NHL Review: Round 3 Reflections

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NHL 1A

Kilkenny register first league win

A first league win for Kilkenny at Nowlan Park this afternoon as a determine second half showing proved too much for Cork. After a tight opening period where Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy caught the eye with two long range frees and a couple of smart reflex saves, there was only a point between the sides 0-11 to 0-10 with the hosts marginally leading.

Cody sprang Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh in the full forward line in an attempt to increase the goalscoring threat but it was a frustrating opening for both players as Cork deployed the sweeper system denying both marksmen the space to create goal chances.

The sweeper system deployed by Cork allowed Kilkenny to impose themselves defensively albeit Lehane and Murphy in the half forward line did pose problems when they ran at the Kilkenny defense.

The hosts increased the tempo and work rate in the second half and the midfield and half-back lines started to dominate. Within a matter of minutes, Kilkenny were seven points clear and the contest was as good as over. Colin Fennelly’s work rate out the field excellent and with Richie Hogan sitting in the pocket slotting over points, it was an easy second half for the hosts.

Cork on the other hand floundered in the second thirty-five minutes. There was a distinct lack of work rate in the Cork forward line units particularly without the ball as Kilkenny defenders were given far too much latitude to pick a pass to the likes of Buckley, Reid, Hogan and Martin who was prominent throughout.

The lack of leadership in the Cork forward line in the last quarter was exposed. Lehane scored 0-10 out of 0-15 points and when Cork players were presented with opportunities, their first thought was to look for a colleague rather than take on the responsibility and take a scoring opportunity. Several opportunities inside the Kilkenny full back line were not taken and there were a spate of three wides in quick succession midway through the second half where Cork midfielders and half-back players taking pot shots from long distance.

Apart from Lehane, who in the Cork forward line is a leader on the team? I am struggling to find the answer to that. Harnedy, Horgan, Farrell and Cadogan impact were minimal today and these are players who have plenty of experience to take up the leadership mantle.

Kilkenny’s performance was far improved from their Ennis outing where they clearly second best throughout. Richie Hogan’s post game comments linked back to the Clare reversal and the need to get back down to basics; win your individual battle. Kilkenny face Tipperary in Thurles in round four; a fixture which will provide further clues as to where Kilkenny are. There are still question marks on the full back line and the inability of the Kilkenny forward line units to score goals. All for another day. Cody will be happy to get off the mark; there was pressure on Kilkenny to win today and it was mission accomplished. Cork are staring a relegation battle in the face; the old failings of last season reared their head today and a response is required away to Waterford (no easy task).

Tipperary win despite opening period lapse

The Premier County registered their third win of the league campaign with a seven point victory over a Clare side who briefly threatened a win but where ultimately outdone by the performance of the Tipperary forward line. John McGrath was sublime throughout; full forward and gave Cian Dillion a torrid time. McGrath’s first touch at times was superb and his striking on either side today in difficult conditions was different class. Stephen O’Brien is making the impact that Tipperary manager Michael Ryan has demanded from the Ballina clubman this season. Physically imposing under the dropping ball, O’Brien scored several good scores from play and has being a real find for Tipperary this season. Management have selection dilemmas as the likes of Callanan and Bonnar Maher have not featured significantly in this season’s campaign.

Clare at one point in the first half looked like they would be overrun. Tipperary strode out to a quick five point lead in the opening exchanges but credit the Banner County for a resolute performance which turned the game around in that opening period. Podge Collins produced some lovely scores from play and Shanagher upfront was looking to create problems for the Tipperary full back line. Clare were dominant midway through the contest with the likes of Reidy and Fitzgerald to the fore. 0-11 to 0-9 points ahead was reward for an industrious opening Clare half but just on the struck of half-time, a poor free concession allowed Tipperary to reduce arrears to just the bare minimum and with the elements in their favor in the second half, the lead was never going to hold and so it proved.

Tipperary’s second half performance was built on a dominant half-back line. Ronan and Padraic Maher produced excellent performances and provided quality ball to their inside full forward line. O’Dwyer was now in the groove which opened further space for Noel and John McGrath to exploit. The strike rate of the Tipperary forward line in the second half was extremely impressive. Clare tried to stage a late fightback with points from Collins and Reidy but with Clare chasing the game, Tipperary’s inside full forward line were able to score the insurance points. Good quality contest given the difficult conditions.

Waterford beat a determined Dublin

Waterford registered their second league win of the campaign with a five point victory. Dublin will rue opening period dominance not fully converted as Waterford showed Ger Cunningham the clinical element that was missing with Stephen Bennett and Padraic O’Mahony to the fore. Bennett struck two goals, one in either half. His second goal was decisive for Waterford who had excellent performances from the likes of Gleeson, Moran and Fives.

Donal Burke has being a real find for Dublin this season, another good scoring haul yesterday (1-7) will provide Ger Cunningham with solace but his back line at times torn to shred at times. Conor Dooley at times looked isolated in the Dublin goal and probably prompted the player to come out of his goal for the second Bennett goal. Dublin without the Cuala contingent will need to knuckle down and try to get a result away to Clare. Failure to do so and a relegation playoff will beckon with Kilkenny scheduled for the final league fixture of the campaign.

Waterford can look forward to a good league campaign. Their performance was good and the way they comfortably dealt with the threat of the hosts when reduced to fourteen players was admirable. A fixture at home to Cork should seal a quarter final berth as Waterford’s key players are starting to click particularly in the forward line.

NHL 1B

Facile victories for Wexford and Galway

Facile victories in Wexford and Galway to the home sides will do little for either in the heat of championship battle. Wexford easily took apart Kerry at Innovate Park today, a game which saw Jack Guiney get game minutes. The usual suspects were to the fore. Kerry endured a torrid afternoon, the red card issued to Patrick Kelly certainly did not help and this was a massive learning curve for the Kingdom. Kerry will realize that the pivotal fixture against Offaly looms large, victory here and league status and playoff hurling is secured. Wexford can experiment with their squad in games against Laois and Offaly who should not really pose many problems for the Model County. The one sided nature of this game will do little for Davy Fitzgerald and management to learn more about the team.

Galway also had a similarly inevitable stroll around Salthill against a hapless Laois outfit. Conor Whelan was to the fore as Galway scored a massive 3-31 in victory. Few positives for Laois who face daunting fixtures against Limerick and Wexford to finish off their league campaign. Relegation playoff beckons. Galway like Limerick will look to experiment with their squad when they face Kerry before a trip to Limerick in the NHL 1B finale. NHL 1B is as dull as dishwasher this season. The inevitable nature of who will go up is painful to watch.

Limerick issues surface but a win is secured

Offaly will rue tonight for sometime to come. Limerick were there for the taking. Three goals scored against a very shaky Limerick full back line should have being the platform for victory and when you add the fact that John Fitzgibbon was sent off for the hosts, the Faithful County will need to reflect on what might have being.

Credit to Limerick at the death, they hit the last six scores of the contest to dig themselves out of a hole. The defensive side of the team is in chaos; Kerry and now Offaly has exploited huge issues in the full back line. Is McCarthy realistically the full back for the championship?

The thoughts of Shanagher running at the Blackrock clubman scares me. Limerick’s backs have to tighten up. 3-15 is too high a score to concede, some of the Offaly scores lacked any pressure from Limerick and the three goal salvo (two goals in ninety seconds) really exposed lack of defensive nous.

The half-back line on paper looks genuinely exciting. Byrnes at half-back, Hannon at wing back (pace issues) and Hickey looks good but we will not know of the unit until potentially the Galway game and a QF fixture. The Limerick forward line is also a work in progress.

Without the likes of Barry Nash and no call-up in sight for in form Fitzgibbon Cup winner Aaron Gillane, Kiely and management are continuing to experiment with the full forward line setup. LaTouche Cosgrave tried hard but is corner forward his natural position? Lynch at full forward was adequate and Mulcahy sniped with a couple of trademark scores. No cohesion in this unit; movement at times off the ball was poor.

Limerick’s battling qualities came through in that last quarter, work rate increased and to be honest, this was the most pleasing aspect of the performance. There is a lot of work required to make Limerick a competitive outfit. The work rate and tempo without the ball is a key issue in all areas; hoping Kinnerk can improve this aspect of the side in the weeks to come. Clare look warm favorites at this stage to win the Munster SHC semi-final but I remain hopeful that Limerick can turn up and produce a performance when it matters in the summer (am I ignoring the facts or hoping for the best).