FIFA World Cup Russia 2018: Group Phase Reflections

As the final whistle blew in Kaliningrad tonight, so it signaled the end of the group phase. This stage of the tournament has seen varying levels of performance from the fancied side so far. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the group phase and picks out some high and low points.

VAR is a work in progress

We have seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to VAR in this tournament. The good has being the ability of the VAR crew to alert the match officials to key incidents; some excellent VAR decisions were made during this stage, thinking in relation to penalty calls (some) and overturning decisions which were incorrect.

However, the sheer inconsistency of the technology in some games has caused massive issues. The Portugal vs. Iran game was a low point for VAR; dubious penalty calls and then the Ronaldo elbow incident highlighted what bother with the system when the superstar was issued a yellow card. Iran felt robbed.

The lack of transparency in the VAR decisions has left people speculating on the decision making process. If the communication channels were open for all, then it would address the question on how decisions were made? The sheer inconsistency of officiating crews to clamp down on defenders man handling attackers in the box has being a low point too. Work to do with VAR but there have being positives.

Germany exit!

The scenes yesterday were incredible. As South Korea scored a second injury time goal, questions aplenty for German management and squad. All need to take some portion of blame. The squad selection raised questions before this tournament. Sane’s omission was a shock as the Manchester City player had an excellent season. The same could not be said for the likes of Draxler. A strange omission and it set the tone for the tournament.

Neuer in goal lacked game time before this tournament and it showed in the group phase. The image of Neuer being dispossessed by South Korea far out from goal is for me the summary of Germany’s problems. Lack of precision on both sides of the ball proved fatal. Yes, there was the Sweden win but defensive shape was an issue and the attacking misfires ultimately drew blanks against Mexico and South Korea.

Germany will be back but surely with a new voice at the helm. The players lacked drive. Leadership on the park was strangely muted. Management need to review clear issues in the cohesion of the side; defensive duties were at times treated with contempt by some German outfield players causing massive defensive overlap issues in the process. Given their struggles, Germany can have no excuses about their elimination.

Senegal Misery 

The most unluckiest team of the tournament was Senegal. I enjoyed their cameo in the tournament. Big and physical and their fast tempo game plan with Mane prominent caused Group G oppositions issues. Their physicality though meant that they tallied yellow cards and this proved decisive in their elimination.

Senegal will rue late lapses in their opening games. The late Poland goal concession for goal difference perspective. The late equalizer conceded to Japan in their second game was pivotal too; more than deserved a win here and it opened the door for today’s events which saw the African side play it safe only to be done by a late Colombia goal. Attacking threat came far too late. A bitter end to the tournament for Senegal.

Argentina advance (just) 

Issues aplenty for Argentina in this group phase but they managed to advance to the last sixteen. The issues defensively were hardly a surprise given their struggles to even qualify for the World Cup itself. The goalkeeping and defensive cohesion was an issue from the opening fixture. Croatia exposed this weak point ruthlessly in their second game. Nigeria should have but failed to inflict the killer blow.

Messi has arrived to the tournament with his sublime effort against Nigeria. Banega’s influence on the Nigerian game gives hope for Argentinian supporters that they could beat a France side who have flattered to deceive. Pavon’s cameo last time out also provides a good attacking threat but questions on why Dybala has not featured remain? A tough second round encounter beckons for Argentina though given the defensive and goalkeeping situation.

Underwhelming fancied teams 

Spain, France, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium have secured second round qualification but some of the performances have underwhelmed. France’s squad looks potent but no clear cohesion yet in the side. Spain have struggled defensively and their attacking goal threat has being assigned solely on Diego Costa.

Portugal looked great against Spain but have gone back to defensive first prototype in subsequent games. Brazil have grown into the tournament but still question their defense nous at the business end of the tournament along with Belgium who looked destined to face off in a quarter final.

With Croatia looking a prime tournament threat, these teams need to deliver now and deliver to the fullest performance levels. I suspect a couple of fancied teams will be on their way home come the end of the second round. No standout right now and it is now time for teams to deliver. Russia to upset Spain for me. Spain are in chaos from a managerial perspective, squad unity looks less than solid.

England Reality Check

The loss tonight is perhaps a nice reality check for England. It showed squad depth chart issues particularly in the midfield area. Dier and Delph were exposed tonight; looked ring rusty for long periods. Vardy and potentially Rashford were the standouts for England tonight but the dependency on Harry Kane and his goals was shown again tonight. The Rashford chance tonight should have being a goal, key opportunity lost from Rashford to start against Colombia.

The pleasing part for England has being the ability of the defense to come out and pass it out from the back. Pickford has being solid in goals and his distribution has being excellent. Squad players got game time but for the majority tonight, that will be the last they will feature in this tournament. The England team to face Colombia picks itself which for Gareth Southgate has to be a disappointment.

Ireland Summer Tour: Reflections

A key milestone achieved from this current Ireland Rugby management and playing squad, a series win, coming from behind to secure a 2-1 series win. A series which has provided useful clues to the makeup of the RWC 2019 squad setup. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the tour.

Back row versatility

The back row depth has being used to the maximum in this summer tour. From the initial back row unit of Murphy, Stander and O’Mahony in the first test, personnel changes aplenty with Jack Conan, Dan Leavy, Tadhg Beirne getting valuable game time.

What have we learned from this tour? The back row unit has versatility. The performance of Stander from the six position was sensational. Stander was immense in his breakdown work and his ball carrying, tackle count were to the fore throughout the series. It allowed Jack Conan to slot into the eight channel and he performed well with Murray at nine and O’Mahony continuing to disrupt Australia in line out and breakdown work.

When you consider that the likes of Sean O’Brien and Josh van der Flier were back in Ireland recuperating from injury, it presents a superb conundrum for Schmidt and management on who possibly leave out. The players mentioned will be doing everything in their power to regain their places in Leinster and ultimately look to catch the attention of Schmidt. The back row squad depth is vast and is an unit where cover is not an issue.

Hooker Depth Chart

The big loser on this summer tour has being Sean Cronin. The Leinster hooker was offered precious game time in a decisive test match but his failure to recover from injury opened the door for Niall Scannell and Rob Herring to further consolidate their places in the squad. Cronin is looking remote in the depth chart given this tour and with the confidence that Herring and Scannell have received during this tour, the odds of Cronin in RWC 2019 is slim.

There would be issues for Cronin with Leinster Rugby as James Tracy will look to push onto the next level this season. Tracy looks primed for considerably more game time in provincial action and that could spell even more issues for Cronin. A key season for Cronin beckons at Leinster Rugby let alone the national side. An opportunity definitely lost. Rory Best will slot back into the squad; the rest will do the captain a power of good and will come back fresh.  Great news for Ireland.

Half Back Dependency Issues

If there is a negative from the tour, it is that we still do not know the depth chart for the nine and ten positions. Put simply, if Conor Murray or Johnny Sexton go down (heaven forbid) with a RWC 2019 ending injury, we are going into the unknown as to the quality in the backup positions.

While New Zealand were able to slot Damien McKenzie into the ten slot last weekend to consolidate and evaluate his value at the position, Ireland were focused for a series win and that meant Murray and Sexton were the first names on the team sheet.

No significant game times for Marmion or Cooney so Luke McGrath in effect has not missed out on his ambitions to return to the national team setup. Byrne was seen in training sessions but not much else and Carbery did not feature in the last two test matches. November test series needs to answer these half-back depth chart questions, otherwise Ireland run the risk of going into the abyss heading into RWC 2019 battle.

Center Partnership

Some people were speculating that Bundee Aki was vulnerable in retaining his twelve position. Can we please stop this hideous fake news? Aki is the lock at the twelve channel. His work rate and ability to create gain line breaks so apparent last weekend in the Sydney test match. Early gain line breaks and then ability to support the kicking game, winning turnover ball. His defensive and tackle success rate is exceptional. The twelve channel is a lock. The twelve jersey is Aki’s.

This leaves the thirteen jersey up for grabs. Ringrose’s cameo in the second test match oozed class. His defensive nous has so improved in twelve months and his ability with ball in hand setting up opportunities for colleagues in the back line unit. Henshaw after a rusty opening test match came to the party last weekend. His defensive duties perhaps outweigh his attacking threat but an incredible option to have; his versatility to fill both positions in the three quarters key.

The squad depth then looks at the likes of Chris Farrell who Joe Schmidt admires. His 6 Nations cameo was massively exciting with his physicality on both sides of the ball. The likes of Arnold, Rory Scannell, Tom Farrell, Stuart McCloskey will be looking to impress early doors this season to get a foot into the camp for the November series. Interesting squad depth battle for the final three quarters berth beckons!

A Leader is born 

James Ryan was incredible in this summer tour. He is now the automatic second row option for Ireland and the question now for Ireland management to see how complements the Leinster Rugby lock best. Options aplenty here with Toner emerging with massive kudos in this summer series. Henderson had keynote moments in the tour as well. Beirne comes into the equation in this second row unit as well but does Schmidt see Beirne as the utility back? James Ryan, the question is when he gets the captaincy.

Front Row Conundrum

This is a summer tour where Ireland’s front row impressed massively in the last two tests. After a subdued opening test match (yes, there were good moments), the unit came to the fore in the last two tests where the line out, maul and scrum set piece were incredibly on point. The emergence of Porter and Ryan to the squad depth which provides front row versatility is a big plus. Jack McGrath needs to improve his discipline next season, otherwise Porter or Ryan could be ahead of the Lions player in the squad depth chart.

Adapting to officiating inconsistency 

Most pleasing aspect to this tour is how Ireland responded to adversity. Two yellow cards in the second test. Stockdale pinged in the final test match. The team were well organized defensively against a dangerous Australian outfit. The officiating over the test series are wholly inconsistent and Ireland could have lost composure with some rulings against them.

Ireland Rugby are a different proposition to the previous teams; their ability to stay composed, executing the game plan despite adversity is the hallmarks of this side. As long as the squad stay hungry for further success and continue to improve as individuals and from an unit perspective, it all leads to exciting times for RWC 2019.

Australia vs. Ireland: Series Decider Pregame Notes

After an excellent 26-21 win victory in Melbourne last weekend, Ireland have forced the series decider against an Australian side who failed to reach the heights of their Brisbane test match success. Hawkeye Sidekick highlights the key pregame notes from this Sydney test match decider.

Back Row Battle

I am like a broken record at this stage but the back row battle will ultimately decide who wins this test match series. Both sides have enjoyed dominance in this facet of play during the test match series. Pocock was sublime in the opening test only for Peter O’Mahony to dominate the breakdown proceedings last weekend.

Both units have made personnel changes for this fixture. Jack Conan comes in at eight meaning Stander moves to six and O’Mahony continues to operate at seven for Ireland. Leavy misses out due to injury. Australia have responded to last weekend by drafting Tui into the six jersey (a player who plays in the second row for Queensland Reds) to add physicality to the unit.

Hooper continues at seven while Pocock will operate at eight but will continue to be marquee player for Australia at the breakdown battle. Back row balance issues potentially on both sides, it makes for an intriguing final test series battle. The bench options may play a significant factor in the final quarter to win this finale.

Ireland Depth Chart Selections

Joe Schmidt has recalled Sean Cronin for this test match finale. The Leinster hooker gets the nod after no action in the previous two test matches and there were doubts that Cronin would feature on this tour. Scannell deputizes on the bench after an excellent cameo last weekend. Herring was good in the opening test match. Depth chart at hooker has being identified in the hooker position in the absence of Rory Best.

The half back positions still have a question mark on the depth charts. The nine position has being filled by Conor Murray meaning Cooney and Marmion have received precious little game minutes. The question on who deputizes for Murray remains a wide open question. Luke McGrath back in Ireland must be back in the running for the nine jersey given how this summer tour has unfolded. November test series has to identify the understudies for Murray ahead of RWC 2019.

The fly-half position will see Sexton start. Sexton was on point last weekend but hopefully Ross Byrne will get a cameo in the second half of this test match. Carbery got valuable minutes in the opening test against a pumped up Australian outfit. Byrne needs to experience the intensity of test match rugby as well.

Genia Absence

Big opportunity for Nick Phipps at the weekend. Phipps starting due to the injury to Will Genia last weekend, provides experience and solid game management. It will be interesting to see if Phipps can establish quick ball for Foley to unleash the Australian back line loaded with pace and talent. The kicking game between Murray and Phipps will be a key battle to see which side gains early territorial dominance. Yet another exciting battle beckons.

Forward Battle 

Australia’s front five will look to respond after last weekend’s loss to Ireland. James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Niall Scannell were particularly prominent in set piece and open play. The fact that Australia have gone for a 6:2 split in favor of the forwards for this test match indicates that Australian management will clear the bench to maintain tempo and work rate in the pack. Samu’s cameo cannot be understated as Tui will probably last for around fifty minutes. Samu’s physicality will be required to provide the cohesion and platform for Hooper and Pocock to control the breakdown exchanges.

Can Ireland’s back line fire? 

Stockdale makes a return to the starting lineup, the back line unit is the same that played in Brisbane. The back line struggled for cohesion despite some good moments. Sexton at the helm will look to unleash Aki and Henshaw quickly in this test match fixture. Earls, Kearney and Stockdale will look to dominate the aerial exchanges and hope that the half back options can identify mismatches in behind the Australian defensive line. The aerial battle will be intriguing. Folau was stifled last weekend and it will be interesting to see how the Australians address this facet of play.

Officiating Consistency

Hoping for some consistency officiating this weekend. The officiating last weekend at times left plenty to be desired for both sides. Offside, deliberate knock-on indiscretions were inconsistently pinged. A summer international series where officiating has had some negative commentary, hoping that the officiating this weekend is consistent from minute one to the end of the contest. No pressure on Gauzere then who will let the breakdown alone but ping on set piece and offside.

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group H

The final opening round group sees an intriguing quartet. Colombia, Poland, Senegal and Japan should provide plenty of exciting fixtures with the likes of James and Lewandowsk featuring. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the group and it looks like a battle for second place with Colombia the standout team in this group.

Colombia

A potent dark horse in this tournament. Colombia’s attacking threats will seriously test any opposition in this competition. James, Falcao, Bacca bring different facets to the team. James will look to play deep and make astute runs in behind defenses. Falcao will be the ultimate goal poacher while Bacca’s aerial and shooting prowess is excellent.

This is a solid squad selection, defensively compact with Ospina in the sticks providing reassurance if defensive lapses take place. Sanchez and Arias are key personnel in the ranks, their ability to defensively organize and lead by example will be to the fore. Cuadrado as well is a player who given the opportunity could revel in this tournament given the attention that Falcao, Bacca and James will get in this tournament.

No significant weak links this side. A side who will be defensively compact but have an edge upfront. Colombia look destined to top the group. Their clash against Poland will be fascinating encounter to see how good this side is. James looks destined to have another immense tournament for Colombia.

Poland

A difficult side to work out truth be told. Poland are very Jekyll and Hyde at times; their qualification campaign saw mostly consistently high level of performance but then produced an absolute stinker against Denmark in Copenhagen. The side’s chances in this tournament rest with a couple of keynote players.

Robert Lewandowski is the talisman of the side. His goal scoring ability is excellent. Fifty-five goals in ninety-five internationals speaks volumes. He will require service from the likes of Grosicki who is an underrated player in the setup. Kubar will look to provide leadership when the opportunities arise. Szczesny and Gilk will need to provide leadership at the back.

The issue with Poland is the sheer inconsistency of the side. You will see Poland have excellent periods in games but then there will be poor periods of play which will allow opponents a foothold back into the match. They should advance from the group but not sure if they will advance any further. Disciplinary issues and squad depth could rear their head in the latter stages of this group.

Japan

Is this the tournament where Japan can cause an upset and advance to the knock out rounds? Sufficient attacking threat to chose from with the likes of Kagawa, Okazaki in the squad. Yoshida and Kawashima are excellent professionals at Southampton and Metz respectively.

Japan will provide work rate, desire, team work and organization but how defensively solid are Japan on the set piece? Poland and Colombia in particular are particularly dangerous in this facet of play and some of the goals conceded in their qualification campaign exposed basic defensive fundamentals in free kick situations.

I would love for Japan to advance. Their fan base are incredible. For Japan to advance, a lot of things need to go in their favor. Japan will at times control possession in games, they will need to make these periods of play count. I think Colombia and Poland may have just too much for the Japanese team but their work rate and fitness will keep teams honest in this group. Opening round exit looks the shrewd bet here.

Senegal

A side who have experience and talent to cause problems for the other teams in the group. The experience of the squad emphasized with the likes of Kouyate, Gueye, Mane, Biram Diouf, Sakho. Players who have a wealth of EPL experience.

Mane is the key player for this Senegal outfit. The African nation will look to hit opposition on the counter attack and Mane’s pace and prowess in front of goal will be the primary threat for the side.

The negative is defensive frailties during the friendly games in recent weeks; defensive organization on the set piece was problematic and issues at times with their shape. Training camp sessions hopefully addressed these concerns.

The outcome of their first group game against Poland will determine how far Senegal will advance in this competition. A positive result and the team will fancy their chances of group progression; otherwise, heads will go down and an early exit could be confirmed in their second fixture.

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group G

Group G sees England and Belgiium pitted against Tunisia and Panama. Can a youthful England side with little pressure deliver good performances in this group? Can Belgium’s golden generation produce the results and progression that the squad depth in their ranks deserves? Hawkeye Sidekick previews the group setup.

Belgium: Potential Fulfilled?

This is an ideal group for Belgium to settle into this tournament, looking to rid the ring rust and gain confidence heading into the second round of the competition. The squad depth is stacked with talent. The spine of the team looks strong with Courtois, Kompany, Vertonghen, Dembele, Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku to name but a few and a squad depth whose performance levels are high.

The question for me about Belgium is how versatile and adaptable the team is given the game time circumstance. Recent tournaments have seen Belgium resort to Plan A with little deviation from that plan. Given their manager Roberto Martinez was critiqued for the same failing in club football, it will be interesting to see if Belgium can adapt as in the knock out rounds, they will be asked to change their game plan. If they can, then this is a serious contender.

Their final group game against England will determine who tops the group. Given their experience and caliber in the ranks, Belgium should qualify with ease to the second round and win the group but as mentioned the ability to change tact during the knockout rounds to achieve a result is their real test.

England

The hype about England has reduced considerably for this tournament. The side is a work in progress with question marks on defense and goalkeeping key. The goalkeeping position is up for grabs. Pickford, Butland or Pope have precious little experience at this level, not sure who will be lining up in goal for the Tunisian game? Enough said and the fact that Pickford and Butland have a mistake in them does not inspire sufficient confidence either.

The defensive side of the game has the potential to be on point. Walker, Rose and Trippier on the full back flanks will provide midfield sufficient width and their ability to defend is on point. The key question is the central defensive position and who fills the position? Will England go three at the back? Cahill or Stones need to be dominant, huge ask given their lack of first team action with their clubs this season. Question marks defensively for me.

The midfield and attacking options look exciting. Kane will score goals provided that the service from out wide is on point. Can Dele Ali start this tournament with energy and positive attacking mindset? His partnership with Kane looks key to England’s success from an attacking sense.

England should be more than capable to advance from this group but I think lapses defensively and goalkeeping are not far away. England to advance as runners up in the group with a couple of scares. For England to be a dark horse, Sterling has to deliver. Time will tell.

Tunisia

Their opening fixture against England is their proverbial cup final. They need to get something from this tie to realistically have a chance of qualifying for the second round. Tunisian’s squad looks solid and compact with the majority of players plying their trade in France, Egypt, Saudia Arabia and in Tunisia.

Massive onus in this side will fall to Leicester City’s Yohan Benalouane who will need to marshal his team mates around him from central defensive to ensure that the side is compact, hard to breakdown and organized because the attacking options while pacy have no proven goal scoring threat in this level of competition. Khazri is the focal point in attack; needs good service but given possession issues against England and Belgium, it could be a forlorn experience.

What is the hope for Tunisia? The hope and expectation is to be competitive and look to be in these group games come the final twenty minutes and look to score on the counter-attack or set-piece. The lack of goal threat is an impediment, the goal ratio in the squad is low. Tunisia to offer plenty but an opening round exit looks on the cards provided they can turn the tables on England tomorrow!

Panama

The fairy tale of making the World Cup for Panama is here. It is now time to deliver and produce good performances. The squad is comprised of players plying their trade in MLS and Central America. This is a significant improvement in opposition and I fear for Panama in all facets of play.

Their opening fixture against Belgium could be a potential nightmare unless Panama are defensively solid. Belgium have the ability to carve this side open at various stages; it is up to Panama to be compact and perhaps park the bus for the opening period and then look to probe Belgium thereafter with Perez and Tejada the key attacking threat.

Tournaments like this at times have glorious fairy tale stories but for Panama, the fairy tale ends here. Penedo and Baloy will have to produce heroics defensively for Panama to have any chance of securing a result in this group. Panama look vulnerable and an opening round exit is on the cards.

Munster SHC: Clare vs. Limerick Post Game Talking Points

Clare were comprehensive winners against Limerick in the eagerly anticipated Midwest Munster SHC round robin fixture at an electric Cusack Park, Ennis. Clare advance to a Munster SHC final against Cork looking to right the wrongs from last year while Limerick will need to regroup and go through the qualifier route. Hawkeye Sidekick identified five key talking points from the game today.

Clare energy and pace key

Two teams entered the field at Cusack Park but in truth, one team had the energy and work rate. Clare were utterly dominant in the open exchanges today while Limerick wilted badly in the third quarter. The demands of the Limerick side to go again searching for another big performance for the third consecutive week was too much for John Kiely’s men and Clare took full advantage.

Clare have impressed massively in recent weeks. The schedule has favored their progression, to say it has not is fool hardy. Their bye week was opportune and the freshness in their performance was evident from minute one as Clare won all the key battles down the middle of the park.

McInerney, Cleary, Galvin / Reidy, Kelly and Conlon all had excellent afternoons and they were ably assisted by the likes of Podge Collins, Shanahan, Fitzgerald and Browne. Galvin and Kelly were a joy to watch today; their movement, game management and ability to hit scores were outstanding. When Tony Kelly is on point, Clare are at a completely different level.

Two defining past weekends for Clare with their road trip win to Thurles and now an emphatic win over Limerick at fortress Cusack Park. However, this will mean absolutely nothing if they do not go and beat Cork in the Munster SHC final. They have the side to do so but the performance will need to improve even further to get over a very dangerous Cork side in two weeks time. A dangerous team though in this championship.

Limerick completely flat

Limerick were completely flat today. The work rate, running game and astute passing in recent weeks all below standard today. Fatigue was definitely a key for the team but perhaps this was a performance which needed to happen to remind Limerick hurling fans that this team is still a work in progress.

All lines struggled for parity today for long periods. The efficient running off the ball was managed well by Clare who focused their efforts on stopping Cian Lynch whenever he got the sliothar. James Owens did not give Lynch much in the way of frees as the Patrickswell player was harassed with the ball with four or five Clare players around him.

The forward line struggled for good service throughout. Flanagan tried hard and was prominent throughout. His substitution was a strange call, he offers pace and incisive running from deep. When Flanagan left the pitch, Limerick looked extremely one dimensional. The decision to deploy Shane Dowling out into midfield and half-forward line played into Clare’s hands. Dowling is a dominant player under the dropping ball in and around the area.

The disappointing thing from a Limerick perspective was that they did not throw a meaningful blow all game (except for Tom Condon’s red card). Management’s decision to not push up on Tuohy’s short puck outs in the third quarter was disappointing as his distribution was inaccurate at times.

Limerick to regroup for sure. The comparisons from pundits that this current Limerick side are at Galway’s levels are off the mark. There is undoubted potential in this Limerick camp. They have showed hurling fans their ability with some marquee wins over Tipperary and Waterford. Their battling draw against Cork was an outstanding display. Limerick should be in the All Ireland series mix and they will be a dangerous opponent for whoever is a vanquished provincial finalist.

James Owens

Limerick are sick of the sight of James Owens who has officiated two of Limerick’s championship encounters so far. A Cork fixture where officiating decisions after Gillane’s red card were highlighted. Condon’s red card is what drives managerial teams mad.

The rush of blood to the head to hit out by Condon was incredibly rash and Limerick are now a team which officiating crews will have an eye on for the rest of the championship given Gillane’s red card against Cork. The less said about David Reidy’s red card, the better, looked like a shocking decision but the camera angle afforded by RTE may not have shown the full story of the incident.

Limerick will be irked by a couple of frees not afforded today by Owens particularly in the third quarter when the game was in the melting pot. Owens and Limerick quite clearly do not mix, hopefully for the Limerick team, it is the last they see of the Wexford official this season. Clare may think the same after the Reidy dismissal.

Clare Puckout Strategy

Limerick did not expose this facet of play today but rest assured that Cork will in the Munster SHC final.  Tuohy in goal is still unconvincing with his puck out strategy. No Limerick pressure exerted today; was able to find his corner backs with no pressure but there were a couple of puck outs which went over the sideline. Cork will push up on the puck out of Clare and see if Tuohy can ping Clare players forty / fifty meters out. It is a facet of play which could derail Clare yet this season.

Limerick Free Taking

After such a comprehensive performance with the frees last weekend, Shane Dowling took the responsibility again today with mixed results. The early free which was ruled wide set the tone and there was another keynote miss in the third quarter of this game which could have created momentum for Limerick.

John Kiely has a decision to make with his team selection. Does Aaron Gillane come back into the starting lineup fold? His free taking is outstanding and his threat around the goal is on point with Flanagan as well. Training sessions within the Limerick camp should dictate this call but Dowling’s inaccuracy today in free taking is something to think about. Dowling is an incredible full forward option to the side when ball is hit down on him, not sure the ploy of using him in the midfield. Food for thought for Limerick management.

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group F

Group F. A group which features Germany, the reigning World Cup Champions and one of the teams tipped to win the competition next month. Mexico, Sweden and Korea Republic will look to upset the odds but realistically it is a straight fight for the second place in the group. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Germany

Joachim Low had the luxury of not selecting Leroy Sane from the final squad, enough said. Germany are laden with talent in all positions and the squad depth is strong in all positions.

The positives for Germany is their squad’s backbone is personnel who triumphed in this competition four years ago. Kroos, Ozil, Reus, Khedira, Hummels, Boateng, Neuer all feature in this squad. Experience aplenty in the squad and their knowledge and insight in how to win this competition is invaluable.

Plenty of attacking options for Low to chose from. Gomez, Werner and Reus bring something different to the table. Gomez with his aerial threat. Werner with his movement. Reus with his pace and ability to create space in the box. Throw in Muller who can play in the nine channel and options are there for German management.

The negatives are potentially two fold: Is Manuel Neuer fully fit? If so, does Neuer have sufficient game minutes under his belt to perform at his typical ultra high levels. Low needs to make a hard call on Neuer if either question is no with ter Stegen in the wings to fill in.

Sane’s omission was a surprise. His pace, movement and ability to score goals was to the fore with Manchester City. Low and management evaluated in international football conditions and felt it was not the time for the youngster. Draxler, Brandt and Rudy are ahead of Sane in the depth chart, it is a decision if Germany do not win the competition will be discussed over and over again.

Germany will have sufficient quality to win this group with a bit to spare. Their group will not fully test the side’s full capabilities until the knock out rounds.

Mexico

Mexico realistically are hunting for the second place in this group along with Sweden and South Korea. Few surprises in the squad selection. The squad contains several marquee names.

Marquez in central defense. Salcedo looking to roam forward from full back. dos Santos looking to link midfield and attack with sharp, incisive passing. Hernandez looking for a chance to score a goal along with Carlos Vela.

Guardado and Herrera are key fulcrums for this Mexico side. Guardado at central midfield will look to protect his defense while supporting the likes of Vela with incisive runs from deep. Herrera at center back is a player with huge talent and pace, needs to be focused throughout.

The negative for Mexico is perhaps mentality based. What happens when Mexico concede the first goal? Will the team look to respond in a positive fashion or go out with a whimper? Mexico vs. Sweden decides who advances to the second round, hard to separate both teams.

Sweden

A solid team, well organized and with their threat on the set piece will pose problems for all group opponents. The positives for Sweden is their organization, they will sit in when required and this could frustrate particularly Mexico who may throw caution to the wind and let the Swedes score. Their performance against Italy on the road to secure their place in this World Cup a perfect case study.

Experience aplenty in the squad. Larsson, Olsson, Jansson, Toivonen, Forsberg have all experienced marquee tournaments and their presence will be a reassuring presence in the camp. Lindelof will have a point to prove with Sweden after a mixed season with Manchester United.

The negatives for Sweden is potentially that they struggle to score goals in major tournaments. UEFA European Championships, they exited in the group stages; their performances were extremely one dimensional from an attacking perspective.

The onus is on Toivonen and Guidetti to provide the goals upfront; otherwise Sweden will look to score from the set piece. 50/50 call with Mexico on whether they qualify for the second round.

South Korea

The underdog of the group. South Korea need to be organized in their defensive duties but questions abound on the quality of their goalkeeping and back line options to offset the threat of the other three teams in the group.

South Korea will look to their players who are plying their football careers in the UK and Germany. Heung-Min is an excellent attacking player and he will need the service from Ja-cheol and Ki Sung-yueng to impress.

The rest of the side need to be compact and solid and hope that this is enough to advance. However, with Brazil and tweak tough Serbia and Switzerland for company, an early exit looks on the cards!

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group E

Group E sees Brazil enter the competition in a group containing Serbia, Switzerland and underdog Costa Rica. A group which may see some dull games but a group which should prove whether Brazil have the squad depth, defensive and attacking qualities to be considered a leading World Cup contender.

Brazil

Tite has named an extremely strong squad for this tournament. Alisson, Ederson are quality keeper options for a defense which will be led and marshaled by the likes of Thiago Silva, Marcelo and Danilo.

The midfield squad options are endless. Paulinho has had a superb debut season with Barcelona. Fred and Willian have featured well in UEFA Champions League and also have defensive solidity with the inclusions of Fernandinho and Casemiro. Coutinho has the ability to provide superb cameos for his striking options as well.

Brazil hopes will depend on how fit is Neymar; the superstar has not featured in months for PSG and he needs to be on top form for Brazil to win this tournament. Yes, Brazil do have Firmino, Jesus and Costa but Neymar on form makes this Brazil into a completely different animal. Brazil if Neymar is fully fit could be rampant in these group phase games.

Minimal negatives except for perhaps quality depth in the defensive positions if suspensions come into play in the knockout rounds. The central defensive options look limited; plenty of full back options and something to monitor as the tournament progresses. Brazil have more than enough to top this group; their composure and patience will be tested by Serbia and Switzerland who are defensively well organized.

Switzerland

The Swiss are a difficult side to analyze; undoubted footballing ability and when you see this side in qualification for major tournaments, they look the absolute part, they play attractive football but then when it comes to the marquee tournament, they park the bus, go ultra conservative and you cannot wait for the side to be out of the tournament.

The positives for Switzerland is their squad profile; many players with vast international experience. They have in Xherdan Shaqiri a player who has the ability and potential to win games with moments of sheer brilliance. Johan Djourou, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami will need to provide the leadership and supply to Shaqiri for the side to be successful.

The issue I see with Switzerland is their lack of a potent front man. Seferovic is their key striker along with Shaqiri will form the goal scoring threat. The habit of turning to prototype conservative for the Swiss is also not far away as well. If they go down that route, hope that they are knocked out of the tournament early. It is no fun to watch a Switzerland under those conditions!

Serbia

An enigma. This side if the squad and management are at one will be very competitive. Serbia will look to play on the counter attack in the key fixtures of this pool, bad news for anyone paid into watch themselves and Switzerland! In Dusan Tadic, they have a player whose pace in the counter attack could create massive issues for group opposition.

The positives for the side is that the spine of the side is rock solid. Stojkovic, Ivanovic, Matic will provide defensive assurance to those around them. Kolarov has had a superb season with AS Roma and his delivery from the full back position is still on point. A team who will be defensively disciplined and will revel in the Russian summer.

The negative for the side is potentially their striker options. Aleksandar Mitrovic on top form with Serbia is a goal poacher supreme but if anyone has watched EPL can testify, the player does lose the plot from time to time. Can Serbia find an alternate striker perhaps in Prijovic to have a breakout tournament.

Expect Serbia to go 4-5-1 formation potentially with Tadic roving behind Mitrovic; marginally going for the Eastern Europeans to advance but the second round may be their lot.

Costa Rica

I love Costa Rica, a fabulous country, great people and great culture but I think this World Cup may be a chastening experience for the nation. Navas in the Costa Rica goal will have to play out of his skin to prevent his side from going down to a couple of heavy losses.

I am seeing nothing in the outfield options to inspire confidence. Gamboa, Ruiz, Oviedo and Campbell are the standout talents in this squad but this looks a daunting challenge.

A team who will struggle to score goals and struggle to keep clean sheets, hopefully Costa Rica are competitive and force a result but I am not optimistic for their chances. An early exit beckons.

Rugby Union: Australia vs. Ireland – June 16th Preview

After a 18-9 reversal to Australia in the first June test series international, Ireland have it all to do to level the series in Melbourne this Saturday morning. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the key pregame talking points.

Australia: Steady as she goes

Given the performance of the side last weekend where the team impressed in all facets of play, it was hardly a surprise that Michael Cheika and management did not wield any changes for this second test match.

Australia impressed me with their work rate, physicality and aerial prowess where Folau was a constant menace for Ireland in the aerial exchanges.

The breakdown performance of Hooper and Pocock was sensational at times and more of the same will be the message from Australian Rugby management.

A week further to improve cohesion in the various pack and back units, expecting more fluency from the Australian half backs to unleash their three quarters faster, a dream scenario for Kerevi and Beale. The line out battle will be keenly watched, will their be an improvement in the set piece this weekend?

Ireland Hooker Selection

Joe Schmidt has named some expected personnel changes but the hooker position team news was a surprise to me personally. The absence of Sean Cronin from the twenty-three man squad is a key talking point.

Rob Herring got valuable game minutes last weekend; did fine in a pressurized environment. Niall Scannell gets his opportunity to prove his worth in this second test match. Herring goes to the bench and Cronin has a free weekend.

Sean Cronin is an outstanding mobile hooker, his line out execution has improved this season. There are rumors that his scrummaging last weekend was pinpointed in video analysis but I find that harsh.

Is Cronin part of Joe Schmidt’s plans? Unless Cronin can stake a claim for game minutes next weekend, it looks like Cronin’s ambitions to feature in an Ireland RWC 2019 squad could be in serious jeopardy, think there is more to this than just alleged form last weekend.

Ireland Breakdown SOS

The breakdown battle for Ireland was a constant struggle last weekend. When Hooper and Pocock are in full flow like they were last weekend, they make world class back rowers look stupid and at times, it was like that unfortunately.

Jordi Murphy, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander all struggled to create a platform for Ireland in this area and the selection of Dan Leavy to this test match is no surprise. Leavy has being outstanding in this facet of play this season for club and country.

I would expect Ireland management to monitor Hooper and Pocock particularly; look to negate their effect on the breakdown with comprehensive clear outs early doors, expect James Ryan to play a huge part in this game plan.

Ireland need solid, quick ruck ball and this is the ask of the back row unit this weekend. With Sexton chomping at the bit to unleash Ringrose and Henshaw on the outside, this test match series for Ireland rests on the back row unit.

End of Season Fatigue

Ireland’s impact off the bench last weekend was incredibly flat. There was no injection of work rate and energy to proceedings. Is this due to the end of the season and fatigue of a long hard season?

The bench this weekend for Ireland looks genuinely exciting. The prospect of Tadhg Beirne with ball in hand and breakdown work is a sight that I am looking forward to see. Porter, Larmour, Carbery will look to provide something different in the third quarter on their introductions.

This weekend will require the full twenty-three man squad to deliver for Ireland. Australia will have improved from last week, hopefully Ireland have not missed the boat in terms of last weekend but with Sexton at ten, Ireland have a chance.

Ireland Half-Back Conundrum

Just for arguments sake and Ireland do win in Melbourne, what does Joe Schmidt and Ireland management do in terms of the nine position? Conor Murray again starts with John Cooney primed to make an impact in the final quarter (or sooner).

This tour was a perfect opportunity to evaluate the depth chart at nine. Marmion needs game time as well to impress; the same could be said for the likes of Ross Byrne at ten but with no midweek games for the squad, it raises questions on the depth chart.

Regardless of the result this weekend, Schmidt and Ireland management need to give sufficient game time for nine and ten personnel. The question is less of a poser if Australia win this weekend but there is no form guide on depth chart for nine / ten at this time which with more than twelve months to go before the RWC, it is a concern.

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group D

Group D looks tough. Argentina will look to Lionel Messi for the inspiration, creativity and goals to advance but the side defensively look vulnerable when you consider that Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria are group opponents. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squads.

Argentina

Jorge Sampaoli has a delicate balancing act to achieve with this Argentinian squad loaded with attacking talent in striker and midfield positions but unfortunately there are questions on how defensively solid the side are with this talent in the side. The friendly loss to Spain at the start of this year was evidence if evidence was needed that Argentina defensively as a team is a work in progress and whether Sampaoli can fix this during training camp is ambitious at best.

The pros for the side are the attacking talent options. Aguero, Messi, Dybala, Di Maria, and Higuain are incredible options to have. How Sampaoli keeps these players happy with sufficient game minutes to partner the mercurial Messi is the another fine balancing act required?

Plenty of defensive leadership and responsibility is going to rest on the likes of Mascherano and Otamendi. They will need support from their central midfield area with the likes of Biglia will need to be on point in their defensive duties. Banega is another player who could have a positive impact for Argentina in this tournament.

The lack of defensive nous collectively in the team is going to give group opposition an opportunity in these opening round fixtures. Argentina to just sneak into the second round but this opening round will see vulnerabilities in this Argentinian side which a potential last sixteen side will gleefully accept despite the brilliance of Messi.

Iceland

A team of the sum of all its parts. The many years of cultivating a well run, efficient youth development system to unearth Icelandic talent has reaped its rewards. Iceland feature in yet another marquee tournament. Their support and the trademark hand clap will be greatly appreciated from the World Cup organizers.

The pluses for the side is their organization; hard to break down defensively and well organized. Their ability to execute superb set piece delivery led by Gylfi Sigurrdson and Johann Berg Gudmunson has created numerous goals and will be a live threat to all opponents. Their ability to go direct plays to the strengths of their forward line options such as Finbogason.

The negatives for the side are that they will be up against potentially at least two of the most potent attacking units in the tournament. Argentina’s attacking arsenal and their electric pace will test Iceland’s rearguard who at times have struggled to contain pacy attacking sides; elude to France quarter final loss in the UEFA Championships. The personnel has not changed drastically from this encounter. Croatia have the potential to pass a team into exhaustion.

Iceland will need to realistically get something from the Argentina and Croatia games to have a realistic chance of advancing to the second round.

Can Iceland evolve their game plan to throw different looks to their opposition? I have my doubts and I think they will at times look incredibly one dimensional. Alas, Iceland to go out in the opening round of the tournament.

Croatia

A team which should get to the semi-finals of this tournament. They are an incredible solid squad; defensively solid and with marquee midfield and attacking options to cause endless issues to opponents in this campaign.

The pros for the side are the midfield options. Luka Modric has the ability to beat teams on his own; his ability to change tempo when required, his passing range and ability to come up with decisive goals from long range are huge pluses.

Mateo Kovacic has the ability to be a player of the tournament. The Real Madrid central midfielder ticks all the boxes; good with the ball, defensively on point and ability to support his strikers with searing runs from deep.

Ivan Perisic, Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic are quality front men and offer pace, power and aerlal threat for the national side. Mandzukic in particular has had another terrific season with Juventus at club level and if provided with good service, will be scoring plenty.

If there is a negative, it can be that Croatia can at times take their foot off the pedal during a fixture. It cost them during the European Champions and the qualification saw a couple of indifferent end of campaign results due to complacency during the game.

I would be disappointed for Croatia if they cannot emerge from this group as winners. They are the standout team in this group; experience and no genuine weak links in the squad. Their passing game has the potential to destroy teams in this group. Group winners for me.

Nigeria

The African nation is known for its pace and powerful football. From their cameos in USA ’94 where the likes of Finidi George became a household name to the footballing world, this side have not being afraid to express themselves on a football pitch.

There have being years of turmoil between the association and players but this is all behind the country as they look forward to this tournament.

The side have experience straight down the spine of their side with the likes of Obi Mikel, Moses, Musa, Etebo, Ndidi, Iwobi and Ighalo. They have pace and power to exploit teams on the counter attack which could cause issues for their pool opponents.

The negative is in the defensive squad depth. The goalkeeping position in particular is quite inexperienced with Ezenwa with only twenty-six caps, the other keepers have only a handful caps between them.

The defensive options are for me personally something of an unknown and I fear that the team may be prone to a couple of defensive lapses which will cause decisive goals being conceded.

Entertaining football is the objective but whether defensively they can be solid enough is a big question mark and for this reason, it looks like an opening round exit.