All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi Final Replay Reflections

Tuesday. August 7th. Two days after Galway summoned the energy in the final exchanges to advance to the All Ireland Senior Hurling final and extinguish Clare’s Liam McCarthy hopes for this year. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the fixture. 

Clare left to rue defensive start 

With the breeze at their backs, Clare we presumed would  look to set the platform against an opponent noted for their game winning starts. It failed to materialize in the first twenty minutes of the contest as Galway helped by the astute tactical switches (Coen on Galvin, Mannion as sweeper, Cooney back to wing back) made the early running and opened up a decisive lead which Clare never managed to crawl back. Clare did respond in the final ten minutes of the opening period with good points from the likes of Kelly, O’Donnell, Collins and free taking of Duggan but the opening exchanges were a decisive factor in the outcome as Clare struggled to contend with Galway’s tempo and physicality early for the second consecutive weekend.

The Glynn Factor 

Galway’s decision to deploy Jonathan Glynn on the edge of the square has reaped massive dividends this season. His cameo against Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC replay set the platform for victory. His threat was known by Clare after their first encounter but given time and space, Galway clinically exposed Clare defensively with Glynn’s goal in the opening period which will have Limerick on high alert.

Glynn’s threat in the air opens the field for his colleagues, his ability to win 50/50 ball seen with the emphatic catch and strike from close range giving Tuohy no chance. Glynn will look for more distribution against Limerick and it will be interesting to see how John Kiely and management counteract the threat. Glynn has being a pivotal player for Galway’s inside forward line down the stretch; expect more of the same from the Ardrahan native on August 19th. 

Joe Canning Leadership

Galway’s early lead was gradually being eroded as Clare started to impress in the middle third exchanges. A superb goal from Shane O’Donnell early in the second half set the platform and Galway needed someone to provide the composure and scoring to get the side in front.

Joe Canning yet again produced the goods; his work rate without the ball was incredible and his striking from frees and open play was sublime; his sideline cut and the point where he improvised with the sliothar to hit off his stick was one of the scores of the day. Canning’s leadership when other attacking options were losing their composure with some poor shot selection shone through again and Clare were unable to stop the talisman. 

Clare Shot Selection

The game tape for Clare will have being horrendous yesterday; the side had more than enough chances to win this contest but there were some terrible wides particularly in that second half. Duggan’s free taking which was so on point in the contest saw two opportunities missed; the latter was a bitter blow as a Galway hurl blocked the free going over and relieving the pressure. Clare’s shot selection to hit ambitious efforts from long range was questionable given the joy that O’Donnell, Ian Galvin, Aron Shanagher were having in that second half.

The two Galway corner backs had their hands full and a bit more precise quick ball inside could have swayed this fixture to Clare. Each wide from Clare was a momentum boost for Galway. Clare have the fitness, mobility and hurling skill to get back to the summit but until this facet of play is improved upon, there will be more days like this at the business end of the season. 

Tony Kelly 

Where is his favored position? Kelly continually looked to play deep at the replay; look at the last play of the game, he was back in his full back line collecting the ball and hitting long hoping for an equalizer. Surely the player should have being further up the park to receive the sliothar and ask questions of Galway defensively.

Kelly scored 0-1 during the contest. Galway had done their homework with Coen stuck to Kelly for long period negating his influence. Kelly relishes the freedom in the middle third but at times, his influence is significantly reduced by retreating further into Clare defensive areas of the pitch. Galway loved this particularly at the death.

Galway fall over the line 

The result can be viewed with two schools of thought: a performance full of determination and grit to get past a tricky opponent, a performance of champions. The other school of thought is a side who were on fumes at the end of the contest and dodged a loss due to lack of composure from their opponents.

The squad depth attacking options of Galway used was interesting; Jason Flynn and Niall Burke were the only attacking options introduced and raises questions on management’s confidence on the other attacking threats in the squad (some standout players).

Galway were reluctant to change things up even when Clare had their dominant spell in the third quarter. Galway defensively were heroic in the second half. Daithi Burke, Padraic Mannion provided such solid platform and were assisted by Harte and Joseph Cooney who reveled in the wing back assignment.

Limerick’s attacking options off the bench will pose problems for Galway if this final is on the line going into the final quarter. Davy Glennon made a brief cameo at the death to replace the exhausted Glynn but four substitutions compared to Clare’s five who had sufficient cameos to impress was interesting.

Where now for Tipperary Senior Hurlers?

The press release from Tipperary GAA said it all. Michael Ryan and his selectors were leaving the Tipperary Senior Hurling setup to allow a new management group come and take the side forward. It is clear from the statement that Ryan and his selectors reflected long and hard over recent weeks, trying to dissect how a side so well fancied at the start of the calendar year failed to fire and exit the round robin Munster SHC phase. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.

2016 is a long time ago 

The emphatic All Ireland victory over Kilkenny in 2016 was the high point for Michael Ryan. His Tipperary charges tore into Kilkenny and a second half goal salvo set the platform for an emphatic victory. A side whose movement, passing and shooting was the blueprint. A side where the McGrath’s, O’Dwyer, Callanan came to the fore with their skill set. Padraic and Ronan Maher dominated the half back exchanges. The full back line were tight and uncompromising. Gleeson in goal was commanding while Brendan Maher showed versatility in his defensive and attacking play from midfield and half back line. A team which had the potential to dominate all before them.

2017 so long yet so far

2017 was a mixed season; early league form showed massive potential but the performance levels suddenly started to wane in the latter stages of the league. The Wexford NHL semi-final was a turning point for the side; a physical encounter which saw Jason Forde suspended for an altercation with Davy Fitzgerald. The following week saw Tipperary in a NHL final against Galway where they were blown out of the water. Galway won the final in emphatic style and alarm bells started to ring out from the Premier County given the dominance in the physical and skill set battle.

This was further compounded with an early Munster SHC exit at the hands of a skillful Cork side in a classic encounter. 1-27 to 1-26 exposed huge defensive issues in the ranks and a journey through the qualifiers saw wins over Westmeath (uninspiring), Dublin (optimism given the six goals scored) and a hard earned win over Clare in the All Ireland Quarter-Final. Cue Galway and the All Ireland semi-final, a game which could have gone either way. Joe Canning’s brilliance saw Galway win the encounter by the bare minimum. Tipperary were dethroned and squad depth issues were exposed particularly in the full back line.

2018 going going gone 

2018 has to be considered a failure for this Tipperary side. Optimism was high as new squad talent were given ample game time during the NHL. Darren Gleeson was no longer on the panel and several keepers were tried before Brian Hogan got the nod for the Munster SHC round robin. The full back question was still a thorny issue and Seamus Kennedy was thrown to fill the breach. It did not work and other players including Padraic Maher were tried. The panel was beset by injuries with Seamus Callanan a noticeable absentee from the side during the NHL season. It was left to Jason Forde to be the key scorer in chief and was the highlight of the season for Tipperary.

The game plan from the side in the Munster SHC lacked identity; the swift passing and player movement in attack were seen only in patches. The work rate and conditioning of the side was thrown into the question with late losses to Limerick and Clare as the side floundered in the final closing exchanges. Tipperary fans wrangled over player positional switches throughout the season. Management were under pressure; key players in the side struggled for cohesion given their lack of NHL game time and management struggled to find their strongest fifteen out on the pitch. No cohesion in the side.

Rumors of training ground issues were prominent in the lead-up to the championship and the Kilkenny NHL final loss was a defeat which the team and management never recovered from in hindsight. A new direction was required and management felt they had no option but to depart stage left. A superb opening season for the management team now descended into ruin.

Managerial Contenders

Tipperary typically do not look to outside counties for their next manager. Tipperary are incredibly proud of their hurling and they will look within their county management structures first to fill the post.

Tommy Dunne (minors) won the Munster Minor Hurling Championship this season, a well respected coach who will be eager to get the opportunity to work with the senior panel. The issue for Dunne is the manner in which the Tipperary minor side lost to Kilkenny; a disjointed performance which exposed game management issues (aimless ball distribution, minimal running game) and work rate without the ball particularly in the forward line.

Liam Cahill with the U21 side has progressed nicely; several All Ireland minor titles leading to this appointment. The downside for Cahill is the manner in which Tipperary’s U21 team performed against Cork in the Munster final; a nightmare performance where nothing went right for Tipperary. Cahill will look for a response from his charges in the coming weeks in the All Ireland series but the Cork loss this year will be etched into Tipperary hurling fan base minds.

The other question is whether either candidate wants the job. The commitment required to perform the job and the pressure which comes with managing a Tipperary Senior Hurling side; expectations in the county will be sky high next year. If neither are a fit, then the net will have to be cast within the county to find the successor to Michael Ryan.

Thurles Sarsfields have being the dominant force in Tipperary SHC in recent years. Tommy Maher and Paddy McCormack led the side superbly and could be an outside bet for the top job.

Eoin Kelly or Declan Fanning as well could be potential dark horses for the role. Kelly was involved with Thurles Sarsfields last season and is well respected. Fanning after having three years as a selector may think it is now time to look for the top job; continuity with a manager who has being in the setup. Would Brendan Cummins be interested in the role or assisting the new head coach as a backroom staff member?

The other left field candidate potentially could be Colm Bonnar. The ex-Tipperary player has managed Carlow in recent years to great success. Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh success in the last two seasons as well as securing Leinster SHC next season. Bonnar has vast coaching experience but whether Tipperary county board are warm to the idea of this appointment is an entirely different story. Michael Ryan’s departure has left a void; a big void and Tipperary need to make the right managerial appointment to allow the senior side to win hurling matches next season.

All Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Final Replay Preview

After all the drama of last weekend, local neighbors Clare and Galway must regroup and do it all over again on the hallowed turf of Semple Stadium to see who will take on Limerick in the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final. If the replay is half as good as last weekend, we are in for an absolute treat. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the key battles ahead of this weekend’s replay.

Clare: Sweep or not to sweep

The tactical switch to deploy Colm Galvin as a sweeper in the Clare back line to negate the threat from the Galway inside full forward as well as provide excellent distribution to the likes of Tony Kelly and Peter Duggan setup the platform for Clare’s fightback last weekend.

Clare are no strangers of the sweeper system but have rarely used the tactic in this season’s championship. Galway surely will have regrouped on this tactic and expect the Tribesmen to adopt a more aggressive running game from deep.

The decision to switch Galvin back in the Clare defense denied the midfielder from providing a long range scoring threat. Clare management have to push up Galvin at different times to hit a couple of points to keep the scoreboard ticking or do they depend on Tony Kelly to be the focal point for these type of attacks? Intriguing tactical decisions await again.

Galway: McInerney Potential Absence

All indications within Galway suggest that Gearoid McInerney is a massive doubt for the replay; suspected calf tear would rule the Oranmore Maree clubman out of both the All Ireland Semi-Final replay and the All Ireland Final showpiece on August 19th. No confirmation at the time of this blog posting.

The absence would be a big blow but Galway management have prided themselves in the strength of their panel this season and the absence at center back allows the opportunity for someone on the bench to make an impress. Padraic Mannion looks most likely to fill the half-back void with the likes of Loftus or Killeen slotting into the wing back spot. Loftus looks the most viable option; quality underage player whose pace should negate the pace posed by Clare in the half forward unit.

If the injury news is contained to the potential absence of McInerney from half-back, Galway will have a dodged a bullet. Given the concern expressed for the fitness of Joe Canning (which has eased), the side looks pretty much be unchanged from the side that took to the field last weekend. Squad depth for Galway is vital this weekend.

Galway: Scoring Accuracy

Michael O’Donoghue and management secretly must have being frustrated on the opening period attacking performance last weekend. Galway in the middle third had dominated the first quarter and presented chance after chance for their forward line to establish a potential match winning lead. The attacking line unit were inconsistent and twelve wides in that opening period opened the door for Clare to launch a comeback.

Several of those opening period wides were most uncharacteristic; a couple of efforts straight in front which on another day would have gone over. The missed goal chance from Cathal Mannion perhaps encapsulates the  misfiring issues within the forward line; setup superbly but Mannion’s first touch was poor and  the goal scoring opportunity was lost (even though a point was scored).

Galway given the expected defensive reshuffle need to be on point this weekend. The dependency of Joe Canning needs to be distributed across the attacking unit. Conor Whelan, Cathal Mannion, Conor Cooney showed good moments last weekend but it needs to be more frequent in this replay as Joe Canning will not be 100%.

Will Joe Canning even last the full game? Free taking will be vital and with Peter Duggan looking sharp last weekend for Clare in the placed balls, Jason Flynn will need to deliver again on the placed balls if called upon. The fitness concerns for Galway makes it a nervy fixture for the Galway supporters ahead of this replay.

Defensive Issues 

Both full back sides struggled at different intervals last weekend. Clare were all over the place in the first quarter; so much so that the sweeper was required. The Galway goal was a nightmare defensively with the full back line guilty of dwelling too long with the sliothar. Conor Cooney’s finish was emphatic. The Glynn threat was always a threat and I don’t see who from Clare can negate the Ardrahan clubman’s threat.

Galway’s full back line struggled in the second half. Once Clare created space for the likes of Conlon and O’Donnell, Galway’s full back line suddenly were on the back foot. Conlon had a superb second half. His four point haul showcased his accuracy as he pulled Daithi Burke out of position throughout. Shanagher’s goal was well taken but full back line unit were slow to sense the danger from the original first into the Galway square.

Two full back lines who could potentially be stretched again as the game will open up significantly well before the final whistle. The result will be decided on which full back line has improved more in the past week; made the necessary adjustments to negate their opposition line’s threat. If not and Limerick have more reason to be optimistic in the final.

Clare Midfield Poser

Cathal Malone struggled for tempo and performance last weekend. Will Clare management resist the temptation to make switch? David Fitzgerald personally is a wing back but his cameo off the bench from midfield scoring and setting up scores with superb runs from deep must have being taken into the Clare management’s plan this week. However, Malone has being the ever present midfield partner for Galvin this year. Interesting call for Moloney and O’Connor ahead of this replay. The inclusion of Ian Galvin as well is a secondary point but this midfield question will be a pregame poser.

Puck Out Strategy

Both sides struggled on their puck out strategy last weekend. Clare in the opening quarter were a mess on the puck out. Tuohy not being helped by static Clare movement out the field. The results were disastrous as the Crusheen keeper had to go long with little reward. Cue the very fast restarts and things started to change as Clare started to go through the lines with their passing game; much better.

Galway after a positive opening period were reduced to long ball over the top; Glynn was the target man each and every time but it was very one dimensional; no significant running lines from deep as Skehill persisted to go long. Both keepers need to up their game on the restarts and it will be interesting to see if Clare or Galway push up on the puck outs early to unnerve either keeper.

Verdict

Until the champions are beaten, I cannot go against Galway. Clare had Galway where they wanted them in that extra time and when you consider the personnel who departed the Galway side and still Clare were dependent on a superb Jason McCarthy equalizer, wondering how Clare win this? The closing scene of Canning, Burke, Tuohy, Whelan on the bench looking on anxiously at the last moments last week was a huge boost for Clare but they did not drive it home.

Galway’s attacking play cannot be as one dimensional this weekend. Clare’s sweeper system tactic is out again and I expect Galway to nullify this threat if it is presented this weekend. The injury concerns for Galway look more positive as the week has progressed. If Daithi Burke and Padraic Mannion can provide a solid back line central performance, Galway have the advantage to win this one.

Clare’s full back line struggled all ends up with the threat of Glynn and if Conor Whelan can become more prominent in open play supporting Glynn on the aerial battle, it means even more trouble for Clare. Galway edge this replay; their experience in Thurles for the Leinster SHC replay will prove invaluable in a three / four point win despite the efforts of Duggan, Kelly and Conlon.

Nicky Quaid: All Ireland Semi-Final Saves

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

Shane Kingston Save

 

Seamus Harnedy Save

 

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

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

Did Clare miss their chance? 

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

Galway Opening Period Wide Woe

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

Clare Puck Out Strategy

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

Clare resilience 

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

Galway Squad Depth 

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

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

Aron Shanagher

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

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

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

Nicky Quaid

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

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

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

Limerick Resilience 

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

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

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

Goals win games 

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

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

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

Sub Bench Impact

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

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

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

Half Back Woes

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

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

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

Limerick All Ireland Bound 

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

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

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Limerick

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

Route to All Ireland Semi-Final: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Players: 

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

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

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

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

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

Key Strengths: 

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

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

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

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

Key Weakness: 

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

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

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

Scoring Statistics: 

All Ireland Hurling Semi-Final Profile: Cork

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

Path to All Ireland Semi-Final: 

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

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

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

Key Players: 

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

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

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

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

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

Key Strengths: 

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

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

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

Key Weakness: 

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

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

Scoring Statistics: