The dust has not even settled on the NHL season. Hold on, the league season has not even finished with a replay scheduled for this weekend but the GAA have decided to launch into the championship with as much fanfare as a Kilkenny Minor Football outing. It was a weekend where puck hurling was the order of the day in Thurles, Kerry hurling continued to show promising signs, Offaly hurling hitting a new low while Roscommon had a major fright in the Big Apple. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and wonders how low does Offaly hurling need to go before they hit the abyss.
Has intercounty hurling really come down to this? A sport typically where attacking endeavor and skill were rewarded has now being reduced to a sport where defensive schemes and counter-attacking is now the order of the day. For the purist, last weekend’s NHL Division 1 final was horrendous to watch. The game was a cagey affair throughout with both sides guilty of crowding the other in attack and even more so their wayward shooting. The number of wide balls by both sides did little for anyone who paid their hard earned dosh to watch entertainment.
The contest will be remembered for the cameos of Conor McGrath and the superb late free from Maurice Shanahan to force the replay. Waterford will though wonder how they had not the game sewn up in normal time as they were the dominant team for long stretches. Their shot selection smacked of a side who were feeling pressure of putting back to back league titles. Waterford and Clare’s defensive schemes do their job but they do little for the entertainment value of the sport.
I do not envisage anymore excitement from the replay. I will give it a skip, god help us when they actually meet in the Munster SHC fixture on June 5th. The hurling traditionalist will already have their words inscribed before the ball is thrown then. Kilkenny and Tipperary hopefully to smash this conservative game plan approach out the window come the summer. The sport needs it as the display in Thurles on Sunday fell somewhat short of the excitement and entertainment value required for fans to pay to watch.
Leinster SHC Preliminary Round
No sign of a RTE or Sky Sports camera in Westmeath and Kerry as both home teams started their championship campaigns with deserved victories. The fourteen point victory for Westmeath over an Offaly side whose lack of desire, conditioning and hunger for the fight was truly shambolic. Eamonn Kelly is a man on the ropes already but the mess in Offaly hurling was created long before the Tipperary native took the reins this season.
Kelly is hurting but one would wonder about some of the current Offaly hurling panel after a truly sorry performance. Their first touch, pace were all off and it is so strange to see an Offaly hurling team being beaten in the skills department but that is what happened in Mullingar last weekend. The scoreline and margin of victory does not flatter Westmeath who controlled the game for long periods. Their ability to open up an overworked Offaly back line to setup easy score after easy score was the order of the day. Westmeath dominated the central positions. The result was never in doubt and such was the comprehensive nature of the result, Kelly and Offaly backroom management staff were baffled who to take off. Offaly hurling continues to spiral out of control.
After a reasonable NHL campaign, they were taken to the cleaners by Kilkenny in the quarter final and this trouncing has rocked the confidence of the panel evidently. When teams push on in conditioning and skill set in May, Offaly have clearly regressed as the season has progressed. Questions on player’s commitment to the cause will be asked. The future of the backroom staff will be discussed but Eamonn Kelly should be given time to develop structures similar to what he did with Kerry in recent years. Offaly continue to struggle in underage competitions and the lack of talent coming through the ranks does little to reverse the slide. Offaly have two home games to resurrect their championship ambitions against Carlow (should win) and Kerry (debatable). A proud hurling county is on the ropes. GAA head honchos in Croke Park must take note and put investment into Offaly grassroots to allow the county to prosper again.
How Eamonn Kelly must ponder what if he remained with Kerry? The county continue to be the bright spot of an otherwise drab intercounty hurling season beating Carlow in their debut in Leinster. The result was well merited and continues the good work inherited by Ciaran Carey and Mark Foley by Kelly. The first touch and general game management were to the fore for the Kingdom who could relax in the last quarter to record a convincing win. They will look with confidence for the remainder of the preliminary round robin and surely a trip to Offaly will hold no fears for Carey and Foley’s charges. Carlow are going nowhere fast and a swift exit from the championship looks incredibly likely. A county which has regressed in recent years which is disappointing considering the club exploits of MLR in 2014. Leinster hurling county woes are further compounded by these results. It would have being nice to see the action live to ease the burden of watching the puck hurling on offer in Thurles.
Roscommon survive New York
Jonny Evans last season was ridiculed from pillar to post when Roscommon were dumped out of the Connacht SFC last season to Sligo. The Kerry man was ousted and the dream ticket of Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell were installed in the off-season on the back of the miserable championship performance.
It may be too early to call it but Roscommon are showing worrying signs ahead of the real start to the championship. Has the NFL season taken its toll? New York lost by a point but they were the real winners on the day. The lack of support for New York in Gaelic Park was surprising but the panel and management performed superbly and on another day should have taken the scalp.
The media and Roscommon supporters have gone quiet on this performance compared to last season. Roscommon were lethargic and lacked any ambition throughout, a repeat later in the Connacht SFC will be punished. It looks like Roscommon have run their lot this season and Mayo will again retain Connacht; a massive letdown for Roscommon supporters after a promising NFL season.
The fact that the game was not advertised or broadcast by the national broadcaster raises questions on their commitment to the GAA. It should have being televised and GAA could have made more of an effort to launch the SFC competition in a stellar location like New York. A weekend which shows the limitations and lack of foresight by the GAA and TV broadcasters to make the sport more appealing to an increasing global audience.