Guinness Pro 12: Munster 28 – 14 Edinburgh

 

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Rassie Erasmus enjoyed a bonus point win on his Thomond Park debut

Ir is extremely early days in the Guinness  Pro 12 season but a distinct gap has opened between the top six and bottom six in the league. For Munster, they are safely in the leading pack and positioned quite nicely after a 28-14 win against an Edinburgh side who struggled at set-piece throughout.

Munster’s defensive and attacking line speed were considerably improved from the last weekend’s close run victory over Newport Gwent Dragons but there were subtle areas of play which will have caused Erasmus concern.

One of those areas was how Edinburgh opened the scoring when lack of control in the ruck area with possession saw the ball come to winger Dean who strode unopposed to score. The visitors probably will argue that it was the least that they deserved following a positive opening quarter with the back row unit prominent in early exchanges.

A real kick in the teeth as Edinburgh were a player down but Munster regrouped well and with their set-piece utterly dominant particularly at scrum time, the hosts were 14-7 up at the break.

Marauding scrummaging from Munster five meters out was finished by a smart Conor Murray finish. The second try was caused by consternation in the Edinburgh ranks after more scrum pressure with Hidalgo Clyne losing possession inside in his own in-goal area. The scramble for the ball was won by Munster and Murray duly did the needful and touched down.

The third try in this contest ultimately settled the contest and what a moment for debutante Conor Oliver who showed an impressive turn of foot to finish with only ninety seconds on the second half clock.

A great moment for a player who Munster have great hopes for. Oliver was on because of the early withdrawal of Jack O’Donoghue who was stretchered off due to a collision with Frazer McKenzie. Injury team news ahead of the Zebre fixture will be noted with interest.

Tyler Bleyendaal has had an extremely frustrating Munster career due to extensive injury problems but the New Zealand player has massive appreciation for open space and making the right pass. His pass to Dave O’Callaghan was sublime and the back row player secured the bonus point with the minimum of fuss after only fifty-seven minutes.

Munster management will have plenty of items to review their charges this week. The four try haul was good but several other opportunities were spurned due to lack of cohesion. The last quarter performance for the hosts was pretty flat at times and allowed Edinburgh to score their second try courtesy of Hardie where lack of defensive line speed was evident.

Amid those negatives, this was an encouraging performance from Munster who exposed the opposition’s weak points in the front five. The scrum has being an important weapon for Munster this season and it continued to impress yesterday with Kilcoyne, Scannell and Ryan having prominent cameos. Tougher tests lie ahead for the front row but this is most encouraging for an unit who struggled at times last season.

Edinburgh are now facing a massive must win contest next weekend away to a Connacht team who need the win themselves to reignite their season. A loss for either side and the Challenge Cup will beckon next season and key squad players looking at their options.

Edinburgh have massive potential in open play but their pack was constantly on the back foot in the set-piece. The scrum was a major concern; points were conceded primarily in this area. An exciting half-back and back line needs good go forward ball and the fact that the scrum has struggled is not giving themselves a chance to get into position to win contests.

For Munster, Zebre come to Thomond Park next weekend and it may be an opportunity for Munster management to give some game time to the likes of Goggins and Bohane who has excelled in recent weeks. Sweetnam has slotted seamlessly onto the wing and the introduction of Ian Keatley at full-back is a welcome addition.

Keatley’s big boot will aid Bleyendaal at half-back whose passing and game management with ball in hand is undeniable but needs to show in the next couple of weeks whether he has the kicking game to launch a platform for Munster deep into opposition territory when the winter weather hits.

Encouraging signs for Munster but fans will be realistic that tougher tests will ensue in the next couple of weeks to determine what level Munster are at in the context of challenging for honors this season. Interesting times lie ahead.

Guinness Pro 12: Leinster 31 – 19 Ospreys

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The pregame notes ahead of this fixture was that yLeinster’s established players were under pressure to secure their starting lineup berths after some keynote cameos from the likes of Carbery. It was a scenario which must have being music to the ears of Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and his international players produced a storming three quarters of rugby to beat a gallant but ultimately out-gunned Ospreys outfit 31-19 at the RDS.

There were several pleasing aspects for Leinster during this performance. The Leinster front-row was in dominant mood from the opening exchanges. Cian Healy was prominent in set piece but his work rate in the breakdown and fringes caught the eye resulting turnover ball which was a key theme of Leinster’s game in the opening period. A display full of work rate, endeavor and fast defensive and attacking lines were the hallmarks and Ospreys who typically are so efficient in the breakdown area found it extremely hard to adapt.

Discipline for the Ospreys was a key factor in the first half; too many penalties conceded with players in offside positions, killing ball and taking players out giving Leinster opportunites to launch attacks deep into Ospreys territory. Sexton’s kicking from hand was superb and with the elements at his back, Leinster tries were not far away and so it proved after the Ospreys were reduced to fourteen players midway through the half.

The man of the match was back row Josh Van der Flier whose athleticism from close range yielded the first try of the contest. A try which saw Leinster patient in their phrases, stretching their visitors from left to right and with the pack taking the ball to commit players from the defensive fringes. Van der Flier still had plenty to do but his stretch and accuracy in the touchdown were impressive.

Sexton soon got on the act as Ospreys’ struggled in the sin bin period and a penalty try was soon rewarded after the Leinster pack were rumbling over for another try. 24-0 at the break and the contest was as good as over. Leinster’s work rate in defense with some hard crunching hits typified by Nacewa who smashed Hasler when a try was on spoke volumes.

Leinster’s game management was impressive in the first period and Ospreys simply had no answer to the tempo, quick distribution of  Luke McGrath and tireless running from three quarters of Ringrose and Reid whose partnership is improving with each passing week.

The high levels of performance for Leinster continued into the third quarter and their fourth try was probably their best try of the night. Several big game line gains from Leinster notably from the likes of Sean Cronin whose work rate was immense throughout setup the platform for Sexton to orchestrate line runners.

Van der Flier provided an excellent running line to unlock the Ospreys rearguard to break the first tackle and run unopposed for the bonus point. Van der Flier provides all the attributes required in a back row seven; skills, pace to compete at the breakdown and of course high tackle count.

Leo Cullen has a difficult decision to drop anyone from the back row after tonight’s performance. Heaslip was typical abrasive in ball carrying, immense tackle count and work rate. Murphy and Van der Flier provided breakdown dominance and the two try cameo from Leinster’s seven will throw the gauntlet to the likes of Sean O’Brien when he returns to first team action.

Ospreys who have started the season with three league wins arouse from their slumber with an encouraging last quarter scoring three tries which perhaps exploited Leinster’s outside defense weak points. Johns, Howells and King crossed over after retaining possession and sucking Leinster’s defense inside.

It is an area of play which Stuart Lancaster will go to review and address. The last quarter for Leinster saw Sexton sin binned due to repeated Leinster penalty concession and with the likes of Montpelier to come in the next couple of weeks, Leinster need to tighten up despite the influx of replacements on the pitch given as an excuse for the lapses.

A contest where Leinster produced a statement of intent to regain their Pro 12 crown and one where Ospreys will look to lick their wounds and try to bounce back next weekend. Ospreys’ scrum-half Rhys Webb will rarely have such an indifferent performance than tonight, distribution was off and when presented with a try knocked on. It was one of those nights.

For Leinster, encouraging signs ahead of the start of the European Cup campaign. Cullen has a squad who are pushing each other in training and it is ultimately translating to wins on match-day. Pro 12 league, you have being warned.

Davy Fitzgerald Ousted as Clare Hurling Manager

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Fitzgerald exits; legacy or controversial era?

Davy Fitzgerald has fallen on his sword and resigned as Clare Senior Hurling manager after asking his vice captains Tony Kelly and Cian Dillon to garner feedback from the panel on whether he should continue as manager. This is the statement that anyone associated with the Clare Senior team wants you to hear; rational discussion and the manager walked in a dignified manner.

I think it is fair to say that this sequence of events is not truly what happened. The leaks to the media in recent days were deliberate and sounded a warning to the Clare board that a potential player revolt was on the cards. Podge Collins declaring his intentions to focus on one GAA code next season; a statement to people on the outside that he would switch to the football panel unless changes were seen in the hurling setup.

When you consider the Clare People newspaper report last weekend of an impending revolt from the hurling panel (pretty much said it by reference to several players threatening to pull out of the panel), it was clear that Davy Fitzgerald was backed into a corner and despite support within the county board decided that he had no choice but to resign.

It is a sad day for the Sixmilebridge native after his accomplishments with Clare in recent years. He owes the county nothing. All Ireland honors as player and manager. Embarrassing sequence of events for anyone associated with Clare hurling. Player power wins and the county board were ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath which prompted Fitzgerald’s decision to step aside. Health problems aside, it was a classic ousting akin to Cunningham’s dismissal in Galway last season.

2013 will live in the memory of any Clare hurling supporter. Their fourth All Ireland title won in a pulsating replay against Cork where hurling fans thought that we had found a prodigal talent in Shane O’Donnell, the full forward plundered a hat-trick of goals against the Rebels. The U21 talent coming through the ranks indicated that this Clare side would be competing for Liam McCarthy honors but it never materialized despite their NHL triumph against Waterford earlier this season; an accelerating performance to defeat Kilkenny in the semi-final. All looked rosy from the outside after the NHL this term, but obviously troubles were in the camp.

The Clare players have decided to cull Fitzgerald and hoping that a change in manager will do the trick. I am sorry to inform the Clare’s player but they were well short in the championship this season. They can complain on the sweeper system adopted by Fitzgerald which has had its critics (including yours truly) but the players lacked the physicality, work rate and attacking threat when it has come to the business end of the season in recent years. It cannot be all to do with the manager and backroom staff which boasted the likes of Kinnerk, Cusack. They had all the resources available to them and yet they fell so short to even make an appearance to Croke Park in August.

The Galway defeat in Thurles this season in the All Ireland Championship Quarter Final exposed massive issues with management and players. Davy Fitzgerald’s health issues created a media storm; it should have provided inspiration to the players but it had the opposite effect. The players’ performance was devoid of the hunger and physicality required in championship action. The two goals conceded were extremely soft particularly the second goal immediately after the restart where Galway walked through the heart of the Clare defense to put the game to bed early even with the famed sweeper system.

Clare’s key players like Tony Kelly, Podge Collins and John Conlon struck isolated figures in the contest struggling to get into the contest and with Shane O’Donnell ineffective in the full forward line, Clare lacked any serious goal threat. The players look devoid of appetite for battle, some may contend that the players were devoid of confidence due to the system adopted by management. It is ultimately the players on the pitch that had control of their destiny and their lack of leadership in the Galway contest was glaring. The white flag was raised well before the end of the contest.

Fitzgerald has had issues with certain member of the panel in recent years; the unsavory saga between Nicky O’Connell and Fitzgerald cast a massive shadow over the team last season. This season, it emerged from the Clare People that the players were unhappy with the marginalization of Paul Kinnerk in the setup; a well respected hurling figure but given the introduction of Donal Og Cusack to the backroom team, it was always going to be the case that Kinnerk was not the only person who would have influence in the style of play adopted by Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was bold enough to bring Cusack into the setup to try and turn Clare’s championship fortunes; it did not work this season but he has to be applauded for trying something new and hoping that a new face in the setup would do the tonic.

Fitzgerald will have plenty of suitors for his services. Dublin’s managerial role looks an intriguing plot line. There are the well documented health issues but the role if offered to Fitzgerald would be one that the Sixmilebridge native could not refuse. A county board looking for a supremo to change their fortunes; abundance in financial and player pool resources.

Ger Cunningham looks vulnerable after two unconvincing seasons at the Dublin managerial helm and with Danny Sutcliffe still on the sidelines, some within Dublin hurling board may look for change. Fitzgerald comes out of this debacle with his head held high and if he decides to take time out from management, there is always media punditry which would be a bonus to hurling fans.

Clare must now look for a new manager, one who will need to put his blueprint on the team as soon as possible. The new manager will need to deal with several players who have failed to deliver in the Clare jersey come championship time and introduce the likes of Shanagher to provide goal threat. The role of Tony Kelly will generate plenty of thought for the new managerial ticket; an undoubted quality player but has had flitting glimpses of brilliance in the championship since 2013.

The lure of a panel whose age profile is young will appeal to several candidates. Anthony Daly, Donal Og Cusack, Anthony Cunningham, Brian Lohan and several other internal county candidates will throw their hats into the ring. All candidates provide Clare with noted accomplishments in the sport but the absence of Paul Kinnerk from the setup is a devastating blow. Kinnerk’s hurling nous and fitness reputation precedes him and Limerick’s gain is very much Clare’s loss.

A period of rehab is required in the Clare Senior Hurling camp but with a competitive NHL 1A in the offing, the new manager will not have the luxury of trying out new players in league games. The existing panel will need to deliver, otherwise their reputation will be in ruins. Intriguing times lie ahead for Clare. Farewell for now Davy but I think you will be back in no time to the intecounty hurling scene either on the sideline or on the Sunday Game!

 

 

 

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All Ireland Senior Football Final Reflections

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Twenty-four hours after the showcase event for Gaelic Football and we have to do it all over again as Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor came up with a clutch forty meter point to setup a replay at Croke Park on October 1st. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and wonders if Mayo have missed their chance or can they drive on and get over the finishing line?

Bizarre Opening Half

If anyone would have said that Dublin’s much vaunted forward line would be held scoreless in the first thirty minutes of this final and that Dublin would be leading at the break by five point, someone would have thought that you were on another planet. Mayo were their own worse enemy in that opening period. Their physicality and intensity in the tackle caused numerous turnovers but their high tempo frenzied approach did leave gaps defensively. Some people will say that the two Mayo own goals were unfortunate but the goals highlighted lapses of concentration and game management defensively from the Westerners. Kevin McLaughlin as a sweeper failed to sense the danger for the opening goal, his positioning was not ideal when the ball was launched into the Mayo full back line, anticipation to the danger was poor and who was he actually picking up when Brogan’s wayward shot came to him is anyone’s guess. The second Dublin goal was a class Connolly long range pass but Boyle’s lapse in  concentration not identifying that a Dublin player was behind him was fatal; his actions to get back were too late. Two lapses; two key moments and two goals which derailed Mayo’s fine start to this final. Andrews’ cameo with two quick fire points from play added insult to injury. Five points down at the half was harsh considering their defensive dominance where Harrison was exceptional. Durcan and Higgins were to the fore and Lee Keegan was busy taking Connolly off his stride.

Disjointed Dublin

Dublin manager Jim Gavin pulled no punches in his post-game comments; Dublin are lucky to be still in the championship. I cannot recall a display which was as disjointed from Dublin in recent years; did the Kerry win take a lot out of the side mentally and physically? The back line and midfield lines were decent for Dublin. The real issues came in the forward line units where there was little continuity in their game to unlock the Mayo defense. McMenamin struck an isolated figure during his final appearance. Paul Flynn worked hard but offered little in attacking moves. Ciaran Kilkenny aside, none of the Dublin forward line were getting into the contest in that opening period. Dean Rock had initial struggles in his free taking but he slotted over his first point after thity minutes, he grew into the contest. Brogan was well marshalled by Harrison in the corner. The malfunctioning performance of Dublin’s forward line raises questions but surely Dublin have the analytical and organizational nous to rectify the forward line performances. Dublin will look at the goal chances created in that opening period where quick ball disposals opened Mayo defensively only for Clarke produce two excellent saves. Dublin’s back line performance was the highlight. 0-15 points conceded and the likes of Davy Byrne and John Small stepped up massively. James McCarthy’s black card was a joke call and decisive at the death as McCarthy’s forward runs would have killed the clock down. Cluxton’s kickouts were scrutinized by Mayo’s pressing high up the pitch but no glaring mistakes. Dublin will rarely have a worse day in the office, expect a more efficient performance. Does Gavin ring the changes or maintain faith in his misfiring forward unit? Interesting times ahead.

Black card debacle

Please GAA. Can we stop this black card debacle? As the likes of McAuley and O’Connor were getting away with deliberate black card offenses, it would have being interesting to have got the thoughts of Tipperary footballer Robbie Kiely whose black card against Mayo a couple of weeks looks even more ridiculous now. There is no consistency in the ruling. Martin Carney passed the comment during commentary that McAuley would get away with it because the referee gave an early black card to a Dublin player. Enough said. Whoever is the match referee assigned to the replay should leave the black card in the dressing room area and let the players play football albeit the amount of thumping off the ball from both sides off the ball was embarrassing. Lane was given little support from his umpires and his linesmen made the black card decision which was wrong. I felt sorry for the Cork official but the black card ruling is an utter nonsense and needs to be clarified. Third man tackle needs to be penalized but the tackle and what constitutes a black card is utterly confusing. If in doubt, do not issue a black card. Can the referee ask for replay footage to make a call? Sin bin should be introduced for the third man tackle. Any tackle indiscretion like trips and pulling back should be a yellow card with a warning that any other offense will mean a second yellow card. Do we introduce a foul count (four) for a player with two fouls for a deliberate foul such as a trip or pulling back the player? The current ruling is not working.

Croke Park – Ice Rink

The pitch conditions when rain hits HQ is a source of great concern. Bastick was the most relieved man in Croke Park. The Dublin player clearly picked the last kick-out off the ground and should have being a free in for Mayo. The indiscretion exposed more the pitch conditions than the match official ruling. The pitch conditions made the game into a lottery and players struggled to get their footing or balance to shot from distance. The weather was inclement but any rainfall seems to reduce contests at HQ to mediocre debacles. Do not get me wrong, the final was exciting but the standard of fare produced was well below the standard. Weather played a part but the pitch surface was not ideal on the day. For the tremendous surroundings of HQ, Croke Park’s pitch continues to cause issues for elite GAA players particularly when wet conditions prevail, something needs to be done in the off-season.

Do Mayo have the leaders on the park to win Sam?

Fair play to Killian O’Connor. The player has being strangely subdued this season but when the chips were down, the star forward produced with a sensational equalizing point. Andy Moran provided good leadership in his cameo but the O’Shea brother performances will be a concern for Mayo. Aidan O’Shea struggled to get into the game and his game management before the equalizer was poor; a speculative long range effort was never going to cut it. Seamus O’Shea’s distribution at times was awful and Mayo need to correct this. Mayo are going to need several players to step up to the plate in the replay. Mayo’s back line were gallant throughout but the forward line lacked creativity and pace to unlock the Dublin rearguard. Lee Keegan needs to provide an attacking dimension to his play; his close attentions with Connolly though effective nullified Mayo’s ability to score from long range. Rochford realizes that the quality of play needs to improve considerably in two weeks; Dublin will be a different animal and it is up to Mayo to bring something different to the table to upset Dublin’s quest of retaining Sam Maguire. An intriguing two weeks awaits in both counties.

Munster Rugby Reflections

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Two games down and Rassie Erasmus has got an indication of the performance malfunctions which plagued Munster in recent years. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the past two fixtures which saw an encouraging win against Scarlets away to be then undermined with a narrow loss over Cardiff Blues at Musgrave Park.

The good, the bad and the injuries

Erasmus has promised players that it is a clean slate and with his decision to give the majority of the squad game time in the opening fixtures, the players cannot complain about not getting their opportunity to impress. The opening fixture embodied work rate, enthusiasm in defensive work and some splendid attacking cameos. The same level of intensity was lacking against a Cardiff Blues side who punished Munster’s slack exit strategy kicks. Two inconsistent performances; early days but there needs to be a standard for the team to implement regardless of the personnel on show.

The rookies in the squad have impressed. Goggins at thirteen has held himself superbly despite injuries to Sailli and Scannell. His defensive work has being on point, his ball carrying has being accurate, a player who will grow as the season progresses and will be improve with the likes of Earls coming back to the first team fold. O’Mahoney continues to show well on the wing along with Sweetnam who has all the skill set to make a massive impression in the side long term. Their willingness to chase kicks and their decision making with ball in hand has impressed. Sweetnam is always looking for space or a pass inside to a better placed colleague, his addition has being most welcome. O’Mahoney’s try count speaks volumes and the Limerick player will continue to improve under Erasmus’ tuition.

The half-back options is the glaring highlight of the opening fixtures. Bleyendaal’s injury concerns prevented his lineout against Cardiff Blues; a worry this early in the season. The New Zealander loves to throw the ball around but there is a risk that he sometimes looks one dimensional. Put simply; Bleyendaal needs to be fit to keep the pressure on Ian Keatley with the shock retirement of Johnny Holland from the sport. Keatley’s cameo against Cardiff was a mixed bag; does a lot of good things only to undermine it with some catastrophic errors. His kicking was at times off point; his kick exit was pounced upon by Cardiff for at least one of the tries. Keatley needs to provide assurance and game management and it was seen in the closing exchanges against Scarlets; more of the same is required from the player in the weeks to come.

The scrum-half is one that worries me and I am not even associated with the coaching backroom staff. Williams and O’Leary are vulnerabilities in the squad and was exposed last Friday night when questionable game management, lack of quality quick ball from the ruck killed Munster all night. Murray’s absence is gaping when not on the pitch for Munster, surely Erasmus is looking at his options. Neil Cronin was not deemed worthy of a contract? Fresh blood required pronto in the position.

The back row line has provided work rate, tackle count and breakdown turnovers at times. O’Donoghue looks a genuine prospect with his ball cartying, work around the breakdown and tackle count; mistakes are being made but only natural for a player who is learning. Stander, O’Donnell, O’Mahoney (Peter) and O’Donnell provide massive depth to the unit, a line which will be pivotal for the team to win matches this season. Erasmus’s experience in the line will be key as well.

The second row has being good at times; lineout has misfired in the opening fixtures but should improve as the season progresses. Foley injury is a concern and wondering if Peter O’Mahoney could be a second row option in his absence? Donnacha Ryan will be the leader of the front five; imperative that he is fit for a good chunk of the season. Cleyn looks like an intriguing signing; height and size, Munster need to execute lineout set piece to see his true worth. Marc Chisholm absence is a loss; wondering if he has played his last game for the province given the concussion issues last season?

The front row has being the surprise story of the season so far. Scrum has being strong, an area where Munster struggled last season. Cronin / Kilcoyne have pushed each other to new levels. John Ryan has played with aggression in set piece and all round game. Scannell at hooker has being prominent in open exchanges but lineout throwing is a work in progress. Injuries in this position will expose squad depth issues but encouraging signs on the line so far; coaching input evident early doors.

The injuries sustained so far this season  are a massive concern. The back line has being decimated. Zebo, Scannell and Francis Sailli are big blows considering the inexperience inside and out wide. The rookies are doing well but with tougher opposition, at least two of these players are required back to the fold. A classic start to the season for the side where good points and issues have being brutally highlighted. The lack of half-back options is the core issue and it is up to Munster coaching and scouting network to identify alternatives. Newport and Edinburgh fixtures could define what season Munster will have. The Red Army holds its breathe.

Limerick Senior Hurling Appointment: White Smoke Spotted

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New Dawn?

September 12th and social media in Limerick hurling circles was a buzz with speculation on the identity of the new county senior hurling manager. Everyone appeared to have the position sewn up depending on your sources; outside candidates such as Anthony Cunningham suddenly emerged as a late breaking dark horse. It was with utter relief that Limerick Hurling board issued a statement late last night to confirm that John Kiely would be brought forward and recommended for the position thus quashing the Irish Times report yesterday which claimed that Na Piarsaigh’s Shane O’Neill was to be appointed. An utterly mind boggling day in Limerick hurling circles; but what is new? Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the decision and some of the points to be raised from the appointment of the Galbally native to the hottest seat in Limerick hurling.

Outsiders need not apply

It was clear from the distinct lack of suggestions from the Limerick clubs to the county board that delegates were not keen on looking for a manager from outside the county to take the reins. Limerick has had somewhat of a chequered history with non-Limerick manager in recent years, thinking back to appointments such as Pad Joe Whelehan, Dave Keane who was unceremoniously dumped from the position after guiding Limerick U21s to three championships in a row (heard plenty of it from Paddy Barry in Quincy, Boston). There was a period of managerial appointments from within. Donal O’Grady and John Allen brought on the side with the latter securing a Munster Championship in 2013 but the board and clubs thought again a Limerick man again would do the trick; cue TJ Ryan who after initial success descended into a malaise with the side bereft of confidence and tactical nous.

The rumors of Anthony Daly and Anthony Cunningham linked to the senior job while creditable was never going to happen. Daly is quite content in his role with Limerick building underage structures whilst Cunningham has being involved with several club teams and Laois this year, however the spiteful ending to his tenure with Galway last season was not what Limerick were looking for. Limerick has an uneasy relationship with outsiders at the senior hurling helm and the appointment would appear at first glance as being safe and conservative given other outside candidates such as Donal Og Cusack looking for an opportunity to manage at intercounty level.

John Kiely – Hire from within.

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Credentials aplenty but question marks abound?

The critics were out in force last night when Shane O’Neill was mentioned as the likely managerial choice. A senior club All Ireland winning manager last season, O’Neill had a good resume heading into this season but failure of Na Piarsaigh to advance from the group stage of this year’s county championship undermined his county management credentials. Did the county board make an offer to O’Neill? Irish Times report yesterday would have appeared so but the media report was then promptly removed. All very confusing. Limerick board and committee entrusted with finding the senior hurling job candidate to present to the club delegates have now gone for U21 manager John Kiely.

On paper, Kiely has the credentials to take the role on. Victorious with the U21 side last season playing a nice brand of hurling which emphasized first touch, game awareness and movement in the forward line to convert scoring chances. Abbey CBS All Ireland club success earlier this season continued the fine management success for Kiely but the U21 loss to Tipperary was a massive disappointment; a performance which lacked the cohesiveness and cutting edge upfront to steer past a Tipperary side who were there for the taking. Tactical decisions during this contest were scrutinized by the Limerick hurling public and some may have felt that Kiely’s audition for the senior hurling managerial job failed. However, it is not the case and Kiely takes on a team which he has plenty of knowledge about given that several leading lights of the senior team next season were on his U21 team last season. Limerick county board are hoping that continuity in the hiring process (a familiar face) will allow the team to perform next season.

Promising Backroom Staff

Meet the backroom staff members who will shape next season’s Limerick hurling team. With the appointment of John Kiely, it was natural that the Abbey CBS principal would appoint selectors who were by his side in the U21 setup. Jimmy Quilty will provide Kiely with stability and assurance; his relationship with the young players in the senior panel will be pivotal in implementing a game plan which was in full effect with the U21 side last season.

The appointment of Paul Kinnerk and Joe O’Connor are potential masterstrokes for the county next season. O’Connor’s reputation as strength and conditioning coach is extremely high; continuity in the management from last season. Kinnerk is the potential secret weapon for Limerick this season. His coaching techniques resulted in Clare securing their 2013 All Ireland triumph. Kinnerk will not tolerate players who refuse to execute the game plan and expect a couple of Limerick hurlers in last season’s panel to get the reality check required next season.

Expect Limerick to play with speed and flair, quick ball to the forward line with the onus on players with the ball to have options to pass to. Movement will be the key to this Limerick side next season; marauding runs from defense resulting in speculative long range drives up the park will not be tolerated. I am excited by this backroom staff; but needs representation from East and City to identify players who are under the radar of the county team at present. The backroom team assembled looks extremely professional and the onus is on the players to perform.

Limerick issues that need correcting

Several issues surfaced quite badly last season for Limerick. In key games, the team lacked the bite and hunger to seriously put it up in NHL and Championship formats. Limerick’s tendency to sit back on their lead in the league was worrying; even more so was the flat performance against Clare in Ennis in April in a winner take all contest. Dublin NHL win looked like a page had being turned only for a disjointed display against Waterford in the NHL semi-final where Limerick’s late adoption of the sweeper system backfired in the second half where the Deise ran riot.

Tipperary Munster SHC loss was a game which exposed Limerick’s lack of confidence in executing at either end of the pitch. The back line were ponderous in distribution to their forward line who were sluggish and were often second best to their Tipperary counterparts. Diarmuid Byrnes aside, no other Limerick player can look with any great impressions of last season. The Clare championship exit was more of the same; no general game plan to impose their influence on proceedings. This is a panel which has talented players but there was a lack of desire, work rate throughout the lines, a season where the likes of Ronan Lynch were dispatched to the intermediate team immediately after the Waterford NHL loss which looked like a panic trigger decision.

The full back position is an area which Richie English should be given game time next season. It was a position which exposed lack of experience in the championship (Dan Morrissey was a lamb to the slaughter) and the acceptance that Richie McCarthy pace issues were a risk to the team which is most unfortunate for a player who has being one of Limerick’s marquee players in the last couple of seasons. English will make mistakes in the position but he needs the time to develop in the position.

The half back position was also an area where no continuity was seen throughout last season. O’Mahoney at half-back lacked the game management at times; evident in the Tipperary championship encounter where he left massive holes in front of debutante Dan Morrissey with the likes of Callanan, McGrath around, it was a receipe for disaster and so it proved. Ronan Lynch was culled after the Waterford loss. A position where John Kiely will need to think long and hard about. Can Diarmuid Byrnes, Seamus Hickey or Barry O’Connell fill the void? Otherwise, the full back line will be in for a busy time next season.

The two forward units require work; their movement was well off the standard required. Yes, the distribution was poor but their general pace, their ability to win their 50/50 ball was second best last season in the crunch fixtures. There appeared little game plan upfront to create scoring opportunities; players had to work so hard to get their scores and the distinct lack of goal threat in the championship was gaping.

Dowling was solid on frees but needs another threat inside. Nash has to produce next season. Will next season see the introduction of Peter Casey to the squad? Several players were out of sorts last season and the work rate and teamwork for both half-forward and full-forward needs to improve considerably for the team to improve next season. Cian Lynch struck a remote figure at times last season. Does the Patrickswell player continue to forage in the corner forward position or does he move out the pitch to create space and opportunities inside. An undoubted talent, classic second season syndrome as opponents were making plans for the player.

Interesting times lie ahead in Limerick hurling; grassroots look strong but the senior side needs to step up to the plate. Time will tell.

All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final – Reflections

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And so it ends, a championship which soared in the last four weeks concludes with an impressive Tipperary victory over a Kilkenny side who appeared to go to the well one too many times. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the best day in the hurling calendar and wonders if this is a watershed moment for Tipperary and even more so Kilkenny?

It would be remiss of me not to mention the superb spectacle that was the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final. The contest was a marvelous advertisement for the game of hurling and the scoreline of 2-29 to 2-20 oozed excitement throughout. Such is Kilkenny’s reputation, this contest was not settled until the last five minutes of the contest.

Tipperary’s management deployed the perfect tactical setup; closed space for Kilkenny to operate in the midfield / half-forward line which sucked Kilkenny’s half back further out the field allowing Tipperary’s full forward line to have the proverbial field day. It was harsh on Kilkenny’s full back line but this line has at times looked particularly shaky this season and it was ruthlessly exposed.

Holden as a full back is no longer a viable option for Kilkenny going forward. Holden has admirably tried to fill the position in recent years but Sunday was a watershed moment for Kilkenny in a position where they boosted the likes of Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney in their era of dominance.

The fact that Brian Cody did not make changes in the full back line spoke volumes on his thoughts on the squad depth defensively at his disposal. Kilkenny need to look for a full back and it is a gaping hole defensively. Prendergast also struggled in the corner and while Murphy tried gallantly, the stellar corner back had to give second best to a marauding John McGrath and John O’Dwyer in that second half whose movement were sensational.

If it was only that easy for Kilkenny to pinpoint their final ailings, the typically consistent Kieran Joyce at half-back was under pressure from the first whistle as Bonnar Maher settled to the task in his trademark manner; work-rate, tenacity and appetite to win ball led from the front. What a leader.

Joyce was also forced to move out the pitch and this exposed massive gaps in the half-back line. Joyce is so dominant under the dropping ball but it was not the case on Sunday as Tipperary half-forward line outworked their opposition line. McCormick, Maher and Noel McGrath winning their fair share of possession from puck-outs and even when lost put so much pressure on that Kilkenny, distribution was rushed and misdirected.

The biggest tactical nous was in midfield. As Tipperary made the hard calls to replace Michael Breen in the second half for Jason Forde, Kilkenny floundered in the line and the delay in deploying Lester Ryan in midfield with ten minutes to go spoke of a Kilkenny management in total disarray.

Ryan’s defensively tendencies would have helped Joyce and Holden no end but they were wholly exposed throughout, something that Brendan Maher did no end for Tipperary; protecting his back line with lung bursting runs to win possession and clear ball.

Tipperary management were spot on in their tactical switch at a vital time in proceedings; gave the line the lift required and Forde immediately repaid the faith by slotting over a key point to level the tie. Tipperary never looked back.

TJ Reid at midfield never worked; a potent forward was an isolated figure as the game passed the Ballyhale star by. His free taking was unerring but his open play contribution was limited and left Richie Hogan vulnerable in the half-forward line with Walter Walsh and Eoin Larkin second best in their duels against Kennedy and Padraig Maher who was outstanding. Ronan Maher rose to the occasion as well, winning eight puck-outs and his energy and work rate was too much for Kikenny. Hogan did score a goal but the game was over as a contest when scored.

Tipperary full back line were efficient in their work rate and defensive duties. James Barry at full back gave the performance that Holden could only dream of; assured in open play and with his corner back colleagues in superb, Kilkenny were living off scraps. Cathal Barrett and Michael Cahill are sensational at corner back, sticky and generally uncomfortable to play against. Their pace and game management were immense.

Kevin Kelly made have got a goal in the second half but he was anonymous for long periods. Liam Blanchfield even more so. The young bucks for Kilkenny did not hit the level required on final day and with the mercurial Michael Fennelly out of the side, Kilkenny simply could not have several players under-perform, that is what exactly happened.

An interesting off-season beckons for both finalists. Can Tipperary learn the lessons of 2010 and move to another level and retain Liam McCarthy? The talent and youthful nature of the panel would suggest it can be done but it will be work and hunger in preseason to achieve.

The fact that the Tipperary minors won on the same day suggests that the conveyor belt is as strong as ever in the Premier County. When you consider the likes of Kieran Bergin, Stephen O’Brien could not make the first fifteen, competition for even panel places looks intriguing, a nice problem for Michael Ryan and management who took the good work of Eamon O’Shea and got over the line.

Kilkenny will not be going away anytime soon but serious questions have emerged in recent weeks on the squad depth. The two substitution cameo from Kilkenny management when several lines were misfiring badly was galling to any Kilkenny player who was on the subs bench.

A final loss which will hurt over the winter, Kilkenny have issues defensively and it could be the end for several stars who have served the county with such distinction. Eoin Murphy and Padraic Walsh aside, no other Kilkenny players performed in the final.

Will Michael Fennelly, Jackie Tyrell, Kieran Joyce, Eoin Larkin and even Joey Holden be around next season? Has Cody the fight to carry on and attempt to build the panel? It is intriguing as Cody’s relationship with his management team looked at times fraught this season. Waterford first semi-final saw Cody strike a remote figure on the sideline.

The chasing pack can smell blood with Kilkenny after last Sunday. The air of invisibility is surely smashed after the performances of Callanan, Bubbles and co. As Clare did earlier in the year, a team who have pace, work rate, physicality and quality inside forwards can reap havoc on Kilkenny.

No sweeper system will beat Kilkenny. Traditional hurling values win out. Congratulations Tipperary and Kilkenny; fantastic contest – up to the rest of the pack to get to the level required but there is genuine optimism that hurling is once more competitive.