Random Sporting Thoughts

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Leeds. End of September. Rugby Union. Elland Road. It has an unusual ring to those words. Leeds, a note rugby league stronghold holding their first ever RWC fixture. Hawkeye Sidekick casts an eye on the action which followed with Italy doing an Ireland 2007 performance to just get over the line over an incredibly determined Canadian team 23-18.

I am going on record. This is the poorest Italian side seen in the last decade. An Italian team without the mercurial Sergio Parisse is an Italian team without any soul. This Italian side is bereft of any leadership without the absence of Parisse. No genuine identity to their play; they are caught in the headlights. Do they use their pack to create a platform or throw the ball out wide? The players do not know seem to know what to do which begs the question what the Italian management are doing during training.

Canada will rue this game for some time to come. They controlled possession (60 / 40) to their more illustrious opponents but key unforced errors were their downfall (missed tackles, kicking the ball from outside their 22) and the errors were real schoolboy errors. Van Der Merwe was the standout player of this game, constantly menacing with ball in hand, great try in the first half which started deep in Canadian territory on fifteen minutes. However, the Scarlets player will rue the pivotal play of the game. Van Der Merwe excellently caught an Italian kick but just outside his twenty-two passed the ball to his full back Evans who kicked it directly into box. It was a massive lapse in concentration and Italy did not have to be asked twice to punish the error. Italy created the phrases from an uncontested lineout (yet again) and allowed Garcia to drive over the line (Canada again missing tackles). It was the key moment of the game. Canada had chances thereafter to score a try but a lack of composure and questionable officiating calls from Clancy and Jackson made sure that Italy would hold on.

Italy win but it looks like the camp is in siege mentality mode. Ghiraldini looks to be out for the Ireland match which means that the Italian lineout is depleted without their first choice hooker. Italy’s missed tackle count (30) was incredibly high and Ireland will hope for the same statistic next weekend. The lack of dominance in the back row battle has trouble written all over for it for Italy. Clancy was kind to Italy in this department where the Azzuri were killing ball consistently. Italy need Parisse back, otherwise Ireland should take Italy to the cleaners with a comprehensive victory next weekend. Exciting game but neither side realistically have the talent to get out of this pool. Ireland have little to worry about with Italy, focus on their own performance and the result will take care of itself.

Rugby World Cup – September 23rd, 2015

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Midweek grind at the day job was tempered somewhat with the prospect of watching a couple of RWC matches upon my return to the manor (sorry, watched a bit of Downton Abbey for the first time) so had to reference it in today’s column. There is one game in progress but I think it is safe to say that Romania are done. Let us review the action shall we.

Scotland 45 – 10 Japan

The world’s affection for Japanese rugby was tempered somewhat this afternoon at Kingsholm when an impressive Scotland five try second half performance blew Nippon away. There will be questions on the scheduling of this fixture. Japan only realistically had two days preparation after the sensational South Africa win on Saturday. With recovery time, players needing rest, Eddie Jones realistically only had two days to prep his team for Scotland. As I say this, Japan were the ideal opponent for Scotland. Scotland were never going to be exposed by Japan’s front five and the fast paced brand of rugby that Japan play means that Scotland’s back row strengths at breakdown time would come to the fore. Japan were in this contest for the first half, a sensational kick to touch was adjudged to be fine from referee John Lacey and the subsequent lineout to the back exposed Scotland’s maul ability. Samoa and South Africa will have taken serious note. Scotland soaked up waves of Japanese pressure but their defensive line stayed intact (albeit a couple of line breaks were created by Japan). Scotland to their credit punished any Japanese indiscretions. Laidlaw’s familiarity for Kingsholm meant that Scotland were 12-7 up at the break. Cotter and management then went to work to nullify Japan in the breakdown and also exposed flaws in the Japanese inside out defensive scheme. The second half in truth was a harsh reality for Japan in terms of being punished for defensive weakness. The first Scotland try highlighted the fact, several misreads from Japan’s three quarters resulted in Scotland getting prime position just on the try line. A quick pass out to Scotland flanker Hardie and the scoreline suddenly had a completely different complexion. Scotland running lines improved rapidly after the interval and was emphasized by Mark Bennett’s first try. Bennett’s run off the shoulder was good but Richie Gray’s dummy run from deep meant that Japan had not a clue who to focus their defense on. It was a great team try as Finn Russell and Greg Laidlaw were starting to orchestrate from half back. Japan after a promising start in the second half (early three points in the bag) were now chasing the game and the Scotland third try (an interception from their ten meter line) spelled the end of the game. Scotland continued to impress in the closing stages and Bennett scored his second and his nation’s fourth with a jinxing run evading a now every tired Japanese defense. Mafi’s injury for Japan in the three quarters was a massive blow. Finn Russell’s excellent performance at half-back was awarded with a late try. Great work from Scotland at scrum-time allowing the Glasgow Warrior the platform to go over untouched. Japanese players were now exhausted. Scotland’s bonus point in the bag and thoughts of USA at the weekend. Scotland will realize that tougher tests lie ahead but Japan tested their defensive line with their uptempo brand of rugby. Scotland’s half-back options are excellent and provided that the pack can secure parity against Samoa and South Africa, aspirations of top spot in this pool are very much alive. Japan will dust themselves down, they are far from out of this pool and their game with Samoa will make or break their campaign. USA look the whipping boys at this stage of the pool.

Australia 28 – 13 Fiji

Australia and Michael Chieka in particular were very attentive during the England vs. Fiji game last Friday night. This result was built on a dominant set piece. Australia flat out destroyed Fiji in the lineout and the Fijians inability to defend the lineout was ultimately their downfall. It was too easy for Australia their first two try concessions. David Pocock will not score two easier tries in his career; his pack comprehensively repelling Fiji’s ability to hold the Australian pack’s advances after excellent lineout work. Fjii tried hard, attempted to open the game up but Australia were having none of it – kept it tight and got their rewards. It was only in the second half when the likes of Folau started to express themselves in the contest. Folau’s penetrating run on forty-five minutes set the platform for domineering Kepu to rumble in under the posts. Fjii’s fate was sealed albeit their try was gratefully received on sixty minutes. Volavola show and go was bought by everyone in yellow and green. Australia score three tries, the lack of bonus point will hardly matter with showdowns with England and Wales looming large. Chieka’s mantra was clear today; wanted to send a statement that his pack are not going to be a soft touch in this tournament. The jury is out on that statement but the signs are promising so far. Fiji destined to finish fourth in the group.

France 17 – 6 Romania (45 Minutes)

This has being an intriguing contest. Romania have dominated a nice portion of that first half but with no dominant half backs, no points on the board. Ireland will note the abrasive nature of the Romanian pack, the scrum was strong early doors but has tired in the last ten minutes. France’s tries have come from increased tempo at clear-out and exposing Romania when down to fourteen players. The Romanian prop’s sin bin was justified. The officials have being guilty of a horror call for the French first try, surely foot in touch before Guitoine touched the ball down. The second try was well worked, peppered Romania fringe defense on thirty-three minutes before Nygana scored again from the corner. Romania’s ability to game manage from ten has being damning and Ireland will look to put pressure on in this area at the weekend. Romania’s back line have had precious little to work with but the only chance they did have, they squandered (failed to ground the ball when over the France try line on eighteen minutes). France doing enough. Parra and Picamoles are the key French players in this tournament. Picamoles runs from the back of the scrum is creating the platform for all that is good for France. I am expecting a four win try for this youthful French team. How many Polynesian natives will be wearing a France jersey come full time whistle?

Yogi Berra

The man, the USA baseball legend passed away today. To end the column, I will leave you with these gems:

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
You can observe a lot by just watching.
It ain’t over till it’s over
It’s like déjà vu all over again.
No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.
Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
We made too many wrong mistakes.
Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken.
RIP Legend.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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Japan – Rugby World Cup Legends

They may not win this competition. They still have work to advance out of their pool but their sensational upset win over South Africa has kicked the competition into action. It should give the minnow teams encouragement to take on their more illustrious opponents with renewed confidence. Michael Leitch, what a player. Japan’s all action rugby game tired out the physically more domineering South African team. Their decision to go for the win when other teams (Northern Hemisphere) would have gone safe and go for a draw has to be applauded. South African’s management post game was “shame”, but in all honesty, this result will do so much for the development of the sport throughout Asia. Japan Rugby World Cup will be more the spectacle and this victory will focus the nation’s eyes on the oval ball. Eddie Jones will be a wanted by a couple of Super 15 or European clubs once this tournament is concluded. Japan, thank you. September 19th will live long in the memory. Great scenes in Cardiff, Brighton and around the globe apart from South Africa with that last minute try. The upset of upsets?

Ireland – Rugby World Cup Chances

A professional performance against a hard working Canadian side. 50-7 was an accurate reflection of how the game went. Ireland dominated for long periods and that period when Jamie Cudmore was sin binned was very impressive. Ireland put Canada to the sword and their four tries were already in the bag by half, showed England how to kill games off. The pluses were a solid set piece. Sexton’s game management was excellent particularly in that first half, kicked for touch when required to put pressure on Canada. The pack worked extremely hard throughout and the try for O’Brien was a great team effort. The negatives if any are knit picking. Payne will be disappointed with his part in the Canadian try, the kick was never on but Payne will improve as the tournament progresses. Luke Fitzgerald’s attacking threat was obvious early doors, busy in midfield and his runs stretched Canada throughout. Ian Henderson, what a player. Devin Toner has to produce this weekend against Romania, a nice problem for Schmidt to have in the weeks to come. Cian Healy’s cameo was superb to see and will be required for France for at least sixty minutes. Encouraging signs, the majority of the squad have game time and the rest will feel engaged with the tournament this weekend with quality minutes. Let us hope that there are further impressive performances for Ireland against Romania to throw up selection posers to Ireland management.

Rugby World Cup – Other Thoughts

Argentina – hats off to them. They went toe to toe with New Zealand today. They may have lost but they have won many fans with a performance full of creativity and aggression. The Argentinian pack were excellent for sixty minutes today, the breakdown was superb so much so that McCaw was sinned bin for persistent breakdown infringments. 16-12 and the shock was on but how awesome were New Zealand in the last thirty minutes? Offload heaven, gain line yards and with Dan Carter orchestrating the back line plays with a pack who were now starting to dominate, it was only a matter of time when tries would be scored. The New Zealand tries were well worked, stretched Argentina to breaking point. Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Savea – when you nullify one, another players looms large. Only a choke act similar to eight years ago will prevent New Zealand losing this title. South Africa are still in the equation despite the loss yesterday, they are the only team capable of beating New Zealand in the pack battle.

France and Italy was a dour affair. Huget’s tournament exit is disappointing but Fickou is a quality addition. The only weak point is that Fickou is a twelve and now playing in the back three. Italy were extremely poor. Their pack was destroyed in the set piece. Their scrum was annihilated and when referees start to ping you consistently, reputations are formed. Good news for Ireland in two weeks. Sergio Parisse’s absence was massive, the leader of the team was missed in the breakdown and ball running. Italy have massive issues from scrum half. Masi has probably played his last game as a professional (achilles), no game management from ten and Luke McLean continues to do little at full back when attacking the line (or lack of). Pool C suddenly looks straight forward. Ireland and France to advance from the group. Italy are going backwards. Ireland should beat Italy with a bit to spare in two weeks. Parisse will need to perform a super human effort to even allow Italy to compete with Ireland.

English Premier League

Arsenal produce their annual self destructive performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Costa’s action were thug like but Gabriel’s reaction was embarrassing, needless red card and it cost Arsenal the game. I am sorry to say it but Arsenal look well short of mounting any serious title challenge. No leadership in the middle of the park when the pressure is applied, very soft belly to the team and their surrender so quickly will only raise further question marks over Wenger at the club. Chelsea got the result but the lure of negative publicity is not far away. How long will Costa get away with his antics? Mourinho tries to deflect the ridicule but there are still big problems with the team. Drogba is a miss in terms of dressing room leadership. City loss to West Ham who when you look at their losses must be kicking themselves that they are not top of the league. West Ham’s appointment of Slaven Bilic was mixed but his organizational skills have being highlighted with stunning away victories at Arsenal, Liverpool and now Manchester City who without Kompany and Silva look a pale shadow of themselves. Payet looks like the signing of the season so far. His play making ability is superb. West Ham will be a top eight side this season and any fears of a relegation battle ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium next season have being allayed. What chances Brendon Rodgers be sacked by Liverpool this week? A dismal 1-1 draw to Norwich at Anfield must be adding further pressure to the Liverpool manager. No realistic league title challenge, several summer players are failing to deliver and the fact that several summer buys last season be farmed out only highlights FSG’s concerns on Rodger’s ability. United beat Southampton 3-2 but the win was built off David De Gea and Anthony Martial. De Gea’s save on Fonte was world class. Martial’s pace and power gave Van Djik and Fonte nightmares today. Memphis – raw diamond who needs plenty of work. Super Son Day at White Hart Lane.

Solheim Cup

I am delighted USA won today. The controversial European decision to penalize USA this morning was disgusting and goes against everything golf stands for. America’s Alison Lee missed a putt on 17 and picked her ball up under the assumption Europe had conceded it – Pettersen’s partner Charley Hull was already walking to the last tee – but the Norwegian claimed she had not and Europe were awarded the hole, going on to win the match 2 up. It was a shambolic situation. USA were my winners from then on. Europe were trounced in the singles format. Justice with a capital J. Spirit of the game lol.

September 13th – Random Sporting Thoughts

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Bord Gais U21 All Ireland Hurling Final

September 12th, 2015. Is this the day that new hope and a new era emerges in Limerick intecounty hurling? The sixteen point victory over Wexford (0-26 to 1-07) at the glorious Semple Stadium surroundings potentially indicates good times are not far away for the Shannonsiders. This victory was built on the basic fundamentals of the game: work rate, clinical skills and the ability to take scores when presented.

Wexford came into the final with optimism. The Leinster U21 final demolition of Kilkenny at Wexford Park was an excellent performance collectively and many pundits tipped the Model County for final success. The Antrim All Ireland semi-final success was routine against limited opposition but the wide count suggested issues with shot selection and the over reliance on Conor McDonald and Kevin Foley to lead the attack. Wexford’s championship run was bulit on a dominant half-back line and the ability of midfield duo French and Kenny to support their forward line to hit scores. JJ Doyle’s charges were in their second successive U21 All Ireland Hurling final and hopes were high that the wrongs of twelve months previous would not be repeated.

Limerick for their part were extremely battle hardened. A titanic victory over Tipperary in the Munster semi-final laid the foundations and lessons learned to overcome reigning champions Clare in Cusack Park in the provincial final. The All Ireland semi-final tussle with Galway demonstrated the heart, hunger and determination of this Limerick outfit. Their never say die attitude when the Tribesmen asked questions in the first half threw an emphatic response in the second half. Limerick’s critics rounded that the team were only playing in patches and allowing opposition to get back into games. Would the same apply in the All Ireland final?

The final was the most emphatic performance produced by a Limerick hurling team in many a year. Not since the imperious three in a row Limerick U21 hurling team has their being a performance which oozed class from first to final whistle. This victory was built on a dominant Limerick half-back line who cleaned Wexford in all departments. The battle in the air was a no contest as Byrnes, O’Connell and Hegarty were winning Wexford puck outs with ease. When the ball did go into the Wexford full forward line, they found the Limerick full back line in excellent form. Richie English’s reputation as a superb man marker was further enhanced as the Doon man marked both McDonald and Foley (the two key Wexford forwards) out of the game. English was supported ably the smart performances from Finn and Casey who consistently won their battles in the corner back positions, choosing the right option with ball in hand throughout.

Wexford were struggling to get to the tempo of this contest. Their approach of trying to run with ball in hand through Limerick’s rearguard was back firing spectacularly as Limerick’s superior pace was closing out space. Wexford’s sheer inability to take a long range score to change Limerick’s defensive mindset meant that Limerick’s management could focus on the midfield and forward line areas. In fairness, these units were well on top also. Doon duo Ryan and O’Donovan’s work rate and ability to take scores (three points from play) meant that French and Kenny were out of the game after only forty minutes. The forward line were relishing the quality ball distribution from the Limerick half back and midfield areas. The diagonal ball across the pitch is a dream pass for any attacker in particular Barry Nash. The South Liberties had a dream final, involved in all that was good in Limerick’s play throughout, ran with pace and power through the Wexford rearguard and chipped in with five points to win the man of the match accolade.

The first half talking points were the two disallowed goals, one each for Limerick and Wexford. Johnny Ryan’s intrepretation of the advantage rule infuriated both set of fans as both Ronan Lynch and Kevin Foley had goals which should have probably stood. The Wexford disallowed goal was crucial as the Model county needed a break to get back into the contest. With that chance, went their opportunity to cast doubt in Limerick’s minds. The seven point interval lead for Limerick was kind on Wexford considering the dominance enjoyed by Limerick all over the pitch. Wexford’s four points in the first half did not bode well for the second half and Limerick never looked back. The second half was more of the same as Limerick continued to dominate in the half-back line, setting the platform for their forward line to grow further into the contest. Tom Morrissey and Cian Lynch who was a stand-out in his running and ball distribution throughout scored at points at will. Conor McDonald’s goal with ten minutes left one hoped would setup a frantic finale but that goal was to be Wexford’s final score as Limerick emphatically put the tie to bed with eight unanswered points. It was exhibition stuff at the end from Limerick, flicks, extravagant hand passes were in full flow now as Peter Casey’s marked an excellent cameo off the bench to hit two points. The final whistle was greeted with the traditional Limerick hurling pitch invasion as Wexford fans and team left the hallowed turf of Semple Stadium wondering what went so wrong on the pitch? A fantastic win for Limerick hurling, the underage structures are reaping the rewards. U21 only indicates that the raw material is there to progress to senior, no guarantee of success in senior but this group of players have all the attributes to grow into senior and potentially break the Limerick Senior Hurling famine. The team and management deserve great praise for how they performed when it mattered, the final.

Guinness Pro 12

Glasgow to their credit got their season back on track with an exciting 33-32 win over Connacht who showed us that they simply do not learn from their mistakes of last season. Glasgow punished Connacht’s inability to settle into the game and their lead was well merited in the opening period. The line breaks and off loads from the hosts were a joy to watch. Connacht fresh from a tongue lashing from Pat Lam came out and performed, could have sneaked the game late on but it would have being wholly undeserved considering their first forty minutes. Glasgow minus at least sixteen first team players deserved massive credit for this performance, backs were against the wall after last weekend’s shock loss to Scarlets and they produced the goods. The league is extremely tight and today’s action at the Liberty Stadium typified this. Munster produced the classic smash and win with a late CJ Stander try breaking the Ospreys’ hearts. Munster’s penalty count at the breakdown was horrific and Sam Davies punished most indiscretions. Tyler Bylendaal’s debut at ten looked promising, great kick for Stephen Fitzgerald’s try. Saaili at thirteen provides much needed grunt and power with ball in hand. Munster win but plenty of scope for improvement, the season is still in its early days and Axel Foley has given players game time early doors. Two wins from two, solid start to the campaign. Leinster win at the RDS. Cardiff Blues are an improved outfit this season and credit to Leinster whose 23-15 win was achieved with numerous second string selections. Flier is a super prospect and Nacewa does not seem to have missed a beat. Ulster’s basic fundamentals were left at home as an error strewn display cost them any losing bonus point against Scarlets. McCloskey at twelve is a beast, shame that no trial game was given to the Ulster player. Two week break from the league. Wonder why the league organizers did not defer the league til end of September? No momentum built in promoting the league.

September 9th – Random Sporting Thoughts

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Wales Rugby Injury Blows

The news that every Welsh rugby fan dreaded. Leigh Halfpenny is out of the Rugby World Cup. The injury sustained against Italy looked serious and the prognosis today confirmed the grim news – out of the tournament and with it Wales’ chances of realistically advancing from the pool of death. Add to the mix that in form scrum half, Rhys Webb looks certain to miss some or not all of the tournament, Warren Gatland has questions to answer. Why decide to play so many first choice players against Italy after a hard battle against Ireland seven days prior? It is clear that Gatland has zero faith in his fringe squad players. Mike Philips will be a cert to resume at scrum half after being told that he was surplus to requirements a couple of weeks ago. Liam Williams will deputise at full-back, will not let anyone down but here lies the problem for Wales. Who will provide the assured penalty kicking in the absence of Leigh Halfpenny? Gatland’s worse case scenario has played out just two weeks before the tournament kicks off. It will be interesting to see what the New Zealander does to nullify two massive blows to his squad so close to the tournament.

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Hawkeye Sidekick Senior Hurling Team of the Year

It is the end of year review and here are my selections for the end of year senior hurling team of the year.

  1. Colm Callanan (Galway) gets the nod in goal ahead of Darren Gleeson (Tipperary) – not much between either player but Callanan’s assured final performance yesterday is enough for me.
  2. Paul Murphy (Kilkenny) – easy decision. His home is at corner back and he dominated the position this year after a shaky full back experiment in the NHL. Darragh Fives and Padraic Mannion were the other contenders.
  3. James Barry (Tipperary). This was not a vintage year for full backs. Barry was the classiest full back performer this year, was excellent throughout the championship and gets the nod ahead of Kilkenny’s Joey Holden who was solid if unspectacular.
  4. Cathal Barrett (Tipperary). The stand-out corner back this year. The Holycross Ballycahill club man continues his meteoric rise with an emphatic second year in Tipperary colors. Like Paul Murphy, dominated his position this season and was prominent in all that was good for Tipperary this season.
  5. Daithi Burke (Galway). Galway footballers loss is Galway hurlers gain. The Turloughmore club man was superb throughout but came to the party when it mattered against Tipperary and Kilkenny in the All Ireland series. He snuffed out the threat of Bonnar Maher in the semi-final (no easy feat) and produced a stirring display against Richie Hogan in the final. A superb year for Burke and more is to come from the player next season.
  6. Austin Gleeson (Waterford). Kieran Joyce (Kilkenny) ran Gleeson close but how can you leave the Waterford man out of this team? His exuberance running with ball in hand, his majestic sideline cuts, his aerial ability to catch ball was superb all year. He was one of the key men for Waterford this year.
  7. Cillian Buckley (Kilkenny). No arguments here. The Danesfort player was light years ahead of any other player in this position. Strong in the air and on the ground, ability to strike points from distance; the player has it all.
  8. David Burke (Galway). Supreme player who has battled back from serious injury early in the season. His performances against Tipperary and Kilkenny were superb, tactically astute, great ball distribution who can chip in with a couple of points per game. His performance along with Andy Smyth in the semi-final was one of the best midfield performances seen in Croke Park for many a year. Burke was not to blame for yesterday’s final reversal. A deserving award for the St Thomas’ club man
  9. Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny). The unsung hero of the Kilkenny team. His work rate, ability to win and setup ball for colleagues went so unnoticed. Fogarty won each of his championship battles this year and continues to grow into the position. His work ethic and solidity allowed Michael Fennelly to stride forward and score several scores yesterday. I think Fogarty’s consistency this year has to be rewarded, thoroughly deserved.
  10. Kevin Moran (Waterford). Contentious for some but Moran was the leader of the Waterford hurling renaissance this year. His work rate to support his half back line and his ability slot points over when required were eye catching. Unlucky to miss out on an All Star last year, Moran will be a leading candidate this year.
  11. Richie Hogan (Kilkenny). No brainer. The Danesfort man was the leading HOTY contender until the quad injury curtailed his influence yesterday. His overall contribution from open play was a joy to watch and his ability to find a colleague in space was worth the gate admission throughout the year.
  12. TJ Reid (Kilkenny). The HOTY player elect. The Ballyhale Shamrocks club man finished the championship with an emphatic final display. His goal was pivotal in keeping Kilkenny in the game yesterday. His ability to score points from frees and open play makes him the leading candidate to win the top player award.
  13. Maurice Shanahan (Waterford). The Lismore club man single handed gave Waterford an attacking platform in the full forward line, scored goals and when Padraic O’Mahoney was injured stepped into the breach to diligently score frees. If Waterford can provide more support to the player next season, Waterford could seriously threaten Kilkenny next season.
  14. Seamus Callanan (Tipperary). 3-9 in the All Ireland semi-final was not enough, the Drom Inch club man destroyed each opponent that he faced in the championship. His goal threat either in the air and on the ground was the key highlight. Callanan will be a HOTY candidate but will be pipped by TJ Reid.
  15. Joe Canning (Galway). After yesterday, Galway still require Joe Canning to be the main talisman. People will say that his accuracy was a little off this season but his work rate and ability to setup colleagues for numerous scores has to be highlighted. Glorious first half performance yesterday, cannot be left out of the team. He edges out Jonathan Glynn (Galway) and Bubbles O’Dwyer (Tipperary) in the team.

The top four teams in the land dominate and rightfully so. Several counties this year failed to come to the party and this selection merits this. Hopefully, that the likes of Cork, Clare, Limerick, Wexford return with renewed focus and hunger to battle it out with the top four teams this season in the country.

Republic of Ireland

I do not believe it. Republic of Ireland are suddenly four points clear of Scotland for third place. A vital one nil victory over Georgia tonight could be key to advancing to the playoffs. A scrappy affair was decided by an excellent piece of skill from Jeff Hendricks who dribbled past several would be Georgia tackles to setup Jonathan Walters to slot into the back of the net. James McCarthy had arguably his best game for the Republic tonight, commanding in the middle of the park and was willing to shoot tonight. Scotland were excellent tonight but did not get the rub of the green against Germany at Hampden Park. This was a superb game, excitement throughout. Scotland in another qualification campaign could have got two draws against Germany. They were extremely competitive throughout. Muller’s first goal was back breaking for the hosts, nasty deflection to the net but Hummels own goal got them back into the tie. Muller’s second goal was then cancelled out by McArthur’s effort from outside the penalty area just before half-time. Germany finally won it with a smart finish from Erdogan but Scotland continued to pepper Germany late on. Scotland cannot lose hope, win their last two games and see what Republic can do against Germany and Poland. All to play for. NI are destined to qualify for France, vital draw tonight and a win against Greece next month will guarantee top spot in their group. With Wales’ impending qualification, the home nations are performing very strongly. England’s progression to the European Championships to be tested against the Swiss tomorrow night. They may be qualified but they need a serious test before the tournament so this match could be realistically the last opportunity for Hodgson to run the rule over his squad.

Random Sporting Thoughts

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What we learned today.

All Ireland U21 Hurling Semi-Finals

Before I comment on the games held at the pristine Semple Stadium today, there has to be a serious look at the format of the championship. August 22nd was the day that both Antrim and Galway hurlers entered the championship and was the day that they both exited the championship. No amount of challenge games for the two counties could have sufficiently prepared them for the challenge that awaited today. What was the benefit for Antrim to enter the championship at this juncture? Twelve point loss will do nothing for the development of hurling in the county. The U21 championship should be used to experiment with fixture format and see if group / pool games would benefit the overall quality of the competition. The critics may say it is further fixture congestion, potential dead rubber games but it is a shame to see the likes of Waterford, Clare, Cork, Kilkenny out of the tournament so early in the year and it would also allow Antrim and Galway to enter into the competition at the same stage as everyone else. Some will say Antrim and Galway have an unfair advantage in advancing to the last four before a ball is hit but imagine the lack of preparation in terms of quality competitive games was ultimately evident today. Time for a rethink for GAA HQ?

As for the U21 hurling today, the first contest was a damp squid. Wexford will thank their lucky stars that they were facing Antrim and not Limerick or Galway today. Their performance was sloppy throughout, poor shot selection was the prevailing theme – nineteen wides spoke volumes. This should have being the day where the Wexford forward line should have soared but it was again left to Foley and McDonald to provide the leadership and scores. The positive for Wexford was the performance of their midfield partnership of French and Devitt who 1-4 from play collectively. It saved face for several Wexford forwards inside but JJ Doyle will not be fooled by this performance and plenty of work is required from the Model County in converting scoring chances ahead of the final. Wexford’s defense was rarely threatened throughout as Antrim adopted a defensive game plan, leaving only one to two players in the full forward line at anytime. Kevin Ryan’s comments pre-game was the prospect of a unmerciful hiding but Antrim can hold their heads high. Their physicality in defense unsettled Wexford and they were dogged throughout. The work rate was never an issue but the lack of attacking threat was sorely exposed. The game never took fire and raised question marks of Wexford ahead of the final where they will meet Limerick who beat Galway by six points in the second game. The scoreline of 1-20 to 0-17 spoke volumes, plenty of high quality scores throughout. Limerick started the game impressively and after twenty minutes roared into a six point (0-10 to 0-04) with the lead established by a dominant half back line where Diarmuid Byrnes led by example hitting two inspirational long range scores. O’Connell and Hegarty were dominating their aerial duels and built the platform for Limerick early. Galway to their credit started to gain a foothold in the contest and with Brian Molloy looking dangerous when provided good early ball, the Tribesman slowly ate into the Limerick advantage. Jason Flynn recovered after an early facial injury hit a couple of long range scores and Molloy continuing to be a menace inside, Galway were level at ten points a piece. The half time whistle came probably at the right time for Limerick whose work rate and dominance faded in those last ten minutes of the first half. Limerick were indebted to goalkeeper David McCarthy for a smart double save during this period from Flynn and Whelan. Limerick started the second half as the first, re-establishing their dominance in the half back line and with Pat Ryan and Cian Lynch prominent in their movement and ball distribution, Limerick again went out in front. As both teams tired, it allowed the likes of Brian Molloy (Galway), Tom Morrissey and Colin Ryan (Limerick) more space. Tom Morrissey was having an excellent evening already hitting four points struck for the decisive goal with ten minutes left, creative strike on his knees to dispatch the ball past Loughnane. The goal spelled the end for Galway who tried as they might were never getting back into the contest as Limerick courtesy of David Dempsey and Ronan Lynch tagging on late scores and the Limerick back line were resolute albeit sometimes cynical in their fouling to prevent goal chances. Limerick had several keynote performers throughout the pitch, their work rate was infectious at times and when Galway asked questions of their character towards the end of the first half, they answered them emphatically with a storming second half display. Galway will rue the fact that they had no championship involvement prior to today. They were sluggish out of the blocks and Johnny Kelly’s attempt to salvage the situation resulted in several substitutions which did not work out evident in the introduction of Jason Kennedy midway through the second half only to be then hauled off ten minutes later. Mannion was a non-factor tonight and must have had his heart in his mouth when he pulled wildly in the first half, thankfully for the player a yellow card was only issued but it could have easily being red. Apart from Molloy and Flynn, Galway struggled for a foothold in the forward line. Paul Killeen was his typical abrasive self in the full back line and led by example. The half back line were solid throughout particularly Cooney and Burke. Molloy is a talent and hit some lovely scores. A championship revamp can only be good for Galway, game minutes and player development increased.

English Premiership

Manchester United finally get their reality check today with an unexpected stalemate at Old Trafford against a Newcastle United side who worked extremely hard throughout. United may complain about the Rooney offside (goal disallowed) but it highlighted issues in the side’s ability to take their chances. Tim Krul did play well but United on another day could have scored four or five. The result is welcome for Steve McClaren, his charges worked hard throughout and Wynaldum looks a prospect. Mitrovic did not get carded so happy days who will look with more confidence to the season after today. Newcastle fans were terrific today. As for the other games, it is a bit early to be hitting the panic button but David Gold and Sullivan should be getting worried about West Ham United. Bournemouth thoroughly deserved their first league win in the top flight. Callum Wilson introduced himself to the EPL with a hat-trick, all goals showing his pace, power. Bournemouth’s passing style is very pleasing on the eye and they will win more fans as the season progresses. They were royally screwed over at Anfield but they got their result today albeit defensively look a little short at present. Leicester continue to impress and continue unbeaten. Mahrez is a fantasy football league stud at present, already on thirty plus points this term. Palace will be a top eight team this season. Cabaye was sensational today. Villa have a goalscoring issue. Gestede needs quality crosses in the box. Sunderland buoyed with John O’Shea’s inclusion in the first team got their first point of the season. Swansea look a tricky proposition for Manchester United next weekend. Early days but Manchester City look the team to beat in the league and Ed Woodward looks like an Aldi shopper looking for cheap bargains in the transfer market. Some things never change.

Random Sporting Thoughts

What I learned so far this weekend. I arrive back to Limerick (after a week hiatus in lovely Rome) and back to day job in Galway to hear that the Andy Lee boxing world title fight scheduled for Thomond Park was off and relocated to Manchester in October. It is a massive disappointment for Andy Lee who has gone on record stating his desire to fight in Thomond Park defending his world title but the fact of the matter is that professional boxing is built on financial numbers and how viable a world title will be to the coffers of the boxing promotions involved. Andy Lee could not have done anymore to promote this contest, endless appearances on local media and national television with interviews with Miriam O’Callaghan but it was unrealistic to think that thirty thousand people would be appeared to pay top dollar for tickets (starting from around $150) when you consider the crowd attendance for Andy Lee in Limerick early in his professional boxing career. The numbers in my eyes never really added up and the decision this week was expected. The warning signs were there when Katie Taylor pulled out of the event last week and this week was no surprise considering the sluggish ticket sales to date.

The television aspect to this event also raised question. Love them or loathe them but if this boxing event was managed by Sky Sports and Matchroom Sports, I would guarantee that the event would sell out. You only have to look how they managed and promoted the recent Hull professional boxing event culminating with the Hull boxing headline clash between the impressive Luke Campbell and the hard working Tommy Coyle. This particular contest on paper was as one sided as the clash turned out to be on the night but the event sold massively in Hull and surrounding hinterland and the ticket prices were affordable for locals to attend. Adam Booth’s record as a trainer is second to none but his promotional skills have left a lot to be desired. No national media advertisements on the event was damning. Andy did his part but his promotional team did not. The local media was covered but that only goes so far.

Andy Lee’s viral infection may be valid but everyone knows there was more background to this cancellation that meets the official press release. Manchester Evening Arena is a fantastic venue but I question if this event will sell tickets in October given the lack of exposure on the world title bout so far on the more established boxing media houses. Andy Lee has every chance of retaining his title against Billy Joe Saunders, his boxing skills on paper look the superior. His jab will be pivotal in frustrating Saunders to such an extent that the Englishman may lose concentration and leave himself open later in the fight. An Andy Lee victory would be a sensational result considering the rubbish that he has had to deal with in the last couple of weeks. It is an opportunity lost for Limerick to host a world boxing title event but the factors were not right on this occasion and hopefully there may be another opportunity for Lee to accomplish his dream and fight at Thomond Park.

Manchester United win their second league game of the season against Aston Villa in Villa Park but this was as dire a EPL game that I have seen for some time. Villa were hard working but were extremely limited upfront so much so that the hosts decided to launch long ball down the channels throughout in the hope that United’s back four would make a mistake. On this occasion, United’s back four held firm. Smalling is starting to lead by example in the back four and while there are question marks on Blind in terms of defensive ability, the two full backs have started well. Darmian was pinned by the media last night for the Richards corner kick incident in the first half but the Italian was excellent again in open play – solid player and executes the full back basics well. Darmian complements Smalling perfectly by anticipating the second ball when the centre half is contesting in aerial exchanges. United continue to lack pace and tempo in the midfield area, too often were labored in possession and no distinct width meant that Rooney (despite looking out of sorts) had little service to work off. Memphis Depay’s early cameos suggest plenty of scope for improvement but if the Dutch player can score a goal soon, confidence and form should pick up. Schneiderlein and Darmian have being the standouts so far and Romero in goal has looked solid. Bastian’s quality was evident on his introduction, the only player on the park to look up and try to spot a pass. Villa will be fine provided that Gestede and Ayew can provide the required goals. They are a young side but defensively look well short. Gana and Clark will not look too fondly on their roles in the game winning goal, one did not track the runner while the other was playing United onside. Their set piece defending at times last night bordered on the ridiculous, no tracking of United player making runs at the back post. Both teams were guilty of poor ball distribution and this was not an advert for Friday Night Football.

Random Thoughts: August 9th, 2015

What we learned this weekend. Apart from the fact that Rome is an awesome city (blog post to follow this week), this weekend may be remembered for the official arrival of Ireland golfer Shane Lowry to the sporting elite. The Clara man won the WGC Bridgestone International by two shots and his final round demonstrated composure under pressure and clinical short game. The quality of the field was there for all to see and Lowry had his work cut out to challenge as he was two shots back at the start of the final round but what a triumph. This success has announced Lowry to the US golfing public and one suspects that this is not the final time that the Offaly man will win over in the USA. Magnificent triumph. Roll on US Open!

I will go on record. I am getting incredibly disillusioned by the standard of the Senior GAA Championships this year. While at the Dublin Airport Terminal 2 (running around like a headless chicken last weekend), witnessed the most embarrassing one sided contest seen at Croke Park for many a year. I thought Kildare were genuinely better than that. Kerry did not have get to get out of second gear throughout. Dublin’s eight point win saw the usual taps on the back for plucky Fermanagh but did anyone feel that Dublin were going to be upset at any stage? The media can paint and hype the fixtures to the hilt but the real championship in football starts in two weeks.

Mayo and Dublin (fingers crossed) will be an incredible encounter, two teams who will be willing to attack their opponent rather than defensively setup to stifle, frustrate and look for opponent players to get dismissed. Mayo and Donegal was an excellent game compared to the UFC style matchup that preceded it (Tyrone vs. Monaghan). Mayo’s win was based on the rampaging form of Aidan O’Shea in the full forward position, Paul Durcan’s karate kick on McGee in the opening half which forced the full back to retire from the game which allowed Mayo to expose the loss evident in the Lee Keegan’s goal right after the break. Donegal never recovered from the O’Shea’s goal right on half-time, an emphatic finish from the Breaffy man who held off both McGee and McHugh to dispatch to the net. Donegal apart from Michael Murphy who was superb yet again in on all round play offered little upfront and became more disillusioned as the game wore on. Mayo were dominant in the middle third with Tom Parsons influential yet again. Mayo were deserving winners, their counter attacking pace and intensity without ball is very impressive which sets up the semi-final intriguingly. For Donegal, it is back to the drawing board. The team were yet again exposed when asked to chase the game, evolution is required in the game plan.

The less said about Tyrone and Monaghan the better, the cynical nature of the game forced me to look at the Chelsea match unfortunately in the Scholars Lounge in the GAA hotbed of Rome. All I will say is that Mickey Harte and Sean Cavanagh are two absolute legends, both men owe nothing to Tyrone football and they are the reason why Tyrone are in the last four – a tactical genius on the sideline and a superstar maestro conducting on it. For Monaghan, this was an opportunity spurned and questions will be raised on yet another flat performance in All Ireland Quarter final at Croke Park. Tyrone jinx strikes again. The intensity seen to full effect in the Ulster final was not at the same level at HQ and Tyrone’s stifling defensive setup led to Monaghan increasingly frustrated evident in the Finlay red card. Darren Hughes’ red card was a joke and is the low point of the championship this year. Hoping Kerry take care of business against Tyrone in a couple of weeks to give the neutral a more open footballing finale in September.

Kilkenny have to applauded for their six point win against a Waterford outfit whose defensive setup again exposed their inability to compete in the forward line. Waterford’s effort was evident throughout but the unforced error count defensively caused by over elaboration in clearing their lines allowed Kilkenny to easily score points (at least 12 points conceded). Walter Walsh was dominant in aerial exchanges particularly in the opening half and TJ Reid / Richie Hogan controlled affairs throughout. How Waterford did not stick a designated marker was astonishing? Kilkenny’s back line had a routine afternoon with their numerical advantage as Waterford decided to only have two forwards inside throughout. Prendergast and Holden had the luxury of pushing forward in the last quarter to create the space for Hogan and Alyward to score long distance points. Waterford can hold their head high. They are NHL winners this season, only lost two out of twelve competitive games this year but the defensive setup in their team did not allow them to genuinely cause an upset to either Tipperary (Munster Final) or Kilkenny today. O’Mahoney was a big loss upfront and credit to Maurice Shanahan for stepping up to the plate but no goals in either of those two losses spoke volumes. The game plan has to evolve and Waterford’s back line (man for man) need to take more responsibility for winning their individual battles. No risk reward from Waterford management or trust in their youthful squad on the bench in the last quarter was also noted. They ever had a chance of winning. Kilkenny will start the All Ireland final as overwhelming favorites but Tipperary or Galway surely will not be as naive in their defensive and attacking responsibilities as Waterford today. TJ Reid or Richie Hogan for HOTY even before a ball is thrown in for the All Ireland final — immense talents. TJ Reid goal was pure class.

EPL has started – hurrah for some but looks like winter has arrived for me. Arsenal fans, do not press the panic button. Cech is going to be a great signing, a debut to forget but will come good. Arsenal out field looked pleasing on the eye but are wholly dependent on Sanchez for any attacking potency. West Ham could have bagged the signing of the season with Payet – excellent today. Newcastle may have bagged themselves the dud of the season – Mitrovic is a liability and his first sixteen seconds does not bode well. Manchester United despite winning on opening day have not learned from last season, ball possession does not translate to goals and allow teams to hang on into games. Tottenham deserved at least a point from the game at Old Trafford. Chelsea and Swansea was probably the most entertaining game of the weekend. End to end action, sending off and chances galore. Swansea have a nice striking partnership in Ayew and Gomis as Chelsea struggled to contain the pair. Hazard continues to impress but Fabregas was anonymous throughout. Liverpool beat Stoke Spanish Armada – great strike from Coutinho. Sunderland, Norwich and Bournemouth will struggle in the league this term, naive defensively would be an understatement. Watford will join the party in a couple of weeks but did show glimpses offensively that suggests that they pose teams problems. Rudy Gestede – the new Benteke? Time will tell but with the right service could prove a success. Palace to finish comfortably midtable with Cabaye in the midfield engine room. My fantasy football league team looks in shambles already. If I was in real-life, would be first managerial axing. Reece Taylor, sixteen years and playing like a stud – bright future for the young West Ham midfielder, had Ozil in his pocket all day. Limerick FC win again – mission impossible (staving relegation) back on?

British Open Reflections – July 20th 2015

And so this is my first post to the blogging universe, hope you enjoy it. What we learned today. Sport gives and take it away just as easy. Paul Dunne was joint leader of the British Open yesterday, the main talking point of the tournament but today the sporting gods did not shine on the Greystones golfer and a tied thirty place is not an accurate reflection of his efforts for the week.

The Silver medal which looked a certainty to belong to Dunne last night evaporated down the back nine as USA amateur Niebrugge performed magnificently to win the accolade on -12. Dunne will have learned more today than he has in his entire golf career today. The pressure of leading a major, the crowds and the media spotlight can only help Dunne in his golfing career going forward. He has caught the eye of numerous professional golfing coaches this week and Dunne has a massive future in the professional game.

Zac Johnson deserved this triumph, his short game was nothing short of sensational today and his putt on eighteen to go -15 was worthy of winning the tournament outright. His short game continued to impress in the playoff as Leishman faded early and Oosthuizen the sole challenger to the Iowa native not capitalizing on some excellent iron approach play. Zac Johnson, a humble guy who knows first hand the struggles to get to the top of the summit (challenger events, staying in camper vans, the unfashionable side of the sport, he has done it). It is a great story and Johnson was quick to point out that his legacy is his kids and family and not golf – speaks volumes of the man.

Great tournament and Peter Alliss was at his legendary best in BBC commentary throughout the weekend. A glorious late Monday evening of television topped off seeing the prankster at the FIFA conference. Blatter calling ‘security’ before the money windfall was comedy gold. The defining image of Blatter’s reign was captured.