Contrary to the drab opening All Ireland Senior Hurling Qualifier draw last week, the second round qualifier draw provided fireworks with near neighbors Kilkenny and Waterford set to battle for a place in the last eight of the championship. Tipperary perhaps a little relieved to face Dublin. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the draw.
Dublin enter the Lions Den
When word filtered through this afternoon that both qualifiers would be held in Semple Stadium, a Dublin hurling supporter would have been forgiven for wondering how was the venue neutral? Thurles. Semple Stadium. Tipperary the opposition. Dublin did not need more challenges to jump through to potentially get to the All Ireland Quarter Final stage. It raises questions on the draw and venues. We were led to believe that neutral venues would be used so the decision for Tipperary to have another home game is quite contradictory.
Given the misfiring performance against a gallant Westmeath outfit, Michael Ryan and Tipperary will be pleased with the draw. A home draw due to the decision to hold the qualifiers as a double header and potentially another game to build confidence.
Last weekend saw a mixed Premier County performance. Forward line movement at times was excellent and then at times was static and scores were suddenly hard to come by. The sight of Bonnar Maher back in the half-forward line was a welcome sight and the fact that Tipperary did not concede a goal were the high points. Brendan Maher showed well with some standout long range scores but there were periods of the game where Tipperary fell flat particularly in the opening period and let their visitors back into the contest. The new personnel on show had positive performances and Tipperary management may decide to retain their services for this weekend. Michael O’Dwyer was excellent.
Dublin’s win against Laois was facile in nature. An exciting opening twenty minutes was the highlight as Dublin moved through the gears to score at will and win this contest with plenty to spare. You could not read much into this performance only that Dublin’s appetite and work rate were on point. Laois defensive woes continued and another heavy score against was conceded in double quick time. The injuries and panel departures had a negative impact for the O’Moore County and Dublin took full advantage.
Have Dublin sufficiently improved enough to upset Tipperary? The answer is still no. Tipperary’s forward line if on form and provided with the right distribution could seriously expose Dublin inside and we saw how Galway dismantled Dublin defensively earlier in this championship. Ger Cunningham will look for a committed performance from his young Dublin outfit but all the aces look to be with Tipperary provided that the camp is unified and confidence is restored to the level where the Premier County can perform at consistently high level.
Yes, there may be a few jitters during this display but Tipperary should be confident of getting the job done here by five to six points. Dublin’s lack of depth off the bench may prove crucial. The manner of the Dublin performance could dictate if Cunningham remains at the helm next season.
Can Waterford finally get over Kilkenny?
The pick of the hurling qualifiers and this is an incredibly tough fixture to call. Both sides have questions to answer ahead of this tussle. Kilkenny got out of jail against Limerick last weekend with a display which lacked conviction particularly from the forward line where yet again Richie Hogan failed to fire.
When you consider Limerick’s horrrendous wide count and lack of game smarts, a more accomplished outfit would have consigned Kilkenny to an early championship exit. Michael Fennelly was excellent and his return to first team action was pivotal in this win. His composure, game management and distribution was in stark contrast to several of his colleagues in the forward line who were bereft of confidence and shot selection.
The experiment of Cillian Buckley and Padraic Walsh in the defensive spine of the Kilkenny team worked out last weekend but I am still wholly unconvinced by the full back setup. Buckley at six will be tested to the max against Waterford with aerial threats in Gleeson, Walsh and Moran.
Cody will acknowledge that improvement is required but the qualifier series is all about victories by hook or by crook. Kilkenny will enter this contest as underdog to some pundits on the back of their performance against Limerick and the manner of Wexford’s defeat in the Leinster SHC final.
For Kilkenny to win, Walter Walsh will need to be the focal point of the half forward line. Richie Hogan has lost confidence and the absence of Larkin is sorely missed this season. TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly will be imposing threats but there are holes in this attacking line and the options off the bench are a pale shadow to past benches under the guidance of Brian Cody.
Waterford. If there is a year when their near neighbors are vulnerable and look beatable, surely this is the year to beat Kilkenny. The Deise will have learned nothing from their facile victory over Offaly at Tullamore. Confidence was somewhat restored but significantly, Derek McGrath and management reintroduced the sweeper system against Offaly.
Read that last sentence. Waterford used a sweeper system against an Offaly side who have struggled massively this season in league and championship. It is a massive backward step for the Deise and indicates that defensive issues are not ironed out ahead of the Kilkenny tussle.
The under-performance against Cork was put down to lack of game sharpness but we will soon see if this was right against a Kilkenny side who will look to target the Waterford full back line at every given opportunity. Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid will look for any weak points and Waterford need to stand up and produce a decisive performance defensively to win this fixture.
Austin Gleeson, Kevin Moran and Brick Walsh will look to rectify the mixed performances produced against Cork. Gleeson needs to become a true leader of this side and this means supporting his colleagues with quality distribution at times. His tendency to hit speculative long range efforts needs to be curtailed for the greater good of the team.
Moran and Walsh’s experience and leadership will be required on Saturday night. This could be the final hurrah for both players if Waterford fall to defeat. Moran needs to take the game to Kilkenny with dominance in the air and chipping in with a couple of scores from play. Walsh’s game management will be huge for Waterford. If Walsh can assert influence and preoccupy Buckley at half-back, space will open up inside for Gleeson, Shanahan and Bennett.
Waterford also need a reliable free taker to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The Cork loss exposed this facet of play horribly as Padraic O’Mahony had an indifferent afternoon with the placed balls. Deise management need to be quick to switch the free taking responsibilities if this continues on Saturday.
50/50 game here. Waterford should be favorites but that Cork performance worried me massively. Kilkenny are vulnerable; squad depth is an issue and the lack of scoring from Hogan and Aylward is a massive concern. Slight edge to Waterford but they need to improve substantially from their Munster SHC exit.