All Ireland Senior Hurling Qualifiers Review

Six teams were reduced to four teams after last weekend

The joy and the anguish were in full view this past weekend at the splendid Pairc Ui Chaoimh venue. Wins for Tipperary and Waterford and losses for Clare and Wexford which will irritate for some months to go. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Splendid Pairc Ui Chaoimh

Kudos to everyone involved with the redevelopment of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. The stadium looks spectacular; spacious surroundings. There were traffic problems on Saturday approaching Cork City but this was a secondary point given the stadium and sublime playing surface. A venue which will be a main stead for Ireland’s RWC 2023 bid and will host numerous GAA intercounty championship games. Cork City was buzzing all weekend; the bars and restaurants were packed, good atmosphere around Oliver Plunkett Street where I was stationed post-game. If you are going for a gem of a bar, check the Welcome Inn (Creedon’s). Superb entertainment, great hospitality and a savage pint to boot.

Tipperary forward line precision wins out

Michael Ryan’s reaction immediately after the final whistle spoke volumes. Tipperary had gotten out of jail. A performance where the video analysis will paint the good, the bad and the outright ugly.

The good news will be the imperious display from the forward line units; some of the scores from open play were a joy to watch. The forward line first touch, movement and distribution were immense throughout. John McGrath (0-06) had an excellent afternoon; his accuracy is relentless. Seamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer, Noel McGrath provided class scores at regular intervals and then you have the work horses of Patrick Maher and Dan McCormick who set the platform with excellent ball winning.

The midfield area had their moments of dominance. It was a see saw battle with Clare in this area of the pitch. Brendan Maher’s game management and distribution again to the fore. Michael Breen ran himself into the ground with a lung bursting effort.

The half-back line had good afternoons. The fact that Andrew Fahy was forced to hit his half-back and midfield options said everything you needed to know about Tipp’s half back dominance in the air. Kennedy and the two Maher’s were imperious under the dropping ball and their distribution was on point throughout.

The bad was the misfiring full back line. During my preview, I had mentioned that the full back line would be given a thorough test given the personnel changes in the unit. The full back line was a mess. James Barry looked vulnerable in the corner back position, full back position is his position. Hamill at full back was exposed in the aerial battle which then resulted in the player giving too much space to Cunningham for his quick brace in the opening period.

Donagh Maher was immense throughout; the only shining light in the unit. A superb outing, nullified Conor McGrath and was sharp in his distribution out of defense. Sean O’Brien manfully filled the position vacated by Barry in the second half but it is screaming for a rejig for the All Ireland semi-final. Michael Cahill or Cathal Barrett come into the equation. Does Barrett come back into the fold after the off the field disciplinary issues?

A tricky two weeks await Michael Ryan and management defensively. The personnel tweaks have not worked in the full back line and does Tipperary go back to the tried and trusted by reinstating Barrett at corner back and Barry in full back. I am not convinced that they will go in this direction. Interesting team selection beckons.

Opportunity lost for Clare

Clare will scratch their heads on how they lost this fixture given the scoring opportunities created, a Tipperary full back line in sixes and sevens under the high dropping ball.

Tony Kelly’s substitution still is a baffling call made by Clare management; their talisman worked extremely hard for the side. Yes, the Ballyea clubman was guilty of several glaring shot selections but his work rate and ability to get on the ball on a regular basis surely would have being pivotal in the last eight minutes of this contest. The switch did not make sense. Clare a point down and you would have thought that Tony Kelly would rise to the occasion given the opportunity down the stretch. An opportunity lost for Clare.

I had to laugh at Donal Moloney’s post game comments. Phase 1 of the project maybe for the new look management but for this group of player, it is a defining loss in their careers. This group of players (by and large) minus Conor Ryan, Pat Donnellan have being together since the 2013 triumph. The accusation that the team are a flash in the pan is incredibly harsh but look at the championship after their 2013 All Ireland triumph and it does make for good reading for Clare. No All Ireland semi-final appearance at Croke Park with a group of players which with their age profile should have gone on and contended for more All Ireland glory.

Gerry O’Connor has being strangely absent on the sideline and on media duties. Wondering what the story is here? Moloney and Donal Og Cusack look to be the main men of the team. Speculation will mount on O’Connor’s role and future within the setup after this loss.

Clare will look at a couple of plays before half-time as key momentum changers. The puck-out strategy was exposed for Clare in a quick four minute period. A close contest suddenly had Tipperary open up a five point gap at the break. I think the Sunday Game analysis on the puck-out strategy was spot on; look at what Andrew Fahy had to contend with. A half-forward line who were struggling to win their aerial ball. Corner backs who looked reluctant at best to receive short puck outs. The decision to hit half back and midfield targets was then the option and credit to Tipperary’s midfield and half-forward line to read the strategy. The results were devastating.

A season which offered so much for Clare. A new era was the spin coming from Clare ahead of the new season. The shackles were off after the departure of Davy Fitzgerald but it looked like the same setup and style of play deployed during this season. The fact that Clare failed to change the game plan and launch direct ball further into a dangerous full forward line was disgraceful. Tipperary and Cork were there for the taking but poor shot selection and inability to adapt to the change the game plan to expose opposition flaws were hallmarks of the season. Backroom staff tactical tweaks are required. The players have to take their blame on this season as well. A poor season for Clare. The golden Clare hurling generation window is closing rapidly. Disappointing.

Waterford win but De Burca red card a huge blow

This was a dour contest. Two teams employing sweeper systems and the only bright spot in the contest was that there was two goals in the contest. The weekend wager that no goals would be scored in the fixture was likely before throw in. Waterford are further down the road in team development; it showed yesterday with the Deise key players coming up trumps while Wexford had indifferent showings from theirs.

Brick Walsh set the tone with a superb opening half. His long range point was sublime but his ability to win possession and tempt Wexford to make contact and concede frees was an interesting side note from the contest. O’Mahony was imperious with the placed balls and the scoreboard was ticking consistently through the contest.

Kevin Moran (1-03) had another excellent performance. His Cork performance which was below par is a distant memory. The goal was a pivotal moment. Wexford were probably happy with a two point deficit but after a defensive pass back clanger, Moran latched onto the ball to beat Fanning with a ground pull effort. Fanning will be disappointed with the goal; fancied that he would get to the ball first but went down far too quickly, needed to stand tall and ask Moran to make a decision. Great goal for Waterford but disaster for Wexford.

Austin Gleeson was again sublime in open play. His ability to run with the sliothar was pivotal throughout; several scores from play and was a constant menace for Wexford throughout. Darragh Fives also had an immense contest; his opening half was on point. A real bonus to Waterford management as was the cameos of Shanahan and O’Halloran off the bench with several eyecatching scores. The squad depth advantage was utilized.

The downer was the red card for Tadhg De Burca; a red card which was frustrating to see but the rules of game (helmet indiscretion) was applied correctly. Kehoe blocking the runner sparked the reaction from De Burca who flailed out and made contact to the Wexford player’s helmet. Horgan had to act given the linesman feedback. An appeal is in the offing but the CCCC have to stand firm on this ruling, otherwise the rules can be put in the bin. Unfortunate incident but it was committed, face the consequences.

Wexford development a work in progress

This has being a positive year for Wexford Senior Hurling. Davy Fitzgerald’s arrival has increased media exposure in the hurling team and the county supporters have rowed in behind the team. The limitations of the side have being exposed in recent fixtures but given promotion to NHL 1A, this side will evolve further next season.

Ryan and O’Hanlon were heroic for Wexford defensively; cleared numerous ball throughout. Lee Chin worked tirelessly but found attacking opportunities limited given Waterford’s sweeper system and had to go further out the pitch. The defensive setup of the Deise also nullified Conor McDonald who was a non-factor throughout.

No genuine goal scoring opportunities created inside in the full forward line where Guiney and Kehoe fought forlorn battles. Aimless distribution did not help matters and the squad impact off the bench was second best to Waterford on the day. Food for thought for Fitzgerald in addition to Michael Duignan and Henry Shefflin’s comments on the sweeper system.

Will Davy stay put next season in Wexford? His post-game comments surely have sparked interest in Dublin. Will Dublin look to approach Davy for the vacant senior hurling management role? It is an intriguing storyline in the comings months so Wexford need Fitzgerald to decide on next season as soon as possible.

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