, things look bright. The Scottish aim is to advance from the pool stage but with Samoa in the pool, it is a 50/50 game. Scotland get the nod based on the support from the stands. Hidalgo Clyne to be a highlight of the tournament.

Pool C is straightforward. The only question is how many tries New Zealand will accumulate during the pool phrase. This could be a world record total. Argentina will attempt to bludgeon the All Blacks with an aggressive pack and kicking game but resistance will be futile. Tonga, Georgia and Namibia – thanks for coming, not sure what benefit a 60+ hiding from New Zealand will do for their long term ambitions and aspirations. The easiest pool of the tournament.

Pool D represents on paper an intriguing three team battle for two spots. France – the enigma of the tournament, can either be world class or a shambolic Sunday League rugby pub team with little organization. France at the RWC can never be written off but their talent pool has diminished with the emergence of foreign players in the key positions in the French league. Philippe Saint Andre looks a proverbial sitting duck ala Marc Lievremont four years ago. If the team advances, it will be down to the players and not the coach who will be replaced by Guy Noves (ten years too late). Saint Andre surely has nothing in his game plan book that has not being seen before. Parra and Fofana are keys to France’s progress. Parra needs to game manage when required, kick his penalties while Fofana has to be prominent in all attacking play. The pack will be abrasive, scrum will be seriously competitive and looks like one of the best scrum outfits in this tournament.

Italy will provide passion in spades but without Parrisse in the opening game, the Azzuri will be already with their backs against the wall. Italy have shown precious little in the warm-up games, hit for fifty by Scotland. No back line threat will mean that the Italian set piece and pack will be overworked. The lack of accurate penalty kicker could be decisive in their pool elimination.

Ireland, the expectations are tempered after successive warm-up games losses against Wales and England. Ireland’s progression will depend on how mentally tough the squad and management is. What do I mean by this? Ireland’s under performance in recent World Cups looms large in the mind, the lack of composure against Wales four years ago, the total lack of performance eight years previous should be an inspiration but will it? Ireland will get out of the pool but it all hinges on Cian Healy’s fitness. If in form, the Leinster talisman will be a formidable opponent against the French in the scrum and in open play. I dread the thought of Tadhg Furlong having to face the French scrum, the likes of Nicolas Mas in scrum time, oh dear, where is the bind? Penalty guzzling machine beckons. Hoping I am wrong but in all honesty, France will rise to the Ireland game and will beat Ireland by less than seven points. Ireland to win if they can banish the mental scars of the past but it looks a stretch. Ireland to face New Zealand in the last eight, oh dear.

Predictions:

Pool A – England (1), Australia (2)

Pool B – South Africa (1), Scotland (2)

Pool C – New Zealand (1), Argentina (2)

Pool D – France (1), Ireland (2)

QF1 – South Africa to beat Australia (classic)

QF2 – New Zealand to beat Ireland (ten point win for All Blacks after a gallant Ireland display)

QF3 – Argentina (to shock France)

QF4 – England to beat Scotland (narrowly)

SF1 – South Africa (to shock New Zealand)

SF2 – England (to beat Argentina)

Final – South Africa (they will be dancing in the courts of Johannesburg on this result)

September 13th – Random Sporting Thoughts

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Bord Gais U21 All Ireland Hurling Final

September 12th, 2015. Is this the day that new hope and a new era emerges in Limerick intecounty hurling? The sixteen point victory over Wexford (0-26 to 1-07) at the glorious Semple Stadium surroundings potentially indicates good times are not far away for the Shannonsiders. This victory was built on the basic fundamentals of the game: work rate, clinical skills and the ability to take scores when presented.

Wexford came into the final with optimism. The Leinster U21 final demolition of Kilkenny at Wexford Park was an excellent performance collectively and many pundits tipped the Model County for final success. The Antrim All Ireland semi-final success was routine against limited opposition but the wide count suggested issues with shot selection and the over reliance on Conor McDonald and Kevin Foley to lead the attack. Wexford’s championship run was bulit on a dominant half-back line and the ability of midfield duo French and Kenny to support their forward line to hit scores. JJ Doyle’s charges were in their second successive U21 All Ireland Hurling final and hopes were high that the wrongs of twelve months previous would not be repeated.

Limerick for their part were extremely battle hardened. A titanic victory over Tipperary in the Munster semi-final laid the foundations and lessons learned to overcome reigning champions Clare in Cusack Park in the provincial final. The All Ireland semi-final tussle with Galway demonstrated the heart, hunger and determination of this Limerick outfit. Their never say die attitude when the Tribesmen asked questions in the first half threw an emphatic response in the second half. Limerick’s critics rounded that the team were only playing in patches and allowing opposition to get back into games. Would the same apply in the All Ireland final?

The final was the most emphatic performance produced by a Limerick hurling team in many a year. Not since the imperious three in a row Limerick U21 hurling team has their being a performance which oozed class from first to final whistle. This victory was built on a dominant Limerick half-back line who cleaned Wexford in all departments. The battle in the air was a no contest as Byrnes, O’Connell and Hegarty were winning Wexford puck outs with ease. When the ball did go into the Wexford full forward line, they found the Limerick full back line in excellent form. Richie English’s reputation as a superb man marker was further enhanced as the Doon man marked both McDonald and Foley (the two key Wexford forwards) out of the game. English was supported ably the smart performances from Finn and Casey who consistently won their battles in the corner back positions, choosing the right option with ball in hand throughout.

Wexford were struggling to get to the tempo of this contest. Their approach of trying to run with ball in hand through Limerick’s rearguard was back firing spectacularly as Limerick’s superior pace was closing out space. Wexford’s sheer inability to take a long range score to change Limerick’s defensive mindset meant that Limerick’s management could focus on the midfield and forward line areas. In fairness, these units were well on top also. Doon duo Ryan and O’Donovan’s work rate and ability to take scores (three points from play) meant that French and Kenny were out of the game after only forty minutes. The forward line were relishing the quality ball distribution from the Limerick half back and midfield areas. The diagonal ball across the pitch is a dream pass for any attacker in particular Barry Nash. The South Liberties had a dream final, involved in all that was good in Limerick’s play throughout, ran with pace and power through the Wexford rearguard and chipped in with five points to win the man of the match accolade.

The first half talking points were the two disallowed goals, one each for Limerick and Wexford. Johnny Ryan’s intrepretation of the advantage rule infuriated both set of fans as both Ronan Lynch and Kevin Foley had goals which should have probably stood. The Wexford disallowed goal was crucial as the Model county needed a break to get back into the contest. With that chance, went their opportunity to cast doubt in Limerick’s minds. The seven point interval lead for Limerick was kind on Wexford considering the dominance enjoyed by Limerick all over the pitch. Wexford’s four points in the first half did not bode well for the second half and Limerick never looked back. The second half was more of the same as Limerick continued to dominate in the half-back line, setting the platform for their forward line to grow further into the contest. Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch who was a stand-out in his running and ball distribution throughout scored at points at will. Conor McDonald’s goal with ten minutes left one hoped would setup a frantic finale but that goal was to be Wexford’s final score as Limerick emphatically put the tie to bed with eight unanswered points. It was exhibition stuff at the end from Limerick, flicks, extravagant hand passes were in full flow now as Peter Casey’s marked an excellent cameo off the bench to hit two points. The final whistle was greeted with the traditional Limerick hurling pitch invasion as Wexford fans and team left the hallowed turf of Semple Stadium wondering what went so wrong on the pitch? A fantastic win for Limerick hurling, the underage structures are reaping the rewards. U21 only indicates that the raw material is there to progress to senior, no guarantee of success in senior but this group of players have all the attributes to grow into senior and potentially break the Limerick Senior Hurling famine. The team and management deserve great praise for how they performed when it mattered, the final.

Guinness Pro 12

Glasgow to their credit got their season back on track with an exciting 33-32 win over Connacht who showed us that they simply do not learn from their mistakes of last season. Glasgow punished Connacht’s inability to settle into the game and their lead was well merited in the opening period. The line breaks and off loads from the hosts were a joy to watch. Connacht fresh from a tongue lashing from Pat Lam came out and performed, could have sneaked the game late on but it would have being wholly undeserved considering their first forty minutes. Glasgow minus at least sixteen first team players deserved massive credit for this performance, backs were against the wall after last weekend’s shock loss to Scarlets and they produced the goods. The league is extremely tight and today’s action at the Liberty Stadium typified this. Munster produced the classic smash and win with a late CJ Stander try breaking the Ospreys’ hearts. Munster’s penalty count at the breakdown was horrific and Sam Davies punished most indiscretions. Tyler Bylendaal’s debut at ten looked promising, great kick for Stephen Fitzgerald’s try. Saaili at thirteen provides much needed grunt and power with ball in hand. Munster win but plenty of scope for improvement, the season is still in its early days and Axel Foley has given players game time early doors. Two wins from two, solid start to the campaign. Leinster win at the RDS. Cardiff Blues are an improved outfit this season and credit to Leinster whose 23-15 win was achieved with numerous second string selections. Flier is a super prospect and Nacewa does not seem to have missed a beat. Ulster’s basic fundamentals were left at home as an error strewn display cost them any losing bonus point against Scarlets. McCloskey at twelve is a beast, shame that no trial game was given to the Ulster player. Two week break from the league. Wonder why the league organizers did not defer the league til end of September? No momentum built in promoting the league.

September 9th – Random Sporting Thoughts

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Wales Rugby Injury Blows

The news that every Welsh rugby fan dreaded. Leigh Halfpenny is out of the Rugby World Cup. The injury sustained against Italy looked serious and the prognosis today confirmed the grim news – out of the tournament and with it Wales’ chances of realistically advancing from the pool of death. Add to the mix that in form scrum half, Rhys Webb looks certain to miss some or not all of the tournament, Warren Gatland has questions to answer. Why decide to play so many first choice players against Italy after a hard battle against Ireland seven days prior? It is clear that Gatland has zero faith in his fringe squad players. Mike Philips will be a cert to resume at scrum half after being told that he was surplus to requirements a couple of weeks ago. Liam Williams will deputise at full-back, will not let anyone down but here lies the problem for Wales. Who will provide the assured penalty kicking in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny? Gatland’s worse case scenario has played out just two weeks before the tournament kicks off. It will be interesting to see what the New Zealander does to nullify two massive blows to his squad so close to the tournament.

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Hawkeye Sidekick Senior Hurling Team of the Year

It is the end of year review and here are my selections for the end of year senior hurling team of the year.

  1. Colm Callanan (Galway) gets the nod in goal ahead of Darren Gleeson (Tipperary) – not much between either player but Callanan’s assured final performance yesterday is enough for me.
  2. Paul Murphy (Kilkenny) – easy decision. His home is at corner back and he dominated the position this year after a shaky full back experiment in the NHL. Darragh Fives and Padraic Mannion were the other contenders.
  3. James Barry (Tipperary). This was not a vintage year for full backs. Barry was the classiest full back performer this year, was excellent throughout the championship and gets the nod ahead of Kilkenny’s Joey Holden who was solid if unspectacular.
  4. Cathal Barrett (Tipperary). The stand-out corner back this year. The Holycross Ballycahill club man continues his meteoric rise with an emphatic second year in Tipperary colors. Like Paul Murphy, dominated his position this season and was prominent in all that was good for Tipperary this season.
  5. Daithi Burke (Galway). Galway footballers loss is Galway hurlers gain. The Turloughmore club man was superb throughout but came to the party when it mattered against Tipperary and Kilkenny in the All Ireland series. He snuffed out the threat of Bonnar Maher in the semi-final (no easy feat) and produced a stirring display against Richie Hogan in the final. A superb year for Burke and more is to come from the player next season.
  6. Austin Gleeson (Waterford). Kieran Joyce (Kilkenny) ran Gleeson close but how can you leave the Waterford man out of this team? His exuberance running with ball in hand, his majestic sideline cuts, his aerial ability to catch ball was superb all year. He was one of the key men for Waterford this year.
  7. Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny). No arguments here. The Danesfort player was light years ahead of any other player in this position. Strong in the air and on the ground, ability to strike points from distance; the player has it all.
  8. David Burke (Galway). Supreme player who has battled back from serious injury early in the season. His performances against Tipperary and Kilkenny were superb, tactically astute, great ball distribution who can chip in with a couple of points per game. His performance along with Andy Smyth in the semi-final was one of the best midfield performances seen in Croke Park for many a year. Burke was not to blame for yesterday’s final reversal. A deserving award for the St Thomas’ club man
  9. Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny). The unsung hero of the Kilkenny team. His work rate, ability to win and setup ball for colleagues went so unnoticed. Fogarty won each of his championship battles this year and continues to grow into the position. His work ethic and solidity allowed Michael Fennelly to stride forward and score several scores yesterday. I think Fogarty’s consistency this year has to be rewarded, thoroughly deserved.
  10. Kevin Moran (Waterford). Contentious for some but Moran was the leader of the Waterford hurling renaissance this year. His work rate to support his half back line and his ability slot points over when required were eye catching. Unlucky to miss out on an All Star last year, Moran will be a leading candidate this year.
  11. Richie Hogan (Kilkenny). No brainer. The Danesfort man was the leading HOTY contender until the quad injury curtailed his influence yesterday. His overall contribution from open play was a joy to watch and his ability to find a colleague in space was worth the gate admission throughout the year.
  12. TJ Reid (Kilkenny). The HOTY player elect. The Ballyhale Shamrocks club man finished the championship with an emphatic final display. His goal was pivotal in keeping Kilkenny in the game yesterday. His ability to score points from frees and open play makes him the leading candidate to win the top player award.
  13. Maurice Shanahan (Waterford). The Lismore club man single handed gave Waterford an attacking platform in the full forward line, scored goals and when Padraic O’Mahoney was injured stepped into the breach to diligently score frees. If Waterford can provide more support to the player next season, Waterford could seriously threaten Kilkenny next season.
  14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary). 3-9 in the All Ireland semi-final was not enough, the Drom Inch club man destroyed each opponent that he faced in the championship. His goal threat either in the air and on the ground was the key highlight. Callanan will be a HOTY candidate but will be pipped by TJ Reid.
  15. Joe Canning (Galway). After yesterday, Galway still require Joe Canning to be the main talisman. People will say that his accuracy was a little off this season but his work rate and ability to setup colleagues for numerous scores has to be highlighted. Glorious first half performance yesterday, cannot be left out of the team. He edges out Jonathan Glynn (Galway) and Bubbles O’Dwyer (Tipperary) in the team.

The top four teams in the land dominate and rightfully so. Several counties this year failed to come to the party and this selection merits this. Hopefully, that the likes of Cork, Clare, Limerick, Wexford return with renewed focus and hunger to battle it out with the top four teams this season in the country.

Republic of Ireland

I do not believe it. Republic of Ireland are suddenly four points clear of Scotland for third place. A vital one nil victory over Georgia tonight could be key to advancing to the playoffs. A scrappy affair was decided by an excellent piece of skill from Jeff Hendricks who dribbled past several would be Georgia tackles to setup Jonathan Walters to slot into the back of the net. James McCarthy had arguably his best game for the Republic tonight, commanding in the middle of the park and was willing to shoot tonight. Scotland were excellent tonight but did not get the rub of the green against Germany at Hampden Park. This was a superb game, excitement throughout. Scotland in another qualification campaign could have got two draws against Germany. They were extremely competitive throughout. Muller’s first goal was back breaking for the hosts, nasty deflection to the net but Hummels own goal got them back into the tie. Muller’s second goal was then cancelled out by McArthur’s effort from outside the penalty area just before half-time. Germany finally won it with a smart finish from Erdogan but Scotland continued to pepper Germany late on. Scotland cannot lose hope, win their last two games and see what Republic can do against Germany and Poland. All to play for. NI are destined to qualify for France, vital draw tonight and a win against Greece next month will guarantee top spot in their group. With Wales’ impending qualification, the home nations are performing very strongly. England’s progression to the European Championships to be tested against the Swiss tomorrow night. They may be qualified but they need a serious test before the tournament so this match could be realistically the last opportunity for Hodgson to run the rule over his squad.

All Ireland Senior Hurling Final: Kilkenny 1-22 – 1-18 Galway

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The fly is an interesting insect, lurks around places and eavesdrops on all sorts. Oh to be one of those flies in the Kilkenny hurling dressing room at around 4.10pm today when the reigning champions who were second best in the first thirty-five minutes against a determined Galway challenge three points up and flying (excuse the pun). What was said in the Kilkenny dressing room? What did Jackie Tyrell and Michael Fennelly say to the troops to make the required impact in the second half? Those words will become words of folklore and leadership as Kilkenny were a completely different animal after the break. Their intensity and physicality in those opening ten minutes of the second half were awesome. Trailing by three points, Kilkenny strode out to a four point thanks to mercurial TJ Reid from frees and open play, Ger Aylward and Richie Hogan (clearly not fit) but chipped in with two quality scores from play. The writing was on the wall for Galway, all the more baffling for the Westerners after a barnstorming first half performance.

Galway started the final in positive fashion. Joe Canning leading the attacking with several points from frees and open play. Jason Flynn chipped in after a nervy start with some monstrous long range frees. His first free scored was nothing short of sensational. After Kilkenny scored the first goal courtesy of TJ Reid (thanks to great selfness work from Walter Walsh to dispose the ball from John Hanbury just outside the Galway square), Galway responded with points from the impressive David Burke, Jason Flynn and Cyril Donnellan who was setup by a super Callanan puck out. The Tribesman’s intensity in the backs and forward line was incredible midway through the opening half. Kilkenny were struggling to gain any tempo in their play, constantly under pressure with the ball and their forward line were struggling to gain a foothold such was the dominance of the Galway back line. Daithi Burke and Iarla Tannian in particular outstanding in dominating the aerial tussles and launching numerous attacks. Galway for their dominance were keeping Kilkenny in this contest, some horrendous shooting from good positions were damning and perhaps was a reason why Aidan Harte was taken off after twenty-two minutes. Harte’s substitution for David Collins will initiate debate all over Galway. Harte has being a standout performer for the team this year but Kilkenny were targeting his position. Eoin Murphy’s ball distribution was peppering puck outs down on the Gort clubman, albeit not being cleaned out, the threat was sufficient for Galway management to make the change. Kilkenny’s half-forward line were second best for long periods of that first half but credit where credit is due, they refused to panic and continued to probe for scoring opportunities.

The Johnny Coen incident for me personally was the turning point of this final. Prior to this incident, Galway were getting the rub of the green in terms of refereeing decisions. However, when Coen swung his hurley off Colin Fennelly (lucky not to see red) to prevent a goalscoring opportunity, James Owens started to penalize Galway more from then on.  If this was not an All Ireland hurling final, Coen would have walked and the Wexford referee knew it as well. Galway got away with one in this incident but the incident galvanized Kilkenny and potentially was something that was mentioned during the half-time Kilkenny team talk in terms of upping the physicality. For all Galway’s hurling and endeavour, they were only three points up. Everyone knew that Kilkenny would come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders in the second half. Galway’s management and players obviously did not read the memo.

All Ireland Hurling finals are defined on periods of pressure and dominance. The lesson this weekend has being that teams who have superiority need to hammer home their advantage, kill off the opposition. Unfortunately, both Western counties at Croke Park this weekend (Galway and Mayo) were guilty of this key point. Galway instead of driving on in the second half suddenly became ultra defensive. Cathal Mannion who had a quiet afternoon caused more problems for Galway by coming more deeper for the ball. Galway’s distribution in the first ten minutes of the second half will haunt the team this winter, aimless high ball into the Kilkenny back line who devour this type of ball. Galway movement and support for the player with the sliothar was non-existent. No heads up composure to pick out a Galway player in space, it was all frantic. Holden and Prendergast were now growing in confidence and the imperious Paul Murphy was dominating. Kilkenny’s half-back line drove the team forward and set the platform for victory. Buckley and Walsh chipped in with long range scores from play and it emphasized the dominance enjoyed by Kilkenny in the second half. Joyce’s command of the middle meant that Galway had precious little ball coming into the full forward line, cue disaster. Galway looked out of gas, on the canvas and Kilkenny sensing blood went for the kill and strode out to a seven point lead with ten minutes left. All the Kilkenny forward line were now joining the party. Walter Walsh, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly scoring points to open the gap further. Kilkenny’s composure to spot a colleague in a better position was admirable in a red hot atmosphere. Richie Hogan’s vision despite hampered with a quad injury was a joy to watch. Galway had no-one in their forward line who could setup scores in this fashion.  In addition, Galway’s decision not to utilise the flanks to open up Kilkenny defensively played into Cody’s game plan. Kilkenny will not be beaten in the physicality stakes, the decision to play Kilkenny down the middle of the park throughout with no varied game plan was a key factor to why Galway lost this final today.

Forget the Joe Canning’s late goal, it was just mere consolation. The All Ireland hurling final was over as a contest with fifteen minutes left. It brought down the curtain to a hurling championship which on reflection did not reach the heights expected. Numerous one sided contests. The only cliff hanger game was Galway’s memorable one point win against Tipperary in the All Ireland semi-final. Several teams who promised much (Limerick, Dublin, Cork, Clare) offered very little when push came to shove. Kilkenny win another championship and you wonder where the challenge is going to come from the chasing pack next season. Galway gave as good as they got in two matches against Kilkenny this year in the championship but fell short of upsetting the odds today. The Galway full back line played heroically. It was the sheer work rate and physicality of Kilkenny which was the ultimate trump card.

Galway can look back on the season with a quiet satisfaction. They are back as a top hurling contender once again. Their underage success (minor’s emphatic win in the curtain raiser) and Intermediate team success a couple of weeks ago bodes well for the future. Galway management will look to add more quality to the panel, increase competition in all positions will only improve their performances in finals such as today. Galway have unearthed several young exciting players. The Mannion brothers, Jason Flynn, Johnny Glynn are now household names in hurling. Consistency is now the key for Galway. How to replicate performances as seen against Cork and Tipperary in the championship game in game out is now the question to be answered? They need to get back to the final next season, right the wrong and their consistency will need to improve for this to happen. Galway had several star performers this year. Colm Callanan, Daithi Burke, Iarla Tannian, Aidan Harte, David Burke, Cathal Mannion, Jason Flynn, Johnny Glynn, Joe Canning have had good seasons and the majority should see All Star honors at the end of the year.

As Joey Holden accepted the Liam McCarthy Cup on behalf of Kilkenny, Brian Cody was beaming from ear to ear. This success has to be ranked high in his resume. Numerous key retirements in the off season meant that Kilkenny were seen as being extremely vulnerable this season. The full back position was an area perceived as weak but Joey Holden stood up to all that was thrown at him. Shane Prendergast and Ger Aylward were integrated into the side and the side did not skip a beat. Kilkenny’s hunger and appetite for success is unerring. It is a case study for any sporting or business organization to strive for — the fear of defeat strikes this group of men on year after year. Hurling is a religion in Kilkenny and the sight of Richie Power (a player plagued with injury) who came for a vital substitute appearance pucking a ball around with his son after the final whistle on the hallow Croke Park turf spoke volumes. Hurling is a way of life in Kilkenny and touches every part of life in the county. Hurling as a sport. Hurling as a social outlet, Hurling as a standard bearer for accomplishment. Hurling is Kilkenny. Take a bow Kilkenny, the masters of triumph. There will be one hell of a party down in Langton’s Hotel tomorrow night and for the rest of the year.

I hate to say it but my preview prediction was spot on yesterday. Gloomy morning in Galway beckons on Monday morning. https://hawkeyesidekick.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/all-ireland-senior-hurling-final-2015-preview/

All Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final Replay: Dublin 3-15 – 1-14 Mayo

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Seventeen minutes left and Castlebar Mitchell’s wing back Patrick Durcan strikes a sensational score to put Mayo four points up. The score was superbly taken. Each Mayo player who received the ball taking the right decision, protecting the ball and probing Dublin defensively before Durcan created the space to dispatch over the bar. Dublin are looking like a boxer who is knocked to the canvas. Can Mayo hit the decisive punch? The answer today at a tense Croke Park was an emphatic no. Dublin recovered their senses and when Bernard Brogan put his boot to a Fenton miscued shot on goal, Mayo’s past demons came back and haunted them.

I live and work in Galway (not the first time that I have mentioned that fact today on the blog). In my line of work, I am in contact with quite a few Mayo folk, great people who are as passionate about the big ball than anywhere else I have seen. Mayo fans always seem a bit quieter this time of year, nervous expectation of what is to come and how Mayo can potentially reverse the jinx since 1951. Last year was a bitter blow, defeated by Kerry in the last ten minutes of the replay due to a lack of game management and composure to close out the game. This year, the same symptoms were in full view. After Cillian O’Connor dispatched to the net after forty-seven minutes following excellent work from Andy Moran, Mayo went into their shell. Mayo forward line retreated back to midfield. Mayo player movement was now limited, no dynamic running lines from Mayo players coming out of defense, no distinct outlet in the forward line. Aidan O’Shea struck an isolated figure in the full forward line having to contend with three Dublin defenders at all times. Mayo froze when given the opportunity to win this contest and when you give a team of the caliber of Dublin a chance to get back into the game, you will be duly punished and so it proved.

Dublin have to be applauded for today’s performance. Mayo asked questions of their resilience early in the second half and Dublin management and players responded with gusto. Andrews was the man of the match today. His performance led from the front and took his scores either left or right foot leaving Barrett and McCafferkey chasing his shadow at times. Dublin’s squad depth ultimately won this contest in the last quarter. Mayo being four points up were then outscored 3-5 to 0-2. Emphatic dominance or emphatic collapse depending on which side of the fence you are. McAuley’s introduction to midfield just as Seamie O’Shea was black carded for stupidly reacting to Johnny Cooper’s shoulder was key. Mayo’s dominance in midfield started to wane and with Fenton making lung bursting runs from deep, Mayo were now in trouble in the middle of the park. Bernard Brogan’s was pivotal in the comeback; instinctive strike for his goal and his run into the penalty area saw Phil McMahon (good cop / bad cop) to punch to the net. Brogan’s hand pass for the lead-up to the second goal will be scrutinized. Minimal hand pass movement but Eddie Kinsella was happy to award the goal. Cue the Mayo collapse.

It had started so well for Mayo. Tom Parsons and Seamie O’Shea started the game with gusto, driving Mayo forward. Cillian and Diarmuid O’Connor were leading the Mayo attack with several beautiful scores from long range but Dublin thanks to Andrews continued to keep in touch. Mayo management risk on Vaughan back fired. The Ballinrobe man was excellent tracking players but could not physically impose himself on the game due to his shoulder problems. Durcan’s introduction on thirty-three minutes was coming a long way off. Mayo’s persistence to hit aimless long ball into Aidan O’Shea bordered on mystifying when the running game was going so well. Different management, same core problems. Mayo simply do not know how to get over the line this time of year. All neutrals will be sad for Mayo but when you commit the same errors year in year out, sadness eventually turns to bemusement. It is like an annual event at this stage. Mayo need to learn from the error of their ways, otherwise there will be more Walford Square meltdowns for Mayo in the years to come.

Dublin have serious momentum heading into the final. They finished the game extremely strongly buoyed by the impact of their subs bench. McManamon’s goal and late point gave the scoreline a gloss but the hard nature of these two contests will have brought the Capital side up no end. Kerry are in for one hell of a battle in two weeks. The classic All Ireland final match-up is complete. GAA may be happy on how the game was played today but the Connolly red card rescinding in the early hours of this morning has left the association with a disciplinary system which is frankly in disrepute. GAA are a laughing stock over this debacle but Connolly was going to get off after Mayo’s Kevin Keane red card was reversed a couple of weeks ago. Heaven forbid what might happen in a GAA pitch this weekend now? Red cards are as worthless as the black card.