Nicky Quaid: All Ireland Semi-Final Saves

Running through the game tape of the epic All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final yesterday, it would be remiss of me not to add these GIF clips. Both saves from Nicky Quaid was incredible and were decisive factors in Limerick heading to an All Ireland final. Kudos to the Effin net minder, exceptional saves!

Shane Kingston Save

 

Seamus Harnedy Save

 

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final: Clare 1-30 1-30 Galway

I write this blog a day after an epic tussle, a tussle for the ages as Galway and Clare battled and could not be separated. Sixty-two scores during the ninety minutes of high octane action. Credit both sides for meeting adversity head up and in truth, a draw was a fair outcome. Hawkeye Sidekick highlights the key points from the contest.

Did Clare miss their chance? 

Heading into second period of extra time, Galway’s lineup had a completely different look and feel to it. Gone were the likes of McInerney, Tuohy, Canning, Whelan, David Burke from the lineup who left everything on the pitch. Galway were on the ropes; defensively vulnerable with every ball launched into the full forward line. Clare hit several poor wides during the extra time period and needed Jason McCarthy to make a superb run and shot to level proceedings and secure the replay. Given the personnel issues that Galway faced, Clare will not get a better opportunity to beat this Galway outfit. Injuries may tell us different this week within the Galway camp but this was a missed opportunity for Clare in extra time to secure their All Ireland final ticket.

Galway Opening Period Wide Woe

Galway were truly dominant in the opening fifteen minutes. 1-7 to 0-1 in the ascendancy and Galway were then guilty of some very uncharacteristic misses thereafter allowing Clare to get a foothold back into the contest. The shot selection from long distances was not working; the distribution inside to the full forward was not to the quality of the earlier exchanges but also Clare’s decision to drop Galvin into a defensive role mitigated Galway’s threat inside to a certain extent. Galway will rue this opening period of the game; Clare were on the ropes but Galway lacked composure. The missed goal from Cathal Mannion a perfect example; perfect setup but a lax first touch cost Galway a certain goal.

Clare Puck Out Strategy

I felt so sorry for Donal Tuohy in the first quarter of this contest. The net minder’s distribution was being exposed with static Clare outfield players not coming to meet the sliothar. Galway’s players were wise to the tactic and the opening quarter dominance came from this facet of play. Credit Tuohy though, he changed tact and started to deliver the puck outs immediately with colleagues receiving the time and space to launch attacks. Tuohy also produced several key stops during the contest. Tuohy can feel proud of how he dealt with the adverse start to the fixture.

Clare resilience 

Clare were unfazed by the early start; they were not at the races for the first seventeen minutes of this encounter but then the switch of Galvin added with Galway’s indecisive scoring accuracy gave the Bannermen a way back into the contest. Tony Kelly, Peter Duggan came to the fore as the half wore on, helped in no small part by Galvin’s quality distribution from deep. John Conlon then got into the act during the second half; running Daithi Burke into wide areas, exposing ankle issues and scoring four quality scores from play. Clare’s management and team came through the opening period crisis with massive respect; only four points down at the break was not a disaster.

Galway Squad Depth 

Galway’s first fifteen side are extremely talented. The attacking performance of Conor Cooney, Jonathan Glynn was to the fore. Joe Canning continued to work the scoreboard. Cathal Mannion had several impressive long range scores. The midfield unit of Burke and Coen dominated for periods of the game; Burke in the second half was excellent, hit a couple of quality scores. The back line were manfully sticking to the task with Burke at full back heroic with his ankle problem and McInerney typically robust and physical clearing endless ball. When key players left the pitch for Galway, the leadership waned badly.

Paul Killeen is a superb player but to ask the player to close out the contest in the half back line / sweeper role was an arduous task. The attacking options of Flynn and Niall Burke impressed but key decision making from the two players at the death exposed composure issues. Niall Burke’s sideline cut going wide setting up the Clare attack to level the game; perhaps keeping the ball in play and finding a Galway player to kill the clock was the best option. Flynn missed a free that if Canning was on the pitch probably would have scored. Fine margins. Galway’s squad bench impact was exposed yesterday.

Aron Shanagher

Great goal from the Wolfe Tones player in extra-time. The Wolfe Tones clubman has endured a trying twelve months with knee injury problems. A quality turn and strike which setup Clare to win this contest. The player will be a threat in the replay next weekend. Galway have being warned.

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final: Limerick 3-32 2-31 Cork

Hurling. The sport that just keeps on giving. Less than twenty-fours after Western rivals Clare and Galway entertained hurling fans with sixty-two scores and another mouthwatering replay next weekend, there was plenty of expectation coming into this all Munster last four tussle. By god, did Limerick and Cork deliver. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to dissect the key points to Limerick’s victory.

Nicky Quaid

The contribution of Nicky Quaid in this contest must be a prominent key to Limerick’s victory. Quaid comes from a family steeped in Limerick hurling goalkeeping tradition. Nicky Quaid was solid throughout with his puck out strategy but two key moments come to mind instantly.

The opening half save against Shane Kingston was world class; a quality shot from the dangerous Cork forward produced a superb reflex save from the Effin net minder. The second save came right at the end of normal time; saves like this define seasons for teams.

Harnedy who was a constant threat for the Limerick full back line all game looked destined to shatter Limerick dreams, close range, ready to pull the trigger but Quaid instinctively flicked the ball from the hurley of Harnedy and the danger was averted. Limerick cleared their lines and pushed on in extra time to win this contest. An amazing contribution from the Limerick keeper and more of the same in three weeks could see Limerick win the All Ireland final.

Limerick Resilience 

A key facet of this Limerick’s dynamic is their ability to bounce back and continue to execute the game plan even when the opposition has had an excellent period of play. When Conor Lehane superbly took advantage of a defensive lapse to unleash an unstoppable shot into the Limerick net, the Treaty Men were looking down the barrel. Six points down. Past Limerick teams would have lost composure, lost the plot in shot selection and aimlessly hit ball back to the opposition.

This side is a different animal. The response was akin to that against Kilkenny two weeks ago. Shane Dowling showed huge leadership to dispatch a key free and point from play to reduce the arrears. The score sprung Limerick back into life as Cork suddenly lost composure and pace; Limerick could sense it and further scores from Hayes, Gillane (2) and then that man Dowling to level the scores. Defining ten minutes between fifty-eight to sixty-eight.

Cork’s decision to sit on their lead back fired and Limerick were not going to be asked twice to gain a foothold again in the contest. Cork may have salvaged a point to get to extra time but Limerick had all the momentum heading into extra time.

Goals win games 

Limerick won this contest by virtue of two superb extra time goals. Dowling’s contribution to this game when coming off the bench was nothing short of sensational. The Na Piarsaigh’s run into the Cork penalty area in the second period of extra time saw Cork having to foul the target man. Penalty. What would Limerick do? Go for a point or go for the jugular? Dowling emphatically dispatched the penalty into the top corner giving Nash no chance. A four point margin established and Cork had to attack and leave spaces defensively. Cue Peter Casey, Barry Nash, David Reidy and Pat Ryan to exploit the space.

Ryan’s pace in extra time seen to full effect as he outstripped Cahalane on the bye line before dispatching an unbelievable lob over Nash to score. The third goal scored by Limerick; a more accurate assessment of Limerick’s goal scoring threat.

Gillane alone had three outstanding goal chances; his ability to create the chances was superb but composure is now required from the player to convert these chances. The habit of throwing the hurl and kicking the ball needs to be reviewed in the coming weeks. Cian Lynch’s opening goal cannot be dismissed; a quality strike on the stroke of half-time. Lynch taking a quality pass from Flanagan on the flank. The shot was emphatic; goals win championship games.

Sub Bench Impact

In my blog last week, I mentioned the fact if Limerick could be there or thereabouts with Cork heading into the final quarter that they would win the contest. As both teams started to fatigue, new faces were required to provide the necessary tempo and impetus to allow their side to get over the line.

I think it is fair to say that in terms of squad depth today, Limerick won the bench impact battle. A look at the scoring stats off the bench speaks its own story. Dowling 1-4. Ryan 1-0. Reidy 0-1. Nash 0-1. Limerick scored 2-6 off the bench and then you compare that with Cork who only had a point from O’Connor.

This was a decisive victory for Limerick off the bench. Extra time exposed Cork’s lack of attacking options. Alan Cadogan was a miss for Cork but if John Meyler and management staff have learned anything from today, it is that new attacking talent needs to be identified and brought into the squad.

Half Back Woes

A strange, strange contest in that neither half-back line asserted any great dominance for long periods. Both units were struggling to cope with the movement of their attacking threats. Numerous half-back players were either caught in possession or were exposed for positional lapses.

Limerick’s half back line will need to improve for the All Ireland final; Cork had opportunities in the third quarter to pull away but were guilty of several poor misses. The Limerick half back line should buy a drink for their colleagues in midfield and full back line who cleared endless ball and assisted the unit throughout.

Cork themselves had big issues in the half-back line particularly in the closing extra time minutes; no player from the unit put the hand up to lead the side and set the platform. An interesting cameo from the contest.

Limerick All Ireland Bound 

Croke Park and Limerick teams have had a volatile relationship in recent years. Past teams since ’73 have thought that this was the year only to be upstaged by a superior outfit or a general team performance failure. This Limerick side looks different to other teams that have gone before. The scoreboard tally of 3-32 is incredible. The composure of the side on point when the pressure was applied by Cork. The players play without fear; mistakes were made but the players bounced back and focused on the next ball.

This is a side which Limerick fans all across the world should embrace, appreciate and be proud of. It is time to refocus for the final; that means the media, supporters giving the team support but not create a frenzied hyped environment. The players and management need to recuperate, regroup, focus on the final; there can be no more sad stories coming from Limerick hurling in Croke Park this season. A glorious final opportunity has arisen and Limerick need to take this opportunity with both hands. With the Cranberries playing after the game finished, feeling something different about this Limerick side.

Guinness Pro 14: Irish Province Squad Preseason Review

The preseason drills have started weeks ago and playing squads (for the most part) are thick in the middle of preseason preparations. For Connacht and Ulster, it is an opportunity for players to impress new head coaching appointments to secure sufficient game time this season. Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule on the squads.

Irish Province Squad Transfers: 

Guinness Pro 14: Ireland Provinces Transfers (2018 – 2019)

The standard bearers last season in European Club Rugby have lost several legendary players in the off-season. Given the talent in the academy ranks which have graduated to the senior contract ranks, it would be remiss to say that the side will not miss the presence and stature of players such as Jamie Heaslip, Richardt Strauss and the legend that is Isa Nacewa.

Nacewa’s leadership at the business end of the season was incredible; he took over the kicking tee responsibility in the European Rugby Champions Cup final. Three guys whose presence, work ethos and professionalism is beyond reproach.

The other transfer departures saw notable exits for Jordi Murphy and Joey Carbery to Ulster and Munster respectively; with a RWC 2019 fast approaching, players will need sufficient game time and this was a key factor for their departures from the club. Yet again, two players whose talent will be missed in the squad depth of the side which will be tested again given the international contingent at the club.

It is not all doom and gloom from a Leinster Rugby perspective. The academy talent has being immense and it is rewarded with several keynote contracts to the senior team. Jordan Larmour had a superb debut season in the first team; capped at international level and his try scoring exploits had rugby writers in euphoric tone.

Doris and Murphy signings are incredibly exciting for Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster; two players who will play senior international test matches soon and when you consider the likes of Max Deegan with another preseason under his belt, the talent pool still remains strong.

Joe Tomane is the marquee signing for the province; a powerhouse back line option to have. If Tomane is half as good as Nacewa, Leinster Rugby are in a good place. Interesting start to the season given the international players unavailability at different parts of next season but if Leinster Rugby can negotiate the opening Welsh road trip fixtures, they are well set for another good season.

A coaching era has arrived in Galway. Andy Friend has being appointed the new head coach of Connacht Rugby, a coach with an excellent resume, experience aplenty in SH / NH rugby as well as spending times in the Sevens game. His mantra will be for the players to express themselves with ball in hand, promote creativity while providing teamwork and defensive organization without the ball.

Andy Friend replaces Kieran Keane who was dismissed after only a season in June; seven Pro 14 wins from twenty-one fixtures last season is the baseline for Friend to surpass for the upcoming season and the personnel brought into the club should help get past this miserable mark given the existing talent pool in the squad.

The recruitment had already commenced by the time Kieran Keane walked the Lough Atalia plank. Connacht Rugby had already secured the services of versatile centre Godwin and a potential astute move for Horowitz from Australian rugby.

The back line has being boosted by the signing of Reece who is a speed merchant with ball in hand. Robin Copeland comes from Munster looking to prove a point; personally thought that Munster Rugby did not see the most of the player. Copeland was versatile in filling second row and back row positions but it is at eight where the player excels; look at his performances when with Cardiff Blues is enough.

The academy continues to deliver aplenty and no surprise that a couple of players move to the senior contract ranks. Claffey if he continues his progression looks an excellent lock in the making. Gallagher and O’Donnell will need to mature and work hard this season to secure any significant game minutes.

The side saw numerous departures with several players released from their contracts while also paying an emotional farewell to Galway native John Muldoon who retired from the game to join Pat Lam at Bristol Bears as a coach. Huge void left in the dressing room but it is up to the senior players and Copeland to provide the experience and leadership in the ranks.

The fixture sees a colossal opening five game stand; four of which are at home. Connacht Rugby will need to be on point for the visits of Leinster Rugby and Glasgow Warriors. If they can secure a couple of early home wins, confidence should soar and the Connacht fan base will look forward to the season; otherwise, it may be a season of attrition with European Challenge Cup Pool of Death to look forward to. Friend will demand high standards from minute one this season, an interesting team to watch this season given the dynamic style of play that the Westerners execute.

After a season of near misses at the business end of the season, it is fair to say that Munster Rugby are a side that need to get over the hump and win a competition. The squad personnel has seen several keynote departures and arrivals.

The arrivals are spearheaded by the acquisition of Joey Carbery for this season; a player who has the potential but needs the game time to develop at the ten channel. The prospect of Carbery and Murray in the half back pairing is something to whet the appetite at Munster. Carbery is not a lock for ten though as the likes of Keatley, Bleyendaal and Hanrahan will look to impress Johann van Graan in early preseason to secure vital preseason friendly game minutes.

The scrum-half position has being bolstered by the signing of Neil Cronin. Cronin was an UBL standout in recent seasons with Garryowen and the Limerick native gets another opportunity to stake a claim at the professional ranks. Cronin has an excellent all round game, excellent pass, good kicking game as well and should complement the competition in the squad depth charts. Murray is number one but the battle for the backup will intensify with Hart, Williams and now Cronin vying for this spot. Training ground competition should see improvement off the bench in this position on game day.

Mike Haley comes to Munster Rugby with an excellent reputation from Sale Sharks; versatile player whose line break skills are a key facet will be a good replacement for the departed Simon Zebo who moves to Racing 92. Zebo’s talent cannot be replicated but what Haley will bring is an overall solid game who will contribute to attack when hitting the line. Stephen Fitzgerald and Andrew Conway look like viable full back options too so the depth chart yet again is bolstered in this position.

Arno Botha for me is the dark horse signing for Munster this season. The player is a specimen; his mobility allows the player to play in either second row or back row. Botha will be required particularly when the likes of O’Mahony and Stander are away on international duty. Botha’s ball carrying is abrasive and I think the Munster Rugby fan base will love his style of play. His discipline though at times can be an issue but something to watch out for.

Academy players such as Calvin Nash and Liam O’Connor are rewarded with encouraging cameos last season with senior contracts. O’Connor if he is fully recovered from injury is a key prop asset. Nash is a player with tremendous upside; pace, power and ability to spot a line break. Two exciting homegrown talents for Munster Rugby to nurture further this season along with Fineen Wycherley, a player who has being part of the senior squad for a couple of seasons now, amazing that he is now only getting a senior contract!

A season of expectation but the keyword will be patience for the Munster Rugby fans. The new signings will take time to bed in but when they do, it will be an interesting season. The business end of the season is where Munster need to prove themselves so judgement on the squad will ultimately take place there.

If any side were happy to see the back of 2017-2018 season, it was Ulster Rugby. Turmoil off the pitch with legal proceedings of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, a head coach who jumped ship midway through the season and incumbent who did not want to take on the position long term. Turmoil on the playing side with Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have to move to France to resurrect their careers and then a plethora of retirements. The names who bide farewell to Kingspan Stadium are massive; Bowe, Payne, Trimble and then you throw other players who departed like Piatau, Diack and Black and it has being a tough off season of departures.

Hope springs eternal. Dan McFarland takes over the head coaching role and several signings look interesting early doors. Jordi Murphy’s arrival will boost the physicality and work rate of the back row. Murphy was an unsung hero for Leinster Rugby and Ireland last season; his tackle count was high consistently and his breakdown support work while continuing to be a threat with ball in hand set the foundation for all that was good in both sides Murphy represented last season.

Marty Moore arrives back to Ireland with a point to prove after an indifferent playing spell with Wasps; some good cameos but some frustrating times sidelined with injury. Moore if on form should get game minutes to increase his profile back with Joe Schmidt and the national side. A nice signing for Ulster if the coaching team can get the best out of Moore.

Billy Burns is an interesting fly-half signing. The Gloucester Rugby arrival is a player with plenty of skill set to offer the side; good kicking game, astute game management to launch his runners. The key issue with Burns is performance consistency at times. The ten jersey needed competition given the departure of Jackson and with McPhilips starting to emerge late last season, the battle for the ten jersey can only benefit the side long term.

Several academy players make the jump to the senior contract ranks. The key guy to look out for if given game time is Johnny Stewart. The scrum-half is being tipped even at this early stage as a player of promise, words comparing the player to Ruan Pienaar have being bandied around. It will remain to be seen how the player will evolve this season with Cooney the incumbent first choice at the position. If Stewart were to impress, could Cooney’s versatility see a switch to ten?

A season which Ulster Rugby will need everyone rowing in the same direction. Last season was a disaster for the club both on and off the pitch, this season has to be the platform for better things to come. The back line and half back options have being depleted but it is down to the senior players in the squad to lead by example. The core talent in the squad and academy is impressive; the question is whether the pack and half back recruits can provide the extra impetus to get the team over the line in key match-ups this season. A question to be answered in due course.

Guinness Pro 14: Ireland Provinces Transfers (2018 – 2019)

Guinness Pro 14 Irish Rugby preseason is well underway for the players not involved in the June international series. As like any off season, there has being comings and goings within the four provincial sides. This blog posting looks at the arrivals and departures for the upcoming season for Connacht Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Munster Rugby and Ulster Rugby.

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Predictions

All the pregame build up is nearly complete and on Sunday evening, we should know the two teams who will advance to the All Ireland Hurling Final next month. Novel pairings which also are local derby contests, yet another element to whet the appetite of the supporters who will travel in huge numbers to Croke Park this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to predict the winners.

Reigning All Ireland Champions Galway face their cross border neighbor Clare in a mouth watering opening fixture on Saturday. Clare have regrouped extremely well after their devastating Munster SHC final loss to Cork. Their performance against Wexford two weeks ago showed excellent tempo, game management and ability to create for their inside full forward line.

How do Clare win this contest? Their running game has to be established early, showcasing their pace and mobility to cause Galway defensively issues and test out James Skehill in goal. The attacking tactics need to vary during the contest; run game established but also need to create the space for John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell inside to create goal scoring opportunities.

Clare defensively may deploy a sweeper in front of David McInerney to negate the goal threat of Glynn. Cleary at half-back needs to be strong aerially and kept his positional shape throughout but it will be a tall order considering the movement of the Galway forward line on show. Canning, Mannion, Cooney are all well capable of scoring heavily if given the time and space to.

How do Galway win this contest? They negate the influence of Clare’s talisman Tony Kelly who will look to roam around the middle third. Who picks up Kelly is another story entirely as Gearoid McInerney to sit in the half back slot and kept the defensive shape. The onus may be on the wing backs and wing forwards to assist in tracking Kelly’s runs from deep.

The Clare puck out strategy needs to be tested to the max, still question marks on Donal Tuohy’s distribution and if Galway decided to push on the Clare puck out early, Tuohy will be put under pressure to find Clare team mates forty / fifty meters away. If that does not work, then the direct ball will need to be hit and that plays into the hands of Galway with their physicality and aerial ability.

After a promising opening from Clare, I expect Galway’s middle third to make the necessary adjustments to win this contest by five or six points. The only way Clare win is if John Conlon scores a couple of goals but that looks unlikely given Daithi Burke’s form this season. The form full back of this semi-final weekend; that will be an outstanding duel. Galway’s ability to score from distance will negate the defensive setup deployed by Clare.

This fixture is very much a 50/50 call. Both sides come into this contest with questions to answer. Cork and Limerick have had indifferent cameos at Croke Park in recent years; composure and holding one’s nerve will be the key facets in this fixture. Cork come into this game as favorites; they are the Munster SHC kingpins. Their skill set and ability to score is outstanding but Limerick’s youth and potential cannot be ignored.

How do Cork win this contest? Negate Limerick’s middle third. Limerick’s middle third distribution has being a standout facet this season resulting in several eye catching scores from the Limerick forward line. Can Mark Ellis impose aerial dominance to proceedings and distribute quality ball to the inside full forward line where Horgan, Lehane will look to prosper with early scores.

How do Limerick win this contest? Cork’s contrasting performance levels during games has being striking. Brilliance and mediocrity at different intervals of games have being to the fore. Limerick need to keep calm and execute their game plan, do not let the occasion get to them or pass them by. Cork will provide chances for Limerick to gain a foothold in this contest but Limerick have to be accurate in game management and shot selection; question marks on how the side will deal with Croke Park for me personally.

Squad depth may play a vital role here. If Limerick can be close to Cork heading into the final quarter, they have excellent attacking options to come in and change the game. Dowling, Casey and Nash could provide timely cameos. Cork’s bench is good but question whether their bench can provide such a contribution.

If Cork can learn lessons from their All Ireland Semi-Final loss last year where the lack of action (four weeks since their last game) was a factor, Cork should advance to the All Ireland final. They look stronger in the skill set department and there is a real potency to their attacking unit this season. Rumors of Harnedy missing out look wide off the mark, he will start and thus I edge this game to Cork but hope that Limerick can first off produce a performance and leave everything on the field. No Croke Park collapse please Limerick!

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Limerick

In the final All Ireland Hurling semi-final team profile, we look at Limerick; the most progressive team in the championship this season under the management of John Kiely. A decent Munster SHC run ultimately ended in provincial final berth disappointment with a heavy loss to Clare in Ennis but the side have regrouped and their sensational two point victory over Kilkenny two weeks time has the side in position to drive on for championship glory. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on his native county (apologies if this sounds biased)

Route to All Ireland Semi-Final: 

Limerick’s path to this stage of the competition started back in the NHL campaign. Their promotion from NHL 1B, a division where Limerick have tolled in for several seasons was smashed open after a superb victory on the road to Galway. This result proved to management, players and fans that this side had the potential to be a legitimate threat for the Munster SHC.

Limerick’s first fixture saw the good and the bad. The good was the distribution of scores across the team and composure to not switch their game plan after Tipperary’s goals. The bad was the defensive lapses for those Tipperary goals; NHL 1B habits die hard and Limerick’s back line were punished to the max. Limerick’s strong finish saw Tipperary flounder and a good home win laid the foundations.

The bye week probably came too early for this youthful Limerick side but the Cork fixture showed the new resolve and determination of this side. When Aaron Gillane was shown his marching orders in the opening period, many would have thought that Limerick’s game was cooked but the work rate of the side thereafter was exceptional and their distribution and shot selection really on point. A draw was thoroughly deserved.

Waterford were the next opponents for Limerick; a difficult fixture for Limerick was professionally negated as Limerick hit Waterford for two first half goals and the performance of Shane Dowling (0-15) securing a comprehensive victory at home; five points secured but there was a twist in the tale as a fresher Clare outfit took Limerick apart in the final round robin game to advance to the provincial final. A kick in the solars that.

Regroup was the keyword and Limerick started their All Ireland Series journey on the road in Carlow. The Joe McDonagh champions were simply blown away by a Limerick side whose pace and power exposed massive depth chart issues for Carlow. Five goals scored. Numerous players on the scoreboard with players such as Peter Casey providing excellent cameos ahead of their tussle against Kilkenny.

The All Ireland Quarter-Final fixture with Kilkenny was an excellent encounter. Both sides did not give an inch throughout. Limerick’s composure was truly tested when Richie Hogan scored a potential game winning goal with seven minutes to go but Limerick’s response was emphatic with Tom Morrissey, Casey and Dowling scoring to level the game. Tom Morrissey’s incredible game winning point was a video highlight reel moment. Victory over Kilkenny achieved; forty-five years trying had ended.

Key Players: 

Several players have stood out for Limerick this season. Mike Casey, Sean Finn and Richie English in the full back line have provided tight defensive displays and their distribution from the back has seen massive improvements in the side this season.

The half-back line is an unit which has grown with each passing game. Declan Hannon will look to dominate out on the forty; his aerial ability and game management has being impressive. The wing back areas have seen upward progression with Diarmuid Byrnes producing several standout performances along with Dan Morrissey who has reveled in the half back line this weekend. Aerially strong, good distribution and the ability to score from long range is a real asset for the side.

The midfield unit combination of Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan has seen genuine attacking threat from deep. Lynch’s skill set is immense and his distribution to colleagues when under pressure has caught the eye. Lynch’s running style also will create scoring opportunities for either himself or attacking colleagues inside. O’Donovan has being the preferred midfield partner for Lynch; superb work rate and his ability from side line cut and long range is another good attacking source for John Kiely’s men.

The half-forward line has youth in abundance. Hegarty, Hayes and Tom Morrissey have grown in stature with each passing game. Aerial ability is on point and their ability to take scores from open play has being a recurring theme this season. The emergence of Tom Morrissey as a go to player for Limerick have lifted the scoring burden from the inside full forward line.

Flanagan, Gillane and Mulcahy will most likely lead the full forward line. Flanagan has massive upside; his pace to the fore and his ability to take a score was seen against Cork particularly when he scored 0-6 points from play. Gillane has emerged this season; his free taking and general all round play excellent but his red card against Cork will mean that the Rebels will test the discipline of the player this weekend. Mulcahy’s experience and ability to score from play at key stages will need to continue this weekend.

Key Strengths: 

The forward line unit is a different proposition to twelve months ago. It is another year under the guidance of highly respected coach Paul Kinnerk. The movement and speed in this forward line has caused endless issues for opposition this season but the distribution from defense and midfield to the forward unit has being very impressive. It is so hard to defend this movement when the distribution is that good into space.

The scoring threat is distributed across many players. The attacking options are all well capable of scoring heavy and are complemented by midfield and half-back scoring threat from long range. This is a different trait to Limerick compared to recent championship runs where the side were depending on a player or two, this group of players have confidence to take scores when required.

Game management and shot selection has vastly improved this season. The memories of Nowlan Park last season when Limerick were blazing wide after wide from extremely long range and acute angles hopefully is consigned to the annals; the ability of the player in possession to seek out the best option for the side has being a welcome development.

Squad depth. The Na Piarsaigh club contingent have provided massive cameos off the bench particularly against Kilkenny. Peter Casey, William O’Donoghue and Shane Dowling are quality hurlers and their contributions in the last quarter when players are tiring can only be beneficial for Limerick going down the final stretch.

Key Weakness: 

Croke Park. Some will say that this side is young and are rid of the shackles of past heartache at HQ but until a Limerick Senior Hurling side comes to Croke Park and delivers a smart, savvy performance, then this question still remains for me. Cork will look to prey on Limerick’s inexperience of this occasion; can Limerick kept their composure and adhere to the game plan? This side have won All Ireland’s at minor and U21 so hopefully for Limerick, this is a moot point at the weekend.

Mindset. Limerick is an intoxicating sports fan county; from rugby, soccer, hurling, football; the county want to be competitive. The mindset has slowly shifted with the hurlers this season; the Kilkenny win was greeted with jubilation but letters to the Limerick Leader thereafter asked for the paper to stave off the temptation of going over board on the coverage of the side, upping the ante, putting unnecessary pressure on the team. Limerick fans and team need to keep their feet on the ground. The team should embrace this occasion; they will be underdogs this weekend to win. The team need to focus on their own performance and the result will take care of itself but it requires the supporters to support the side in the right way. The supporters need to play their part at HQ; not starting groaning if there is an indifferent start and put negative vibes to the team. A fantastic opportunity has presented itself for the side, time to take it with both hands.

Movement. Declan Hannon will look to consolidate in the traditional center back slot but what happens if Cork decide to deploy their half-forward around the park? Who picks up the player? It is an interesting tactical decision for Limerick management to ponder ahead of this fixture. Hannon provides solidity for the full back line and if he needs to move out of position, could Cork exploit the space created?

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All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Cork

In this All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-final preview, we look at the Cork challenge which has seen John Meyler’s charges retain their Munster SHC title this season. A team brimming with speed and talent, Cork will be a difficult juggernaut to stop this weekend. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Rebels.

Path to All Ireland Semi-Final: 

The Munster SHC round robin was an interesting competition phase for Cork. Their opening home win late over a determined Clare challenge laid the foundations but questions were raised against Tipperary and Limerick on the side’s ability to produce a full seventy minute performance. The draw against Limerick at home exposed shot selection issues and allowed fourteen man Limerick to salvage a last gasp draw.

The bye week came at a good time for Cork management and players; a chance for the camp to regroup and improve on certain areas. Their last round robin fixture against Waterford was a banana skin fixture as the Deise with no pressure gave Cork all they could handle for sixty minutes but Seamus Harnedy’s goal was decisive as Cork won the fixture by three points to secure a provincial final berth against Clare.

A story of two halves for Cork in the Munster SHC final. Clare dominated the opening period; their running game causing the Cork back line numerous problems and the threat of John Conlon inside at full forward looked to be a decisive game winning moment. However, the resilience of this Cork side shone through again. The middle third dominated the aerial battle in the third quarter and from being four points down at the break, Cork strode out to a lead that they would never relinquish. As the game opened up and back lines tired, Cork’s hurling skill in attack shone through with Pa Horgan superb.

Key Players: 

Several Cork standouts in this side. Anthony Nash in goals is the game’s best distributor from a puck out situation. His unerring accuracy to find Cork options in the middle third has being to the fore and Limerick will need to be on their guard this weekend to the Kanturk’s netminder quick puck outs either short or long range. The keeper is a superb shot stopper and is a leading candidate for an All Star this season. A pivotal last few weeks of the intercounty season could see the goalkeeper All Star switch from Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy to Nash. Interesting times.

The back line unit is solid, defensively tight and capable of assisting in the scoring stakes. Damien Cahalane is the lynchpin of the Cork full back line; his command of the position and ability to organize around him are key traits. The half-back line options are excellent with Mark Coleman the natural standout; his distribution to the forward line is exceptional and his ability to hit long range side line cuts makes the Blarney club man a potent weapon in this All Ireland series.

The midfield area has the right mix of youth and experience. The speed merchant that is Darren Fitzgibbon has being to the fore this season; his ability to outstrip back line defenses with probing runs from deep has yielded several quality scores from play. He is complemented superbly by Bill Cooper whose defensive nous provides protection for the Cork back line unit; Cooper is also capable of chipping in with several scores from play. A class midfield duo partnership.

The forward line is loaded with slick pace and hurling talent. Where do you start? Conor Lehane and Shane Kingston have consolidated their excellent performances of last season. Lehane’s ability to score from long range and to find space in the middle third is a real asset; his relationship with Nash on the puck outs is a key facet of play. Kingston has excelled in recent fixtures; pace and power with an eye for goal.

Seamus Harnedy like Lehane and Kingston has continued in an upward curve this season. His leadership to the fore in the wins over Waterford and Clare in the provincial final in particular. Harnedy’s goal poaching exploits when making runs from deep has caused opposition full back lines serious problems. Harnedy has being the perfect foil for Pa Horgan to impress; the Glen Rovers is just quality. His ability to hit off either side, his ability on placed balls, his game management and work rate sets the tone for the rest of the forward line unit. A class act and a leading contender for HOTY honors this season.

Key Strengths: 

Cork’s passing game through the lines with speed and pace this season has caused endless problems for opposition. The first touch of Cork this season has being sensational at times and their ability to pass the ball to a colleague without breaking stride has created numerous scoring chances. Coleman, Joyce, Fitzgibbon, Meade have reveled in this facet of play.

Resiliency has being a keyword associated with Cork this season. John Meyler and side have shown great composure to pull out several results this season. The Munster SHC final was a perfect example; struggled for tempo and cohesion in the opening half but hung in there until half-time where a late 1-1 gave them the lifeline to roar into the second half. Fight and determination aplenty in this side.

Cork’s skill set is superb; if the All Ireland semi-final defensive structures loosen sufficiently, then Cork’s inside forward line will fancy their chances of creating goal scoring chances. Pa Horgan and Seamus Harnedy are serious threats inside and when you consider the half forward options available, good things will happen for Cork.

Key Weakness: 

There has being performance inconsistency with Cork this season. Every contest has seen Cork struggle for a period of the game. Clare in the round robin game were in contention until the last ten minutes when Cork produced a strong finish to win. Tipperary game saw Cork stride out in front with a big lead in Thurles only to be pegged back in the second half; the middle third was dominated in the third quarter. Limerick game saw Cork look a bit ponderous with ball in hand allowing Limerick to secure a draw. Waterford had good moments in the opening period. You get the trend; Cork have yet to produce a complete full game performance. Limerick will be forewarned that it is not them that experiences this.

Croke Park. This group of players are under pressure to deliver at HQ this weekend after last season’s cameo. Cast your mind back twelve months, Cork were riding on a crest of a wave. Munster SHC kingpins. Confidence soaring with fans talking of a potential All Ireland. The All Ireland Semi-Final against Waterford was a video nightmare; nothing went right for Cork on the day. Waterford exposed aerial mismatches (Brick Walsh on Coleman) paid good dividends and with Cork having to chase the game, Waterford’s running game created a couple of goal chances which were dispatched. Throw in the red card for Pa Horgan. Enough said. Limerick will look to prey on these fears and if they can take Cork down the stretch, the gremlins from twelve months past may surface.

Scoring Statistics: 

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Galway

The second part of a blog series focuses on reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions Galway, a side who had to come through an epic Leinster SHC tussle with Kilkenny to secure their place in the last four of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at how the side have performed, identifies the key protagonists and potential areas where Clare could expose and cause the upset.

Galway’s path to the All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final  

The inaugural Leinster SHC round robin format posed little issues for the reigning champions. An emphatic opening weekend victory over Offaly in Tullamore the perfect setup for the first Leinster SHC fixture to be played at Pearse Stadium against perennial rival Kilkenny. A fantastic occasion which saw Galway inspired by the mercurial Joe Canning to produce a dominant third quarter to win this contest by eight points.

The road trip to Innovate Park looked like a tricky assignment but Galway dispatched the challenge of Wexford with relative ease; putting the game in the opening period and keeping the hosts at arms length for the second half expending minimum effort. The last round robin fixture against Dublin was an opportunity for fringe players to gain valuable minutes in a competitive setting; an one point win against a determined Dublin side was mission accomplished.

The Leinster SHC final against Kilkenny was incredible viewing; physicality to the fore with scoring opportunities at a premium. Galway were pegged back late at Croke Park by a TJ Reid inspired Kilkenny outfit. The replay in Thurles was an exceptional fixture as Galway management’s decision to deploy Glynn in full forward paid early success; a vital factor in victory as Galway had to withhold a massive Kilkenny fightback in the third quarter. Galway’s finishing kick to close out the game was emphatic with Joe Canning immense. Battle hardened games with Kilkenny a perfect foil for this All Ireland series.

Key Players

Galway have grown in stature this season. The mantle of reigning championship has being embraced with the usual suspects taking their game to new levels and emerging talent providing timely cameos to management which has seen increased competition for places. Where do you start? Joe Canning. The forward is mercurial; the skill set and what he can do with a silothar is on a different level. His performances this season have steadily improved; his ability to score from either sideline cuts or free kicks is a real asset for the side. His work rate ethos sets the tone and others follow. His scoring return has being excellent this year and Clare’s half back line have a decision to make with the Portumna native. Do they stick to the player but then open space in behind for other attacking threats to roam or do they stick to their positions and see Canning score six to seven points from open play?

Cathal Mannion personally is such a massive talent. The forward has the ability to turn a game with his trademark quality long range scores from either side. His performance against Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC replay was a pure illustration of the talent that the player possesses. His ability to score from long range saw a primary platform for Galway to win this contest in the second half. Mannion’s game management and distribution for the likes of Conor Whelan inside has posed serious questions for opposition defenses.

David Burke is an exemplary captain for Galway. The St.Thomas club man is so selfless in the hard work he puts in game after game. All the fundamentals are present; solid under the dropping ball with excellent pace and power. His distribution from deep to his inside forward line at times is a joy to watch and his ability to link up with back line and forward line has being to the fore. Burke’s tends to revel in the Croke Park surroundings and his performances to date this season would indicate another fine afternoon is in store.

Key Strengths: 

The side collectively are so structured and on point. The defensive power of Daithi Burke and Gearoid McInerney provides the solidity and platform for the Galway back line to prosper. Padraic Mannion has being a standout in his man marking duties this season and his ability to score from distance (0-3) against Dublin will be a key asset if Clare decide to deploy a sweeper inside during periods of the contest. David Burke and Johnny Coen provide defensive nous but significantly attacking threat with their runs from deep to keep the scoreboard ticking over. When you throw in the attacking options of Cooney (Conor and Joseph), Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Conor Whelan, Jonathan Glynn, there is plenty to ponder from a Clare back line perspective along with the likes of Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion.

Key Weakness: 

It is grasping at straws but the goal scoring rate at times could improve. If you take the five goals scored against beleaguered Offaly in the opening round of the championship, Galway have only managed three goals thereafter and when you consider the inside threat of the likes of Conor Whelan and now Jonathan Glynn inside, it is a statistic which no doubt Galway management will be eager to address. Galway keeper situation has being of debate this season. Callanan’s injury layoff has seen James Skehill return to the goals; solid performer but there have being times where the keeper has struggled to command his square. Nine goals conceded in the championship this season is a concern defensively but whether Clare can create the running lines to expose Skehill is an entirely different story given the back line units in front of the net minder.

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