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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.