Munster U21 Hurling Final: Waterford 2-19 0-15 Tipperary

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With fifteen minutes to go, this provincial decider looked to be going down to the wire. Tipperary forward Josh Keane hitting a free to level matters at 1-11 to 0-14. Think again as the home side outscored their opponents 1-6 to 0-1 to win the U21 crown for the first time in twenty-two years.

This Waterford team came into the contest with the hopes of a county on their shoulders. It was this same panel three years ago which were All Ireland Minor hurling champions, a championship which introduced Austin Gleeson, Stephen Bennett and DJ Foran to the masses. Tipperary came into this decider under the radar somewhat; their panel was not as littered with senior stars but there was genuine confidence within the Premier County that the team could produce a performance and upset the odds with the likes of Ronan Maher in the side.

The opening quarter was a nervy affair. Waterford hit the first four points of the contest mainly in part to the unerring free taking of Patrick Curran. The hosts could have extended their advantage but poor shot selection let Tipperary back into the contest courtesy of wing forward Andrew Coffey who had a pleasant opening period hitting three points. Tipperary somehow led with five minutes to go even though Waterford were dominating the aerial exchanges as Brian Hogan repeatedly hit puckouts long into the Waterford half-back line where Gleeson was dominating with some superb catches.

The decisive score of the half came just before half-time when a mishit Patrick Curran free from the sideline was hit to the net by Bennett who superbly rescued the miscue to pull to the net giving Hogan no chance. The goal was pivotal. Bennett knew it and gave plenty of sledging to his Tipperary marker for good measure.

Another decisive incident went the home side’s way when the mercurial Gleeson was lucky to stay on the pitch when he let rip with his fist on Josh Keane’s helmet. A clear red card offense for striking but the match officiating crew who were well positioned flat out blotched the decision, gave the star attraction on show a yellow card. The reaction of Donal O’Grady spoke volumes; a laugh. Tipperary would be forgiven to know then that this was not going to be their night.

It is a shame that I have to even mention this incident as Gleeson was head and shoulders the best player on show. He has the full range of skills but in recent times, there is a trend where Gleeson likes to get involved in incidents which are nothing to do with him. It is good to send out the message that you are not going to be bullied by the opposition but one of these days, Gleeson will walk the line when his county need him most.

The second half was a strange affair; the third quarter ebbed and flowed as both sides enjoyed good spells but Waterford put this game to bed in the final quarter. They blew Tipperary away with some sensational hurling skills culminating in the second goal scored by Peter Hogan, the lead-up to the goal has to be ranked as one of the moves of the year. The vision of Bennett to pick out the run of Hogan was sublime. Game over as the ball was emphatically put to the net giving Tipperary goalkeeper no chance.

Waterford sensed the end was nigh and as Tipperary opened up to look for a way back into the contest, cue Gleeson to score a couple of long range points. Tipperary had no answers to the fatal blows and Gleeson’s fifth point of the night signaled the end of the contest and a ten point victory. Cue mass celebrations from the Walsh Park faithful!

The Deise will enter the All Ireland Series in good confidence; they should be too strong for Antrim and with Dublin / Galway in the decider, few will go beyond them in the All Ireland final but please Waterford, let your hurling do the talking, less of the goading; it got flat out embarrassing at the end of this decider (fist pumps, sledging).

Tipperary were well beaten but contributed to a fascinating encounter. Coffey, Lanigan, Keane, Maher (Phil and Ronan) were excellent and the conveyor belt of talent continues in the Premier County.

The night belongs to Waterford. Congratulations to all concerned and perhaps this is the momentum required to produce a performance against Kilkenny in the All Ireland SHC Semi-Final in ten days. U21 Juggernaut has left Munster. Destination: All Ireland Domination.

All Ireland SHC Quarter Final: Galway 2-17 0-17 Clare

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“Galway are made of absolutely nothing. You can forget about this Galway team — they have no guts whatsoever” – Ger Loughnane.

Ever think of a comment that you make and then want to take it back immediately knowing full well that it might bite you in the rear end eventually. Former Clare hurler and managerial supremo Ger Loughnane must be pondering the timing of the above quote tonight after his native county meek exit from this season’s championship.

Galway’s dressing room was probably like a scene from Criminal Minds, the quotes from a certain Clare man put on every corner of the dressing room to motivate all concerned. The amount of abuse and flak received by the Galway players in the aftermath of the Leinster final defeat has being over the top. Player’s character has being questioned; it was time for the Tribesmen to put up or shut up and they produced a performance full of energy, hunger and determination.

The first fifteen minutes set the tone for the rest of the contest. Galway’s sheer tenacity and hunger to get to the ball first in all line units was to the fore. Galway back line played with supreme confidence and drive. Daithi Burke commanding in the middle of the defense aided by Hannesbury, Harte and debutant Tuohy who had a dream debut. Galway’s midfield switch of Johnny Coen paid dividends as the Loughrea man provided David Burke with the time and space to distribute quality ball into the forward line where Conor Cooney reveled in the opening exchanges.

Joseph Cooney at half-forward was causing Clare massive issues defensively with his direct running style and with Joe Canning in the mood, an early goal was not far off. Cooney exploiting plenty of space in the Clare full back line putting the ball into the back of the net (question marks over the Clare keeper positioning) to give Galway a 1-4 to 0-3 lead. They did not look back thereafter.

Clare’s performance should not have come as a surprise. The side peaked way back in the NHL and that thundering performance against Kilkenny in the NHL semi-final. The NHL final fixtures have caused fatigue and their performances in this championship have fallen well below the standards produced earlier in the year. A miserable Waterford loss and then victories against Laois and a wretched Limerick side did not inspire confidence.

Today exposed massive Clare leadership issues in the players today; no-one in the Clare jersey apart from Colm Galvin drove the team on. Tony Kelly apart from a few cameos was a remote figure. Shane O’Donnell inside was an isolated figure. Cian Dillon was put under pressure on the puckout and several balls were lost in the process. This was as disjointed a performance from Clare all year. Was it because of the absence of Davy Fitzgerald in the lead-up to the fixture? With the hurling brains of Cusack, Kinnerk and Mulqueen in the Clare managerial ranks, this was surely not the case.

Galway hurled with great vigor and determination with Conor Whelan in the full forward line using his physique to win ball. The performance of Beagh’s Tuohy set the tone; the unheralded player from the Galway parish nestled between Gort and Crusheen was pivotal to all that was good for the Tribesmen. His hook on Tony Kelly in the opening period was sensational and his 50/50 ball winning ability allowed his colleagues to launch attack after attack. Great decision from Michael O’Donoghue to make given the apparent pressure on him after that Kilkenny loss. A seven point lead was more than merited as all units were well on top. Canning chipped in with a couple of scores, his game awareness was a joy to watch. Galway were in the mood.

A key criticism of Galway in recent years has being their inability to go for the throat. However, the first thirty seconds of the restart would make pundits to look at these words as Galway’s mercurial Canning struck for a decisive second goal. A barnstorming run from David Burke and awareness that a goal was on with a gorgeous pass to Canning opened up a ten point gap while try as Clare might was insurmountable. Galvin tried to stoke a comeback with some excellent long range points but Clare lacked the nous and skill set to unlock the Galway defense which deployed Harte to the sweeper role after forty minutes. Harte’s adapted well to the role, sensing the danger and clearing numerous ball. Callanan in the Galway goal when called upon was a brick wall and his puck-out strategy was on point throughout identifying that Clare were not pushing up and finding Harte with ease.

Clare did try hard but their attacking moves were predictable – diagonal ball into a congested Galway full back line was never going to reap rewards. The delay in moving John Conlon to the square also did not help. It was a day where nothing went right for Clare and exposed yet again that when physicality is applied, Clare have no answer. David Burke’s emphatic point with eight minutes left sealed the contest. The six point gap was never going to be dragged back as Harte scored one point and had time to miss two more point opportunities to confirm Galway’s dominance.

Galway have produced a performance full of work rate and hunger. Can they repeat again? Who from Tipperary is brave enough to question Galway’s credentials. For Clare, a long winter of discontent will begin. A NHL title will bring little solace, another year where a talented squad on paper has failed to reach Croke Park in August is a damning indictment of Clare management and players. Leadership is in small supply in the panel; joint captains in the starting lineup says it all. Where are the leaders in this group? That is the question for Davy Fitzgerald to answer in the months ahead while he recuperates from stent surgery. His bravery and determination cannot be questioned but his players need to look at themselves on those traits. Will Davy have the likes of Kinnerk and Cusack to assist next season? Time will tell.

All Ireland SHC Quarter Final: Waterford 0-21 0-11 Wexford

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Waterford advance to the All Ireland SHC Semi-Final with a convincing ten point victory over a Wexford team who try as they might lacked the guile and skill set in the middle third to cause the upset.

The pregame story lines were Wexford coming into the contest with renewed confidence and optimism after their win against Cork in the previous round of the hurling qualifiers. Lee Chin and Conor McDonald were to the fore and a similar performance was required today.

For Waterford, this was a day of redemption to tell the critics that their massive system failure against Tipperary in the Munster SHC final was an one off and repeat their performance of five years ago and advance to the last four of the competition.

Waterford management will have mixed feelings on this performance. The good news is that they by and large dominated proceedings. Their midfield line was on top throughout; Barron was sensational in ball winning and general open play. The half back line controlled affairs and Gleeson ventured further up the field such was their dominance.

The bad news is the wide count tally for the seventy minutes. Nineteen wides, thirteen of which in that opening period was damning with several questionable shot selections in the opening period. It exposes the lack of threat in the full forward line spoke volumes; no threat inside and the likes of Maurice Shanahan was forty meters out looking for ball. The lack of goal threat was not exposed today but goals will be required against Kilkenny in two weeks time and not sure it is there after this showing.

Waterford had a seven point lead at the interval, realistically should have being more than ten given their dominance in that opening period. Lee Chin tried hard for Wexford but once Derek McGrath decided to put Kevin Moran just in front of the half-forward, his influence on the game waned. Conor McDonald had moments but there were some bad wides hit which prevented any Wexford momentum to launch a comeback.

Matthew Hanlon, Liam Ryan and Eoin Moore (before injury) tried valiantly for Wexford defensively but with midfield and half-forward line second best, long ball (hopeful) at times was the order of the day. Several near misses in the Waterford penalty area ensued but you never felt that Wexford had the skills and nous to upset the form guide.

Waterford went fifteen minutes without a score  in that second half and that allowed Wexford to get to within five point but the Deise finished the game strongly. Brian O’Halloran score with ten minutes pivotal to opening up the floodgates. A couple of scores from Padraic O’Mahoney frees opened the gap to ten points and Waterford had the luxury to take Brick Walsh off towards the end of the contest.

One serious win does not make a summer and Wexford need to realize that plenty of work is required in the off-season to compete at the top table. A win against an under par Cork outfit is the highlight of their season. Wexford need their best players representing their county. The likes of Shore, Guiney need to be brought back into the fold next season. A serious tilt at NHL 1B promotion is the minimum requirement for the Model County next season. The middle third units need to be improved; were second best today.

Waterford regain confidence but improvement (massive) is required. The scoring options were limited today. Zero goal threat will undermine their ability to compete against Kilkenny in two weeks time. The full back line at times was in chaos when direct ball was played. Kilkenny will enter this semi-final as warm favorites. There should be no pressure on this Waterford outfit; they have gain redemption today and should have a good cut at the reigning All Ireland champions. Otherwise, more questions will ensue about Waterford’s style of play.

Special note for Kevin Moran. Serious leadership in that second half period when other colleagues were starting to wane. Moran is a pivotal figure of the team. His positioning in the half-back line allowed Austin Gleeson was the key switch of the game. The DLS man should be the man of the match. Kudos to Derek McGrath for the switch.

GAA Review – July 17th

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Tyrone’s big stars come up trumps at the death

There are times when a county needs their big name players to produce when it really matters. Tyrone illustrated this point perfectly in the last five minutes of an Ulster SFC final which will not be remembered by the purists with any great fondness. Mickey Harte’s charges were under the gun at half-time, a four point deficit against a Donegal side where Ryan McHugh was dominating the game with some superb line running. Tyrone’s tempo left a lot to be desired and was not helped by the two black cards issued during the first thirty-five minutes, more case study material of how ineffective the black card actually is and its implementation. Both Tyrone players had valid arguments on the black card but that is for another day.

I greatly admire Tyrone, their ability to change tactics during the game and nullify opposition threats. Their defensive setup to stem the influence of Ryan McHugh in that second period was a key factor in how Tyrone won this final. Donegal’s key players upfront suddenly had little quality ball to work from, albeit their slow deliberate hand passing tactics in the middle of the park particularly in the closing quarter was excruciating to watch so much so more that Paddy McBrearty was hauled off with ten minutes to go. No fault of the player but the manner in which Donegal tried to close the contest out.

Tyrone were the team trying to win this contest in the final quarter and Sean Cavanagh came to the fore. His three point haul in that second half was superb; his work rate from midfield, his willingness to make continuous lung bursting runs deep into Donegal territory were sensational. Peter Harte also came to the party. What a sensational score to give Tyrone the lead in the closing minutes of injury time. The strike from well out the pitch was a fitting way of winning a provincial title.

Donegal had little time to respond, they could not create any momentum. Their tactic of trying to close out the game in the final quarter back fired horribly. Michael Murphy did have a chance prior to Peter Harte’s go ahead score but his free tailed wide and to be honest it was the only way that Donegal were going to score in the late closing stages of the contest. I really wish both sides could have being a little more adventurous yesterday; the ultra defensive setups was incredibly underwhelming and you had to feel sorry for any supporters who stumped up the cash through the turnstiles to watch this showpiece event.

Tyrone’s victory has proved that they are a legitimate contender for Sam Maguire. This win demonstrated Tyrone’s flexibility to change game plan, their conditioning and fitness to close out the contest was supreme and their defensive setup in the second half will pose the main title challengers plenty to mull over in the coming weeks.

Donegal enter the qualifiers with a date of destiny against Cork who let us be frank have not set the house on fire in two weeks. Michael Murphy struck an anonymous figure for long periods yesterday; his best position is full-forward but given the style of play adopted by Donegal, he is pushed further and further out the pitch. Superb players are in this Donegal side but they were being inhibited from expressing themselves by management whose fear of losing is self-evident. 

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Dublin stroll to Leinster crown

Dublin are in no win territory at the moment in Leinster. Given the lack of opposition on offer, they are damned if they beat teams by a cricket score, damned if they only beat teams pulling up. Yesterday was a classic example. Westmeath tried hard but Dublin blew the Lakeside County away in the second half. The fifteen point victory was merited as Westmeath lack both the nous, running lines and defensive organization to seriously cause an upset.

Dean Rock display from placed balls will be a bonus for Jim Gavin. All lines were in control throughout. The late two goals put a gloss on the scoreline but question marks again will be raised on Diarmuid Connolly’s temperment after an unsavory incident in the opening period, clearly hauling a Westmeath player to the ground after an initial provocation. The referee did not banish the black card but he may not be as lucky the next time. Connolly is a superb player, his kick passing and scoring ability in open play is a joy to watch but his tendency to react to provocation is a weakness.

Apart from John Heslin, there was zero threat inside for Westmeath as the majority of their players spent the afternoon trying to track Dublin runners. Their qualifier tie fixture with Mayo could prove difficult considering Mayo’s momentum from two wins in as many weeks. Westmeath need to add more threat inside to cause an upset in two weeks. The defensive tried hard but were exposed at times with Dublin running lines.

Given the issues with teams trying to adopt the sweeper system, Cian O’Sullivan has mastered the role. His performance again yesterday oozed class and his decision making to sniff out any remotely threatening Westmeath attacks should be played to teams young and old on how to game read a GAA match. His marshaling ability and game management is pivotal to Dublin given the absence of O’Carroll and McCaffrey. O’Sullivan will be tested more in the coming weeks but he is a  contender of player of the season so far.

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Tribesmen put the Rossies to the sword

For fluid football, Castlebar on Sunday was the place to be. Galway’s two goal salvo in the opening period was key in an emphatic replay victory. Roscommon’s defensive system was fragile to start off with but they were ripped apart by Galway in the opening period. Massive space opened up for Danny Cummins who reveled in the surroundings with two superb strikes. Shane Walsh at half-forward showed pace and power to open space for Galway’s marauding half-back line to launch deep runs which were never tracked by their Roscommon opponents. Sice and Silke were immense. Sice’s goal was as emphatic as you will see all year.

Roscommon have massive issues ahead of their weekend tussle with a rejuvenated Clare outfit. Their inability to deal with Galway pushing up to deny easy ball winning opportunities from kick-outs was damning. When they decided to launch ball into the midfield, Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn ruled the roost. The Roscommon forward line lacked work rate throughout so much so that four of their forwards were hauled off before the final quarter. Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell have problems in the full back line, no protection in front of the line caused several goal scoring chances. Three goals conceded was kind. Clare will fancy a cut off the vanquished Connacht runners-up.

Galway can look forward to a date in Croke Park against either Derry / Tipperary. It is a massive opportunity to stake a claim in the last four of the competition. Their work rate (maligned in past seasons) is no more. Their football skills never questioned but it is their ability to defend with depth but break with pace and power that has caught the eye. Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh stock will rise next month. Interesting times lie ahead for Kevin Walsh’s charges.

 

Limerick Senior Hurling Manager – Who wants it?

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Adios TJ Ryan

TJ Ryan – Era. 

There was hardly any surprise in Limerick hurling circles that TJ Ryan announced his decision to not carry on as Limerick Senior Hurling Manager next season last night. A loss to local rivals Clare in the championship last weekend where Limerick struggled for long periods of the contest sealed his fate.

Ryan’s legacy will be a mixed bag truth be told. He was fearless when taking on the job three years ago after a sorry episode when Cork man Donal O’Grady walked away in farcical circumstances. 2013 was a successful season advancing to the All Ireland Semi-Final where they competed well at a rain soaked Croke Park against Kilkenny. A defeat yes, but high hopes arose from the defeat given the work rate on show.

With optimism high, the following two seasons have being underwhelming to say the least and failure to not get Limerick out of NHL 1B was a massive disappointment no more so than this season when the winner take all game against Clare in Ennis produced a tepid performance from the Treaty County men, a couple of weeks when Na Piarsaigh were crowned All Ireland Senior Club champions.

A win against Dublin at Parnell Park in the NHL quarter-final (which was a false dawn considering Dublin’s season) created some hope but this was unceremoniously squashed with an awful drubbing at the hands of Waterford in the NHL semi-final, a game where Limerick’s late adoption of the sweeper system was wholly exposed. Ronan Lynch was dispensed to the intermediates as a result and Limerick management were frankly at odds at how to play the system.

The Munster Championship was not much better; despite playing with a man advantage for a huge portion of the game, Limerick lacked fight and hunger in their defeat at the hands of Tipperary whose work rate, first touch and overall play were far superior. No Limerick genuine game plan to get their forward line into the game with aimless ball distribution from the back line.

The decision to install Gavin O’Mahoney at half-back with a rookie full back behind him was duly punished by the Premier County and the close margin of defeat could not deflect from a miserable display. A lethargic performance against Westmeath was the prelude to the elimination from the championship last weekend.

Ryan could not be faulted for his commitment but his tactical nous particularly in the last two seasons were self-evident. The players and their body language in these seasons sealed the Garryspillane’s club man fate. Ryan owes nothing to the county. It is time to reflect and choose the right managerial appointment to coach some exciting underage talent going forward.

Who are the front runners for the managerial job? 

There are a couple of names in the ring already and suspect that there could be one or two surprises come the end of the nomination process. The front-runner would appear to be current U21 manager John Kiely whose charges won the All Ireland last season.

The Abbey CBS Principal has also seen success in second level school level with an All Ireland success last season. Kiely has worked with several current and incumbent Limerick players such as Cian Lynch, Ronan Lynch, Diarmuid Byrnes, Richie English, Peter Casey, Dan / Tom Morrissey. If Limerick are looking to hire from within the current coaching structures, Kiely could fit the bill provided that a quality backroom management team is created among him.

If Limerick County Board and club delegates who will ultimately decide the appointment feel that Kiely is not the man for the job, then the Ciaran Carey / Mark Foley combo management may tick the boxes. The Limerick men are currently managing the Kerry Senior team to a promising debut season in NHL 1B and subsequent cameo in the Leinster Hurling Championship taking the scalp of Laois and Carlow along the way.

Their coaching style has continued the good work and foundations created by Eamonn Kelly. Their love for Limerick hurling is unquestioned. The heart and passion which was sadly missing in Limerick’s play this season would be reintroduced and their knowledge of getting the best out of the likes of Cian Lynch would be big plus. This is the dark horse management ticket for the role.

Dinny Cahill will no doubt look to see if he has any support within the county to launch a bid for the county job. The Tipp native is a well regarded coach and joined the county setup last season as a skills coach. The fact that club delegates had issues with his appointment may be a distinct downside but a hurling man of this caliber cannot be ditched immediately. Cahill may not be the next manager but his influence in how Limerick evolve their hurling skills is a necessity.

Anthony Daly and his association with the Limerick underage setup will prompt speculation on his chances of taking the job but to be honest, it will be long odds on him taking the role. Limerick may be reluctant to punt on an outsider. His managerial credentials speak volumes. His Dublin management tenure looks superb when you consider how the county have gone with Ger Cunningham at the helm. Daly may be eyeing a national GAA coaching role. The lure of Clare may be too much as well for the Clarecastle native to put his hat in the ring.

The other dark horse for the role could be Na Piarsaigh All Ireland Club manager Shane O’Neill. The former Limerick half-forward’s management of NAP last season was sensational and his side caught the eye with some classy performances added with work rate and hunger. O’Neill and his relationship with the likes of Dowling and Downes who should be leading forward line figures in the team is a big plus. Time will tell if the solicitor would even consider putting his name forward but a guy of this caliber and intellect would be a must for any prospective Limerick Senior Hurling backroom staff.

John Kiely’s to lose at this time but if Limerick U21 were to be knocked out of the Munster U21 Championship this week, Limerick hurling followers could be looking at their options. An interesting couple of months beckon down in Shannonside.