Limerick Senior Hurling Championship: Round 3 Preview

All the Liam McCarthy celebrations in Limerick will need to be put on hold for the next few weeks as the club championship takes center stage. The third round of Limerick SHC resumes tomorrow night. Hawkeye Sidekick will look to predict the outcomes. 

Group 1: Top Two Lock Horns

Local neighbors Patrickswell and Ballybrown will kick this group action off, always interesting games to say the least when these two get together. Ballybrown are playing knockout hurling; need a result here to have any chance of reaching at least a quarter final berth. Patrickswell have being inconsistent so far; a good win over Adare in round two then saw a three point reversal to Doon in round two.

Two teams who need to win to gain momentum for the rest of the championship. For Ballybrown to win, Alan O’Connor will need to be on point in open play and placed balls. The attacking threat of Patrickswell led by Gillane, Lynch should be sufficient to see Well home in this one, would not be surprised if a couple of red cards are issued. Well to quell the early Ballybrown storm and win by five points.

Adare like Ballybrown have lost their first two rounds against Patrickswell and Kilmallock by a combined twenty-three points. The points difference is not on Adare’s side and could be critical come the end of the group phase but they need to play significantly better to beat a Doon side who on their day is a match for anyone.

The East Limerick side will be buoyed by their All Ireland winners and plenty will be expected of Pat Ryan and Barry Murphy to provide keynote performances to alert Limerick management. Adare will depend on Declan Hannon and John Fitzgibbon to provide a platform; a lack of goal threat might be fatal here for Adare. Doon for me by four points.

Kilmallock and Na Piarsaigh is the mouth watering fixture of this championship round. Both come into this contest with 100% records and one will probably go at the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday night. So many intriguing match-ups; the midfield battle looks one to watch. Hanley vs. O’Donoghue will be fascinating.

The Na Piarsaigh juggernaut provided that they are rested and ready to go look the form side again this season. No genuine weak links and with the likes of Shane Dowling, Peter Casey keen to show their worth to county management, Kilmallock are going to have knuckle down and defend well throughout.

Close encounter as Kilmallock’s inside full forward line will take handling. Graeme Mulcahy in particular will pose a serious threat. Despite good moments from the South Limerick side, Na Piarsaigh hold the aces down the stretch and a potential two point win for the City side.

Group 2: All to play for

The second group in this competition has seen a variation in results. Four East Limerick teams coupled with Monaleen and Knockainey has seen only South Liberties as the only team to retain their 100% record. 

Ahane and Knockainey will lock horns in Cappamore on Friday night. Tricky game to call; long layoff for both sides in the championship and Knockainey did beat Ahane last season in the championship. 

Both sides have indifferent form heading into this tussle. Ahane’s opening round win against Cappamore was hard work and then disciplinary issues saw Ahane succumb to Murroe Boher narrowly.

The Ahane side has a nice mix of youth and experience. The Morrissey brothers will look to create a platform and think they have sufficient scoring quality to get over the line but it will be far from a classic. Ahane’s scoring return needs to improve or else Knockainey will scent another win over the East Limerick side. 

Murroe Boher and Cappamore face off in Caherconlish. A local derby game and one where form goes out the window. Both sides will look to push on with victory here. Murroe Boher started with a one point loss to South Liberties but then beat Ahane by a similar margin. 

Cappamore have shown organization and fight in their first two games. They were unlucky not to take a share of the spoils from Ahane in round one and then drew against Monaleen in their second outing. I would not be surprised if another draw was in the offing; two closely matched sides. 

South Liberties can take a massive step towards the quarter finals if they can beat Monaleen. South Liberties will look to Barry Nash to set the attacking platform. Monaleen have being out of sorts in recent rounds. Their opening round win over Knockainey was unconvincing and then had to be content with a share of the spoils over Cappamore. 

South Liberties for me are a better side than the two sides faced by Monaleen so far; a lot will depend on which side has built momentum in training in recent weeks. This is a dangerous fixture for South Liberties; edge it to the East Limerick side but it should be closer than some pundits may think given the long layoff between rounds two and three of this championship. 

Guinness Pro 14: Round 1 (Friday Fixture Preview)

Roll on the new season!

The wait is finally over. The eve of the second Guinness Pro 14 tournament is upon us; an intriguing off season with several clubs acquiring potentially astute signings. The season kicks off on Friday night with three fixtures up for decision. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to predict the opening night winners and losers. 

Can Cardiff Blues upset Leinster Rugby? 

A tricky opening night road trip fixture for Leinster Rugby to negotiate. The reigning Guinness Pro 14 champions will be without numerous first team starters who played for Ireland in the Australian summer tour. It is an opportunity yet again for the squad to impress.

Leinster Rugby’s team sheet sees a debut for the physically imposing Joe Tomane in the three quarters where he will be partnered by Rory O’Loughlin who will look to kick on after an excellent season with the Irish province last term. 

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have named the promising Caelan Doris at eight. It will be interesting to see how the Ireland U20 star fares in this opening fixture with the likes of Max Deegan eager to get back into the first team fold. 

Huge onus will be on Scott Fardy to provide the experience and leadership in a front five which will sees Tracy, Bent, Molony in the ranks. Rhys Ruddock captains the side in Johnny Sexton’s absence. The back three have a point to prove and Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and leading try scorer in the league last season Barry Daly will look to get their season off to a solid start. 

Cardiff Blues will look to kick on after an incredibly positive second half of last season culminating in the European Challenge Cup final win. This final win should increase confidence within the camp and head coach John Mulvihill will look for the likes of Ellis Jenkins to provide key leadership this season with the shock retirement of Sam Warburton.

The hosts name a solid side for this opening fixture. Arhip and Thornton with debuts for the club after their moves from rivals Ospreys. Arhip in particular looks a shrewd signing; the Moldovan is an efficient scrum operator. The workhorse Nick Williams will be asked to setup primary platform ball, looking to smash Ross Byrne in the ten channel. 

Cardiff Blues half back pairing looks quality. Williams and Evans forged a successful partnership last season and if they can establish quick ruck ball, their back line has the ability to put Leinster Rugby under massive pressure. Halaholo and Lee-Lo have the perfect mix of creativity and physicality and this can only be good news for Harries (on debut), Lane and Morgan to impress with ball in hand. 

Verdict: Cardiff Blues

Tough encounter beckons, expect tries from both sides given the personnel in the ranks but Cardiff Blues know that they need to start this season much better than last year and I edge this encounter to the hosts as Leinster Rugby cohesion issues will surface in the back and pack units. Leinster Rugby to secure at least a loser bonus point. Pressure is on Cardiff Blues to win this fixture. 

Quality match-up at the Liberty

A potential standout fixture with several standout players on both team sheets and the victor tomorrow night will look with confidence going into the early season fixture list. 

Ospreys’ were made to pay for a poor start to last season; the departure of Steve Tandy who was replaced by Allen Clarke sparked a revival in the second half of the season but defeat to Ulster Rugby in the end of season playoff means European Challenge Cup this season. 

Ospreys have made several astute signings. The key marquee signings were Scott Williams (Scarlets), George North (Northampton Saints) and Aled Davies (Scarlets). Tom Botha (Cheetahs) has the potential to be a dark horse signing this season. All players make their debut for the club. 

The hosts have named a strong pack. Alun Wyn Jones and Bradley Davies provide experience, leadership and set piece efficiency. The back row is stacked with talent as Tipuric, King and Lydiate will look to disrupt Edinburgh Rugby quick ruck ball. 

The key area of interest is the half-back partnership for the Ospreys. Webb and Biggar have departed. Aled Davies and Luke Price start the post Webb / Biggar era and it will be interesting to see how the new half back partnership fare. Sam Davies on the bench will look to make an impact if this unit does not fire early doors. 

Edinburgh Rugby were the most progressive side of the tournament last season (close call with the Cheetahs). Richard Cockerill and backroom staff have really impressed; there is a winning culture at the club and they have not being afraid of cutting players who fell below the standards expected of a professional rugby player, not looking at anyone in particular John Hardie. 

The Scottish side name a strong side for this opener as well which makes this fixture so mouthwatering. Debut cameos for Scott, Hickey, Pygros, Schoeman and Luke Hamilton. Hickey in particular has the potential to provide that extra creativity required to get Edinburgh over the line in key playoff fixtures. Duhan van der Merwe will look to push on after a superb debut season in the league.

The pack looks experience with quality performers throughout. McInally, Berghan, Toolis, Gilchrist and Mata will be tested to the maximum by the Ospreys pack unit; the breakdown battle has all the ingredients to be explosive. Luke Hamilton will be a player to watch this season for Edinburgh; abrasive work rate and ability around the fringes. 

Verdict:

A very close fixture to call. There are going to be some exceptional back and pack battles on show. The key duel is the half back contest and siding with the experienced Edinburgh combination. Cohesion issues will be apparent early but there should be some excellent passages of play. Both teams have the ability to secure bonus point tries such is their threat out wide. Nip and tuck but Hickey looks the key man here for the visitors. 

Zebre Rugby look a solid bet

The transfer in and outs for each side is usually not that remarkable in the Guinness Pro 14 league typically but the rate of turnover in the Cheetahs and Southern Kings is astounding. Just the twenty-two departures for the Southern Kings who floundered badly in their debut season last year. 

I am looking at the starting lineup and the word cohesion and game time leaps out. Thirteen new faces in the squad and six of those will be in the squad with full-back Michael Botha, lock Schalk Oelofse and flanker Henry Brown in the starting XV as JC Astle, Ulrich Beyers and Luphumlo Mguca are named amongst the replacements.

Zebre Rugby have invested in their squad for the new season. Eleven signings to the squad and four of those look to make an impact off the bench. Francois Brummer, Massimo Ceciliani, Giosue Zilocchi and Apisai Tauyavuca are all primed to make their debuts in a Zebre jersey.

Michael Bradley given the circumstances last season has done an excellent job as head coach; last season was to provide structures and foundations to build on this season. The hope is that Zebre Rugby can compete well in the majority of the league fixtures but easier said than done! 

Verdict: Zebre Rugby

This is a game where Isuzu Southern Kings personnel changes and lack of playing time together will be exposed. Zebre Rugby have a more solid squad and starting lineup and I expect Canna at ten to control tempo and game management to allow their back line to secure a bonus point win. Kings hopefully compete here but the signs look grave even at this early stage. 

Fantasy Premier League: Game Day 4

A mediocre week for yours truly last week and Hawkeye Sidekick is starting to ponder team selection ahead of this weekend’s fixture list. 

Hawkeye Sidekick Mercenaries XI

No change in goal as Ederson continues to put solid performances; a near certain clean sheet last weekend denied by dubious officiating at Wolves. A game against under pressure Newcastle United should see more points from the net minder and his distribution to outfield colleagues could yield assists like in game day two. 

The back three continues as is for now; have my concerns on Alexander-Arnold, yet another booking to his name but was prominent in a couple of attacking opportunities for Liverpool. I will give him another week to impress; otherwise it could be time to look elsewhere. Azpilicueta and Vertonghen continue to impress and expect good numbers from each player with games against Bournemouth and Watford. 

The midfield four is unchanged, hoping Neves can impress against a clearly struggling West Ham United on the road. Neves is a class act and with West Ham United struggling to keep clean sheets (even against AFC Wimbledon) , Neves should be prominent.

Salah continued his good start to the season with another strike against Brighton Hove & Albion and I cannot see Leicester City defense able to contain the Liverpool attacking threat. Speed kills and Liverpool could give Leicester City a serious hiding. 

Sane is another player which I am pondering over. Minimal starts for City this season; will keep the faith for another week and hope Pep gives the German international the nod. If not, then time to look at my options. Newcastle United look so vulnerable right now and City could have the proverbial field day if they score early. 

Kante should be prominent against Bournemouth; consistent points throughout the season and he should chip in with additional goals this season as Sarri looks for the French international to contribute more from an attacking sense which is very much a work in progress. 

The key change this week is upfront. My patience with Rashford has gone; a player of serious ability but with the Manchester United crisis in full flow, it remains to be seen when Rashford will get more game time so is dropped from my squad.

Cenk Tosun comes into the lineup. He will replace Richarlison who is suspended and with a home game against a vulnerable Huddersfield Town side missing Jonathan Hogg in midfield, Tosun should get plenty of opportunities to score. 

Aguero lines the lead as always for City. Newcastle United at home and should be a good game to pick up additional goals and assists with Jesus providing searing pace alongside. 

Zaha has started the season really well and a home game against a Southampton side who are a mixed bag at present should see the key Palace attacking threat add to his goals and assist tally. 

The objective is clear this week, start to claw back points lost last week. If not, Hawkeye Sidekick may be looking at a long season of defending himself from his mates down the local!

Hawkeye Sidekick Senior Hurling Team XV

After the epic homecoming in Limerick last night, it is now time to reflect on the Senior Hurling Championship and identify the players who impressed most during the year. Hawkeye Sidekick reveals his team of the year. 

Goalkeeper: Eoin Murphy (Kilkenny)

There were some incredible standout performance moments this season. Anthony Nash (Cork) provided excellent cameos enroute to a Munster SHC title yet again. Nicky Quaid (Limerick) and that save from Seamus Harnedy in the All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final is a highlight reel moment. However, the performance alone against Limerick in the All Ireland Quarter Final is quite the most complete goalkeeping performance this season. Eoin Murphy was defiant. Eoin Murphy was superb. Eoin Murphy shot stopping masterclass at different parts of the season. 

Corner Back: Sean Finn (Limerick)

Easy decision on this position. Sean Finn was a consistent defensive standout for Limerick all year. His positioning, man marking and distribution from the back provided a key platform from which Limerick flourished. 

Full Back: Padraig Walsh (Kilkenny)

Daithi Burke is the obvious pick here but I want to change up the team selection this season. Padraig Walsh for his versatility, his ability to do whatever it took for his team gets my nod here. Walsh was played out of position but he provided solidity in a position which has proved tough to fill. Others to come into the reckoning along with Daithi Burke (who will get the All Star) as well as David McInerney (Clare) and Mike Casey (Limerick). 

Corner Back:  Sean O’Donoghue (Cork)

Richie English is probably the standout for the position when it comes to the All Star but I thought Sean O’Donoghue did not put a foot wrong for Cork this season; a player whose man marking ability was a valuable asset to his side leading to the Munster SHC crown. Other players to feature were Richie English (Limerick), Noel Connors (Waterford), Jack Browne (Clare). 

Wing Back: Padraic Mannion (Galway) 

Consistent performer for Galway this season. His ability to score from long range either in placed balls or open play was seen at various stages during the season. Galway relied on Mannion heavily throughout the season and the player should be a dead cert for HOTY honors in a couple of weeks. Galway may have lost the All Ireland final but Padraic Mannion did not let the side down. 

Half Back: Declan Hannan (Limerick) 

Hannan was a consistent performer for Limerick this season; filling the half back slot providing defensive nous in aerial exchanges and providing passing and scoring threat attacking wise. His cameo in the All Ireland Hurling final showcased his vast skill set and it will be remembered by the pundits picking the All Star awards this season. Other contenders include Conor Cleary (Clare), Gearoid McInerney (Galway before injury). 

Wing Back: Diarmuid Byrnes  (Limerick) 

Yet another consistent Limerick half back performer; his ability to score from long range either with placed balls or in open play was instrumental at various stages during the season. His distribution to midfield and attacking colleagues stood out as well. The Patrickswell player had a tremendous year with the county. Pivotal opening score on the restart last Sunday set the tone for Limerick in the third quarter. If Limerick lost on Sunday, then the accolade would have gone to Mark Coleman (Cork) who had yet another strong year at wing back. 

Midfield: Cian Lynch (Limerick) 

The mercurial playmaking midfielder had a superb year; his ability with the ball, his first touch, his vision to identify colleagues running into space was exceptional. His ability to run from deep seen to full effect with his All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final goal against Cork, realized that an opportunity was on and latched onto a superb pass from Flanagan to hit a vital goal. Lynch’s ability to win the ball seen in his opening score against Galway, fearless approach and won the ball among several Galway players. Well deserved accolade.

Midfield: Darragh Fitzgibbon (Cork)

The guy is an incredible hurler; pace and skill set to burn opposition. His pace and power seen to full effect during the Munster SHC campaign as he chipped in with several fine scores from play. Fitzgibbon’s running game for Cork was an integral part to everything that was good with Cork this season and with an impending U21 All Ireland final coming up, it will be additional highlight reel stuff for the Charleville star. Darragh O’Donovan (Limerick), David Burke (Galway), Tony Kelly / Colm Galvin (Clare) were superb too. Tough unit to pick. 

Wing Forward: TJ Reid (Kilkenny)

How anyone could leave this player off the All Star team is unthinkable? Kilkenny this season owe a massive gratitude to Reid in his high level of performance and scoring prowess. His performances baled out Kilkenny from certain defeat to Dublin and was instrumental in the NHL final win over Tipperary. Reid was deadly accurate with placed balls and chipped in with vital scores from play throughout the season. He has to be included in the team of the year. 

Half Forward: Joe Canning (Galway)

When Galway were struggling for someone to provide the inspiration, it was left yet again to Joe Canning to produce it. His final quarter performance against Limerick was sublime; his decision making, his accuracy from play to provide a lifeline for Galway in injury time was inspirational. Canning had an excellent season; prominent throughout the championship and his All Ireland Series performances against Clare were pivotal in Galway advancing to the final. 

Wing Forward: Peter Duggan (Clare)

Standout year for the Clooney-Quin player. His performances throughout the NHL season was a warning to opponents on the player’s form and he continued to be a key scoring asset for Clare in the championship. His free taking on point and his ability to score goals and points from open play were sublime. Heavy scoring rates means that you cannot exclude the player from this side of the year. Jack O’Connor (Wexford) and Cathal Mannion (Galway) were prominent too this season along with Tom Morrissey (Limerick). Tough spot to pick. 

Corner Forward: Seamus Harnedy (Cork)

Standout perfomer for Cork’s forward line this season. When the chips were down, Harnedy delivered. I think of his cameo against Waterford in the final quarter, pulled Cork clear in a tricky encounter. His performance against Clare was excellent in the Munster SHC final and could not do anymore in the epic All Ireland Semi-Final tussle with Limerick. His shot at the death which produced Nicky Quaid’s standout moment would have secured Cork’s passage to the All Ireland final. Fine margins but given his overall scoring contribution this season, another player who cannot be left out. John McGrath (Tipperary) was also prominent this season, shooting accuracy sublime. 

Full Forward: John Conlon (Clare)

Superb year for the Clonlara club man as he was energized moving into the full forward role; caused massive issues for opposition full backs throughout and his scoring return in the NHL and SHC was superb. His movement, power allowed the player to score when given the right distribution. His battle with Daithi Burke in the All Ireland Semi-Final was sensational. 

Corner Forward: Aaron Gillane (Limerick)

If anyone has followed this blog for any extended period of time, I was incredibly critical of Limerick management for excluding Gillane last season from the panel. Gillane is a such a threat in open play, big fan. Gillane’s movement and threat inside was excellent throughout the season. People will point at the goal chances missed but the fact that he created those chances is evidence of his sensational movement and hurling nous. A player who will elevate his game to the next level next year, the Patrickswell player was a standout for Limerick. His free taking was solid in the All Ireland series. Shane O’Donnell (Clare), Pa Horgan (Cork), Conor Whelan (Galway) were prominent too.

Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

In March 1993, Limerick band The Cranberries released their debut album ‘Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?’. Among the several standout tracks in the album was ‘Dreams’, a song which is about feeling in love for the first time. 

The song has started to gain momentum and air play during the Limerick All Ireland Series run this year; a song now poignant due to the untimely passing of the legend that was, that is and always will be Dolores O’Riordan.

The feeling of having the coveted Liam McCarthy Cup back in Limerick after forty-five long years resonates with the song and celebrations in the city and county will go long into the winter. The homecoming party tomorrow will be one for the ages and hopefully we will not have to wait another forty-five years to win Liam McCarthy again. 

Limerick is my county of birth; a county in which I started to play hurling with Ahane, a club stepped in tradition, a club where the names of Mackey, Herbert, Ryan, Power are sacrosanct. Hurling is everything and the morale boost from club or county success flows through the parish always as homes and shops are decked out with messages of support.

I have seen the disappointment too all too often. I will never forget the club bus trip to the ’94 final; the collapse in the final ten minutes against Offaly was hard to take as the bus stopped at various watering holes to get over the shock before landing back at Newgarden GAA grounds at some ungodly hour.

The Limerick All Ireland win today is a triumph for everyone connected to the county; anyone associated with the association who has aided in the development of players from national school to club to county squads.

Limerick success today has being created in no small part by the underage structures established within the county; players identified at a young age and the system allowing for late bloomers to come into the county setup if they impress in underage games. 

Limerick’s win today will give hope to everyone next season in that if you commit to underage structures, commit as a senior squad to train hard and complement that with the best of the best backroom staff possible, anything is possible. The acquisition of Paul Kinnerk and Caroline Currid have being huge; their contribution to this triumph cannot be understated. Winning culture established. 

Limerick have had to look on with envy these last forty-five years with the success enjoyed by near neighbors. Clare, Tipperary, Cork have all basked in All Ireland glory and there have being difficult banter sessions with work colleagues from these counties at work offices in the Mid-West region during this period.

I am still in a state of shock; a state of disbelief that today has finally happened. Limerick have reached the summit; they have won Liam McCarthy. It will probably sink in more as the days go by but tonight, I think of majestic past Limerick players who did not get over the line. I think of Limerick friends in distance lands, Limerick friends unfortunately no longer here to enjoy this moment, some of which departed far too young. A touch emotional as I drove back to Galway tonight when reflecting on these thoughts earlier.

This is a triumph that has broken the inhibition of failure around Limerick hurling circles; broken down the dejection and sadness of past near misses. A triumph that will ignite hurling back throughout the county.

The Cranberries posed the question: Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? Limerick Senior Hurling team have responded today. Limerick Senior Hurlers are doing it. Over and out from a proud Limerick man tonight. Roll on the homecoming tomorrow!

All Ireland Senior Hurling Final Thoughts


The Limerick quest for Liam McCarthy after forty -five years of disappointment and near misses is complete; a thrilling second half injury time where flashbacks of ’94 came back at a rate of knots. Limerick’s one point win to a gallant reigning champions Galway was created due to a number of key game moments. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on these. 

Puckout Strategy

If you want to know how this final was won, you just need to see the strategy from the puck outs. Nicky Quaid was quick to distribute to Finn and English where the distribution from the corner backs was confident, locating wing backs and wing forwards roving deep.

Galway on the other hand were devoid of momentum from the quick short puck outs. Tuohey and Hanbury looked to either take their man on and lose possession or hit aimless long high ball which was lapped up by the Limerick back line.

Credit to the Limerick middle third as well; their speed and movement to provide options for Nicky Quaid was a video analysis session for hurling teams looking to improve their puck out retention rates. This was a decisive part of the game.

Seamus Flanagan

The Feohanagh-Castlemahon forward has provided an added dimension to the Limerick full forward line. His pace and ability to rove in the middle third winning possession was to the fore after a slow opening quarter.

Flanagan’s work rate was typified in the lead up to the first Limerick goal. 50/50 challenge (Galway will say different) against Padraic Mannion saw the ball arrive at the hurl of Kyle Hayes who then dispatched a sharp pass inside to Graeme Mulcahy and the rest as they say is history. 

Flanagan posed different looks to the Galway full back line. Who would pick up the player? Flanagan scored a vital point just on half time and his confidence grow upon the restart looking for ball and bringing colleagues into the game. The forward ran his heart out for the cause and the young player can take pride on his cameo. 

Galway tension

Watching the contest at home, I was surprised that RTE had camera footage in the warm up area prior to throw-in. Limerick players seen going through their final prep but there was no footage of Galway. Why not? It was pretty baffling to say the least and the opening period performance saw a Galway side who were slow out of the blocks, tension filled in shot selection as well as Limerick. 

The hunted were feeling extreme pressure from the opening whistle as the Limerick mobility and work rate in the middle third was to the fore. The image of McInerney and Tuohey losing possession. The image of McInerney being shunted to the ground by Flanagan was an early momentum booster for Limerick who started to execute their game plan.

Galway’s game plan was unclear. Glynn struck a remote figure in the full forward position. Mike Casey must be applauded for sticking to the task but the ball and positioning of the player far out from the Limerick goal must have music to John Kiely’s and Limerick backroom staff’s eyes.

No clear plan for Conor Whelan as well; distribution inside to the full forward was hard work primarily due to Limerick’s middle third dominance but yet again Galway were taking the wrong shot selection with only Joe Canning and David Burke coming to the fore in the scoring department. 

Galway needed to hurt Limerick in the full back line; it only started in the 74th minute, far too late. Galway’s management will need to reflect on the tactics deployed today; struggled to address the Limerick threat and their forward line running lines were far too static. A sign perhaps of a long season and two epic replays to Kilkenny and Clare catching up on the players? 

Limerick Goals: Reward for work rate without the sliothar

All three Limerick goals were scored due to lost possession from Galway defensively. The first goal saw Padraic Mannion lose possession after a challenge from Flanagan. The second goal saw Tom Morrissey strip the ball from Gearoid McInerney who was quite struggling with fitness. The third goal will be the most galling for Galway; Tuohey looked at ease with the ball but dwelt too long to hit it allowing Peter Casey to win back possession and setup Dowling to score the decisive third goal. 

The goals that Limerick scored were full of work rate, determination and desire to win the ball back. No Limerick forward was static without the ball, constantly looking to support their defense, not giving the Galway defense any opportunity to setup and pick a pass to a midfield or forward line colleague. Galway forward line work rate without the ball were flat. Limerick back line were comfortable with the sliothar and distributing to the midfield and forward line with frequent accuracy. 

Wide Count

The end of the contest was exciting but in truth, Limerick made extremely hard work to close out the final. Several poor wides to put the game to bed allowing Galway to have a chance until the last puck of the game. Both sides were guilty of poor wides throughout. 

Limerick’s opening period was full of work rate and enthusiasm but the scoreboard perhaps failed to accurately reflect this. Four points up at the break, credit to Limerick with Kyle Hayes hitting the purple patch with some standout scores. Hayes was ably assisted by Mulcahy and Byrnes with key scores. 

Galway struggled for tempo upfront and several Galway forwards were under pressure with their shot selection; a couple of unusual shot selections from marquee Galway forwards during the third quarter in particular to put pressure on Limerick. Galway’s options of Niall Burke and Jason Flynn were thrown early; an indication of how the forward line units were performing. 

The wide count for each side was too big; in other years, this would not have being good enough to win an All Ireland title.

Galway Squad Depth Exploited

Galway’s squad contains several standout players from the bench but for whatever reason, their confidence and performance levels have not convinced management to give significant game time. Hanbury, McInerney were not fully fit; their movement on the pitch at times was exposed particularly when Limerick moved with pace. 

The departure of James Skehill from Galway goal saw Fergus Flannery come into the goals for his debut bow; a question mark why the backup keeper did not get game time in the Leinster SHC Round Robin particularly against Dublin? 

Galway depended on Padraic Mannion, Joe Canning and David Burke to get over the line again today. It did not work and O’Donoghue and management need to look at the squad depth coming off the bench; Limerick had key cameos today while Galway did not. Reflect and regroup. 

Man of the Match 

Limerick had several standout cameos. Finn and English in the corner back positions were excellent throughout. Mike Casey executed his game plan to negate Glynn to a tee. The half back to a man were superb. Byrnes chipped in with a couple of keynote scores. Hannan led from the front in that opening half with two sensational long range scores. Dan Morrissey was solid throughout with quality distribution. 

Cian Lynch and Darragh O’Donovan ran the legs off David Burke and Johnny Coen who was hauled off in the third quarter. Lynch’s possession win amongst several Galway players was a key momentum shift as the Patrickswell player scored a superb point from it. O’Donovan work rate around the pitch on point. 

The forward line unit worked well; good movement and distribution creating numerous scoring opportunities. Gillane was always a danger inside. Flanagan roved and caused Galway defensive issues. Graeme Mulcahy was the leader of the inside line; key scores and calmed down colleagues when required. 

The half forward line provided key Limerick cameos. Gearoid Hegarty won possession at regular intervals; selfless in distribution. Tom Morrissey chipped in yet more vital scores for his county; quality goal and then the teenager Kyle Hayes arrived to the hurling stage; an emphatic performance with several long range scores which created the buffer that Limerick required in the closing stages. Hayes for man of the match. 

Galway had heroic performances from Daithi Burke, David Burke, Padraic Mannion and Joe Canning but the accolade has to go to Limerick tonight. 

Bledisoe Cup: Australia 13 – 38 New Zealand

Just two tries for Naholo

The final whistle spoke volumes. New Zealand’s explosive second half performance was too much for Australia and the home players looked dejected and shell shocked after a promising opening forty minutes where they led 6-5. The second half was a no contest.

Australia unable to cope with New Zealand’s slick offloading and out wide attacking threat, Composure rattled then saw defensive and game management issues for the Australians soon follow and the last thirty minutes was a tough watch for Michael Chieka and management team. 

Australia’s promising opening period

Australia had started the contest with vigor and work rate. Naholo perhaps unfortunate to avoid a yellow card when lifting Folau above the horizontal line on five minutes. Decision for the officiating crew and they baulked it; a penalty only. Match day officiating decision making inconsistency back again in the headlines. 

The more galling aspect for Australia was the series of phases immediately after the Naholo penalty. The line out again malfunctioning horribly twice with points on offer; New Zealand left off the hook who was struggling to gain a foothold in the breakdown battle.

Australia after their early missed opportunities did put points on the scoreboard. Hodge and Foley slotting over penalties as Read and Squire were pinged for hands in the ruck. Hodge’s kick in particularly noteworthy as the center slotted over from over forty meters. 6-0. Australian platform being built? 

Six point advantage heading into the break would have being the least that Australia deserved; New Zealand struggling for tempo and establishing their attacking play given slow ruck ball. However, New Zealand are such a clinical side who will punish any opposition inaccuracy and so it proved with a smart opening try right on half-time. 

Aaron Smith scored after a superb line break from Ben Smith who broke the tackle of Lukhan Tui down the right and found Naholo, who somehow kept on the pitch to offload back inside to where Read found Smith. A crucial score before the interval and the momentum shift had started. 

New Zealand Second Half Dominance

Australia were back on their heels immediately upon the restart. Goodhue crossing over for his debut New Zealand try after a sweeping move from New Zealand; quick hands but also less than convincing defensive structure from the hosts. Goodhue ran unopposed from thirty meters out. 

A half where Australia players and management will need multiple video sessions to iron out the issues seen. A lack of execution on both sides of the ball seen to full effect in the third quarter; 

Will Genia intercepted within his 22 finding Bernard Foley, the Australia out-half kicked ahead for Koroibete, who did brilliantly to offload back into midfield, only for Tolu Latu offloading forward from there with men free out wide.

The missed opportunity was punished to the maximum by New Zealand and it was all to with the boy Beauden Barrett pouncing on a knock on from Haylett-Petty to showcase his ball control, kicking on with composure to touch down for the New Zealand third try. Composure levels were contrasting between the two sides. 

More Australian attacking execution woe compounded by further Australian line out misfires; Retallick who was superb collecting the ball and selling the dummy before crashing over. Game over. 

Australia did respond briefly as Maddocks scored a try on debut after a sweeping move involving Foley and Beale, but the respectability was shattered for the hosts with two Naholo try efforts showcasing the player’s skill set. 

Naholo’s first try was all about the vision and execution of Beauden Barrett; the out-half identifying the space deep in Australia territory for Naholo with an inch perfect kick for the winger to score a regulation score. Naholo’s second try illustrated his prowess with ball in hand; identified space in between Australian defenders, asked the question of his opponents to make the tackle and they failed. Naholo scoring with the minimum of fuss. 

A contest where New Zealand will look to improve their performance consistency but Steve Hansen has to be happy with the manner of the second half performance.

Goodhue looked solid in the three quarters. Australia on the other hand are under the cosh, their error strewn game management, set piece and missed tackle count will need to be improved but whether it can be fixed before the second Bledisoe test match is questionable. 

Everyone will have taken note; New Zealand are playing well and will only improve from here on out before RWC 2019. 

Fantasy Premier League: Week 2

Solid if unspectacular start to the league last week, the gamble to introduce Neves in my starting lineup was fully merited but Sessegnon did not and with Kante on the bench, easy points were dropped last week. 

Mercenaries Xi

Ederson was comfortable last weekend against Arsenal; a clean sheet secured with the minimum of fuss and more of the same expected at home to a Huddersfield Town side who look devoid of any scoring threat. 

Alexander-Arnold continues to feature in my side; clean sheet last weekend in the rout of West Ham United but an early yellow card blotched the copybook and with his defensive colleague Robertson started well with an assist for Salah’s opening strike; Hawkeye Sidekick may wield the axe pronto here. 

Vertonghen continued his World Cup form; standout defensive performance and scored the opening goal in Tottenham’s 2-1 road trip win to Newcastle United. Fulham next for Tottenham at Wembley and suspect that the Belgian may get more chances to score at the set piece. 

Cesar Azpilicueta for me is such a solid pick right now; the guy will tally points throughout the year and chip in potentially with a goal or two throughout the season; expecting Chelsea to be solid defensively with Sarri in charge. No need to change the Spaniard from the side. 

The one change to side is including Kante for Sessegnon who showed flashes of promise but ultimately offered little to test Palace last weekend. Tottenham this weekend was the decisive reason to drop the youngster from my squad entirely. Kante scored last week and all indications suggest that the World Cup winner will play a more advanced role; decent finish to start Chelsea’s account last weekend, more to follow I hope. 

Salah, Sane and Neves retain their spots. Sane hopefully gets game time this weekend. Huddersfield Town look ripe for the picking; imagine Sane rampaging on the flank but given the form of Mahrez and Bernardo Silva last week, will Pep Guardiola look to keep as it is? 

Salah opened his account for the season with a regulation strike from close range following great work from Robertson; the front four should prove too much for Palace on MNF and hopefully the Egyptian focuses on scoring goals and not using his mobile phone while driving!

Neves was the pick of my team last weekend. The player will not be at Wolves come January; the Portuguese player looks a standout for the side and his cameo was superb. Expect some of the big fish to make queries on the player come next January. Neves play a Leicester City side who to be honest were inconsistent at best against United last weekend so Neves could have another good day in the Wolves midfield. 

The attacking options remain unchanged. Even though, I think Liverpool should have too much for Palace, Zaha if given decent supply could pose issues to the Liverpool defense; another goal would be nice. Rashford has the talent but the goal ratio is not matching up; a road trip to Brighton Hove & Albion looks a mixed bag so it is all down to Sergio Aguero to hit the goals against Huddersfield Town; otherwise the points tally will look meek with the vulture they call relegation form looming large on the horizon. 

All Ireland Senior Hurling Final: Verdict

It has being a weird build up to this final for Hawkeye Sidekick; his county of birth (Limerick) vs. county of residence (Galway) this weekend and analyzing both sides, there looks precious little to separate either side. The verdict is as follows: 

How Galway win this contest? 

Expose Limerick final nerves early doors; look to pepper quick ball into the inside full forward line and test the Limerick full back line. Glynn on the edge of the square looks a massive threat. 

Take Cian Lynch out of the game; sounds sinister but Galway will look to man mark the midfield talent out of the game, expect Coen to be on marking duties. If Coen can produce the same man marking performance as he did against Tony Kelly in the All Ireland Semi-Final replay, Galway are going to win this contest. 

Clinical scoring rate; recent games has seen Galway’s attacking options waste some gilt edged opportunities, this has to improve this weekend in the final to keep Limerick at arm’s length. 

Half Back Line dominance. Question marks on McInerney’s fitness at the time of this post and if included, Limerick will look to see how fit the Oranmore Maree club man is. All Ireland winning teams usually are associated with superb half back line units; Galway’s unit has being stellar this season again and more of the same form is required on Sunday. 

How Limerick win this contest? 

Negotiate the early exchanges: Galway with All Ireland final experience will look to ambush Limerick early with some early scores. Limerick and in particular the half-back line need to stand up strong in these exchanges; establish some early aerial battle wins and look to protect the likes of Mike Casey in the opening exchanges. 

Goals win games: Limerick have created several keynote goal scoring chances in recent fixtures but lack of composure in front of goal has being a trend for the likes of Gillane and Flanagan. These players if given goal opportunities need to convert this weekend. 

Get Cian Lynch into the game: If Limerick are to win this contest, then Cian Lynch will need to be a standout performer. Lynch will be given special attention from Galway but Lynch needs to be savvy to this; good first touch and quick distribution to colleagues. Limerick’s puck out strategy should look to create space for Lynch to establish a platform to impress. 

The Bench: If Limerick can keep their composure and handle the occasion, the bench will play a pivotal role in the final quarter. The introduction of Casey, Dowling, Nash, O’Donoghue, Ryan, Hickey are key squad assets and their cameos should bring the side over the line if the game is in the melting pot. Galway have struggled to identify anyone off the bench apart from Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Sean Loftus and Davy Glennon which limits their hand. 

Verdict:

Slight edge for Galway on this fixture. The opening exchanges are going to be absolutely key. I question how Limerick will handle the occasion? Galway will look to bully and impose their game plan early doors and Limerick’s reaction to this will be crucial. The central attacking axis for Galway worries me from a Limerick perspective. Canning and Glynn could collectively cause serious issues if given time and space. 

For Limerick to win, it is going to be a come from behind effort coming into the final quarter. If the deficit is not too big (five / six points), the squad depth options will prove crucial. Limerick’s full forward line can test this Galway full back line if given accurate ball in. Dowling down the stretch could be the key figure as Galway start to wane. 

However until you beat the champions, you are not favorites in my eyes and for this I edge the final to Galway right now. They are the reigning champions, they deserve the respect and favorites tag given their last two seasons of work.

Limerick need to play without fear and play with pace and mobility. The final should be embraced by players and management. The fans lucky enough to get tickets will need to support the side and not be too hard on them when Galway have periods of dominance.

No regrets from Limerick should be the mantra; if the Limerick players and management can come off the pitch with this key point accomplished, Liam McCarthy will be heading to Shannonside.