GAA Preview: Connacht Senior Football Championship

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All kicks off this weekend in New York

And so it begins. The odyssey to win Sam Maguire for some, the objective of being competitive for others while the rest are looking for the exit door pronto. The All Ireland Senior Football Championship is back and starts with a potential tricky opener for Sligo away to New York at Gaelic Park. Hawkeye Sidekick previews the upcoming season.

 

Sligo concerned

May 7th. New York. Sligo without several key players travel to the US for a very tricky encounter. It does not instill confidence within a team when your manager is publicly crying out the timing of the fixture, the loss of key players; it is almost like Niall Carew is fearing the worse considering what nearly happened to Roscommon last year when New York nearly upset the form book and win.

Niall Carew has valid grievances; the scheduling of this fixture has resulted in Kevin McDonnell, Luke Nicholson and Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch due to exams. When you add the fact that the Yeats County are without their star forward Niall Murphy due to a hamstring injury, Sligo have issues at both ends of the pitch.

Sligo should just about edge this opener despite their injury and forced withdrawals. A mid-table position in NFL Division Three which contained Armagh, Tipperary and Louth has provided the team with good early season encounters. New York was always an enigma; their preparations are either pretty solid or non-existent. Given the inclusion of players such as Dublin’s Danny Sutcliffe and Mayo’s Tom Cunniffe, the team have added excellent inter-county experience and training preparations should be on point.

New York – Enigma

The lack of quality preseason games may be the difference between both sides. New York realistically probably have only had a couple of fixtures potentially against the likes of Boston, Chicago. The tempo and intensity maybe an issue in the final quarter and one would suspect that after a tricky opening period, Sligo should assert their dominance. If New York were to win, it really would not be surprise given how close they came to beating Roscommon last year. New York also boost the likes of Vinny Cadden, Ross Wherity and Conor McGaynor so Sligo will have to be on top form to win.

Scheduling Woes

GAA and more to the point Connacht Council need to review the scheduling of this opening fixture. It is a nice fixture to kickoff the championship but do not see much hype or photo shoots in New York to promote the game. Given that the profile of an inter-county squad is consisting of mostly players who are in third level education, it would not be too unreasonable to schedule this fixture potentially after college exams. Short-sighted fixture scheduling to be honest.

Leitrim head to London town

Leitrim travel to Ruislip to face London later this month, a quarter final contest where the outcome should go the way of Leitrim. A solid campaign in Division Four and Leitrim had seven points to spare over the Exiles during the league. Leitrim’s only heavy loss came against Westmeath but the other losses were close to a resurgent Wexford and middling Limerick outfit away.  Nothing in the league suggests that London will cause an upset in Ruislip so Leitrim advance for me and face Roscommon in the last four.

Opportunity knocks for Roscommon

This is a big opportunity for Roscommon to redeem themselves after a wretched league campaign. Kevin McStay has endured numerous issues this season; a hangover from last season’s dismal championship exit continued in the NFL Division One. The rumors of squad unrest were mentioned in public — typical stuff when a team is struggling for form and confidence. Their league loss to Dublin at HQ was a low point of the season. Roscommon have a golden opportunity to advance to a provincial final and one game away from an All Ireland Quarter Final. Roscommon should be too strong for Leitrim; squad depth and individual talent of the likes of Murtagh, Shine should see them through. The other side is the more compelling side truth be told.

Operation Redemption – Mayo

Mayo enter the Connacht championship with scores to settle provincially. Galway came to McHale Park and beat Mayo deservedly which forced Mayo to come through the backdoor system; not ideal but it culminated in an All Ireland final appearance, another heartbreaking loss to Dublin in a replay. Mayo would ideally like to go through the standard way and win the province. Their quest for another provincial crown starts with a home quarter final against the winners of Sligo or New York. A game which would rid the cobwebs. Mayo’s league form was very inconsistent, some bright points in their wins against Donegal, Kerry and Tyrone but there were some poor displays evident in a crushing loss to Dublin at Croke Park. Mayo are another season in with Stephen Rochford in charge.

The Holmes / Connelly saga still rumbles on but Mayo panel will focus and continue to improve in all facets of play. The goalkeeping situation will be interesting this season. Clarke surely is the front runner for the position but sometimes you cannot tell what Mayo management are thinking. The Mayo back line is strong. Harrison at corner back was a revelation last year. Higgins is a mercurial footballer. Boyle, Keegan and Durcan are superb players who like to venture forward and chip in with scores. The midfield of Parsons and O’Shea is a solid partnership.  The forward line units will be closely monitored; how does Mayo tweak the half-forward line and full forward lines to become more potent in open play? Potential is there but game management decisions was at times an issue.

Buoyant Galway

Provided that there are no system meltdowns, Mayo will advance to the semi-final and face old rival and resurgent Galway in Salthill. Galway football is going in the right direction; the recent performance of the U21 team combined with the senior team getting promoted to NFL Division One and winning the league final in addition to the win of Corofin in the Connacht SFC bodes well for Kevin Walsh and management. The squad looks on paper to be competitive and one that should be capable of surpassing their quarter final appearance last season. Paul Conroy, Tom Flynn, Michael Meehan, Gary Sice are supreme players and coupled with some exciting underage talent, the semi-final is one that I will be eagerly looking forward to.

Galway will be buoyed by their performance in Castlebar last season; the monkey of not beating Mayo in recent years was well and truly smashed with a smart, efficient display which exposed Mayo’s defensive system meltdowns and defensive work rate and organization stifling Mayo’s forward line units who looked extremely one dimensional. This is a 50/50 game and I will give a tentative nod to Galway; the team and county are on an upward curve. Buoyed by home field advantage, Galway for me have a slight edge but no better team than Mayo to upset Galway away from Castlebar. It should be a cracker; do remember the demolition of Galway by Mayo a couple of years ago in Salthill. Whoever wins this contest will be firm favorites to go on and win the province. No real complaints. Roscommon have a lot to prove and their league form has not inspired this confidence.

Prediction:

The Winners of Galway or Mayo (tipped Galway so it is the Tribesmen)

All Stars Award Review

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The Opel All Stars Awards are upon us; this year has gone fast. A gala where the top intercounty footballers and hurlers gather to reflect on the year and earn further recognition. In these award ceremonies, there will be debate on some nominations. Hawkeye Sidekick ponders these questions.

Gaelic Football

Stephen Rochford’s thoughts this morning on the announcement that David Clarke was selected as goalkeeper would have being intriguing. Clarke dropped for the All Ireland Final replay is given the award (has to be a first). Stephen Cluxton or Evan Comerford for me were ahead of Clarke this season. If the panel selecting the team were looking for a keeper other than Cluxton, Tipperary’s netminder Comerford ticked all the boxes. His assured performances this season and his accurate kicking was paramount to Tipperary’s success this season.

The corner back positions can have little argument. Harrison and McMahon were the standout performers in their positions this season. Harrison was a real find for Mayo this season; his man marking assignments in the All Ireland finals were standout performances. McMahon was ultra efficient this season and chipped in with several scores. His leadership defensively with the absence of keynote players such O’Carroll in the full back line stood out. Stellar years for the pair. Well earned awards. Jonny Cooper at full back will have little argument from most quarters; solid in a position which looked vulnerable at the start of the season.

The half-back line is probably where the massive controversial debate will rage. How Durcan and Cian O’Sullivan were omitted is baffling? O’Sullivan was described as Dublin’s defensive lynchpin; the definition of the modern half-back; the definition of a defensive game reader. Durcan’s attacking runs and score taking from long range caught the eye. Ryan McHugh and Colm Boyle were selected ahead of both players. Both had good years but when compared with O’Sullivan and Durcan’s cameo does not hold up. Award opinion will be varied. McHugh albeit was influential for Donegal in attacking play; his ability to support his forward line was to the fore and his eye for goal shone through obviously for the selection panel to get him the nod. Robbie Kiely and Peter Acheson of Tipperary were almost omitted; Kiely had a stellar year but his controversial black card spelled the end for his All Star prospects.

The midfield area was another area of contention. Donnelly and Fenton are solid picks but cannot feel some disappointment for Clare talisman Gary Brennan who was superb this season. His ball winning ability, scoring ability were sensational in NFL and Championship. Clare had a great season and Brennan was a huge reason why and would have being good to have highlighted Banner’s progression this term.

Few complaints on the half-forward line. Harte, Connolly and Kilkenny is an awesome line. Harte with his snipping running from deep. Connolly’s unerring accuracy scoring from any angle and Kilkenny’s coolness and distribution is the stuff of legend. Aidan O’Shea potentially but his All Ireland final cameos fell short of the level required.

The full forward line is youthful and energetic. Dean Rock wins his first gong, reward for taking on the mantle of Dublin’s focal point from placed balls. Rock also was prominent in the scoring stakes from play; worthy reward for the Ballymun clubman. Michael Quinlivan’s cameos in the Cork and Galway triumphs in the championship stood out this season. His contribution with Clonmel Commercials earlier in the year was taken into accounts; nice acknowledgement for Tipperary who on another day could have had three players on the team. Paul Geaney, pure class forward. His score tally speaks volumes. The Dingle native’s ability to score from either foot had his defensive markers at sixes and sevens.

Cillian O’Connor was unlucky to miss out on an award; noteworthy performances for Mayo at the business end of the season. Kevin McManamon unlucky to miss out as well; a potential footballer of the year before the All Ireland final is overlooked. Plenty to digest in that selection.

Hurling

Lee Chin would not be anywhere else but at this gala. The Hurling All Stars will be announced to the general public tomorrow during the televised event. The team should go along by and large familiar lines but there are a couple of spots in the team which are up for grabs but think that the selection will be along these lines:

  1. Eoin Murphy (KK)
  2. Cathal Barrett (Tipperary)
  3. Daithi Burke (Galway)
  4. James Barry (Tipperary)
  5. Padraic Walsh (KK)
  6. Ronan Maher (Tipperary)
  7. Padraic Maher (Tipperary)
  8. David Burke (Galway)
  9. Jamie Barron (Waterford) / Brendan Maher (Tipperary)
  10. Walter Walsh (Kilkenny)
  11. Austin Gleeson (Waterford)
  12. Bonnar Maher (Tipperary)
  13. John McGrath (Tippeary)
  14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary) and should win HOTY
  15. Richie Hogan (Kilkenny)

All Ireland Senior Football Final Replay Reflections

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Twenty-fours after the fact. Dublin have retained Sam Maguire. Mayo begin to yet again lip their wounds after a tenth successive All Ireland Senior Football final reversal. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on a replay which will be talked about for some time to come.

Mayo Management Decisions Backfire Enormously

The decision to drop David Clarke instead of Robbie Hennelly was  a massive call. It is a massive call to drop anyone from a starting lineup for a replay, even more so when the player in question plays in goal, a position fundamental in modern day football where kick-out accuracy to win primary possession is paramount. Stephen Rochford post-game tried to justify the selection call stating that Dublin had sussed out the short kick-out strategy adopted by Mayo in the opening  final game. Was Rochford and management team spooked by the Diarmuid Connolly point in the first game where Clarke’s mislaid past hit the Dublin forward on the back before being dispatched for a white flag. Hennelly is a fine keeper but yesterday nerves got the better of him. His first four kick-outs were long but in areas where Dublin numerical advantage was evident. No variation in the kick-out stategy direction and Mayo were suddenly four points down.

Credit to Mayo, they fought back to level matters but the tone of the game had being set. Hennelly was increasingly looking more vulnerable with each pass made; his high delivery to colleagues giving Dublin players plenty of optimism to chase down lost causes. The long range free at the end of the half spoke of a player who was devoid of any tangible confidence and it should not have being a surprise when he spilled the ball for the lead-up to the penalty. Black card saved him for even more anxiety.

The player will need a strong network of family, friends and GAA colleagues to gather around him and pick him up from this disastrous performance. Hennelly’s cameo is more to do with the panic in the Mayo management in their rationale to drop Clarke who after picking the ball out of the net from Connolly’s emphatic penalty was assured with solid ball distribution from the back. A fatal mistake from Mayo management; a clear 1-4 conceded from the decision and on All Ireland final days, you cannot expect to win championships based on monumental judgement call failures.

Dublin middle third distribution key to victory

This is where the final was won ultimately. Mayo had their fair share of possession but middle third distribution to their forward line lacked speed, direction or cohesion. Dublin had their homework done, they allowed the likes of Seamie O’Shea and Tom Parsons to take endless ball into Dublin territory knowing that they lacked the speed of thought and passing range to distribute into the likes of Cillian O’Connor inside in the full forward line. Andy Moran even had to venture far from the full forward line to try to unsettle Dublin tactically but it did not make a difference.

Dublin will believe that their performance was far from perfect but their middle third of Kilkenny, Fenton, MacAuley, Flynn provided tempo and game management when required. Their distribution in the last quarter was simple; quick ball to a Dublin player in space who tended to be super-sub Cormac Costello who dispatched his efforts over the bar. The same was not the case for Mayo who never looked like creating any goalscoring chances in that second half inside. The fact that Cillian O’Connor’s decisive missed free at the death was thirty plus meters out tells you all that you need to know on the ponderous, indecisive attacking movement from Mayo throughout these two contests.

Squad depth wins championships

Despite the colossal mistakes in team selection, Mayo were in contention to win this contest at the death but when Mayo’s back line tired, Dublin were able to launch the likes of Brogan, Costello and MacAuley off the bench to make an impact. Brogan and Costello striking decisive points in the final quarter; the moves leading to those scores were splendidly executed moving Mayo’s defensive this way and that. Costello’s awareness of space was rewarded with a dreamy five minute period where he hit three sweet points to ultimately win this contest. Mayo’s squad depth was exposed. Alan Dillon who was a massive injury doubt summoned for one last effort. Conor O’Shea was ponderous in the half-forward line who replaced Donal Vaughan. Stephen Coen did an admirable job defensively but yet again, it was a distinct lack of firepower options on the Mayo bench which ebbed this fixture away from the Westerners.

Black Card Fiasco

I did not envy Maurice Deegan yesterday; the needle leading into this contest, the media soundbites targeting several players from both sides was needless stuff. However, Deegan did not set the right tone from the first whistle. How John Small stayed on the pitch in the opening period was mind boggling? Black card offense within minutes of the final, several personal fouls in that opening period and yet no card to quell the player’s discipline issues. Cooper and Keegan’s black cards were laughable; the reaction of Mayo and Dublin players for each black card was very unsavory and one has to think that the paper clippings about Lee Keegan leaned heavily on that decision. Cooper should have stayed on if the Laois official thought Small had no case to answer for his black card discretion. It was an incredibly frustrating final to watch; whistle blown too many times to allow a tempo to form in the contest. Leinster official refereeing a final? Surely, Munster or Ulster official would have being the appointment route for this replay. The black card is a joke; needs to be refined to only apply for the third tackle. Tackling is too open to interpretation.

Jim Gavin – Managerial Legend

Two All Ireland’s in a row has set Jim Gavin and this crop of Dublin footballers as one of the best GAA teams in the history of the game. Dublin have a sweeper system with the effective Cian O’Sullivan but their attack minded focus is most welcome in an era where swarming defensive win at all costs football has plighted the sport for too long. Gavin had his critics in the opening final but his decisions to wield the axe in a rational manner was effective and highlighted the lack of control in Mayo’s managerial calls. Gavin provides a calm exterior to the media but his unerring preparation and scouting reports of opposition is sensational. Jim Gavin is the blueprint that every other intercounty manager needs to follow and with the likes of Fenton, Byrne, Costello, Mannion and the mercurial Kilkenny in the panel, this is a nucleus of players who will be winning more Sam Maguire’s in the years to come.

Mayo – Where to from here?

Not much to say at this time. Glorious opportunities spurned against a Dublin side who were there for the taking. Mental blocks both on and off the pitch again conspired Mayo on the biggest day of GAA football. Attacking options need to improve; the overdependency on O’Connor and Moran was evident early doors. O’Shea in the half-forward line showed fleeting attacking glimpses, not enough to get over the line. Kevin McLaughlin is a forward and not a sweeper. Coen is an ideal sweeper player. Time to reflect and with a promising U21 All Ireland winning team this season, several of these players will need to step up next season as the likes of Andy Moran and Alan Dillon consider their futures. Heartbreaking loss but they were the victims of their own downfall.

All Ireland Senior Football Final Reflections

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Twenty-four hours after the showcase event for Gaelic Football and we have to do it all over again as Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor came up with a clutch forty meter point to setup a replay at Croke Park on October 1st. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and wonders if Mayo have missed their chance or can they drive on and get over the finishing line?

Bizarre Opening Half

If anyone would have said that Dublin’s much vaunted forward line would be held scoreless in the first thirty minutes of this final and that Dublin would be leading at the break by five point, someone would have thought that you were on another planet. Mayo were their own worse enemy in that opening period. Their physicality and intensity in the tackle caused numerous turnovers but their high tempo frenzied approach did leave gaps defensively. Some people will say that the two Mayo own goals were unfortunate but the goals highlighted lapses of concentration and game management defensively from the Westerners. Kevin McLaughlin as a sweeper failed to sense the danger for the opening goal, his positioning was not ideal when the ball was launched into the Mayo full back line, anticipation to the danger was poor and who was he actually picking up when Brogan’s wayward shot came to him is anyone’s guess. The second Dublin goal was a class Connolly long range pass but Boyle’s lapse in  concentration not identifying that a Dublin player was behind him was fatal; his actions to get back were too late. Two lapses; two key moments and two goals which derailed Mayo’s fine start to this final. Andrews’ cameo with two quick fire points from play added insult to injury. Five points down at the half was harsh considering their defensive dominance where Harrison was exceptional. Durcan and Higgins were to the fore and Lee Keegan was busy taking Connolly off his stride.

Disjointed Dublin

Dublin manager Jim Gavin pulled no punches in his post-game comments; Dublin are lucky to be still in the championship. I cannot recall a display which was as disjointed from Dublin in recent years; did the Kerry win take a lot out of the side mentally and physically? The back line and midfield lines were decent for Dublin. The real issues came in the forward line units where there was little continuity in their game to unlock the Mayo defense. McMenamin struck an isolated figure during his final appearance. Paul Flynn worked hard but offered little in attacking moves. Ciaran Kilkenny aside, none of the Dublin forward line were getting into the contest in that opening period. Dean Rock had initial struggles in his free taking but he slotted over his first point after thity minutes, he grew into the contest. Brogan was well marshalled by Harrison in the corner. The malfunctioning performance of Dublin’s forward line raises questions but surely Dublin have the analytical and organizational nous to rectify the forward line performances. Dublin will look at the goal chances created in that opening period where quick ball disposals opened Mayo defensively only for Clarke produce two excellent saves. Dublin’s back line performance was the highlight. 0-15 points conceded and the likes of Davy Byrne and John Small stepped up massively. James McCarthy’s black card was a joke call and decisive at the death as McCarthy’s forward runs would have killed the clock down. Cluxton’s kickouts were scrutinized by Mayo’s pressing high up the pitch but no glaring mistakes. Dublin will rarely have a worse day in the office, expect a more efficient performance. Does Gavin ring the changes or maintain faith in his misfiring forward unit? Interesting times ahead.

Black card debacle

Please GAA. Can we stop this black card debacle? As the likes of McAuley and O’Connor were getting away with deliberate black card offenses, it would have being interesting to have got the thoughts of Tipperary footballer Robbie Kiely whose black card against Mayo a couple of weeks looks even more ridiculous now. There is no consistency in the ruling. Martin Carney passed the comment during commentary that McAuley would get away with it because the referee gave an early black card to a Dublin player. Enough said. Whoever is the match referee assigned to the replay should leave the black card in the dressing room area and let the players play football albeit the amount of thumping off the ball from both sides off the ball was embarrassing. Lane was given little support from his umpires and his linesmen made the black card decision which was wrong. I felt sorry for the Cork official but the black card ruling is an utter nonsense and needs to be clarified. Third man tackle needs to be penalized but the tackle and what constitutes a black card is utterly confusing. If in doubt, do not issue a black card. Can the referee ask for replay footage to make a call? Sin bin should be introduced for the third man tackle. Any tackle indiscretion like trips and pulling back should be a yellow card with a warning that any other offense will mean a second yellow card. Do we introduce a foul count (four) for a player with two fouls for a deliberate foul such as a trip or pulling back the player? The current ruling is not working.

Croke Park – Ice Rink

The pitch conditions when rain hits HQ is a source of great concern. Bastick was the most relieved man in Croke Park. The Dublin player clearly picked the last kick-out off the ground and should have being a free in for Mayo. The indiscretion exposed more the pitch conditions than the match official ruling. The pitch conditions made the game into a lottery and players struggled to get their footing or balance to shot from distance. The weather was inclement but any rainfall seems to reduce contests at HQ to mediocre debacles. Do not get me wrong, the final was exciting but the standard of fare produced was well below the standard. Weather played a part but the pitch surface was not ideal on the day. For the tremendous surroundings of HQ, Croke Park’s pitch continues to cause issues for elite GAA players particularly when wet conditions prevail, something needs to be done in the off-season.

Do Mayo have the leaders on the park to win Sam?

Fair play to Killian O’Connor. The player has being strangely subdued this season but when the chips were down, the star forward produced with a sensational equalizing point. Andy Moran provided good leadership in his cameo but the O’Shea brother performances will be a concern for Mayo. Aidan O’Shea struggled to get into the game and his game management before the equalizer was poor; a speculative long range effort was never going to cut it. Seamus O’Shea’s distribution at times was awful and Mayo need to correct this. Mayo are going to need several players to step up to the plate in the replay. Mayo’s back line were gallant throughout but the forward line lacked creativity and pace to unlock the Dublin rearguard. Lee Keegan needs to provide an attacking dimension to his play; his close attentions with Connolly though effective nullified Mayo’s ability to score from long range. Rochford realizes that the quality of play needs to improve considerably in two weeks; Dublin will be a different animal and it is up to Mayo to bring something different to the table to upset Dublin’s quest of retaining Sam Maguire. An intriguing two weeks awaits in both counties.

All Ireland SFC Semi-Final: Mayo 2-13 0-14 Tipperary

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David did not slay Goliath today as Mayo secured their berth in the All Ireland SFC final with a five point victory over Tipperary at Croke Park this afternoon. Apart from a scintillating ten minute spell before the interval where the Connacht team hit 1-7 to 0-1, this was a performance which at times baffled and at times highlighted the fear of losing from a Mayo perspective.

The good news for Mayo is that they will enter the All Ireland finale as a massive underdog, the pressure of expectancy from within the county should be diluted to a certain extent and allow management and panel to focus on producing their most complete performance this season. Keith Higgins, Andy Moran and Aidan O’Shea stood up to the fore when questions were asked of Mayo before the interval and the last ten minutes of the opening period was inspired by all three players vital contributions.

Higgins was instrumental in the opening Mayo goal of the contest, bursting through the Tipperary rearguard to setup Jason Doherty with the simplest of tasks. The green flag then resulted in an avalanche of points with both Moran and O’Shea spearheading the point scoring stakes. Tipperary were rattled and the half-time whistle was greeted by the Premier County like a boxer on the ropes and hearing the bell for the end of the round.

The bad news for Mayo is that vast improvement is required in both defensive and attacking side of play. Tipperary exposed Mayo defensively with swift running lines in the opening period leaving massive gaps for the likes of Sweeney and Austin to exploit. Mayo backs conceded several poor frees in this period and a repeat in four weeks times will spell curtains for their Sam Maguire ambitions this season.

After attempting to convert Kevin McLaughlin as a sweeper, it was a surprise to see Barry Moran assigned the role for this contest positioned behind his half-back line. In fairness, Moran did what was expected and won aerial ball defensively but his lack of pace will be exploited by Dublin or Kerry in four weeks time. Were Mayo trying to pull the wool over Kerry or Dublin eyes? Kevin McLauglin will surely be deployed as a sweeper in the final.

The more worrying point for Mayo is the lack of form of the O’Connor brothers leading into the final. Cillian O’Connor was quiet in open play and Diarmuid wasted several opportunities from play (perhaps due to coming back from injury) but their off day was masked by the performance of Andy Moran whose four point haul bailed out the Mayo inside full forward line. Doherty’s influence was minimal apart from his goal. Mayo need the O’Connors to fire in four weeks time to provide additional forward line threat.

The one aspect of play that Mayo deployed this afternoon was to remove Lee Keegan from his marauding half-back running role and assigned him the role of nullifying Tipperary danger man Michael Quinlivan. The experiment did not work as Keegan’s persistent fouling on another day could have proved crucial and seen a dismissal.

Keegan struggled to mark Quinlivan and perhaps was fortunate not to get a second yellow card for pulling the Clonmel Commercial marksman in the penalty area in the second half.  Keegan is a natural wing back, his scoring prowess is sensational. Back to the drawing board on finding a defender who can tightly mark and nullify an opposition key player.

Tipperary will rue this opportunity. Mayo were under-par for vast majorities of this contest. The first twenty minutes was dominated by Tipperary where Acheson, Austin and Sweeney were to the fore with their running lines. The key decisions did not go their way and the spotlight on the black card will ensue.

Robbie Kiely has trained all year to make an appearance in the All Ireland semi-final and the black card was embarrassingly harsh; genuine attempt to go for the ball which Diarmuid O’Connor had no control of was a free but certainly not a black card. It affected Tipperary’s shape as his replacement Leahy was ineffective and had to be replaced by Moloney. Two substitutions for the Tipperary side and it exposed lack of depth on the bench.

The performance of the match official and linesmen today left a lot to be desired. When you consider how McGoldrick officiated the All Ireland finale last season where Kerry and Dublin were guilty of deliberate fouling with no black card issued, it is ironic that the Meath official thought it was the right time to issue a black card to a player from Tipperary who was plying his trade in NFL Division 3.

If a similar coming together happens next weekend, chances are that the match official will not issue a black card. It was a ridiculous decision and one that affected Tipperary in the manner of their attacks. Kiely’s endless running would have posed Mayo massive issues but it was not to be. Harsh for a player who has excelled this season at half-back.

The second decision was the sending off of wing back Maher. A decision coming no doubt from the linesman. Handbags incident and a red card issued. I would love if the GAA published officials post-game reports on these incidents as there was precious little in the incident. The game was probably over as a contest when the red card was issued but it was another decision which went against the minnow. Wondering again if an incident like this happens next weekend, will a red card be issued? Probably a good chance it will not.

The decisions went against Tipperary but they were their own worse enemy. The Mayo opening goal was down to a risky hand pass by  O’Shaughnessy in the middle of the field and it was latched onto by Mayo leading with Higgins exposing Kiely’s absence to setup Doherty for the green flag. The lack of movement from Tipperary to provide outlets for Comerford in the kick outs after the goal allowed Mayo to assert their dominance and their class shone through with the emphatic 1-7 haul before half-time.

Tipperary’s heart and determination could not faulted and their fightback to reduce the arrears to two point 1-11 to 0-12 was admirable but again several missed opportunities proved fatal. Tipperary’s dominance in the second half was not illustrated on the scoreboard and Mayo finished the game off with a goal from Conor O’Shea who latched onto a miskick from Evan Regan. No Tipperary defenders were alert to the potential danger inside and the Breaffy clubman hit a nice effort into the net despite the best efforts of Comerford who saved well earlier in the half from point blank range.

The second Mayo goal spelled the end of the contest and Mayo decided to hold onto what they had, falling deeper defensively. No goal chances from Tipperary were created in the last quarter, something which will encourage Mayo management. Plenty of scope to improve for Mayo but given the media articles which will write them off in the upcoming weeks, I expect Mayo to produce a performance in the All Ireland final. Whether it is good enough to win Sam Maguire is an entirely different story.

For Tipperary, a memorable championship concludes. The absentees to the panel at the start of the year makes this run even more extraordinary. Liam Kearns stock continues to rise and their game plan worked perfectly for long periods to stifle Mayo. The likes of Conor Sweeney, Michael Quinlivan and Robbie Kiely are now known to the GAA fraternity and expect at least one of these players to get a nod in the All Star awards.

Acheson and Hannigan in midfield typified all that was good with Tipperary this season, leadership and drove the team forward. Tipperary need to reset their goals; secure NFL Division 3 promotion and perhaps a jaunt at Munster honors next season. Tipperary’s skill set was refreshing to see, the focus now is to develop a squad which can continue the work of this season.

GAA Review – July 17th

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Tyrone’s big stars come up trumps at the death

There are times when a county needs their big name players to produce when it really matters. Tyrone illustrated this point perfectly in the last five minutes of an Ulster SFC final which will not be remembered by the purists with any great fondness. Mickey Harte’s charges were under the gun at half-time, a four point deficit against a Donegal side where Ryan McHugh was dominating the game with some superb line running. Tyrone’s tempo left a lot to be desired and was not helped by the two black cards issued during the first thirty-five minutes, more case study material of how ineffective the black card actually is and its implementation. Both Tyrone players had valid arguments on the black card but that is for another day.

I greatly admire Tyrone, their ability to change tactics during the game and nullify opposition threats. Their defensive setup to stem the influence of Ryan McHugh in that second period was a key factor in how Tyrone won this final. Donegal’s key players upfront suddenly had little quality ball to work from, albeit their slow deliberate hand passing tactics in the middle of the park particularly in the closing quarter was excruciating to watch so much so more that Paddy McBrearty was hauled off with ten minutes to go. No fault of the player but the manner in which Donegal tried to close the contest out.

Tyrone were the team trying to win this contest in the final quarter and Sean Cavanagh came to the fore. His three point haul in that second half was superb; his work rate from midfield, his willingness to make continuous lung bursting runs deep into Donegal territory were sensational. Peter Harte also came to the party. What a sensational score to give Tyrone the lead in the closing minutes of injury time. The strike from well out the pitch was a fitting way of winning a provincial title.

Donegal had little time to respond, they could not create any momentum. Their tactic of trying to close out the game in the final quarter back fired horribly. Michael Murphy did have a chance prior to Peter Harte’s go ahead score but his free tailed wide and to be honest it was the only way that Donegal were going to score in the late closing stages of the contest. I really wish both sides could have being a little more adventurous yesterday; the ultra defensive setups was incredibly underwhelming and you had to feel sorry for any supporters who stumped up the cash through the turnstiles to watch this showpiece event.

Tyrone’s victory has proved that they are a legitimate contender for Sam Maguire. This win demonstrated Tyrone’s flexibility to change game plan, their conditioning and fitness to close out the contest was supreme and their defensive setup in the second half will pose the main title challengers plenty to mull over in the coming weeks.

Donegal enter the qualifiers with a date of destiny against Cork who let us be frank have not set the house on fire in two weeks. Michael Murphy struck an anonymous figure for long periods yesterday; his best position is full-forward but given the style of play adopted by Donegal, he is pushed further and further out the pitch. Superb players are in this Donegal side but they were being inhibited from expressing themselves by management whose fear of losing is self-evident. 

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Dublin stroll to Leinster crown

Dublin are in no win territory at the moment in Leinster. Given the lack of opposition on offer, they are damned if they beat teams by a cricket score, damned if they only beat teams pulling up. Yesterday was a classic example. Westmeath tried hard but Dublin blew the Lakeside County away in the second half. The fifteen point victory was merited as Westmeath lack both the nous, running lines and defensive organization to seriously cause an upset.

Dean Rock display from placed balls will be a bonus for Jim Gavin. All lines were in control throughout. The late two goals put a gloss on the scoreline but question marks again will be raised on Diarmuid Connolly’s temperment after an unsavory incident in the opening period, clearly hauling a Westmeath player to the ground after an initial provocation. The referee did not banish the black card but he may not be as lucky the next time. Connolly is a superb player, his kick passing and scoring ability in open play is a joy to watch but his tendency to react to provocation is a weakness.

Apart from John Heslin, there was zero threat inside for Westmeath as the majority of their players spent the afternoon trying to track Dublin runners. Their qualifier tie fixture with Mayo could prove difficult considering Mayo’s momentum from two wins in as many weeks. Westmeath need to add more threat inside to cause an upset in two weeks. The defensive tried hard but were exposed at times with Dublin running lines.

Given the issues with teams trying to adopt the sweeper system, Cian O’Sullivan has mastered the role. His performance again yesterday oozed class and his decision making to sniff out any remotely threatening Westmeath attacks should be played to teams young and old on how to game read a GAA match. His marshaling ability and game management is pivotal to Dublin given the absence of O’Carroll and McCaffrey. O’Sullivan will be tested more in the coming weeks but he is a  contender of player of the season so far.

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Tribesmen put the Rossies to the sword

For fluid football, Castlebar on Sunday was the place to be. Galway’s two goal salvo in the opening period was key in an emphatic replay victory. Roscommon’s defensive system was fragile to start off with but they were ripped apart by Galway in the opening period. Massive space opened up for Danny Cummins who reveled in the surroundings with two superb strikes. Shane Walsh at half-forward showed pace and power to open space for Galway’s marauding half-back line to launch deep runs which were never tracked by their Roscommon opponents. Sice and Silke were immense. Sice’s goal was as emphatic as you will see all year.

Roscommon have massive issues ahead of their weekend tussle with a rejuvenated Clare outfit. Their inability to deal with Galway pushing up to deny easy ball winning opportunities from kick-outs was damning. When they decided to launch ball into the midfield, Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn ruled the roost. The Roscommon forward line lacked work rate throughout so much so that four of their forwards were hauled off before the final quarter. Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell have problems in the full back line, no protection in front of the line caused several goal scoring chances. Three goals conceded was kind. Clare will fancy a cut off the vanquished Connacht runners-up.

Galway can look forward to a date in Croke Park against either Derry / Tipperary. It is a massive opportunity to stake a claim in the last four of the competition. Their work rate (maligned in past seasons) is no more. Their football skills never questioned but it is their ability to defend with depth but break with pace and power that has caught the eye. Paul Conroy and Shane Walsh stock will rise next month. Interesting times lie ahead for Kevin Walsh’s charges.

 

NFL – One side story

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April 10th and the National Football League season has a final pairing to make the mouth water but their semi-final victories were extremely one way traffic as Kerry and Dublin easily took care of Roscommon and Donegal. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Kerry stroll past Roscommon

Make no mistake, the Kingdom flat out took the foot off the gas after forty minutes as the game was over as a contest. Three Kerry goals in the opening period were fatal hammer blows for a Roscommon team who unfortunately failed to perform at Croke Park. Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell will have probably learned more on this defeat than they did during the entire league campaign as their charges were overwhelmed by a Kerry team who pressed high up the pitch giving the Rossies no easy primary ball possession.

The lack of quality possession led to the likes of Senan Kilbride being starved of ball in the inside forward line, Kerry cruised to victory. The goals exposed Roscommon defensively; the lack of organization to track Kerry runners was evident in all three goals and the full back line were caught badly for the second goal. The difference in the two teams in terms of kick passing was poles apart.

As Kerry were able to find colleagues in space with unerring accuracy, Roscommon were unable to deliver ball (when won) with any quality. It is an area of play which Roscommon have to improve upon, the lack of quick quality ball to their potentially threatening inside forward line yesterday was most disappointing and made their play at times one dimensional as the kick pass option was well below the standards required.

Kerry will have learned precious little from the outing; all areas of the field were well on top throughout and at no point were the Kingdom put under any great pressure. The performance of Colm Cooper and Darran O’Sullivan caught the eye with well taken goals and the unsung hero of the team Donnacha Walsh continues to produce performances full of work rate, running line intelligence to create space. Kerry advance to the final and another match under the belt before the Munster SFC will be most welcome for Eamon Fitzmaurice’s charges.

Roscommon have had a good campaign but their limitations were brutally exposed yesterday. Several players were overawed by the occasion (not a bad thing) and Roscommon management will need to pick the players up and try to remedy the defensive and skill set problems seen during the first forty minutes in particular. A positive league campaign, experience of playing Croke Park is a plus and provided that the panel stick together and learn from yesterday should return to HQ for a last eight outing in August.

Dublin cruise past clueless Donegal

Rory Gallagher mentioned in post-match comments that Donegal had a week off prior to this ten point loss reversal to Dublin. It may explain some aspects of an under par performance but the general tactic nous on how to breakdown Dublin defensively was more to do with tactical issues than player conditioning.

Donegal were utterly clueless on how to create space inside for McFadden and McBrearty. Their inability to look up and pick players out was evident throughout, the inclination to turn their back to goal and pass a ball back to a colleague in a standing position was the theme of the day. Dublin handled the attacking threat with little fuss.

Michael Murphy struck a peripheral figure, playing out on in the middle of the park trying to get ball but his influence for the side is in the full forward line. It speaks more on Donegal’s lack of squad depth to allow the Glenswilly clubman to move inside and cause havoc in the full forward line.

Dublin settled this contest with an early second half score burst and when Bernard Brogan struck for the goal, it was effectively game over. The lack of Donegal cover to stop Brogan exposed basic man marking problems and organizational defensive structure breakdown. All areas of Donegal’s play were second best on the afternoon; the goal concession summed the performance perfectly.

While Roscommon have excuses for their lack of performance, this Donegal team are well down the road in team development. The lack of progress and starting lineup debutantes outfield means that Donegal are looking one dimensional for opponents. McBrearty upfront was a lone figure throughout and it owed much to lack of game plan. Is Gallagher the man to lead Donegal going forward?

Jim Gavin’s charges were comfortable throughout and their forward line was industrious throughout running selflessly off the ball to create space for others. Donegal were unable to cope with the movement of Dublin throughout and it resulted in several frees conceded which were slotted over by Dean Rock. Andrews inside was a joy to watch again, his running lines are superb.

Dublin may be without O’Carroll and McCafferey but their absence were not felt yesterday, perhaps the final may shed more answers on whether these defensive lynch-pins will be a major loss come the championship.

Given that both teams could play each other at the business end of the championship, I am expecting a surprisingly open affair with both management teams keen not to reveal tactical plans leading to plenty of scores. It could potentially be traditional football; man to man marking and it would be refreshing to see when you compare that with teams content to park the bus defensively and counter-attack from deep.

 

GAA – Senior Championship Draws 2016

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Not a ounce of dust has gathered on either Liam McCarthy or Sam Maguire in Kilkenny and Dublin respectively and the glorious confines of Montrose (RTE) are calling out the draw for next season’s senior football and hurling championship draws. Hawkeye Sidekick not one to mope about a televised draw and to see the sight of Marty Morrissey on the telly runs the rule over the provincial draws and tries to spot a potential dark horse from the chasing pack.

Munster Senior Hurling Championship

Robert Frost could not contain his delight when the old firm rivals of Tipperary and Cork were drawn in the opening round of the Munster SHC. The game to be played in Thurles as Pairc Ui Chaoimh continues to be off limits due to renovation work has the potential to be one of the games of the year. Both teams under new management, a sense of new beginnings for both sides with the victor gaining serious momentum before meeting Limerick in the semi-final. It is a hard game to call. Will Cork’s physicality and work rate improve to the level required to challenge Tipperary? Will Tipperary be able to find fresh faces to improve the squad? Those questions are a long way off from being answered but it is guaranteed to be a bumper crowd in attendance. Limerick await the winners; it is a tough assignment for the Shannonsiders considering they are coming into the championship cold and their potential opponent building momentum from their opening round tussle. Limerick contrary to the clubs have pulled a masterstroke in appointing Dinny Cahill as hurling skills coach. His resume and ability to improve teams is evident in his role with Portumna, St Thomas winning both provincial and All Ireland honors. His work in Antrim a couple of years ago was praised by seasoned pundits. Cahill will improve Limerick in their first touch and basic fundamentals of the game which were sorely lacking throughout last season. How the Limerick clubs cannot see that Limerick need a senior team skills coach of the caliber of Dinny Cahill is bordering on arrogance? The other side of the draw has Waterford pitted against Clare. An intriguing tie as Clare will be much improved with the decision that dual players will be able to play for the hurling team. Podge Collins will be a huge addition to the squad. Can Waterford build on last season’s success? The second season syndrome will be posed by media of the Deise next season. Derek McGrath will need to evolve his charges  into a far more attacking outfit. Their defensive style of play worked a charm in the NHL but when the pitches dried up in the summer, the tactic was blown away by Tipperary and Kilkenny at the business end of the championship. I suspect Waterford with the return of Padraic O’Mahoney to have the edge in the championship. Munster SHC is primed for another stellar season next year. I personally cannot wait.

Munster Senior Football Championship

Let us be frank. When Kerry and Cork were kept apart in the draw tonight, it is a nailed on certainty that both power houses of Munster football will recommence their rivalry in Killarney next July. Kerry and Cork have questions to answer during this off-season. Kerry will look to rebound from a disappointing All Ireland football final performance. Cork yet to announce a new manager albeit Billy Morgan is rumored to be a leading candidate have redemption on their minds. Cork on another day could have upset Kerry in the first Munster Football final but had no response once Kerry gave them a lesson in the replay; work rate, tactical nous were exposed and Cork’s season spiraled out of control culminating in a shocking loss to Kildare. The rest of the chasing pack will be just that; chasing shadows when Cork and Kerry await in the provincial last four fixtures. Tipperary on paper looks like the team that could (and it is a big could) an upset but with the departure of Colin Riordan to the AFL pastures of Sydney Swans, it looks a forlorn hope. Roll on July and El Classico.

Leinster Senior Hurling Championship

My Geography is going to pot. Kerry and Galway are playing in Leinster, tear up the school books and tell the examiner that GAA borders are endless. Kerry enter the Leinster Hurling championship for the first time in the opening pool round and with two home games will fancy their chances of upsetting Carlow, Westmeath and once hurling superpower Offaly. The Offaly fixture should arouse Kerry player motivation as they will face former manager Eamonn Kelly who takes the reins of Offaly next season. Offaly should (provided the commitment is there) top the pool and will be probably joined by Westmeath. Whoever advances from the opening pool will face an arduous task in the quarter finals as Galway and Laois will lie in wait. This draw was a blessing for Galway, managerial chaos at present, they now have time to get their act together and should advance from their side of the draw. The most intriguing fixture is Dublin and Wexford in the quarter final, two teams who massively under performed last season. The fixture hopefully will build momentum for the victor to face the challenge of Kilkenny in the other semi-final. Kilkenny and Galway on paper look primed for another appearance in a final but Wexford and Dublin will hope to upset the odds.

Leinster Senior Football Championship

This will be short and sweet. Meath and Dublin will be physical but that will be the highlight as Dublin will cruise through the province without hitting second gear. Kildare or Westmeath in the other side of the draw will fancy their chances of getting to the final but they will be blown away by Dublin in the final. The point spread odds in the final for Dublin will be ridiculous.

Connacht Senior Football Championship

The lost two counties of Ireland have being found safe and well. London and New York – come on down to the Connacht football party. Roscommon will be happy with the draw. An opening championship fixture in New York will  then setup a quarter final appearance against Leitrim which then going with form will setup a rematch with Sligo in the last four. I sense no repeat of the shock produced by Sligo next season. Roscommon with Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay at the helm surely cannot be caught on the hop again. The other side of the draw sees Mayo travel to Ruislip and the challenge of London. London still looking for a new manager and lack of new player talent coming through should mean that Mayo advance to a meeting with neighbours Galway in the semi-final. Will Galway produce a performance to upset Mayo? The gap has reduced but can Kevin Walsh distill enough confidence and tactical nous to his players to beat Mayo. If Mayo were to fall in the provincial championship, the media will have a field day on the players. This looks an interesting championship and Roscommon look the dark horse to win the championship. Mayo’s reluctance is Roscommon’s gain as Kevin McStay will provide invaluable expertise to Roscommon next season.

Ulster Senior Football Championship

Fermanagh were one of the stories of the championship but the draw for next season’s championship spells doom. Fermanagh should beat Antrim who are in free fall but with Donegal in the quarter final, it could mean a swift exit from the championship. The top half of the draw looks the most compelling. Derry, Tyrone, Armagh and Cavan are all competitive. The Derry and Tyrone encounter has physicality written all over it. The bottom half of the draw has Donegal, Monaghan and Down. It is difficult to pick a winner from the pack. This championship is balanced – both sides of the draw have marquee fixtures unlike last year which saw Derry, Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh in the same side of the draw. Ulster football fans will be eagerly awaiting next season already.

Hawkeye Sidekick Predictions – 2016

Munster Senior Football: Kerry

Munster Senior Hurling: Waterford

Leinster Senior Hurling: Kilkenny

Leinster Senior Football: Dublin

Connacht Senior Football: Roscommon (underage promise reaps rewards)

Ulster Senior Football: Donegal (tentative vote)

Random Sporting Thoughts

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Mayo GAA – Where is the white smoke?

Player power wins the day as managerial duo of Connelly and Holmes retain their dignity and exit stage left. The short lived saga has exposed massive trust issues between the players and the county board. The management duo were caught in the middle and were made scapegoats for yet another Mayo end of championship collapse. The message this week is that the players think they are better than what they are. The players felt that the management duo in charge last season were not up to par. My question to the players is simple: who do you think can take you to the promised land? With no realistic managerial target acquired, the players are behind in preseason preparations already. If a manager of the caliber of James Horan who left no stone unturned could not find the keys to unlock Mayo’s sheer inability to get over the line in the championship, who can? As mentioned in my article during the week, Mayo were five points clear of Dublin with around fifteen minutes to go in the All Ireland Football Semi-Final replay. Cue the collapse of all collapses, Mayo players lost their bottle on the pitch and the rest as they say is history. Connelly and Holmes can take some of the blame in terms of aimless long ball tactics to Aidan O’Shea but with a five point lead secured, the players flat out could not close out the deal. No pressure on this panel of players next season. Nothing short of an All Ireland triumph will suffice. The good will to this team from a neutral perspective has diminished given the events of the last couple of days. Mayo need to appoint a marquee big name to the senior football managerial position, anything else and Mayo are in freefall. Rochford may have won an All Ireland club title with Corofin but is unproven at this level. The Mayo panel and county board are now under the microscope, expect further incrimination in the coming weeks if the players do not ratify the potential county board managerial selection. To the outside, this saga is over but I suspect that this will get more messier in nature in the weeks to come. Stay tuned, some of the sound bites will be priceless from both sides. Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes leave their role, dignified statement last night, owe nothing to the county. A sorry chapter in the history of Mayo GAA.

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Rugby World Cup – Previews

England vs. Australia:

This could be the day that the tournament organizers have had nightmares about. It is the day that England could be eliminated from the Rugby World Cup by arch sporting foe Australia. Many pundits have predicted England’s demise tonight. England are in siege mentality mode. The siege mentality mode can go one of two ways: come out swinging and succeed or personalities in the camp cave in mentally due to the pressures exerted from a bad loss and media reaction. England have major issues with a potential mole in the camp leaking the team details days before the official announcement. The English media have had a proverbial field day with the management and squad. I applaud Chris Robshaw for going for the win last weekend, he trusted his pack to get the job done but the pack failed to execute last weekend to clinch the win. A repeat performance and England’s exertion to Manchester to face Uruguay will be a damp squib. The game tonight will be decided in the front five. England will look to bully Australia’s front five upfront. Australia’s first test in this tournament, have shown signs of improvement in the front five (Fiji performance where the lineout and maul were impressive) but there are questions on their ability to compete in the scrum. England’s scrum is a key strength and can create penalty opportunities. If England decide to throw the ball out wide, then Australia have the advantage. May’s tries have caught the eye with his pace and ability to finish off moves but no-one has tested his defensive side. His kicking is an area where Australia can exploit with the dangerous Folau lurking in wait. No pressure on Romain Poite, a referee with an interest of all dark arts scrummaging. If England can gain a foothold in the scrum, then the hosts have a great chance. England for me to win based on the fact their backs are against the wall. England 21-15 provided Lancaster trusts his pack, otherwise Australia by at least ten points.

 Ireland vs. Italy 

This game a couple of weeks prior to the tournament looked a banana skin for Ireland but as the tournament has progressed, we have seen two teams going in opposite directions. Ireland have ten points to their name in the pool, playing effective rugby and exposing sin bin advantages (five tries scored when their opponent has being down to fourteen men). All Ireland squad players have had game minutes and feel like that they are part of the tournament. Italy on the other hand are looking for a miracle; that miracle is the introduction of Sergio Parisse in the side. Parisse’s influence (lack of) has being evident in Italy’s performances so far in the tournament – zero leadership, set piece misfiring. Parisse should provide some level of leadership but the scrum look wholly out of sorts. Castrogiovanni not even in the twenty-three man squad speaks volumes. The lineout will be undermined by the absence of Ghiraldini at hooker. Ireland’s pack must expose the set piece to create the platform for Murray and Sexton at half-back to launch their back line. Henshaw and Earls for this game is an exciting three quarter selection, pace in abundance and Earls can create something out of nothing. Bowe, Kearney and Zebo if provided with opportunities will score tries tomorrow. Italy will improve with Parisse’s leadership but Ireland have too many aces in the pack. Italy’s back line is devoid of any attacking threat and has gone backwards in recent years. The keyword for Ireland is performance. If Ireland perform, then the result will be achieved. Ireland have to send out a big statement to France tomorrow and I sense this performance is coming. If Ireland can score early, Italy could well fold. Ireland to win with a bonus point try performance. Ireland 35 – 17 Italy.

Jack Grealish

A blog reader who will remain anonymous asked this week on my opinion of Jack Grealish. Remember the name because this is the last time you will see this name sprinkled on this blog. Jack will be an England outcast who will look for a way back into the Republic of Ireland setup in two years time. Grealish is a good player but whether he is international standard is another story entirely. Jack has made his decision. He teased both associations to the point of boredom. Republic of Ireland will move on but whether Grealish’s camp does (if as expected he does not feature with England) is another story. A story which still has a potential unexpected twist yet. Hoping the Republic of Ireland stick to their guns and refuse any other overtures from Grealish’s camp. With Aston Villa’s current form, Jack Grealish could conceivably be playing in the Championship next season. Roy Hodgson will be looking elsewhere. A decision which could easily backfire for the player in time.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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Wales win – opportunity lost?

A day where yet again the RWC fixture scheduling comes into sharp focus. A clearly fatigued Wales beat an entertaining Fiji 23-13 at the Millennium Stadium. The win was the minimum mandate for Warren Gatland’s charges but given the reaction of the Welsh management at the end of the game when several opportunities to score the elusive bonus point were spurned, you get the sense that Wales do not feel completely secure in the pool. The sense of insecurity could potentially grow if and a big if England were to defeat Australia at Twickenham on Saturday. Wales today will enjoy this victory, built on a promising open period where Davies and Biggar continued their rich vein of form. The locals may have expected Fiji to roll over in the second half but the Pacific Islanders relished their surroundings and proceeded to throw the ball around in quite spectacular fashion. Fiji’s style of play was probably the last thing Wales wanted today, lung bursting periods of play where the pack and back line were throwing the ball around like they were in the school yard in national school. Wales’ energy was not there in the second half and Fiji took full advantage with one of the tries of the tournament courtesy of Goneva. Wales’s squad depth is so depleted that forgotten man James Hook even got a cameo today. Biggar’s leg injury adds to the Wales casualty list. Gatland and management will realize that Wales’ energy levels will be far improved next weekend but the level of set piece execution has to drastically improve to compete with Australia, albeit the green and gold could do England a massive favor by dumping the hosts out this weekend. Ashes redemption, maybe not but revenge for the cricket would be priceless. No pressure for Lancaster and the England team.

Will the real France please stand up?

France produce the Jekyll and Hyde performance to either excite or create dread for Ireland rugby fans. You have to give massive props to Canada for sticking so long with Le Bleu considering the ridiculous lack of time to prepare for the contest. France showed tonight that they are more than capable of bludgeoning an opponent’s pack but also have the ability out wide to expose an opponent. Five try haul for France where the key point was quick ruck ball, when they provide that platform, they are extremely dangerous. Canada’s two try haul did expose French vulnerability in defense but given the bench depth, an upset similar to Japan over the Springboks was never going to happen. 41-18 is a bit harsh on Canada but France showed no mercy when presented with try scoring opportunities. There are still issues with France linking play between pack and back line but once Parra came on, the team grew in stature. Bastareaud in midfield is a battering ram and with Wesley Fofana’s pace and speed shown with his early try, Ireland three quarters will have their hands full next weekend. Ireland will realize that France have shown areas of strength and weakness. France’s maul was the strength and Canada unfortunately could not do anything to stem the tide. Ireland’s focus is Italy but provided that a performance is produced, all eyes will focus on France with renewed confidence. The keyword is performance for Ireland and France next week. Intriguing times ahead.

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Mayo Football Woes (Now Off The Pitch)

A quick note for the Mayo footballers. When you decide to ditch your management team who dedicated their year to you, you better produce the goods on the pitch next season. This has a recipe for disaster written all over it. The county board will support Connelly and Holmes to the hilt while the squad will dig their heels in. Mayo players can complain about managerial tactics but were they not five points ahead of Dublin with fifteen minutes to go in the All Ireland Football semi-final replay? The management can only do so much. It is down to the players on the pitch to deliver the goods. It is down to the players to adapt the game plan when need be. It is down to the players to make the right decisions on the pitch. These facets of play have deserted this group of players year in year out when it came down to the crunch. James Horan could not provide the answer to the issue. The managerial duo installed this season could not stem the irreversible tide. The common denominator is the players. Be careful what you wish for Mayo footballers as I can speak as a Limerick man when the Limerick hurlers dug their heels in with Justin McCarthy a couple of years ago, it did permanent damage and Limerick hurlers are still plying their trade in NHL 1B. This is the scenario that could face Mayo if this crisis drags out over the winter. Time for cool heads within the county board, current senior football team management and players to resolve the issue. Jimmy McGuinness is not taking the job so who else would take it? Rochford may have won am All Ireland club title with Corofin last season but it is a massive step up to take on an inter county football team. Risky appointment in some quarters. Donie Buckley interest? Interesting times in lovely Mayo, let us hope they are singing off the same hymn sheet soon.

GPA Football Championship Proposal

The proposed GPA football championship (champions league format) sound good but what happens to the U21 and Sigerson Cup championships? Compressed schedule means the official end to the dual inter county player. How do the parish clubs fit into the equation, the heartbeat of the organization? The fixture (lack of) in the club scene is a disgrace. Do not get me wrong, the proposal has merits — teams waiting for seven weeks between championship games is not acceptable. Time will tell. Wonder if the GAA HQ will take these proposals seriously?