All Ireland Hurling Qualifiers: Round 1 Preview

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The minnows look to have their work cut out this weekend

After all the hype, after all the talk of a potential match-up between the likes of Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford; it all fell a bit flat just after 08:30 AM when the first All Ireland Series qualifier draw was revealed. Underwhelming would be a better word. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the draw.

The Draw

If you have not heard the draw, the pick of the ties is at Nowlan Park where Kilkenny look to rebuild momentum with a fixture against a Limerick side with absolutely nothing to lose. Tipperary welcome Westmeath to Semple Stadium. Waterford travel to an Offaly side who were woeful against Galway in their last outing and Dublin entertain a Laois side who beat a gallant Carlow yesterday to get into the All Ireland Qualifier series draw yesterday.

Tipperary vs. Westmeath

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Brendan Maher

The fixtures look on paper to be favorites for the big guns so the ask of the underdogs will be to play with freedom, put their opposition under pressure and see where it takes them.

Westmeath travel to Thurles and it will be fantastic to see the likes of Tommy Doyle,  the Greville’s and Killian Doyle grace the famous sod of Semple Stadium. Doyle in particular has being superb at full-back catching the eye with several all action displays this season.

Tipperary will be relieved to start the qualifiers not to face one of the big guns. Westmeath will look to expose vulnerabilities in the full back line seen during their Cork defeat but the Premier County’s attacking options should unleash to devastating effect in this instance. Several players have points to prove and unfortunately Westmeath may feel the wrath.

The number of stories with regards to the Tipperary setup in recent weeks has being extraordinary; fake news is alive and well. These headlines should act as a spur and motivation for the panel and management to regroup and Saturday offers a first step to redemption and their attempt to retain Liam McCarthy.

You would hope that Michael Ryan’s Westmeath charges have a go during the contest. If the Lakeside county decide to sit back defensively, it will be a tough afternoon. Westmeath need to express themselves and I envisage an open contest on Saturday with some standout scores.

Tipperary to advance but the absence of Cathal Barrett will be felt later in the championship unless the likes of Michael Cahill and Donagh Maher step up to the plate. Tipperary to win by ten points or more but everyone associated with the Premier County will realize that the defining points of the season potentially could come in the second round of qualifiers.

Dublin vs. Laois

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Liam Rushe needs to lead by example

An ideal draw for Dublin but it is only going to extend the agony for another round when they will have to face one of the big guns.

Laois come into this qualifier grabbing a victory against Carlow yesterday. There was plenty of positives to come from yesterday; the panel was tested with several injuries and panel withdrawals.

This resiliency was tested even more when Ross King was sent off early for a late high hit. The O’Moore County refused to be denied and won with a brace of points at the death. Superb victory given the circumstances but defensively at times, Laois were let off the hook by a Carlow outfit who missed a golden goal opportunity in the second half.

Dublin’s season has being a nightmare. Relegation to NHL 1A and then a performance against Galway which lacked any resemblance of a good side. The rookies were thrown to the wolves; some battled gamely, others wilted due to their skill set limitations.

Dublin lacked threat upfront and were porous defensively against Galway. Liam Rushe struck an isolated figure throughout as he was moved this way and that by Galway, opening up space inside for Galway’s inside full forward line to exploit.

Ger Cunningham will continue to retain the faith and trust in the youngsters introduced against Galway. Others may say, he has no other option with the departures from the panel in recent seasons.

Dublin should advance here given that King will be suspended for the fixture; a key man for Laois with his scoring exploits. Dublin will look to the old guard such as O’Dwyer and O’Callaghan to get over the line and I think given their NHL 1A experience should win by eight points.

Laois will exit the championship but progress has being made this year. Maher, King, Healy have stood up when required but it is the defensive frailties which is the weak link which will be again exposed next Saturday. Eamonn Kelly realizes that defensive personnel additions are required next season but the current panel have given their all for the county.

Offaly vs. Waterford

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Derek McGrath’s charges should have too much for Offaly

Waterford come into this fixture with questions to answer. Their lethargic, ineffective performance over Cork was a surprise to many. Eleven weeks without a competitive match, eight weeks without a club county championship game may be factors but the manner of the performance cannot all be down to those factors.

Tactical naive, incapable of switching tactics to deliver good quality ball inside to Maurice Shanahan were key points coming out of their Munster SHC loss. Management must carry the can for the tactical setup on the day as they were unable to contend with Lehane and his positioning throughout.

However, the players on duty have to take responsibility as well. Free taking is such a crucial element of the game now and Padraic O’Mahony had an afternoon to forget with some uncharacteristically poor strikes. Waterford surely should have made a call to change free takers during the contest but this never happened.

Austin Gleeson was inconsistent during the outing; mixed the sublime with the poor. A gorgeous score on his knees in the opening period but then proceeded to balloon three efforts wide from distance when players inside were probably in a better position. Gleeson’s talent is undoubted but he needs to lead by example and make the right game management decision.

Waterford provided that the panel and management are united should have far too much for an Offaly side who were abysmal in their last outing. Shane Dooley has being their standout but he was snuffed out by Galway in their Leinster SHC exit. No other forwards made an impression as Galway cruised to a provincial final with a minimum of fuss.

The forward line issues were seen all over the pitch against Galway. Offaly defensively were all at sea against Galway; players not picking up runners from deep, players not tight enough to their man. It was basic hurling fundamental stuff.

As mentioned on this blog, Offaly in effect are a NHL 2A side and next season could be when they hit rock bottom if the likes of Joe Bergin and Shane Dooley decide to hang up their intercounty boots. Great county servants, owe nothing to the jersey but the distinct lack of quality in the ranks behind them is damning.

Waterford will learn little from this fixture. Even with their issues against Cork, their fitness and pace will be too much for the Faithful County. A ten point plus win is on the cards and Offaly will exit the championship with a whimper.

Kilkenny vs. Limerick

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Cody’s charges will look to build confidence

The hope is that the Nowlan Park will produce fireworks but the more I analyze the game, the more I fear for Limerick. This morning after the draw was made, I was of the opinion that Limerick had nothing to lose, no pressure and with a road trip into the backyard of Kilkenny to focus minds and produce a performance. I am not so sure now.

Why do I say this? Limerick’s NHL campaign and Clare championship defeat have shown the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Their lapses in concentration at key stages of games have being key themes this season. The Clare loss was predominantly self-inflicted; shambolic defending and goalkeeping, players not taking leadership when required.

Limerick have undoubted talent in their ranks but there are big issues in the full back line. The lack of pace in the full back position against Clare came back to haunt Limerick with the opening goal. Finn at corner back was the only full back line player to come out of the game with any credit.

The half-back line was mesh mash performance. Hannan was strong in the air but lack of mobility was exposed at times. Byrnes’ absence was massive and wing back areas were breached at various intervals with easy score concessions.

The midfield pairing of Browne and Ryan worked hard but the distribution and shot selection from the middle of the park to the inside full forward line left plenty to desire. Kyle Hayes was the only forward who threatened throughout from open play, not the performance to inspire confidence heading into the den of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny have their own issues at play. John Power’s exit from the panel is most un-Kilkenny like. A player walking off the panel, such annoyance and frustration is usually kept in-house. Power is a quality player but for whatever reason, Cody does not think the player can fulfill the starting role. The player has walked.

Wexford exposed defensive issues down the middle. The full back and center back positions are up for grabs after that Leinster SHC loss. Paul Murphy is a corner back and was exposed at times when asked to fill the six jersey. Will Holden be asked to play full back? No consistency in selection in either position.

The absence of Michael Fennelly was hugely felt in midfield when Wexford deployed Lee Chin to the middle of the park. Chin destroyed Kilkenny in that second half and his aerial dominance was a surprise against a side who prides themselves in dominating in the air.

The Kilkenny forward line misfired massively against Wexford. TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly showed well in the scoring stakes but the rest of the unit failed to fire. Richie Hogan had a most subdued game and was replaced like Walter Walsh.

The panel strength was emphasized with the decision to put on a reserve keeper Richie Reid into the forward line. The fact that Kilkenny played Padraic Walsh, even though the player was sidelined for several weeks prior to the contest confirmed more on the squad depth issues.

Limerick will look to produce a performance against Kilkenny. If Diarmuid Byrnes and Gearoid Hegarty are fit, then it will be a good boost but there are too many question marks on the consistent performance of this side.

John Kiely has marked this season as a work in progress and I would personally like more underage players getting game time. The campaign ends here for the Shannonsiders.

Limerick will have their periods of pressure but the more cutting edge will come from Kilkenny and a seven point win is not out of the question. Kilkenny to hit goals at various periods. Mediocre qualifiers beckon unfortunately.

 

 

 

 

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