Two contrasting All Ireland U21 Hurling semi-finals this evening at the sublime surroundings of Thurles. Kilkenny hardly broke sweat in a fifty-two point victory over a hapless, confidence derived Derry outfit while Limerick battled through an excellent encounter against a Galway side by four points. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the action.
I think for the organizers of this superb tournament, it is time to reflect and review the structures of the championship. I am thinking of teams such as Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, Dublin, Wexford who have exited the competition and what they must have thought of the opening semi-final on show today.
It was a deplorable advert for the competition. A completely mismatched Derry were up against Kilkenny eager to produce a performance. The results were devastating as the game was over as a contest within six minutes. Kilkenny scored at will. Shane Walsh had the proverbial field day, given ample time and space to shot and scored 2-7.
Eddie Brennan and Kilkenny management will have learned nothing from this outing. All lines were far superior to Derry who were second best in all facets of the game. 8-35 is a scoreline which will do little for the development of hurling in the county. Only McKeever and Doherty in the forward line came out of this outing with any credit. The back line were scorched on numerous occasions and lacked any cohesion defensively to keep the scoreboard down.
One of the biggest cheers of the day was heard when overworked Derry goalkeeper Francis McEldowney was called ashore in the second half. The Slaughtneil net minder was busy throughout and had a torrid afternoon as the Kilkenny full forward line rampaged through on numerous occasions. His puck out strategy was mission impossible. No one in a Derry jersey looking for the ball and the clearance up the field was more usually than not cleaned up by Kilkenny’s middle third. I felt sorry for the player and the team; it was a horrendous experience at Semple Stadium.
I don’t blame Derry. They won the Ulster championship with a stunning victory over Antrim and Down in the final. They are entitled to be competing for All Ireland honors like any country in the top tier grade but Derry are not a top four U21 hurling team. They are not in the top ten U21 hurling team in the country. The tournament unfortunately needs a serious revamp. A game which exposed a massive gulf in class and a game which hopefully will look at some of the issues as to why this was so one sided.
You could conceivably introduce the All Ireland Quarter Final phase to the competition if the super eight format cannot be implemented for this competition. The runners up of Leinster and Munster advancing to the All Ireland Quarter Final where they would face off against either Galway or the Ulster champions. It would lead to more competitive games in the All Ireland semi-final stage; 52 point win at this stage does little for the competition. All Ireland semi-finals should not be this lop sided.
Kilkenny advance to the All Ireland final with some team selection posers ahead of the final. The sub bench impact was evident in some standout performances for Walsh and Murphy. The lack of intensity in this contest will do little for Kilkenny against a battle hardened Limerick in September. Brennan will hope that the A vs. B games are on point, players on form ahead of the All Ireland final. Kilkenny will enter the final knowing questions will be asked of them. Kilkenny management will think on their feet during the final and have backup plans finalized as today’s match proved nothing.
2-23 to 2-19. The scoreline speaks for itself; an exciting second All Ireland semi-final against a Galway side who were let down by a lack of championship action in the closing minutes. The Tribesmen started well and should have had more points on the board in a dominant opening. Conor Whelan was a constant threat throughout and Galway opened up a two point lead early doors. It should have being more and were punished as Peter Casey scored a goal for Limerick after ten minutes.
The goal settled down Limerick who then produced their best period of play in the first half scoring several excellent scores. The usual suspects for Limerick in the forward line were on point with Gillane, Casey, Murphy and Nash to the fore. Galway to their credit came roaring back at the end of the half and took advantage of some Limerick defensive lapses. Limerick were also guilty of some ponderous distribution from the back; aimless hit and hope efforts the order of the day in the closing ten minutes of the half; it was duly punished.
The officiating on show left plenty to be desired. Keenan allowed the game to flow but there were some debatable moments as Barry Nash’s helmet was hit while on the ground and then a Galway hurling helmet mysteriously was removed and thrown to the ground. No action taken. Both sides felt aggrieved on a couple of frees not given.
Conor Whelan was a standout for Galway throughout; enormous work rate and led by example. Linnane stood out and nullified Kyle Hayes who had a mixed second half. Monaghan at wing forward was winning good ball from puck outs.
Limerick responded and the ever dangerous Barry Murphy finished off a sweeping move to open a five point lead again for the Shannonsiders on forty minutes. Both teams were deploying a sweeper system but you would not know it as both teams were engaged in a classic end to end shootout. Galway refused to panic to the second goal concession and with Whelan in the ranks, goal opportunities were always a danger for Limerick defensively.
Whelan was the instigator of the opening Galway goal; took advantage of Limerick’s inability to clear the ball and ran deep into the Limerick defense; his shot was superbly saved but Jack Coyne was in the right place to dispatch to the net. The second goal is probably a leading candidate for U21 Hurling goal of the season as Whelan produced a moment of magic to put Galway two points up with fifteen minutes left. A powerful run and a sensational strike. Limerick defensively in the lead up to the goal will be a video analysis awkward moment. Finn and Lynch had chances to clear but did not and the results were devastating.
Galway now were asking the questions of Limerick. The hotly fancied Limerick outfit (1/6) were now behind by two points (2-15 to 2-13), time for players to stand up and be counted. Step forward Aaron Gillane, Cian Lynch, Barry Nash and Peter Casey to hit some vital scores. Gillane was unerring on free taking duties but his running was too much for Galway defensively in the closing stages. How the player did not feature for the Limerick Senior team this season is baffling?
The lack of championship minutes for Galway this season was evident in the last ten minutes. Galway players started to fall off the tackle, players going down with cramp and Limerick took full advantage. Limerick management must be credited with some tactical switches. LeTouche Cosgrove steadied the Limerick full back line upon introduction. Hayes stabilized after a shaky twenty minute period in the second half with a stunning long range score and finished the game strong. Cian Lynch was roving and picking up loose ball. Hanley in midfield was ever willing to run from deep and take shots from long range.
Limerick will look at the closing moments and reflect that they should have made the game safe long before the sixth minute of injury time. The side were guilty of several poor misses after good setup work. Limerick need to improve their composure and game management leading into the final. This was a hard championship contest; physicality and skill in full view. Limerick management witnessed good moments in the attack and defense but there were periods of poor play from both lines. Consistency is not yet achieved. Battle hardened, most certainly. Kilkenny on the other hand is debatable.
Galway defeated and will rue some poor shot selection early doors. They left everything out on the pitch. Mooney at half-back was superb. Lack of championship action ultimately undid the Tribesmen. If they had a competitive game under their belts before today, feel the game could have easily gone in Galway’s direction. GAA need to revamp the competition. The format is doing little for Galway or Ulster at this stage of the championship. Time to reflect for the benefit of hurling supporters and most importantly the teams.