NHL Reflections

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Galway get sucker punched in relegation playoff final

The Tribesmen were made to pay for their inability to close out league games against Tipperary and Waterford to be condemned to the drop into 1B after a three point loss to a Cork team who revelled in the open space and game afforded to them by the hosts. Where Galway too confident before the game because the distinct lack of intensity throughout the contest spoke of a team who felt the opposition were well in hand.

Cork’s skill set has never being questioned and the wide open space that Galway afforded to the likes of Pa Horgan and Alan Harnedy was always going to come home to roost and their two late goals sent the hosts down to the second tier of the hurling league. It will be a shame to see the mercurial Joe Canning playing in 1B next season. The Portumna man yet again tried to win the contest on his own as others around him in the forward line went missing. His 0-12 point haul was not to be on the day as Galway’s forward line goal threat was snuffed out by a Cork defense who were rarely troubled in the full back line from open play.

Cork take their second chance with gusto and the Tipperary loss in the last league round was more to do with Kingston and management looking at the bigger picture. Cork will realize that this win does not mask an incredibly disappointing league season but this win can be used as a springboard to launch into the Munster SHC with confidence. Kingston has made some marquee player culls today as the likes of Shane O’Neill and Pa Cronin are deemed surplus to requirements for the rest of the season. When you add the likes of Stephen Moylan and Paudie O’Sullivan have also being released, the management are sending out a serious message to the rest of the panel that they are not afraid to make big calls and the rest of the squad need to produce the work rate, intensity and physicality required for the rest of the season.

Where now for Galway? The coupe on former Anthony Cunningham was deemed by the players as a step in the right direction. The results in the league and the relegation playoff final speak rather differently. The new Galway management are now under pressure and they need to shake things up in the squad, the same squad that failed to perform in the second half of last year’s All Ireland Hurling final. Michael O’Donoghue unfortunately is a player friendly manager and will the new manager have the gusto to wield the axe on certain players whose ringleader skills have being more in view than their actual hurling. Anyone in Galway who reads this blog will know who I am talking about and O’Donoghue needs to be decisive in sending out a message to the squad with some key squad omissions in the coming week.

The game also exposed Galway’s vulnerability in the full-back and goalkeeping departments. Skehill’s puckout strategy was abject as Cork’s half-back line dominated aerial exchanges, no variation in the puckout delivery was shocking. The full-back line was exposed in the closing stages and management need to take responsibility. No sweeper introduced when Canning had put Galway three points heading into the final quarter. The full back line were left far too open and with the likes of Horgan and Harnedy in attendance, goals were going to come and so they did.

Galway will see first hand the perils of 1B hurling; the bad habits of the division will be difficult to shake off. What do I mean by that? Switching off for ten / fifteen minutes during a match is the norm in this division, the  competitive  nature of the league contrary to the Croke Park authorities is inconsistent, you only have to look at Limerick’s campaign to see the level of competition observed. The Laois game was a poor advertisement for the NHL and did little to prepare Limerick for the crunch game against Clare two weeks ago. Galway are going nowhere fast and with the reliance of Joe Canning to the fore, the Westerners are going backwards, not the ringing endorsement in dismissing Cunningham who is looking quite rosy at this moment in time.

Limerick upset Dublin at Fortress Parnell (or is it?)

Fortress Parnell Park was smashed akin to a scene from the Game of Thrones as Limerick took Dublin’s scalp with a two point victory which was kind to the nation’s capital team. This was a game where Dublin’s squad depth was again wholly exposed. Ger Cunningham gave several fringe players an opportunity to impress but like in the Tipperary NHL loss in the opening round, his side were outgunned and outfought. Dublin’s championship side will be along familiar lines, no surprises with the team lineup and the likes of Dotsy, Treacy and Rushe wil be asked to carry the burden.

TJ Ryan mentioned post-game after the Clare loss that Limerick owed Dublin one and to be fair, the team got to the pitch of the game from the first whistle. The Na Piarsaigh contingent were a massive plus for the team as Ronan Lynch, Kevin Downes and Shane Dowling were to the fore and allowed the likes of Cian Lynch and Declan Hannan the space to express their influence on the game. An additional NHL game is most welcome for a Limerick side who need more gametime with the introduction of the Na Piarsaigh players. This was a good result but considering the Dublin team on show, the delight at the result must be tempered. The NHL semi-final will show Limerick management, players and fans how far they need to go to be a realistic Liam McCarthy contender.

Clare beat Tipperary (who are happy out of it)

Clare continued their resurgence under Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Og Cusack with a narrow one point win over a Tipperary side who were punished for missing several gilt edged opportunities. Clare’s league run was defined in their four point win against Limerick two weeks ago, a performance where Conlon was to the fore. The Clonlara clubman was prominent in the early exchanges, scoring an emphatic goal and winning several 50/50 possessions. The opening Clare goal probably saw the best hurling spell from the Banner with some excellent long range scores.

Tipperary to their credit got a foothold in the game with points from John McGrath and Seamus Callanan but the Premier County were routed in the half-forward aerial exchanges with Clare deploying sweepers to close the space on the likes of Noel McGrath. When the ball did get to the Tipperary full-forward line, they looked dangerous and Clare’s full back line were struggling, constantly pinged for fouls which Kirwan used the advantage rule. I fear for Clare’s full back line against a rampant Kilkenny full-forward line in the semi-final.

Clare on the basis of the seventy minutes just shaded the contest with a late goal sealing the win. Tipperary’s free taking was at times absymal and Callanan showed ring rust a plenty in the opening period. The game was patchy at stages but Tipperary yet again are on the wrong side of the result and another Kilkenny loss would have being disastrous so to be eliminated now may be a blessing to regroup and focus on the Munster SHC and a now dangerous fixture against Cork.

Kilkenny annihilate Offaly

6-20 speaks volumes. Offaly had little chance of beating Kilkenny in Tullamore so to have to travel to Fortress Nowlan Park was going to be a massacre. Both teams will have learned little from this contest. Offaly have improved slightly but their recent performances against Kerry and now Kilkenny suggests that an early championship exit looks on the cards. Kilkenny were rarely troubled and their inside full-forward line wrecked havoc throughout, a warning for Clare in the semi-final.

Waterford scrap home against Wexford

Wexford left this contest behind them. Waterford’s performances in recent league outings suggest that the team are on a grueling training sessions, the zip and speed of the Deise has being missing in recent weeks and Wexford were far the pacier, hungrier side. The last ten minutes spoke volumes of Wexford’s problems; inability to take chances when presented. Several opportunities came and went but the commitment and work application from the Model County could not be questioned. Liam Dunne’s team produced a performance and Dunne was happy enough to let rip on a couple of journos on supposed panel unrest. Wexford need to provide the same application in the championship to further answer the critics but the foundations are there for the county to prosper. McDonald at full-forward is their fulcrum and players need to realize this going forward. Waterford will be relieved to get through and a trip to Thurles in two weeks against Limerick will be an interesting fixture. Roll on Thurles!