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.