Munster SHC Final Preview

Intriguing subplots at LIT Gaelic Grounds

Apologies one and all. A quite hectic couple of weeks on the day job front has meant little time to blog, little time to reflect on the shadow boxing which went on two weeks ago in Thurles. This weekend should be completely different proposition as Limerick and Tipperary lock horns again for Munster SHC bragging rights. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the team news and key contests that will decide this provincial decider.

Team News:

Limerick team news was hardly a surprise. The return of Gearoid Hegarty into the starting lineup and Declan Hannon back at half back with Paddy O’Loughlin making way. Peter Casey gets another opportunity to impress in the forward line after a mixed performance last time out. The rest of the team ran along familiar lines. Cian Lynch back in the midfield area as well.

Tipperary’s selection was an intriguing one. We knew that Bonner Maher was out for the rest of the season and that Cathal Barrett was going to miss out on the provincial decider or was he? Barrett is named at corner back, a welcome boost for Liam Sheedy but is Barrett’s hamstring fully recovered?

It is a big call from Liam Sheedy and Tipperary management. The squad depth chart at corner back perhaps a concern for management. If Barrett plays on Sunday and pulls up with a more severe hamstring injury then conceivably Tipperary’s All Ireland hopes could be up in smoke before the All Ireland series begins.

Key Battles:

Can Limerick’s half back line set the platform to create the running game? Hannon’s return to the half back position will see game management and much improved distribution from defense. He will look to slot in front of the full back line and look to set the tempo and launch attacks from deep. The counter argument is that Hannon could be moved around the half back line thus negating his impact and allowing Callanan the space to produce a match wining performance yet again.

Tipperary’s middle third has impressed throughout this championship. Their ferocious work rate, slick skill set and movement has caught the eye with numerous attacking contributions from the Maher’s in the half back line, the play making brilliance of Noel McGrath, the energy and power of Michael Breen and the slick attacking lines of O’Dwyer, Bonner and Forde.

How Limerick look to negate these units will be intriguing to see. O’Donoghue and Lynch in midfield have huge roles to play on Sunday. O’Donoghue providing defensive nous and looking to man mark Noel McGrath at all times. Lynch’s running game from deep should pose Tipperary defensive issues to combat and his ability to create for the likes of Gillane inside.

The story of the full forwards could be a key talking point pregame. Both Aaron Gillane and Seamus Callanan have shown their brilliance this season and Callanan was sublime in Thurles two weeks ago. His goal oozed class and his movement caused Limerick’s full back line endless problems. Gillane had good moments as well but Tipperary adjusted well in the third quarter to cut the supply of ball into the Patrickswell clubman as Limerick’s running game waned significantly in the second half.

For Limerick to win, the run game is paramount. The run game needs to put Tipperary defensively under pressure. The run game should yield frees to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The squad depth looks favored for the reigning All Ireland Champions. The likes of Dowling, Flanagan, Ryan, O’Donovan to come in and make an impact.

Tipperary have massive potential in the likes of Mark Kehoe but the bench looks unproven and the decision to start Barrett an indicator that the corner back options in reserve are a tough vulnerable. If Tipperary stop the Limerick run game like they did last time out, then the Munster SHC title will be headed to the Premier County.

Verdict:

Plenty of Limerick supporters are quietly confident of a win this weekend but Tipperary personally are the favorites heading into this contest. They have been the form side of the province this season; their defensive and attacking performances have been standouts. 4/4 in the round robin. It seems harsh that they have to travel to their opposition for the decider.

Limerick management will have learned plenty from the loss to Tipperary two weeks ago. Tipperary’s full back line will be tested from minute one and if there are any doubts on Barrett”s fitness, they will be answered in double quick time. Sean O’Brien as well could be tested more extensively particularly if Peter Casey is deployed in a more advanced position.

Tipperary need to have this game put to bed heading into the final quarter so expecting a fast start from Liam Sheedy’s men. The bench impact is a concern and whether Tipperary will have the gap required to close out this contest heading into the final quarter remains up in the air. The absence of Bonner Maher is huge.

Head on the block time. Tipperary go into this as favorites but I suspect that Limerick management have devised a game plan and strategy to unsettle the Tipperary middle third to secure this victory. Peter Casey needs to deliver on Sunday and expect him to be a prominent player at the weekend. Limerick to edge this encounter by three points but Limerick’s middle third work rate and execution must be on the money this weekend.

Munster GAA Hurling Championship: Round 3 Preview

Plenty at stake this weekend

After a week’s hiatus, the Munster Senior Hurling Championship is back. An opportunity for sides to review their performances to date as well as a chance to earmark this weekend as the weekend to send out the performance to spook the rest of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixtures up for decision.

Do or Die contest at Walsh Park

Waterford are in must win territory; two disappointing losses to Clare and Tipperary has the Deise with their backs against the wall. This weekend sees Limerick travel to Walsh Park who themselves are looking for a performance and result after a disappointing opening fixture loss to Cork at home.

How is the fixture going to go? I expect Waterford this time around in Walsh Park to produce a stirring display. The shackles of the opening home fixture are a distant history and the side know that they have to deliver this weekend, otherwise their season is up at 4pm tomorrow.

Waterford need their leaders to set to the mark. Austin Gleeson needs to be the focal point for this side; his performances to date in the championship have seen flashes of brilliance but Waterford need more from their outfield talisman. Dare I say will Waterford management ask Gleeson to roam in the middle third for possession as his vision and game reading are sensational.

With Philip O’Mahony out of the fixture, the mantle of defensive leadership needs to come from the likes of Connors, Moran and Fives. These players are vastly experienced and need to create the defensive platform for the middle third to prosper.

Can Maurice Shanahan provide the physicality and composure in the full forward line to unsettle Limerick defensively? Shanahan on his day is an absolute nightmare to contain so it will be interesting to see if Limerick decide to withdraw Declan Hannon back in front of the full back to mope up Waterford long ball in?

Limerick have been stung after their home loss to Cork. It can be seen as a blessing given that it happened so early in the championship. This two week window has given John Kiely and management an opportunity to reflect and regroup the panel to deliver a better overall performance this weekend.

For Limerick to win this fixture, look at the performance of the middle third in the first quarter. The half back line so usually a rock for this side were pulled out of position and Cork were able to create numerous opportunity for Horgan and Cadogan inside. The Limerick half back line never setup the platform during the contest; a repeat of the Cork showing and John Kiely’s men are facing into another loss.

The Limerick management have tweaked the starting lineup. Two personnel changes from the side that lost to Cork. Byrnes and O’Donovan drop out for O’Loughlin and O’Donoghue who will bring height and physicality to proceedings but will this affect the Limerick running game in the middle third?

I was surprised that Limerick only dropped two players from the starting lineup. Several forwards were on the cusp after their Cork cameos. It is a huge day for Peter Casey tomorrow; ability is not in question but he needs to provide scoring threat inside to complement Gillane now as he was sporadic in his contribution last time out.

50/50 call. I always fear a side who are facing a potential last man standing scenario. This is where Waterford are this weekend, expecting the home side to tear into Limerick early. The Limerick performance in the opening quarter should set the tone for them, players will look to rebound from that troubling opening day loss.

The tight confines of Walsh Park does no favors for this Waterford side, they have played better in the confines of Thurles in recent years which showcases their pace and mobility out wide. This is a contest where physicality could be decisive and I think Limerick have the edge in this department.

There is a question mark on the Waterford full back position and with Aaron Gillane looking to provide a reminder of his talents, Limerick for me have the edge by three to four points. A far from perfect Limerick performance but I think this group of players are looking to redeem themselves after the Cork loss.

The real test starts for Tipperary

There has been plenty of positive, feel good commentary coming from the media and within the Tipperary camp in the last two weeks. Tipperary are back. Hold on, not too quickly as the next two Munster Championship fixtures will tell plenty of where Tipperary are.

Why do I say this? Cork were indifferent in the opening round, exposed Tipperary discipline in the opening period. Waterford were reduced to fourteen players, staged a superb twenty minute salvo thereafter until Tipperary scored that opening goal. There are areas of both performances which Liam Sheedy and management will not be happy with.

Saying that, Tipperary’s forward line units have gone extremely well aided in no small part to the performances of the Maher’s in the half back line and the resurgence of Michael Breen in the middle third. The movement and scoring prowess of the Tipperary has been sensational.

The Tipperary forward line face their toughest test to date. Cusack Park is an old school pitch, tough road trip venue, supporters are on your back from minute one. The Clare setup will be interesting in the middle third, look to cut the space for the Tipperary forward line by deploying the likes of Ryan and Duggan in deep positions.

Clare are my fancy for Munster SHC honors this season. There is a potency in their aerial threat with Ryan and Duggan in the half forward providing excellent primary possession options for Tuohy in goal. Tony Kelly free flowing displays, game reading par excellence lit up the Waterford opening round victory.

The Banner County have superb options in midfield to contribute in the scoring department. Colm Galvin is a player who continues to excel and then you have the threat of the front two of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell inside where their understanding and prowess is impressive.

The role of Podge Collins in this fixture could make or break this fixture. The Cratloe man will be roaming around the middle third, picking up the second ball and looking to provide both defensive and attacking options for his side. What do Tipperary do with the player? Zonal mark Collins or look to man mark the player out of the contest but leave space inside for Conlon and Collins?

This is the pick of the games this weekend. Clare are a formidable side at home and expect that to continue. Tipperary’s back line is prone to conceding easy frees and with Peter Duggan looking as sharp as last season, it will provide Clare with easy scores to settle into the contest.

The manner in which Tipperary will look to solve Clare’s middle third setup will be the talking point; potential and skill set in the side but Liam Sheedy and management may need to execute a running based game at times to create space for the Tipperary inside full forward line in the final quarter. It is all set up to be an excellent day of small ball.

Leinster SHC: Reflections

Trends emerging!

Two rounds of games into Leinster SHC and we have learned a couple of things. Kilkenny will be advancing deep into the championship and Carlow have found life tricky with the Leinster Hurling elite. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action so far and points to areas where each side will focus on in the closing rounds of the provincial championship.

Kilkenny impressive early

Top of the table – look good

Kilkenny have started this championship in good form. They were given a scare from Dublin in the opening round but thanks to some shrewd managerial half time switches and the attacking threat of the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent, the game was secured and was followed up with a routine victory over near neighbors Carlow on the road.

Two games left on the schedule with a home game against Galway and a road trip fixture to Wexford; two games which should provide plenty of evidence on how deep Brian Cody’s side will go in the championship this summer.

Looking Forward:

TJ Reid has been in sparkling form for Kilkenny this season. He has continued his club form with the county and coupled with the likes of Colin Fennelly and rookie Adrian Mullen, they have lit up the championship.

The potential issue from Kilkenny is who else can fill the void for TJ Reid if the talisman threat is restricted from the forty. The panel contains plenty of promising prospects but can the likes of Richie Leahy assume the leadership role in the scoring department?

The injury list for Kilkenny has allowed Brian Cody to run the rule over his goalkeeping and full back positions. The schedule has been kind to Kilkenny but tougher tests lie ahead. Kilkenny defensive middle will be peppered in the next few weeks and whether Kilkenny have a backup plan if the defensive middle is exposed is a different story.

Galway: Life without Joe

Galway tests begin now

The injury to Joe Canning saw plenty of Galway locals question how the squad would cope without the talisman. We are going to find out now as Galway’s key tests begin in this championship with a crunch fixture against Wexford.

The win over Carlow was an interesting affair. Carlow provided stiff resistance for long periods and it was a good test for the Galway players looking for game time to impress management. Niall Burke took his chance and should be a key player for Galway in Canning’s absence.

A win over Wexford will see Galway within touching distance of securing a top three berth and with Dublin already under massive pressure, Galway could be in prime position to qualify before this fixture takes place.

Looking Forward:

Has Galway built up the squad depth in the off season to offset any further injury blows? Canning is out and what happens if someone like Daithi Burke were to go down with injury. The full back options look limited. This series of games will test squad depth and rotation. The squad depth verdict is still open for many Galway hurling supporters particularly the spine of the side so it will be interesting to see how the panel fare.

The scoring impetus will be duly noted. The absence of Joe Canning should mean more added responsibility to others in the forward line to express themselves. The hope is that Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Joseph Cooney, Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion provide the scoring nous required. Leadership is required from the forward line.

Dublin: Under pressure, backs against the wall!

Dublin struggling

This championship season saw optimism aplenty for Dublin. New management, a promising NHL campaign suggested that Dublin would be competitive but only one point from their first two championship games has exposed issues at both ends of the park.

The road trip to Kilkenny on the opening championship weekend was seen by many as an opportunity for Dublin to expose the injury crisis of the hosts. It all started so well but once Liam Rushe threat was snuffed out in attack, Dublin were unable to score at the rate required to secure the win. The defense also struggled to contain the threat of the Kilkenny forward line.

The home fixture against Wexford was a mixed bag. The exhilaration of a last gasp goal to salvage a draw but for long periods, Wexford controlled the middle third exchanges and Dublin’s attacking threat was inconsistent. There are issues to ponder for Mattie Kenny and backroom staff ahead of the final championship fixtures which sees a do or die fixture against Galway and a road trip to Carlow.

Looking Forward:

The key indicator for Dublin is how the likes of Danny Sutcliffe and Liam Rushe are involved in proceedings. If these two star players are on the ball influencing events, good things will happen for Dublin.

Both have had good cameos but they need to come more into these games. They will only achieve this influence if the side are on the front foot and look to attack with the sliothar and not look to clog up the middle third from a defensive sense.

The Galway fixture is the key game for Mattie Kenny’s side. They need to win this fixture, a home game and one where the side must deliver a performance. The thinking would be that they account for Carlow and five points is the magic number. All to play for but attacking potency needs to improve.

Wexford tactical switch required

Wexford face key weeks in their side development

Wexford were a puck of a sliothar away from securing a massive road trip to Dublin last weekend; thought they deserved the win on the balance of play as their key men delivered.

The goal conceded at the death was a mysterious concession with so many players on the line. Once the goalkeeper made the decision to come out and save the free, the responsibility is on the net minder and once he missed the sliothar, the ball evaded several others players in the goal. Disappointing concession.

The first game out and Wexford have hit the ground running. Impressive conditioning and work rate last weekend from the side when you compare Limerick’s performance. The opening championship game can be a tricky one to get right from a performance. Davy Fitzgerald got the team prep spot on.

Looking Forward:

Another road trip game, this time to Galway. Wexford should be looking to deliver a performance against a side who embarrassed them badly last season at Innovate Park. The work rate and tempo will be key for Wexford to unsettle a Galway side without the leadership of Joe Canning. Do not be surprised if Wexford get a result in Galway!

The tactical game plan may require a tweak. This Wexford side can express themselves more in attack but they are setup too defensively personally. There are times when Wexford will need to be defensive but would like the side to take a game by the scruff of the neck. They have the players to do so. O’Connor, McDonald, Chin are attacking threats. The running game should be a key weapon for Wexford considering their middle third pace and power. A key season for Davy Fitzgerald and team. Wexford expects!

Carlow look to take a notable scalp!

Carlow have endured a tricky start to Leinster SHC

Carlow have drawn a tricky opening first two rounds of the Leinster SHC. A road trip to All Ireland finalists Galway and then a home game against near neighbors and hurling aristocrats Kilkenny has provided Colm Bonnar’s side with first hand knowledge of the level required to compete in Tier I hurling.

Carlow impressed me when they played Galway in round one. They were well conditioned and several players caught the eye. Kavanagh and Doyle in forward line hit some lovely scores. Carlow were unlucky with some officiating decisions against them which thwarted any momentum to reduce the deficit to less than three points in the third quarter of the second half.

The home fixture against Kilkenny was a tough ask; they competed well but Kilkenny were typical Kilkenny. They went for the throat early and secured the game winning margin early. I am sure Carlow will dust themselves down and look with optimism for the rest of the championship.

Looking Forward:

Carlow are looking for a scalp in this championship. Dublin at home could be their opportunity provided that their discipline defensively improves. They have conceded far too many needless frees in the opening two rounds. The attacking threat is good and with Dublin under pressure, it is an opportunity for an upset. The Wexford road trip; another local derby game. The shackles should be off Carlow and they should go out and play their best hurling. No regrets!

Munster SHC: Reflections

Interesting subplots in the opening fixtures

A week to get our breathe back after an exhilarating opening two rounds of the Munster SHC. The supposedly home comforts theory has been smashed with only Tipperary the only side to enjoy a home win so far. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at each county, where they are and what improvements are required for each to make the top three.

Tipperary: Looking good but tougher tests lie ahead!

Tipperary attack potent

The Tipperary team have started the championship with gusto. They have signaled their intent with two outstanding attacking performances.

The way they dismantled Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was noteworthy; their middle third work rate and tackling was unrelenting from minute one, something which was lacking last season.

The distribution from the back line and midfield to the forward lines have been noteworthy. The quick precise distribution into space for the likes of the McGrath’s and O’Dwyer to receive and create has caused nightmares for both Cork and Waterford so far. The movement of the forward line unit coupled with the goal threat inside means that Clare defensively must be on top form to thwart Liam Sheedy’s men next time around.

Looking Ahead:

The real test begins for Tipperary. Waterford will point to the red card of Conor Gleeson. Cork can argue that perhaps their side were slow to get into the tempo and rhythm of championship hurling the first day out. What is assured is that Clare will pose serious questions of Tipperary defensively.

Clare’s running game will look to expose any pace issues in the Tipperary rearguard and the fact that Tipperary’s back line have conceded their fair share of frees in the opening two games suggests that there is scope for improvement from the Premier County defensively in this area of the game.

Cork: Back in contention but consistency is key

Cork back in contention

The reaction of Cork’s backroom staff last weekend during their victory over Limerick said enough. They fought for every decision for their side. I have never seen Kieran Fraggy Murphy so emotional on a hurling pitch.

The team had to endure a week of critique from hurling pundits and supporters in their own county. The Limerick game was a release of energy to silence the doubters and they delivered a performance particularly in that third quarter where they made their game winning run.

The immediate aftermath has seen Cork get the plaudits they so richly deserve but the management and players must now knuckle down and focus for the rest of the championship. Nothing is guaranteed with this win and more hard work is required in the coming weeks.

Pa Horgan has been heroic for Cork this season. He is the talisman. He is the player that looks to create and score for the Rebel County. Horgan must be a lock for a nomination as Hurler of the Year already.

His scoring averages are through the roof and his contribution from open play has been sensational. His goal against Limerick in round two sensational; his ability to win the aerial duel with Mike Casey and the composure to dispatch the sliothar into the net oozed class.

Looking Forward:

The blueprint for Cork’s performance levels were set at LIT Gaelic Grounds. The work rate, the tempo and tackling ethos must be present for Cork for the rest of the season. Any ingredient missing from Cork’s display in the next few weeks will see losses particularly away to Ennis where realistically they need a result to get through to the top three!

The defensive back line was excellent against Limerick. Eoin Cadogan needs to continue to keep the shackles on opposition forward threats and the half back line of Downey, Ellis and Coleman will continue to dominate like they did against Limerick.

Bill Cooper and his fitness is paramount to this side. Cooper was so badly missed against Tipperary. His organizational skills and ability to read the game was so underrated.

Cork need to spread the attacking scores more from Pa Horgan. It started last weekend with Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan taking on the mantle. Lehane and Kearney will also need to continue to provide attacking threat for the rest of the season. Cork are a threat to anyone this season on the back of that Limerick performance but was it an one-off? Time will tell.

Clare: Ominously well placed

Clare ominously placed

Clare sat out last weekend’s action. Their one point win over Waterford on the road on the opening round of the championship was a superb start.

The side were excellent for fifty minutes of the contest. The inside full forward unit of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell had Waterford’s full back line in serious trouble and were unlucky not to score more than the one goal.

The middle third was aerially dominant during that period, impressed with the likes of Diarmuid Ryan whose height and physicality complements the threat of Peter Duggan in the half forward line. Tony Kelly was his marauding best; his run game and long range shooting is sensational. Kelly is a majestic stick player!

Looking Forward:

The one critique for Clare to address is that they made life extremely hard for themselves in the last quarter of the Waterford game. They allowed Waterford to setup a platform in the middle third as they pulled players back defensively to close space in the Waterford forward line.

There is a question mark on how Clare close these games? I would like to see them go for the throat and close out games with attacking play. The summer championship see teams with vast array of long range shooting options so to deploy additional players forty meters from your goal is at times questionable.

Clare management need to pick and chose their moments to become ultra defensive. This side is naturally setup to attack teams and perhaps they should let the team attack as their best form of defense. Kilkenny in their prime were sensational in attacking teams to submission. Clare should follow suit.

Clare’s home form will be tested with home fixtures to Tipperary and Cork plus throw in a small derby clash with near neighbors for Limerick. This is not the time for Clare to become ultra cautious in their approach. Trust the player’s skill set and good things will come!

Limerick: Champions must regroup fast!

Regroup required

Limerick may have received a timely reality check in their loss to Cork. They have two weeks to regroup as management and squad to reflect and address the work rate and middle third issues which were exposed against Cork.

This side does not become a poor one overnight. The fact that Cork had a serious seventy minutes of championship hurling under their belt prior to last weekend was a key factor. Limerick struggled to get to the rhythm and tempo of the contest; were put under incredible pressure by a Cork middle third who worked tirelessly throughout.

The fixture at Walsh Park was always a crucial fixture but it is do or die for both Waterford and Limerick sides in round three. A loss for either and their championship season is done and dusted. Limerick with two games to go would then need to turn the tables on Clare and Tipperary which is a tall order so this fixture is a massive must win.

Looking Forward:

Time for Limerick to do their talking on the hurling pitch. Cork successfully got under Limerick’s forward threat skin with Gillane continually looking to engage with Eoin Cadogan in the sledging stakes when he should have been focused on making those trademark diagonal runs to create attacking opportunities.

The Limerick half back line cannot play as badly as an unit as they did last weekend. Their positioning, their lack of dominance under the dropping ball and the lack of running game from them to setup an attacking platform all hurt the side. Two weeks of preparation to address this.

Limerick management must regroup the players and look to restore confidence in the ranks. The loss will have dented confidence but now is not the time to ditch their trademark game plan. The focus should be on the basic skill set, the first touch and passing was inconsistent last weekend.

This is a side that needs to deliver a performance. Waterford away is a tough assignment. Time will tell if this Limerick side can embrace the favorites / champion tag? They are the side to be shot at.

Waterford: Backs against the wall time!

Waterford backs against the wall

Waterford are 0/2 from the championship so far. A one point loss to Clare at home in Walsh Park was a disappointment given the excitement of the Waterford public that their side would be playing their home games in the county.

Walsh Park is a tough venue for any visiting side but the occasion on round one got a couple of players. The shackles came off with twenty minutes to go against Clare and despite not playing to their full potential could have snatched a draw.

The Thurles road trip was summed up by the second yellow card for Conor Gleeson, a clear game changer but the resolute fight from the Deise immediately after the red card at the start of the second half was commendable. The losing margin means little as they were then forced to chase the game and left a potent Tipperary forward line with the space to create and score.

Looking Forward:

Waterford management and backroom staff need to answer two key questions. How do they involve Austin Gleeson more in these contests? Gleeson is their standout talent and the fact that he has fleetingly featured in the two championship games is not good enough.

Is Gleeson a wing forward? He is not asserting any dominance or influence on proceedings. I sense Gleeson needs to be deployed either at half back or midfield in order to run with the sliothar. The fixture against Limerick is make or break for Waterford. If Gleeson is subdued yet again, the championship will be over.

The free taking issue is one to watch for Waterford in the remaining championship games. Bennett or O’Mahony? O’Mahony is a stand out free taker. Every point will be required now, no brainer decision.

The scores against in the last two championship is a source for concern as well. Quick ball from Limerick to the inside full forward line has the potential to create havoc for the Waterford full back line so the game management of Tadhg De Burca will be vital next weekend given the injury of Philip O’Mahony sustained last weekend.

Cork Senior Hurlers provide Limerick with plenty to ponder

Cork resurrect their season; Limerick need to regroup

As Nicky Quaid was about to pass the sliothar to a defensive colleague in the fifth minute of second half injury time, the final whistle went with huge roars of approval from the large Cork travelling support, management and players.

A defining game in their championship season and the Rebels delivered a performance to quieten those who doubted the team after their disappointing home loss to Tipperary last weekend.

Cork’s middle third which was much maligned last week in terms of work rate, game management and defensive tracking were on it from minute one. They harassed, they pressured, they executed the game plan of isolating the inside Limerick full back line to a tee.

Bill Cooper was outstanding in the engine room of Cork’s midfield. The Youghal man was composed with the ball and his game management and organization was immense.

It was an excellent day for the Cork management whose decision to start Aidan Walsh in the half forward line paid huge dividends. The Kanturk talisman was a focal point in the air and his breaking of ball for the likes of Meade and Kearney saw several noteworthy points from play.

The Cork half forward lines consistent quick movement caused Limerick’s much vaunted half back line serious troubles. There was an uneasiness about Limerick’s half back play today; the unit were consistently caught out on the Cork puck out strategy and with no genuine support from their half forward line and midfield, it left massive holes for Alan Cadogan and Pa Horgan to exploit inside.

Cork have resurrected their season on the back of this performance. They will be the first to realize that this performance guarantees nothing in the coming weeks but what it does show is that John Meyler’s charges when on form can beat anyone and significantly have the guile and game smarts to close out a contest. The margin of victory was accurate given the context of the proceedings.

Where now for Limerick? The game was a day to forget for all involved including management who struggled to find answers to Cork’s tactical switches throughout. There was a nervousness to Limerick’s play; regulation passes came unstuck causing additional defensive issues and score concessions.

The middle third was the fulcrum last year for Limerick but they were absent for long periods of this contest. The half back line never set the aerial platform. Hannan was increasingly isolated with Cork’s half forward line movement. Morrissey was pushed too far up the pitch to compete with Aidan Walsh in the air as Richie English faced an unenviable task. Byrnes was often in his full back line looking to receive ball. No team can win a championship based on the struggles of the half back line.

The midfield unit struggled. O’Donovan running game was quickly snuffed out and it affected other parts of his game; his usually high standard of sideline cutting was absent. Cian Lynch fought gallantly with some lung bursting runs but you felt that Lynch decided to take the leadership mantle on and win the game on his own; a glorious goal opportunity spurned in the closing stages when a sharp pass to Dowling was the better option.

The half forward line was sporadic for long periods. Hayes at times won the dirty ball but Hegarty and Tom Morrissey struggled for rhythm and aerial duels today. Downey and Coleman personally were standouts for Cork; they played a superbly astute game plan in the aerial battle and their pace and passing was exceptional.

The inside full forward line was threatening when good early ball came from the Limerick midfield and half back line. Graeme Mulcahy’s goal was razor sharp; good anticipation after a Hannan miscued point reached the Kilmallock man. His goal was emphatic; there was nothing Anthony Nash could do.

Aaron Gillane is a player I greatly admire but today Cork got under his skin yet again. His red card last year down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was only going to invite further sledging today and he unfortunately took the bait; engaging with verbals with Cadogan throughout and not providing the full forward platform that Limerick required with his running down the channels. Gillane is better than that.

Peter Casey worked hard but precious little went right for the Na Piarsaigh front man; guilty of several unforced possession losses. It was a day to forget for Limerick.

Limerick’s performance was flat; their performance lacked the bite and drive required in Munster SHC. Limerick’s looked one paced throughout and it will be interesting to see the reaction in the camp ahead of a crucial tussle in two weeks time on the road. The players looked leggy heading into the final quarter; pressure had tolled.

The running game and passing game which has served Limerick so well in the last eighteen months was a non-factor. The work rate and ability to win the 50/50 ball was second best today. The reality check has being issued; it was sent loud and clear in LIT Gaelic Grounds.

For management, it will require cool heads and composure to dissect this flat performance. It is the first day out in the championship; seven weeks since their last competitive game is a factor but the players will know themselves the levels required to compete in this provincial championship.

The team pride themselves on their standards and one would hope that the players and management are honest in their appraisal of today. Lessons need to be learned and quickly. An interesting two weeks beckons. John Kiely looked like a man who was absolutely livid with that display in his post game comments.

One game does not make a team a bad outfit but this was a performance to focus the minds of all associated with Limerick; the euphoria of last year’s championship win has being smashed after today. It is the here and now and failure to produce better performances in the coming weeks will see an early summer exit for the reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions.

For Cork, a day to be proud of. A game which required a performance was delivered and for the squad and management, confidence should be restored to launch another provincial tilt. With Horgan, Harnedy and Cadogan in the forward line sparkling, this level of consistency is the blueprint.

If Cork can deliver this performance until the end of the season, then they will be a tough side to watch. Two teams met today; one team entered the arena with their backs and reputations on the line, that team delivered, that team was Cork!

Intercounty Hurling Hopes for 2019

Championship is back!

And so it begins. The odyssey for the Liam McCarthy, Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher begins in earnest this weekend where we should see epic tussles in all competitions.

Hawkeye Sidekick is in reflective mood ahead of the big throw in and outlines his hopes and dreams for the upcoming championship season.

Media coverage for all!

The start of the Gaelic Football championship was greeted by the media hordes with some indifference. Games were not broadcast to the maximum viewing audience; an opportunity to show case these fixtures to a global audience.

An opportunity spurned by the media who have won televised rights to these games. An opportunity which should be given to other media organizations who are genuinely interested in covering all teams participating in the championship and not just the big games.

The start of this season’s hurling championship sees a tasty Midlands derby in Tullamore tonight where Offaly will face a rejuvenated Laois side in the Joe McDonagh competition.

Hopefully, we will see a match report tomorrow in the national broadsheets for this fixture and other fixtures played this weekend but you might have trouble finding it nestled amongst the articles about the big marquee Munster and Leinster SHC fixtures set this weekend.

Hurling needs as much coverage as possible come championship time and hopefully TG4 or Eir can take on the mantle for competitions such as McDonagh / Ring / Meagher and Rackard with care and respect for these competitions that they deserve!

Wide open provincial races!

Limerick looked superb in the NHL but a loss against Cork next weekend and they are under huge pressure to get even out of Munster SHC let alone the All Ireland series later in the season. The provincial championships in Munster and Leinster look extremely competitive.

Munster SHC looks potent. Waterford at last get some home comforts but whether Walsh Park will suit their fast tempo game is another story. Cork and Tipperary clash and renew old rivalries down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh which hopefully can stand up to the fixture. Clare are the dark horse this season, regrets from last season should spur them on and then you have Limerick who are the side to be shot at this season. Anyone’s guess who the top three will be from this.

Leinster SHC has been in recent times dominated by Galway and Kilkenny but I think there is a growing feeling that either Dublin or Wexford are primed to cause shocks and go deep in the championship.

Kilkenny have a tricky banana skin fixture at home to Dublin this weekend; injuries aplenty to contend with. Can Dublin be defensively solid yet look potent in attack at the same time? Defensively minded formation against Limerick in NHL semi-final was good but the attacking side of the game was neglected.

Wexford need to push on this season, a few years of steady progression from Davy Fitzgerald’s men but the championship performances apart from the Kilkenny win two seasons back have been a mixed bag. Hoping that the likes of McDonald, Ryan, Chin and O’Connor can deliver game winning performances. Munster has provided much excitement in recent years and it is time Leinster SHC delivered in the same vain.

Carlow Rising

The Galway team sheet against Carlow this weekend can be considered in two ways. Galway management looking at options ahead of tougher battles in the championship or giving players who have impressed in training a chance to stake their claim in the jersey. You know what school of thought will be plastered on the Carlow dressing room wall tomorrow!

Carlow arrive in Galway in good form and confidence. Their progression under Colm Bonnar has been exceptional, excellent grassroots structures coupled with Carlow IT’s emergence in Fitzgibbon Cup has propelled the county to new heights.

This is a side who have had an excellent NHL 1B campaign. They drew with Galway, staved off relegation with a road trip win over Offaly. If their discipline can hold, they will match teams for long periods in this championship. Hopefully, Carlow rattle a top side in Leinster SHC and provide more talking points.

Galway have been warned. The team selection if the side do not settle early this weekend has all the hallmarks of an upset waiting to happen. Carlow need to deliver quick ball into Doyle and the inside full forward line and test out Galway early doors.

Defensive Setup hopefully ditched!

Let us hope that teams decide to ditch the defensive orientated setup. It would be great if teams went man for man but I fear that you will see sides stifling the middle third with goal chances a rare commodity. Cork vs. Tipperary personally should be an epic encounter tomorrow; both sides will love to rattle the other in 1-1 situations but this could be exception than the norm this season.

Defensive setup works to only a point. The summer months require more nous and creativity from an attacking sense. Dublin in particular need to provide an answer to that mission statement in the coming weeks.

Top players are back on the pitch soon!

The sight of Eoin Murphy, Joe Canning and the like looking on at the fixtures this weekend due to injury is a massive disappointment. Hopefully all marquee players will feature in the championships sooner than rather. We need the top stars on the pitch, showcasing their talent and the sport of hurling to the viewing public.

Joanne Cantwell

The unenviable task of replacing the legendary Michael Lyster falls to Joanne Cantwell, a journalist I have admired and respected for several years. Hopefully, she can settle into the Sunday Game show role and let the pundits flow with their viewpoints and key match up points.

Let us hope that key flash points and match winning scores are given the time required. It is an exciting time for the Sunday Game show and I have no doubt Joanne will deliver big time!

Predictions:

Munster: Tipperary

Munster Top Three: Tipperary, Clare, Limerick

Leinster: Kilkenny

Leinster Top Three: Kilkenny, Wexford, Galway

Liam McCarthy: Clare

Joe McDonagh: Laois

Christy Ring: Meath

Nicky Rackard: Warwickshire

Lory Meagher: Leitrim

Limerick SHC: Round 5 Review

Na Piarsaigh and Doon advance to the semi-final

The round robin group stage phase of the Limerick SHC is now in the books and we now know who has their ticket to the quarter and semi-finals. An interesting weekend of results. 

Group 1: Na Piarsaigh / Doon into last four

Before this final round of fixtures, Na Piarsaigh were destined to advance to the semi-final round (only for a bizarre set of results). Their performance against Patrickswell today was emphatic at the Gaelic Grounds and it will take an exceptional team to dethrone the Caherdavin club this year. 

Peter Casey’s early goal after a minute set the tone as Shane Dowling, Casey and the Dempsey brothers were to the fore. Patrickswell tried hard but Na Piarsaigh’s precision passing and support running lines were too much at times for an over worked Patrickswell defense.

Aaron Gillane’s late goal put respectability to the scoreboard but ‘Well will know that they need to improve significantly in the quarter final to be a serious threat for the remainder of the championship. The middle third at times was routed which was a surprise considering the personnel on show. 

Na Piarsaigh were in full control and the 1-21 to 1-11 scoreline was the least that they deserved. 

While Adare and Ballybrown drew 3-17 each at Claughaun to consign Ballybrown to Group 2 next season, the stage was set for Kilmallock and Doon to face off with the winner advancing to the semi-final berth. The pregame thoughts were that Kilmallock would edge the contest but Doon have the ability of tearing up the form book and so it proved here. 

Barry Murphy was the fulcrum for Doon today as his opening half 0-6 point haul gave Doon the platform to keep in touch with the South Limerick outfit. In the second half, Doon strode clear with Dean Coleman particularly impressive. Kilmallock were not cohesive in their distribution and their work rate was a clear second to Doon where Richie English was excellent. Doon won 0-17 to 0-10. 

After such an encouraging performance against Na Piarsaigh a couple of weeks ago, Kilmallock have questions to answer. A quarter final fixture to try and restore confidence but this performance was a pale shadow to a a couple of weeks ago. Advantage Na Piarsaigh in this championship race. 

Group 2: Murroe Boher / South Liberties advance

I did not think that Murroe Boher or South Liberties would be caught today but Cappamore nearly ripped the script apart with a late salvo against South Liberties who were glad to hear the final whistle at the death. It looked pretty straightforward for South Liberties in the opening period as Barry Nash and Brian Ryan were keeping the scoreboard operator in regular action. 

However, Cappamore knowing that a loss would consign them to intermediate hurling next season launched a brave last quarter push; reducing the arrears to a point, causing frayed nerves in the Liberties camp. Cappamore are relegated and they will rue their third quarter performance against Knockainey which lost them the game and ultimately their spot in the senior next season. 1-12 to 1-11. 

South Liberties advance to the quarter-finals and their performance today was particularly nervy in the second half; they need to improve considerably for a quarter-final tussle with Patrickswell. A free hit for them in this encounter and hopefully they can bring the work rate and intensity to unsettle the ‘Well to make this fixture competitive. 

Murroe Boher were comfortable in their five point win to Knockainey. The game was put to bed in the opening quarter as the East Limerick side were twelve points up after twelve minutes. Seanie Tobin and Mike Ryan were excellent for Murroe Boher who won (2-16 to 2-11).

The East Limerick will look forward to a free hit against Kilmallock in the quarter final; no pressure on them and their side has an excellent work ethic, well organized and potent attacking inside options. Could they cause an upset?

Ahane and Monaleen in Cappamore on Sunday afternoon was a game which lacked intensity for long periods. The near neighbors were tit for tat throughout. Ahane’s overly relied on Tom Morrissey who scored eight out of Ahane’s ten points in the opening period.

Monaleen won the game late on with a fine score from David Moloney and they just about edged the encounter by a point (1-15 to 0-17); were more solid in key areas with Lyons and LaTouche-Cosgrave providing key cameos. Ahane have struggled in attack this season with their points average (only Cappamore scored less).

For Monaleen and Ahane, it is the end of the road for this year’s championship. Monaleen will rue the draw against Cappamore in the opening round. Ahane were competitive in all games but that lack of attacking cutting edge was missing at key parts. An off-season to see where improvements can be made. 

Semi-Final: 

Na Piarsaigh, Doon 

Quarter Finals:

Patrickswell vs. South Liberties 

Kilmallock vs. Murroe Boher 

Relegation:

Cappamore 

Limerick SHC: After Round Four, where do we stand?

An exciting weekend of action in the Limerick SHC and we know four teams who have officially secured their place in the knock out stage of the championship. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action. 

Group 1: Graeme Mulcahy masterclass

Hawkeye Sidekick asked in the preview piece last week who will be main contender to challenge Na Piarsaigh? The answer was emphatic this weekend, it is going to come from Kilmallock who swept aside the challenge of Patrickswell at the Gaelic Grounds. 

A sensational cameo from Graeme Mulcahy the highlight for the South Limerick side as his nine points from play set the platform to defeat a Patrickswell side 1-22 to 1-12. Patrickswell had no answer to the Limerick corner forward movement. The side played direct and reaped the rewards. Patrickswell are still in the hunt but the injury that forced Cian Lynch an early exit from proceedings yesterday could be a damaging blow for their ambitions of contending for a county final berth. 

Adare tried hard but unfortunately felt the wrath of Na Piarsaigh with a ten point defeat which consigns the side to an early championship exit. Na Piarsaigh were rarely troubled in this contest and the goal scored by Adrian Breen was a highlight reel moment. 2-19 scored and the usual suspects came to the party. Na Piarsaigh’s have received their jolt from Kilmallock and the rest of the sides left in the championship beware. 

In the other game in the group, Doon managed to hold off a dogged Ballybrown challenge. 1-12 to 0-9 was a nervy affair at times; several poor wides from both sides during the hour. Doon’s county stars stood out in the second half and their composure was key to victory at the death.

Doon move into third place in the standings and confirms that Na Piarsaigh, Kilmallock, Doon and Patrickswell advance to the knock out phase. The last round of games will confirm the top two from the group who will advance to the semi-final but Na Piarsaigh (look home and hosed) and Kilmallock if they do not suffer a heavy loss in their last game should be the top two. 

Group 2: Advantage Murroe / Boher and South Liberties 

This group is evenly poised but it is very much advantage to Murroe / Boher and South Liberties after key wins over closest rivals Monaleen and Ahane respectively. 

Murroe / Boher again came up at the right side of the result against Monaleen who had only two scorers during the sixty minutes. Ross Kennedy struck the vital in the opening period as the East Limerick side went in at the break 1-9 to 0-6 up. 

Monaleen’s performance improved on the restart and 
Mark O’Dwyer with 0-12 (10 frees) and Luke Murphy with five points from play setup a titanic finish but experience from Seanie Tobin down the stretch saw Murroe / Boher home. 

South Liberties bounced back from a disappointing loss to Monaleen in the previous round to beat Ahane 1-15 to 0-15 at Cappamore. South Liberties were in charge in the opening period; dominant middle third display resulting in a 0-10 to 0-5 with Brian Ryan and Barry Nash prominent. 

Ahane stormed back into the contest in third quarter; inspired by the Morrissey brothers. Tom Morrissey at the end was sensational, scoring three consecutive points to give Ahane the lead heading into injury time but South Liberties’ response was emphatic. 1-1 in injury time sufficient to secure the victory.

Knockainey secured their first win of the SHC with a nail biting one point win over Cappamore who were 3-4 to 0-7 ahead at half time. Padraic Barron the hero for the South Limerick side scoring 1-13; his composure down the stretch enough to hold off a late charge from Cappamore who will rue an indifferent second half start. 

For Ahane and Monaleen, it is winner take all on Thursday night with the hope that either Murroe/Boher or South Liberties slip up in their games against bottom two Knockainey and Cappamore respectively. I cannot see either top two teams in the group slipping up. Ahane and Monaleen making their exits from the championship. 

Even at this early stage of the championship, you cannot look past Na Piarsaigh or Kilmallock right now. They are the two form teams entering into the knockout stages; the only concern would be the layoff if they get to the semi-final while their prospective opposition are battle hardened further with a quarter final tussle. 

Limerick Senior Hurling Championship: Round 4 Preview

The penultimate group fixtures are upon us this weekend. A couple of standout encounters in both Group A and B. Hawkeye Sidekick tries to do a bit better on his predictions after last weekend. 

Group A: Crunch time for Adare

Adare are in must win territory. After their draw against Doon last weekend, they are now faced with the prospect of facing a Na Piarsaigh side who survived a big scare against Kilmallock to secure a share of the spoils. With Na Piarsaigh on high alert, Adare could see a Na Piarsaigh backlash and with Shane Dowling in superb form last weekend; this is a fixture that I do not see Adare winning given their scoring threat. Forty-nine points in three games is not an average that will be threaten Na Piarsaigh who should win this game with a bit to spare (six points spread). 

The key fixture in this group is the meeting of Kilmallock and Patrickswell. A key fixture to determine who from the chasing pack will be the chief competition to Na Piarsaigh this year. Kilmallock will rue the closing exchanges of last weekend’s draw with Na Piarsaigh; a little more composure would have secured victory and they face a Patrickswell side who should be fresher after a routine victory over Ballybrown last weekend. There is not much between either side; going to sit on the fence and call another draw which would mean that Na Piarsaigh will top the group. 

Ballybrown after defeat to Patrickswell last weekend look consigned to an early championship exit. A promising opening period against their local rivals ebbed away and Patrickswell’s key players came to the party in the third quarter to win the contest. Doon need to get their season back on track and their performance against Adare was a mixed bag. The ability in the squad is there but the level of performance is not but this weekend should see the East Limerick side aided by O’Donovan, English, Ryan and Murphy to win by around four or five points. 

Group B: Monaleen and Murroe Boher key fixture

The key fixture in this group is the meeting of Monaleen and Murroe Boher; the top two in the group face off and whoever is victorious will have pretty close to a quarter final berth. Monaleen had a keynote six points win over South Liberties last weekend. Murroe Boher beat a most disappointing Cappamore side and the lack of test should be an issue this weekend. A key fixture for both rivals; was very impressed by Monaleen last weekend and with LaTouche-Cosgrave playing well, this is a fixture which the City side should start as favorites. A close one to two point win for Monaleen. 

Ahane and South Liberties play in another key group tussle at Cappamore. Let us hope that both sides have linesmen for the fixture given the lack of officials at the Ahane game last week against Knockainey. South Liberties started last weekend top of the table but their performance against Monaleen lacked bite from the first whistle. They need to regroup and respond this weekend; otherwise, their season is over. Ahane overcame Knockainey, a good third quarter providing the platform for victory as the East Limerick side won by six points. Ahane’s scoring threat is still a concern (44 points over three games) but defensively have being tight to date and that should secure another win here as South Liberties’ inconsistent performances as of date are set to continue. Ahane by three points. 

The last fixture in the group is the fixture of Cappamore and Knockainey. Both sides need a win to boost morale. Cappamore last weekend were well off the pace; struggled all over the pitch with Murroe Boher not seriously threatened. Knockainey had good opening period moments against Ahane, only trailed by a point but Ahane pulled away in the third quarter; the work rate from Knockainey was there until the final whistle. Last week, I would have tipped Cappamore to the hilt but seeing their performance against Murroe Boher, going to edge this encounter to Knockainey. 

Predictions:

Group A: Na Piarsaigh, Doon with a draw between Kilmallock / Well

Group B: Monaleen, Ahane and Knockainey

Take a bow Dublin!

Four in a row. The elusive five in a row is nearly in reach for Dublin’s senior footballers. Credit to Tyrone yesterday, they threw everything at Dublin and into the contest but once Paul Mannion slotted home an emphatic penalty in the opening period, this fixture had taken flight and predictable course. Hawkeye Sidekick pays tribute to this side who look destined to be considered the best Gaelic Football side ever if they win Sam Maguire next season! 

The record of Dublin under Jim Gavin is extraordinary. One championship loss since 2013 out of twenty-eight fixtures managed.

Another clean sweep of the key football titles this season. NFL triumph over Galway then saw a routine Leinster SFC success and any doubters will have being quietened by the performances in the Super Eights. Their road trip win in Omagh was one of the keynote performances this season; a potential banana skin fixture dealt with in efficient fashion.

Gavin’s backroom staff is exceptional; their scouting network identifying the next Dublin stars (when to be brought in and contribute) is working superbly well right now and the team who look at upcoming opposition have being on point throughout consistently.

Jim Gavin is an incredible manager and his resume with Dublin footballers is unparalleled in the modern era.

This four in row side has seen evolution in the starting lineup. The likes of Scully, Howard, Murchan emerged this season. Con O’Callaghan for his age has two All Ireland Senior football titles to his name; a testament to Jim Gavin and management’s confidence in the youth emerging from the setup. When you consider the likes of Bernard Brogan and Paul Flynn were not part of the subs bench, you start to see the strength in depth in this panel. 

The playing squad contains massive leadership. Stephen Cluxton in goal has revolutionized the position; his distribution from the restarts is his trademark and only Rory Beggan can consider himself to be on a par with the Dublin netminder this season. 

Pundits lazily pointed at the full back line as an area of weakness. Nope. The full back line has evolved over time. Different players evolving into different roles. McMahon, Cooper, Fitzsimons, Murchan have all impressed this season and when you consider the nous and game reading of Cian O’Sullivan in front of the full back line, the goal threat of opposition teams have being quickly nullified. 

The half back line has provided stellar support defensively as well as attacking options. McCafferey and Small started yesterday but is the versatility in the squad that the likes of Howard could slot into the wing back position to provide defensive stability if required. McCafferey’s pace and ability to break opposition defenses with his searing runs have being exceptional this season. 

The midfield of Brian Fenton (yet to lose a championship game) and James McCarthy who yet again shows player versatility moving to the middle of the park from the half back line. Their ability to defend while chipping in with several scores from play was evident throughout the year, the same again yesterday and Tyrone had no answer for the midfield duo when Dublin exploded into action in the second quarter on. 

Diarmuid Connolly went to Boston for the summer. A massive loss but Dublin’s forward line unit filled the void well. Ciaran Kilkenny elevated his game to the next level; his game management, his ability to distribute and look to burst past his opponent were hallmarks this season. Niall Scully’s runs from deep saw key goals in the championship including yesterday. 

Every forward on the Dublin side has the composure and ability to do the right thing. The inside full forward line yesterday was full of life; the movement of O’Callaghan and Mannion was at times incredible. Dean Rock has being superb in these past two seasons both from play and placed balls. When you consider the likes of Andrews, McManamon in reserve; enough said.

There is no weak link in this Dublin side. Their ability to adapt to the opposition game plan a key trait. Damien Comer for Galway had an encouraging opening quarter in the All Ireland Semi-Final (1-1 scored) but Dublin then cut out the supply and defensively switched deeper to counteract the long ball in. Colm Cavanagh was moved into full forward yesterday; a penalty ensued but the next high ball in was emphatically caught by Howard. 

A team for the ages. Mayo will be back next season. Kerry if they can address the clear defensive and middle third issues may threaten. Galway, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan will look for another opportunity to challenge Dublin but do any of these sides have all the parts and belief to get past Dublin?

Serious doubts right now unless Dublin suffer an injury crisis but even then, squad depth is so strong and who is to say that more underage talent will be introduced to Jim Gavin’s side next season. A scary thought! The standard that all other inter-county football teams have to aspire to and surpass. Daunting. Congratulations Dublin!