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.
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.