NHL Final Preview
A game which could be a decisive indicator as to who from the chasing pack could realistically challenge in Kilkenny come championship time. I sense that both Clare and Waterford will go all out to win this final; a victory for Clare which would point massive improvements during the off-season both in playing and backroom staff while Waterford can provide more proof that the game plan implemented by the astute Derek McGrath is reaping its rewards.
The story of the NHL semi-finals was the performance of Clare who beat Kilkenny at their own style of play; imperious under the dropping ball, exposing gaps in the Kilkenny defense where Joey Holden and Eoin Murphy were tormented throughout by John Conlon and then Tony Kelly late on. Clare’s fitness, conditioning and speed to the second ball all caught the eye had the imprint of Paul Kinnerk.
How Limerick did not approach the Monaleen resident to take on a similar role with the county senior hurlers is beyond me? Kinnerk’s influence in this Clare side is evident; the preparation prior to the Kilkenny contest was methodical, all training drills executed with a precision and speed which subsequently was brought to the actual game contest. When you compare the half baked Limerick hurler preparations before the Waterford contest, it was a no brainier from the Limerick County Board not to approach Kinnerk last season to get into the fold.
The tactical battle which will ensue tomorrow will be intriguing. Waterford have being maligned for their defensive side of their play but they have added to their attacking side with the emergence of Bennett in the half-forward line to support the likes of Maurice Shanahan upfront. When you consider the return to the fold of long term injury absentee Padraic O’Mahoney, Waterford management have attacking options which will test any defensive rearguard.
Waterford’s performance against Limerick must be put into context. Limerick flat out collapsed in the second period; their short passing game and sweeper defensive system both breaking down in massive proportions. Waterford did not get out of second gear and they created at least seven goal scoring opportunities during the contest. Goals were a problem for Waterford last season, their goal glut against Limerick suggests that management are looking to remedy the issue. Goals will be required from Waterford tomorrow and further in the year if they have any ambitions to win Liam McCarthy.
How do Clare break down the Waterford defensive wall will be intriguing? Their forward line relished the open space afforded by Kilkenny two weeks ago but the same amount of space will be non-existent against a Deise side who now pride themselves in not conceding goals. Tom Coughlin at full-back is solid but gets massive protection from the likes of De Burca and Noel Connors who is playing superb hurling this season. How Clare try to provide the quality ball inside to John Conlon in the full forward position will be one of the game’s main talking points?
This game is evenly poised. Both teams process serious fitness and conditioning and it will be the substitutes coming into the final quarter who will make the difference. Clare have the mercurial talent that is Tony Kelly to be unleashed. Waterford have Padraic O’Mahoney. It will be interesting to see how Waterford contend with the running power of Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin from deep. Kilkenny could not handle this threat so wondering if Waterford will be able to nullify the threat?
Given that Waterford had an easy victory over Limerick, shading the final to Clare who impressed massively against Kilkenny two weeks ago and that momentum will be hard to stop. The sideline battle with the arrival of Donal Og Cusack to the Clare ranks suggests that Clare will have the game plan and tactics to nullify the Deise threat. Expect a cagey affair but it will open up in the final quarter and Clare have the better forwards to score the points to win this contest. Clare by three points.
Arise Leicester City, EPL Champions
Sunday, May 1st could be a sobering experience for Manchester United at Old Trafford. An EPL title coronation potentially for Leicester City could be sealed with victory over an United side whose performances have being Jeckyll and Hyde to say the least. No Jamie Vardy, no problem for the Foxes who dispatched Swansea with minimum fuss last weekend. Their pace is breathtaking. Schlupp last week in for the suspended Vardy provided the speed and blistering pace to allow Ulloa to revel in the central striker position. United’s rearguard have struggled with pace all season and Leicester could run riot in their counter-attacking style.
The Leicester City story has being the standout story from this EPL season. They have availed of problems in the traditional top four teams and the inability of Tottenham to mount any sort of title challenge. Their wage bill compared to other more illustrious teams in the league speaks volumes but their work ethic, team work have come to the fore. They will provide inspiration for teams who doubted that they could compete in this league for top honors, expect more teams to challenge the top four hierarchy next season. A new era beckons in the league and Leicester City conceivably could be leading this charge.
Claudio Ranieri was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, incapable some said of winning the big title, think again. Old Trafford or back at the confines of King Power Stadium with see the redemption of the Italian to the footballing masses. I sense Leicester will get the point required to get over the line as Tottenham will not beat Chelsea on MNF. It is a fantastic story and one that Hollywood producers will be lining up to take the story to the big screen. Congratulations to all concerned. Kasabian will be delighted.