All Ireland Senior Hurling Final: Preview

Kilkenny and Tipperary seventy minutes away from All Ireland glory

It all comes down to this. The traditional All Ireland Hurling final is in place with perennial rivals Kilkenny and Tipperary one fixture away from lifting Liam McCarthy. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the final showpiece and what to expect.

Team News:

It is as you were for Tipperary as Liam Sheedy names an unchanged lineup from the side which came back to beat Wexford in the All Ireland semi-final. Kilkenny make one personnel change from the side which held on to topple reigning All Ireland Champions Limerick. Richie Leahy makes way for fit again Cillian Buckley.

Puckout Strategy Key:

The early puck out exchanges are going to be fascinating viewing. Kilkenny looking to crowd out the middle third and forcing Brian Hogan to be deadly accurate with his distribution. Hogan will need to look to keep the tempo high, look for easy out balls from the corner back and half-back lines to launch attacks.

Eoin Murphy has excelled Kilkenny this season; his opening half puck out strategy was the best I have seen all year against Limerick. His decision making to hit short or go long had Limerick scrambling for answers, a key foundation for Kilkenny’s victory.

Full Forward Threats Aplenty:

This final could be a game for the full forward positions on either side. TJ Reid has been a standout and will be exemplary but the role of the two full forwards in opposition is a keynote pregame commentary.

Colin Fennelly in recent months has provided the additional scoring and attacking leadership that Kilkenny have craved; to supplement and reduce the burden off TJ Reid who for me is HOTY candidate heading into this final.

Fennelly in the All Ireland Series has been a player with a point to prove; an extraordinary comment given vast his medal haul for club and county. The Ballyhale Shamrocks full forward has provided attacking threat aplenty and chipped in with some key goals.

His ability to take his full back marker on and create goals has been a hallmark of this Kilkenny campaign down the stretch and it is going to be interesting how Seamus Kennedy combats the threat. Does Ronan Maher drop in the pocket to nullify the threat but then leave space for Reid to score at will and deliver a man of the match performance?

Seamus Callanan at full forward as well has been exemplary. His goal scoring prowess seen throughout the year; give the Drom-Inch clubman a half a chance and he will bury it into the net.

Huw Lawlor has grown into the full back role but he faces the ultimate test. His corner back colleague Joey Holden knows firsthand what happens if Tipperary manage to supply Callanan with increasing frequency on All Ireland finals. You are chasing shadows.

Whoever wins the battle of the full forwards could be decisive in the final outcome when it all said and done.

Tipperary Midfield / Half Forward Units:

If there is a vulnerability in this Tipperary outfit, it is in the midfield and half forward line. Will they win enough primary and secondary ball to provide for their dangerous inside full forward line?

Michael Breen is a player who I rate extremely highly but he has failed to fully fire on all cylinders this season. The stage is set for the Ballina clubman to demonstrate his powerful running game and set the platform for Tipperary. If he does not, then Kilkenny have negated a key player for Tipperary.

The half forward line without Bonner Maher is a work in progress. There have been flashes of brilliance in open play but given Kilkenny’s setup and their ability to crowd out opposition, will the likes of O’Dwyer, McCormack or O’Meara get sufficient primary possession to be a factor in the contest? It is a major concern.

Kilkenny combating the run game?

The Limerick All Ireland semi-final was a strange contest; an emphatic first quarter and that was the foundation for victory but Limerick when they established the run game posed serious issues for Kilkenny defensively.

Limerick carved out goal chances in that second half; a superb Shane Dowling strike and then the late David Reidy effort where Kilkenny’s defensively were stretched to breaking point.

For Tipperary to win this contest, the run game has to be a key factor. The direct ball route to the full forward line is their strength but they will need the Maher’s in the half back line to drive forward from deep.

Michael Breen has to be ferocious in the run game; provide key deep runs at different intervals to ask the question of Browne and Buckley to allow Noel McGrath to sit in the pocket and orchestrate in the midfield and pick out colleagues with accurate distribution.

Kilkenny will pack the middle third; expect Donnelly, Mullen and Walsh to counter attack and attempt to pack out the Tipperary middle third allowing the likes of Deegan and Fogarty to sweep the threat of the direct ball to the inside full forward line? Intriguing stuff.

Tipperary combating the run game?

The two finalists have shown vulnerabilities in combating the run game. I am not convinced on the full back and center back positions in the side. Seamus Kennedy ably deputized at full back.

Ronan Maher was superb when switched to half back in the second half. This has to happen again to allow Padraic Maher to game read and provide a match winning contribution.

Tipperary though were exposed by the explosive Wexford run game in the first three quarters of their semi-final game. McGovern was giving acres of space and expect Kilkenny’s half forward line to test the defensive shape of Tipperary by making lung bursting runs from deep.

Given the vulnerabilities of both sides in the run game, this game could suddenly open up in the third quarter and goal chances could be created given the defensive struggles.

Verdict:

This is a tough final to call. Both sides have key strengths but also have vulnerabilities. The final lineup’s look strong and this could well be decided by the bench. Kilkenny were impressive against Limerick but were made hang on at the end. Tipperary battled well with fourteen players to advance to the final.

This final ultimately comes down to who will be defensively sound on the day. The Kilkenny stifling work rate without the ball against Limerick is something that Tipperary could struggle to combat. Tipp squad bench impact looks good with Kehoe and Morris in sparkling form.

I would not be surprised if this was a draw and a replay but if you had to ask me to pick a winner. I think Kilkenny have the aces in the attack. Reid, Fennelly and a player called Richie Hogan hold the key. The others will follow suit. Kilkenny to win by two / three points in my opinion as Tipperary’s lack of half forward primary ball winners minus Bonner will rear its head.

Kilkenny vs. Limerick Senior Hurling Reflections

Thrilling win for Kilkenny

A thrilling contest. A contest which went down to the wire, a contest where composure and calmness were tested to maximum, a contest where the physicality and work rate were at a different stratosphere. Kilkenny emerged victorious, dethroning Limerick from their All Ireland berth by the bare minimum. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the game the morning after.

Opening exchanges absolute key

Folks will point to the closing stages but this game was won in the opening quarter. Kilkenny as expected coming out of the traps superbly. Their play was incredible for the first opening twenty minutes. Kilkenny hunted in packs; they were ravenous in their appetite to chase and harry Limerick players with possession. Limerick particularly in the middle third could not settle into rhythm, tempo and the run game from deep was completely stifled. The four week hiatus appeared to be a factor for Limerick.

Kilkenny clearly benefited from the momentum built in recent weeks. That second half performance against Cork two weeks ago was the springboard for this early opening period salvo. With Reid, Fennelly causing massive issues with their pace, movement and scoring ability, Limerick were on the back foot, always chasing the game and as a result that poise and composure required to get over the line was constantly out of reach.

Credit to Limerick for the comeback, they could have easily folded in that opening quarter. The 1-8 to 0-2 deficit after the first quarter coupled with nine wides for the reigning All Ireland championship in that opening seventeen minutes were key factors to the overall outcome.

Limerick game plan derailed early

Kilkenny took the Dublin NHL semi-final and raised it up a few notches. Kilkenny management saw at first hand during the NHL that you give Limerick the time and space from deep to create their run game, it is curtains. This was not going happen yesterday.

The sheer intensity of the harrying and closing down Limerick’s key play makers in the middle third was a video exhibit on work rate. Everyone Kilkenny emptied the tank for the cause, once they could give no more, they were whipped off and the new player would come in with further gusto.

Nicky Quaid struggled to identify a primary ball winner in the Limerick half forward line throughout; sheer numbers and astute second ball winning pivotal by Kilkenny. The short puck out option was also negated by the early head knock to Declan Hannon who is the fulcrum for this Limerick side. He could not set any tempo from the half back line pocket.

Limerick Shot selection

You have to credit Kilkenny for the wide count tally for Limerick. It was the end result of pressure exerted from the Cats throughout. The nine wides at the start of the game, at least 2/3 of the wides came from rushed efforts with Limerick players under pressure to strike their effort. The pressure of getting back into the contest all too apparent with some misguided shot selection from long distance in the second half. It will be a sore video analysis from a Limerick perspective when they review the shot selection this week.

Cool heads were required at the death and two key cameos down the stretch come to mind. David Reidy went for the goal but given the angle, was a point a better option? The final sideline cut at the end. Was their sufficient time to look to create a chance better inside? Big moments down the stretch.

That 65

The post match reaction has centered on that final sideline cut. A couple of things to note on the play. Was Buckley back the sufficient distance? The cut was deflected but no one from the officiating crew saw it. It is a clear systems failure.

The ghost goal from last season between Tipperary and Waterford was supposed to be an one off but another key decision was missed. Can technology assist further on plays like this? Can a review system come into play where a team have two reviews during the contest, if a review is unsuccessful, loss a review.

Can VAR or the fourth official on the sideline not have access to replay footage and be alerted by officials if a decision such as this is missed? Big season call missed. The All Ireland final could have something similar.

There is the small matter that if the 65 was awarded, there may have been a chance that the effort could have gone wide. Given Limerick’s shooting from distance during the encounter, there was no guarantee that the game would have been level. A big call but the question is how Limerick got into that position before this incident?

There were other official decisions that can be scrutinized but the final play of the game has stuck out. The penalty call. The helmet shots which only saw yellow cards issued. TJ Reid handpass pinged. Swings and roundabouts but the 65′ miss is a bad one. GAA officialdom have to do something on stuff like that.

Looking Forward Limerick

Incredibly proud of the Limerick side yesterday. The opening quarter start was horrendous; they could have been overwhelmed but they refused to give up and their comeback has to be applauded. The age profile of this squad means that this side should be contending for All Ireland honors for years to come. The loss yesterday is a tough one to take, it will add hunger and dog to the side next season. I am excited to see how the side develops next season.

Kilkenny and Cody Deliver Again!

What a credit Kilkenny are for hurling. Cody emerges from the contest with his reputation further enhanced (if that is possible). This squad have had their challenges this season but when it has come to the crunch in the last two weeks, Kilkenny provided cohesive performances to get over the line.

Eoin Murphy outstanding in the goals; shot stopping and then his puck out strategy was clinical providing platform for Kilkenny to prosper. The full back line stuck to their task throughout.

Lawlor at full back emerged from this contest with enormous credit. The penalty call was 50/50 at best but how Lawlor responded and then took the game to Limerick with several outstanding defensive clearances bodes well for Kilkenny in a problematic position.

The half back line were heroic. Deegan work rate and ability to burst through Limerick challenges were eye catching.

I was delighted for Padraic Walsh yesterday; his performance at half back was all action, some terrific catches aerially and stifled the influence of Kyle Hayes to the extent that the Limerick man was forced back into his half back line looking for primary possession. Mission accomplished. Fogarty is an unsung hero in this side. His versatility to play multiple positions in the half back and midfield emerged yesterday with an assured performance from wing back.

The youth and experience upfront was a decisive factor in the outcome. Mullen for such a young player is playing at a level of a seasoned professional. The leadership down the stretch was incredible and along with John Donnelly was standout.

TJ Reid — outstanding. The complete player. The complete package with his free taking and then his open play which saw some vital primary ball possession in the final quarter which shifted momentum back into Kilkenny’s favor. Hurler of the Year is locked down surely after yesterday.

Colin Fennelly inside in full forward provided key cameo moments. His goal provided Kilkenny with their rewards for a dominant opening quarter. His ability to turn Finn and then clinically dispatch the sliothar into the net was top class. The goal provided further impetus for Kilkenny.

Brian Cody. Incredible management performance yesterday. Sixteen All Ireland semi-final wins out of nineteen. The greatest manager the game will ever see. This victory will be a sweet one for Cody; the satisfaction on his face post game was all you needed to know. His side had gone to the well again and they delivered for him again. The Kilkenny juggernaut never went away you know?

Limerick vs. Kilkenny: Key Battles

Evening throw-in is setup to deliver fireworks

The summer is hurtling along at a rate of knots. Wimbledon, One Day Cricket World Cup are in the books for another year. The Tour is about to conclude at the weekend which means that the All Ireland series is getting to the business end of the championship.

Limerick after their impressive Munster Senior Hurling final victory over Tipperary four weeks ago face a Kilkenny with momentum aplenty after an eye catching second half display against Cork. Will the four week layoff hinder Limerick? Hawkeye Sidekick previews the action.

Curse of the Munster Senior Hurling Champions

In recent times, victors of the Munster inter-provincial senior hurling crown have struggled in the All Ireland semi-final fixture to get over the line. Limerick must be wary of the lay off effects today as they look for a second consecutive All Ireland hurling appearance.

The parallel for Limerick is when they entered the Munster SHC this season. After an excellent NHL campaign, John Kiely’s charges were caught cold at home to Cork; a performance which lacked composure all over the field. Limerick must start the game today on point; otherwise it could be a long evening at HQ.

Limerick run game

The intriguing pregame note is how Kilkenny look to stifle the Limerick run game. Limerick’s middle third when in full flow are incredibly hard to stop and was seen to full effect when the two sides met at Nowlan Park in the NHL. The running game from Limerick creating goal scoring opportunities which Kilkenny defensively had precious little answers on the day.

Their All Ireland quarter final fixture last season saw Limerick victorious and in the process creating several wonderful goal chances which only for Eoin Murphy would have seen Limerick win by a more handsome margin. The physicality and hard running lines of Limerick if on point will be extremely hard to stop.

Do Kilkenny deploy sweepers in the half back line to combat the run game of the likes of Lynch, Hegarty, Morrissey and the marauding Hayes at half-forward? Given the full back line vulnerabilities, this option looks likely at some points during the contest. I would expect John Donnelly to hover around the half back and midfield for a good chunk of this contest but by doing so could leave someone like Diarmuid Byrnes in acres of space to score from long range at will.

Kilkenny look to their experienced forwards

Kilkenny’s team selection is do or die from the first whistle. Zero room for error. A squad bench which has potential if unproven. The fact that Walter Walsh starts an indication that Kilkenny are looking to establish early momentum and a primary ball winner in the air in the opening period.

Kilkenny will look to go for the throat early as they typically do. TJ Reid has been wonderful this season. 5-52 so far this season. His contribution on the scoreboard a major factor for Kilkenny negotiating the Leinster SHC this season. His free taking unerring and his ability to score from play and provide stealth assists to the fore in recent fixtures.

Richie Hogan provided a timely cameo of his class last time out. A superb goal and a couple of instinctive points showing that Hogan is hitting form at the right time of the championship year. Given Limerick’s fitness and conditioning, can he play the entire contest?

Limerick man marking decisions

A couple of key decisions for John Kiely, Paul Kinnerk and management to get right this evening. Who will pick up TJ Reid? I suspect that it will be a collective responsibility player call, some zonal marking mixed with William O’Donoghue looking to track Reid at various times to throw different looks.

The Fennelly man marking job inside will be Mike Casey with Sean Finn providing support if required inside. Declan Hannon at half back will look to sit in the pocket and dictate play from just inside his half back line. Hannon cannot be moved around the field like what happened against Cork at the start of the championship.

Hannon dictates the run game for Limerick from deep. Hannon establishes tempo. Hannon is a primary game player from deep for Limerick. It will be interesting to see how Kilkenny look to negate Hannon’s influence as if unaffected, Limerick will be in prime position to win this fixture with a bit to spare.

Can Limerick convert goal chances?

The Kilkenny full back has been under the microscope this season. The full back position is an area where Huw Lawlor, Joey Holden have been exposed due to lack of defensive shape in front of them. Galway this season ran at Kilkenny from deep and created several goal scoring chances.

It is a day where Aaron Gillane could flourish if given the opportunity. His 2-36 tally has been excellent again and there have been spurned goal scoring opportunities as well. Gillane’s pace, power and ability to pick off full back’s with his pace and movement could be seen yet again today.

If Kilkenny decide to negate Gillane’s influence, Peter Casey and Graham Mulcahy also come into the reckoning. Casey’s performance last time out was sensational. His scoring prowess, work rate to the fore. Mulcahy has quietly gone about his business this season and I believe is primed for a huge performance today. His pace and eye for a score is never in doubt.

The Kilkenny full back line are in for an arduous task provided their colleagues can stifle Limerick’s run game and quick ball distribution inside. The threat from Limerick attacking line is relentless; their pace and power has caused endless issues for teams this year and I don’t see that changing today.

Verdict

The four week hiatus is the only concern I have for Limerick today. The bench impact is huge for Limerick in the final quarter of games, something that Kilkenny have yet to prove. If Limerick can get into tempo and scoring form early, they are well placed to win this fixture.

Kilkenny must start with gusto and go for the throat early. A couple of early goals to rattle Limerick confidence, build the lead heading into the final quarter where the Limerick bench impact will come to the fore.

The verdict rests in the defensive lineups. Given that Limerick have a more settled feel and look to the defensive units, they get my vote. Kilkenny’s full back line is a concern and Eoin Murphy will need to produce a top quality performance in the goals for Kilkenny. Limerick if on form will get goal chances and this time will convert.

An interesting throw in time. A fixture which needs to light up the championship. Kilkenny to provide a serious challenge but if this Limerick side are to be considered in the elite team ranks of recent times, they need to deliver a dominant, classy performance today. This group of players want more, want more silverware. Limerick by four points.

Munster SHC Final Preview

Intriguing subplots at LIT Gaelic Grounds

Apologies one and all. A quite hectic couple of weeks on the day job front has meant little time to blog, little time to reflect on the shadow boxing which went on two weeks ago in Thurles. This weekend should be completely different proposition as Limerick and Tipperary lock horns again for Munster SHC bragging rights. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the team news and key contests that will decide this provincial decider.

Team News:

Limerick team news was hardly a surprise. The return of Gearoid Hegarty into the starting lineup and Declan Hannon back at half back with Paddy O’Loughlin making way. Peter Casey gets another opportunity to impress in the forward line after a mixed performance last time out. The rest of the team ran along familiar lines. Cian Lynch back in the midfield area as well.

Tipperary’s selection was an intriguing one. We knew that Bonner Maher was out for the rest of the season and that Cathal Barrett was going to miss out on the provincial decider or was he? Barrett is named at corner back, a welcome boost for Liam Sheedy but is Barrett’s hamstring fully recovered?

It is a big call from Liam Sheedy and Tipperary management. The squad depth chart at corner back perhaps a concern for management. If Barrett plays on Sunday and pulls up with a more severe hamstring injury then conceivably Tipperary’s All Ireland hopes could be up in smoke before the All Ireland series begins.

Key Battles:

Can Limerick’s half back line set the platform to create the running game? Hannon’s return to the half back position will see game management and much improved distribution from defense. He will look to slot in front of the full back line and look to set the tempo and launch attacks from deep. The counter argument is that Hannon could be moved around the half back line thus negating his impact and allowing Callanan the space to produce a match wining performance yet again.

Tipperary’s middle third has impressed throughout this championship. Their ferocious work rate, slick skill set and movement has caught the eye with numerous attacking contributions from the Maher’s in the half back line, the play making brilliance of Noel McGrath, the energy and power of Michael Breen and the slick attacking lines of O’Dwyer, Bonner and Forde.

How Limerick look to negate these units will be intriguing to see. O’Donoghue and Lynch in midfield have huge roles to play on Sunday. O’Donoghue providing defensive nous and looking to man mark Noel McGrath at all times. Lynch’s running game from deep should pose Tipperary defensive issues to combat and his ability to create for the likes of Gillane inside.

The story of the full forwards could be a key talking point pregame. Both Aaron Gillane and Seamus Callanan have shown their brilliance this season and Callanan was sublime in Thurles two weeks ago. His goal oozed class and his movement caused Limerick’s full back line endless problems. Gillane had good moments as well but Tipperary adjusted well in the third quarter to cut the supply of ball into the Patrickswell clubman as Limerick’s running game waned significantly in the second half.

For Limerick to win, the run game is paramount. The run game needs to put Tipperary defensively under pressure. The run game should yield frees to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The squad depth looks favored for the reigning All Ireland Champions. The likes of Dowling, Flanagan, Ryan, O’Donovan to come in and make an impact.

Tipperary have massive potential in the likes of Mark Kehoe but the bench looks unproven and the decision to start Barrett an indicator that the corner back options in reserve are a tough vulnerable. If Tipperary stop the Limerick run game like they did last time out, then the Munster SHC title will be headed to the Premier County.

Verdict:

Plenty of Limerick supporters are quietly confident of a win this weekend but Tipperary personally are the favorites heading into this contest. They have been the form side of the province this season; their defensive and attacking performances have been standouts. 4/4 in the round robin. It seems harsh that they have to travel to their opposition for the decider.

Limerick management will have learned plenty from the loss to Tipperary two weeks ago. Tipperary’s full back line will be tested from minute one and if there are any doubts on Barrett”s fitness, they will be answered in double quick time. Sean O’Brien as well could be tested more extensively particularly if Peter Casey is deployed in a more advanced position.

Tipperary need to have this game put to bed heading into the final quarter so expecting a fast start from Liam Sheedy’s men. The bench impact is a concern and whether Tipperary will have the gap required to close out this contest heading into the final quarter remains up in the air. The absence of Bonner Maher is huge.

Head on the block time. Tipperary go into this as favorites but I suspect that Limerick management have devised a game plan and strategy to unsettle the Tipperary middle third to secure this victory. Peter Casey needs to deliver on Sunday and expect him to be a prominent player at the weekend. Limerick to edge this encounter by three points but Limerick’s middle third work rate and execution must be on the money this weekend.

Munster GAA Hurling Championship: Round 3 Preview

Plenty at stake this weekend

After a week’s hiatus, the Munster Senior Hurling Championship is back. An opportunity for sides to review their performances to date as well as a chance to earmark this weekend as the weekend to send out the performance to spook the rest of the competition. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the fixtures up for decision.

Do or Die contest at Walsh Park

Waterford are in must win territory; two disappointing losses to Clare and Tipperary has the Deise with their backs against the wall. This weekend sees Limerick travel to Walsh Park who themselves are looking for a performance and result after a disappointing opening fixture loss to Cork at home.

How is the fixture going to go? I expect Waterford this time around in Walsh Park to produce a stirring display. The shackles of the opening home fixture are a distant history and the side know that they have to deliver this weekend, otherwise their season is up at 4pm tomorrow.

Waterford need their leaders to set to the mark. Austin Gleeson needs to be the focal point for this side; his performances to date in the championship have seen flashes of brilliance but Waterford need more from their outfield talisman. Dare I say will Waterford management ask Gleeson to roam in the middle third for possession as his vision and game reading are sensational.

With Philip O’Mahony out of the fixture, the mantle of defensive leadership needs to come from the likes of Connors, Moran and Fives. These players are vastly experienced and need to create the defensive platform for the middle third to prosper.

Can Maurice Shanahan provide the physicality and composure in the full forward line to unsettle Limerick defensively? Shanahan on his day is an absolute nightmare to contain so it will be interesting to see if Limerick decide to withdraw Declan Hannon back in front of the full back to mope up Waterford long ball in?

Limerick have been stung after their home loss to Cork. It can be seen as a blessing given that it happened so early in the championship. This two week window has given John Kiely and management an opportunity to reflect and regroup the panel to deliver a better overall performance this weekend.

For Limerick to win this fixture, look at the performance of the middle third in the first quarter. The half back line so usually a rock for this side were pulled out of position and Cork were able to create numerous opportunity for Horgan and Cadogan inside. The Limerick half back line never setup the platform during the contest; a repeat of the Cork showing and John Kiely’s men are facing into another loss.

The Limerick management have tweaked the starting lineup. Two personnel changes from the side that lost to Cork. Byrnes and O’Donovan drop out for O’Loughlin and O’Donoghue who will bring height and physicality to proceedings but will this affect the Limerick running game in the middle third?

I was surprised that Limerick only dropped two players from the starting lineup. Several forwards were on the cusp after their Cork cameos. It is a huge day for Peter Casey tomorrow; ability is not in question but he needs to provide scoring threat inside to complement Gillane now as he was sporadic in his contribution last time out.

50/50 call. I always fear a side who are facing a potential last man standing scenario. This is where Waterford are this weekend, expecting the home side to tear into Limerick early. The Limerick performance in the opening quarter should set the tone for them, players will look to rebound from that troubling opening day loss.

The tight confines of Walsh Park does no favors for this Waterford side, they have played better in the confines of Thurles in recent years which showcases their pace and mobility out wide. This is a contest where physicality could be decisive and I think Limerick have the edge in this department.

There is a question mark on the Waterford full back position and with Aaron Gillane looking to provide a reminder of his talents, Limerick for me have the edge by three to four points. A far from perfect Limerick performance but I think this group of players are looking to redeem themselves after the Cork loss.

The real test starts for Tipperary

There has been plenty of positive, feel good commentary coming from the media and within the Tipperary camp in the last two weeks. Tipperary are back. Hold on, not too quickly as the next two Munster Championship fixtures will tell plenty of where Tipperary are.

Why do I say this? Cork were indifferent in the opening round, exposed Tipperary discipline in the opening period. Waterford were reduced to fourteen players, staged a superb twenty minute salvo thereafter until Tipperary scored that opening goal. There are areas of both performances which Liam Sheedy and management will not be happy with.

Saying that, Tipperary’s forward line units have gone extremely well aided in no small part to the performances of the Maher’s in the half back line and the resurgence of Michael Breen in the middle third. The movement and scoring prowess of the Tipperary has been sensational.

The Tipperary forward line face their toughest test to date. Cusack Park is an old school pitch, tough road trip venue, supporters are on your back from minute one. The Clare setup will be interesting in the middle third, look to cut the space for the Tipperary forward line by deploying the likes of Ryan and Duggan in deep positions.

Clare are my fancy for Munster SHC honors this season. There is a potency in their aerial threat with Ryan and Duggan in the half forward providing excellent primary possession options for Tuohy in goal. Tony Kelly free flowing displays, game reading par excellence lit up the Waterford opening round victory.

The Banner County have superb options in midfield to contribute in the scoring department. Colm Galvin is a player who continues to excel and then you have the threat of the front two of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell inside where their understanding and prowess is impressive.

The role of Podge Collins in this fixture could make or break this fixture. The Cratloe man will be roaming around the middle third, picking up the second ball and looking to provide both defensive and attacking options for his side. What do Tipperary do with the player? Zonal mark Collins or look to man mark the player out of the contest but leave space inside for Conlon and Collins?

This is the pick of the games this weekend. Clare are a formidable side at home and expect that to continue. Tipperary’s back line is prone to conceding easy frees and with Peter Duggan looking as sharp as last season, it will provide Clare with easy scores to settle into the contest.

The manner in which Tipperary will look to solve Clare’s middle third setup will be the talking point; potential and skill set in the side but Liam Sheedy and management may need to execute a running based game at times to create space for the Tipperary inside full forward line in the final quarter. It is all set up to be an excellent day of small ball.

Leinster SHC: Reflections

Trends emerging!

Two rounds of games into Leinster SHC and we have learned a couple of things. Kilkenny will be advancing deep into the championship and Carlow have found life tricky with the Leinster Hurling elite. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action so far and points to areas where each side will focus on in the closing rounds of the provincial championship.

Kilkenny impressive early

Top of the table – look good

Kilkenny have started this championship in good form. They were given a scare from Dublin in the opening round but thanks to some shrewd managerial half time switches and the attacking threat of the Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent, the game was secured and was followed up with a routine victory over near neighbors Carlow on the road.

Two games left on the schedule with a home game against Galway and a road trip fixture to Wexford; two games which should provide plenty of evidence on how deep Brian Cody’s side will go in the championship this summer.

Looking Forward:

TJ Reid has been in sparkling form for Kilkenny this season. He has continued his club form with the county and coupled with the likes of Colin Fennelly and rookie Adrian Mullen, they have lit up the championship.

The potential issue from Kilkenny is who else can fill the void for TJ Reid if the talisman threat is restricted from the forty. The panel contains plenty of promising prospects but can the likes of Richie Leahy assume the leadership role in the scoring department?

The injury list for Kilkenny has allowed Brian Cody to run the rule over his goalkeeping and full back positions. The schedule has been kind to Kilkenny but tougher tests lie ahead. Kilkenny defensive middle will be peppered in the next few weeks and whether Kilkenny have a backup plan if the defensive middle is exposed is a different story.

Galway: Life without Joe

Galway tests begin now

The injury to Joe Canning saw plenty of Galway locals question how the squad would cope without the talisman. We are going to find out now as Galway’s key tests begin in this championship with a crunch fixture against Wexford.

The win over Carlow was an interesting affair. Carlow provided stiff resistance for long periods and it was a good test for the Galway players looking for game time to impress management. Niall Burke took his chance and should be a key player for Galway in Canning’s absence.

A win over Wexford will see Galway within touching distance of securing a top three berth and with Dublin already under massive pressure, Galway could be in prime position to qualify before this fixture takes place.

Looking Forward:

Has Galway built up the squad depth in the off season to offset any further injury blows? Canning is out and what happens if someone like Daithi Burke were to go down with injury. The full back options look limited. This series of games will test squad depth and rotation. The squad depth verdict is still open for many Galway hurling supporters particularly the spine of the side so it will be interesting to see how the panel fare.

The scoring impetus will be duly noted. The absence of Joe Canning should mean more added responsibility to others in the forward line to express themselves. The hope is that Niall Burke, Jason Flynn, Joseph Cooney, Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion provide the scoring nous required. Leadership is required from the forward line.

Dublin: Under pressure, backs against the wall!

Dublin struggling

This championship season saw optimism aplenty for Dublin. New management, a promising NHL campaign suggested that Dublin would be competitive but only one point from their first two championship games has exposed issues at both ends of the park.

The road trip to Kilkenny on the opening championship weekend was seen by many as an opportunity for Dublin to expose the injury crisis of the hosts. It all started so well but once Liam Rushe threat was snuffed out in attack, Dublin were unable to score at the rate required to secure the win. The defense also struggled to contain the threat of the Kilkenny forward line.

The home fixture against Wexford was a mixed bag. The exhilaration of a last gasp goal to salvage a draw but for long periods, Wexford controlled the middle third exchanges and Dublin’s attacking threat was inconsistent. There are issues to ponder for Mattie Kenny and backroom staff ahead of the final championship fixtures which sees a do or die fixture against Galway and a road trip to Carlow.

Looking Forward:

The key indicator for Dublin is how the likes of Danny Sutcliffe and Liam Rushe are involved in proceedings. If these two star players are on the ball influencing events, good things will happen for Dublin.

Both have had good cameos but they need to come more into these games. They will only achieve this influence if the side are on the front foot and look to attack with the sliothar and not look to clog up the middle third from a defensive sense.

The Galway fixture is the key game for Mattie Kenny’s side. They need to win this fixture, a home game and one where the side must deliver a performance. The thinking would be that they account for Carlow and five points is the magic number. All to play for but attacking potency needs to improve.

Wexford tactical switch required

Wexford face key weeks in their side development

Wexford were a puck of a sliothar away from securing a massive road trip to Dublin last weekend; thought they deserved the win on the balance of play as their key men delivered.

The goal conceded at the death was a mysterious concession with so many players on the line. Once the goalkeeper made the decision to come out and save the free, the responsibility is on the net minder and once he missed the sliothar, the ball evaded several others players in the goal. Disappointing concession.

The first game out and Wexford have hit the ground running. Impressive conditioning and work rate last weekend from the side when you compare Limerick’s performance. The opening championship game can be a tricky one to get right from a performance. Davy Fitzgerald got the team prep spot on.

Looking Forward:

Another road trip game, this time to Galway. Wexford should be looking to deliver a performance against a side who embarrassed them badly last season at Innovate Park. The work rate and tempo will be key for Wexford to unsettle a Galway side without the leadership of Joe Canning. Do not be surprised if Wexford get a result in Galway!

The tactical game plan may require a tweak. This Wexford side can express themselves more in attack but they are setup too defensively personally. There are times when Wexford will need to be defensive but would like the side to take a game by the scruff of the neck. They have the players to do so. O’Connor, McDonald, Chin are attacking threats. The running game should be a key weapon for Wexford considering their middle third pace and power. A key season for Davy Fitzgerald and team. Wexford expects!

Carlow look to take a notable scalp!

Carlow have endured a tricky start to Leinster SHC

Carlow have drawn a tricky opening first two rounds of the Leinster SHC. A road trip to All Ireland finalists Galway and then a home game against near neighbors and hurling aristocrats Kilkenny has provided Colm Bonnar’s side with first hand knowledge of the level required to compete in Tier I hurling.

Carlow impressed me when they played Galway in round one. They were well conditioned and several players caught the eye. Kavanagh and Doyle in forward line hit some lovely scores. Carlow were unlucky with some officiating decisions against them which thwarted any momentum to reduce the deficit to less than three points in the third quarter of the second half.

The home fixture against Kilkenny was a tough ask; they competed well but Kilkenny were typical Kilkenny. They went for the throat early and secured the game winning margin early. I am sure Carlow will dust themselves down and look with optimism for the rest of the championship.

Looking Forward:

Carlow are looking for a scalp in this championship. Dublin at home could be their opportunity provided that their discipline defensively improves. They have conceded far too many needless frees in the opening two rounds. The attacking threat is good and with Dublin under pressure, it is an opportunity for an upset. The Wexford road trip; another local derby game. The shackles should be off Carlow and they should go out and play their best hurling. No regrets!

Munster SHC: Reflections

Interesting subplots in the opening fixtures

A week to get our breathe back after an exhilarating opening two rounds of the Munster SHC. The supposedly home comforts theory has been smashed with only Tipperary the only side to enjoy a home win so far. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at each county, where they are and what improvements are required for each to make the top three.

Tipperary: Looking good but tougher tests lie ahead!

Tipperary attack potent

The Tipperary team have started the championship with gusto. They have signaled their intent with two outstanding attacking performances.

The way they dismantled Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was noteworthy; their middle third work rate and tackling was unrelenting from minute one, something which was lacking last season.

The distribution from the back line and midfield to the forward lines have been noteworthy. The quick precise distribution into space for the likes of the McGrath’s and O’Dwyer to receive and create has caused nightmares for both Cork and Waterford so far. The movement of the forward line unit coupled with the goal threat inside means that Clare defensively must be on top form to thwart Liam Sheedy’s men next time around.

Looking Ahead:

The real test begins for Tipperary. Waterford will point to the red card of Conor Gleeson. Cork can argue that perhaps their side were slow to get into the tempo and rhythm of championship hurling the first day out. What is assured is that Clare will pose serious questions of Tipperary defensively.

Clare’s running game will look to expose any pace issues in the Tipperary rearguard and the fact that Tipperary’s back line have conceded their fair share of frees in the opening two games suggests that there is scope for improvement from the Premier County defensively in this area of the game.

Cork: Back in contention but consistency is key

Cork back in contention

The reaction of Cork’s backroom staff last weekend during their victory over Limerick said enough. They fought for every decision for their side. I have never seen Kieran Fraggy Murphy so emotional on a hurling pitch.

The team had to endure a week of critique from hurling pundits and supporters in their own county. The Limerick game was a release of energy to silence the doubters and they delivered a performance particularly in that third quarter where they made their game winning run.

The immediate aftermath has seen Cork get the plaudits they so richly deserve but the management and players must now knuckle down and focus for the rest of the championship. Nothing is guaranteed with this win and more hard work is required in the coming weeks.

Pa Horgan has been heroic for Cork this season. He is the talisman. He is the player that looks to create and score for the Rebel County. Horgan must be a lock for a nomination as Hurler of the Year already.

His scoring averages are through the roof and his contribution from open play has been sensational. His goal against Limerick in round two sensational; his ability to win the aerial duel with Mike Casey and the composure to dispatch the sliothar into the net oozed class.

Looking Forward:

The blueprint for Cork’s performance levels were set at LIT Gaelic Grounds. The work rate, the tempo and tackling ethos must be present for Cork for the rest of the season. Any ingredient missing from Cork’s display in the next few weeks will see losses particularly away to Ennis where realistically they need a result to get through to the top three!

The defensive back line was excellent against Limerick. Eoin Cadogan needs to continue to keep the shackles on opposition forward threats and the half back line of Downey, Ellis and Coleman will continue to dominate like they did against Limerick.

Bill Cooper and his fitness is paramount to this side. Cooper was so badly missed against Tipperary. His organizational skills and ability to read the game was so underrated.

Cork need to spread the attacking scores more from Pa Horgan. It started last weekend with Seamus Harnedy and Alan Cadogan taking on the mantle. Lehane and Kearney will also need to continue to provide attacking threat for the rest of the season. Cork are a threat to anyone this season on the back of that Limerick performance but was it an one-off? Time will tell.

Clare: Ominously well placed

Clare ominously placed

Clare sat out last weekend’s action. Their one point win over Waterford on the road on the opening round of the championship was a superb start.

The side were excellent for fifty minutes of the contest. The inside full forward unit of John Conlon and Shane O’Donnell had Waterford’s full back line in serious trouble and were unlucky not to score more than the one goal.

The middle third was aerially dominant during that period, impressed with the likes of Diarmuid Ryan whose height and physicality complements the threat of Peter Duggan in the half forward line. Tony Kelly was his marauding best; his run game and long range shooting is sensational. Kelly is a majestic stick player!

Looking Forward:

The one critique for Clare to address is that they made life extremely hard for themselves in the last quarter of the Waterford game. They allowed Waterford to setup a platform in the middle third as they pulled players back defensively to close space in the Waterford forward line.

There is a question mark on how Clare close these games? I would like to see them go for the throat and close out games with attacking play. The summer championship see teams with vast array of long range shooting options so to deploy additional players forty meters from your goal is at times questionable.

Clare management need to pick and chose their moments to become ultra defensive. This side is naturally setup to attack teams and perhaps they should let the team attack as their best form of defense. Kilkenny in their prime were sensational in attacking teams to submission. Clare should follow suit.

Clare’s home form will be tested with home fixtures to Tipperary and Cork plus throw in a small derby clash with near neighbors for Limerick. This is not the time for Clare to become ultra cautious in their approach. Trust the player’s skill set and good things will come!

Limerick: Champions must regroup fast!

Regroup required

Limerick may have received a timely reality check in their loss to Cork. They have two weeks to regroup as management and squad to reflect and address the work rate and middle third issues which were exposed against Cork.

This side does not become a poor one overnight. The fact that Cork had a serious seventy minutes of championship hurling under their belt prior to last weekend was a key factor. Limerick struggled to get to the rhythm and tempo of the contest; were put under incredible pressure by a Cork middle third who worked tirelessly throughout.

The fixture at Walsh Park was always a crucial fixture but it is do or die for both Waterford and Limerick sides in round three. A loss for either and their championship season is done and dusted. Limerick with two games to go would then need to turn the tables on Clare and Tipperary which is a tall order so this fixture is a massive must win.

Looking Forward:

Time for Limerick to do their talking on the hurling pitch. Cork successfully got under Limerick’s forward threat skin with Gillane continually looking to engage with Eoin Cadogan in the sledging stakes when he should have been focused on making those trademark diagonal runs to create attacking opportunities.

The Limerick half back line cannot play as badly as an unit as they did last weekend. Their positioning, their lack of dominance under the dropping ball and the lack of running game from them to setup an attacking platform all hurt the side. Two weeks of preparation to address this.

Limerick management must regroup the players and look to restore confidence in the ranks. The loss will have dented confidence but now is not the time to ditch their trademark game plan. The focus should be on the basic skill set, the first touch and passing was inconsistent last weekend.

This is a side that needs to deliver a performance. Waterford away is a tough assignment. Time will tell if this Limerick side can embrace the favorites / champion tag? They are the side to be shot at.

Waterford: Backs against the wall time!

Waterford backs against the wall

Waterford are 0/2 from the championship so far. A one point loss to Clare at home in Walsh Park was a disappointment given the excitement of the Waterford public that their side would be playing their home games in the county.

Walsh Park is a tough venue for any visiting side but the occasion on round one got a couple of players. The shackles came off with twenty minutes to go against Clare and despite not playing to their full potential could have snatched a draw.

The Thurles road trip was summed up by the second yellow card for Conor Gleeson, a clear game changer but the resolute fight from the Deise immediately after the red card at the start of the second half was commendable. The losing margin means little as they were then forced to chase the game and left a potent Tipperary forward line with the space to create and score.

Looking Forward:

Waterford management and backroom staff need to answer two key questions. How do they involve Austin Gleeson more in these contests? Gleeson is their standout talent and the fact that he has fleetingly featured in the two championship games is not good enough.

Is Gleeson a wing forward? He is not asserting any dominance or influence on proceedings. I sense Gleeson needs to be deployed either at half back or midfield in order to run with the sliothar. The fixture against Limerick is make or break for Waterford. If Gleeson is subdued yet again, the championship will be over.

The free taking issue is one to watch for Waterford in the remaining championship games. Bennett or O’Mahony? O’Mahony is a stand out free taker. Every point will be required now, no brainer decision.

The scores against in the last two championship is a source for concern as well. Quick ball from Limerick to the inside full forward line has the potential to create havoc for the Waterford full back line so the game management of Tadhg De Burca will be vital next weekend given the injury of Philip O’Mahony sustained last weekend.

Cork Senior Hurlers provide Limerick with plenty to ponder

Cork resurrect their season; Limerick need to regroup

As Nicky Quaid was about to pass the sliothar to a defensive colleague in the fifth minute of second half injury time, the final whistle went with huge roars of approval from the large Cork travelling support, management and players.

A defining game in their championship season and the Rebels delivered a performance to quieten those who doubted the team after their disappointing home loss to Tipperary last weekend.

Cork’s middle third which was much maligned last week in terms of work rate, game management and defensive tracking were on it from minute one. They harassed, they pressured, they executed the game plan of isolating the inside Limerick full back line to a tee.

Bill Cooper was outstanding in the engine room of Cork’s midfield. The Youghal man was composed with the ball and his game management and organization was immense.

It was an excellent day for the Cork management whose decision to start Aidan Walsh in the half forward line paid huge dividends. The Kanturk talisman was a focal point in the air and his breaking of ball for the likes of Meade and Kearney saw several noteworthy points from play.

The Cork half forward lines consistent quick movement caused Limerick’s much vaunted half back line serious troubles. There was an uneasiness about Limerick’s half back play today; the unit were consistently caught out on the Cork puck out strategy and with no genuine support from their half forward line and midfield, it left massive holes for Alan Cadogan and Pa Horgan to exploit inside.

Cork have resurrected their season on the back of this performance. They will be the first to realize that this performance guarantees nothing in the coming weeks but what it does show is that John Meyler’s charges when on form can beat anyone and significantly have the guile and game smarts to close out a contest. The margin of victory was accurate given the context of the proceedings.

Where now for Limerick? The game was a day to forget for all involved including management who struggled to find answers to Cork’s tactical switches throughout. There was a nervousness to Limerick’s play; regulation passes came unstuck causing additional defensive issues and score concessions.

The middle third was the fulcrum last year for Limerick but they were absent for long periods of this contest. The half back line never set the aerial platform. Hannan was increasingly isolated with Cork’s half forward line movement. Morrissey was pushed too far up the pitch to compete with Aidan Walsh in the air as Richie English faced an unenviable task. Byrnes was often in his full back line looking to receive ball. No team can win a championship based on the struggles of the half back line.

The midfield unit struggled. O’Donovan running game was quickly snuffed out and it affected other parts of his game; his usually high standard of sideline cutting was absent. Cian Lynch fought gallantly with some lung bursting runs but you felt that Lynch decided to take the leadership mantle on and win the game on his own; a glorious goal opportunity spurned in the closing stages when a sharp pass to Dowling was the better option.

The half forward line was sporadic for long periods. Hayes at times won the dirty ball but Hegarty and Tom Morrissey struggled for rhythm and aerial duels today. Downey and Coleman personally were standouts for Cork; they played a superbly astute game plan in the aerial battle and their pace and passing was exceptional.

The inside full forward line was threatening when good early ball came from the Limerick midfield and half back line. Graeme Mulcahy’s goal was razor sharp; good anticipation after a Hannan miscued point reached the Kilmallock man. His goal was emphatic; there was nothing Anthony Nash could do.

Aaron Gillane is a player I greatly admire but today Cork got under his skin yet again. His red card last year down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was only going to invite further sledging today and he unfortunately took the bait; engaging with verbals with Cadogan throughout and not providing the full forward platform that Limerick required with his running down the channels. Gillane is better than that.

Peter Casey worked hard but precious little went right for the Na Piarsaigh front man; guilty of several unforced possession losses. It was a day to forget for Limerick.

Limerick’s performance was flat; their performance lacked the bite and drive required in Munster SHC. Limerick’s looked one paced throughout and it will be interesting to see the reaction in the camp ahead of a crucial tussle in two weeks time on the road. The players looked leggy heading into the final quarter; pressure had tolled.

The running game and passing game which has served Limerick so well in the last eighteen months was a non-factor. The work rate and ability to win the 50/50 ball was second best today. The reality check has being issued; it was sent loud and clear in LIT Gaelic Grounds.

For management, it will require cool heads and composure to dissect this flat performance. It is the first day out in the championship; seven weeks since their last competitive game is a factor but the players will know themselves the levels required to compete in this provincial championship.

The team pride themselves on their standards and one would hope that the players and management are honest in their appraisal of today. Lessons need to be learned and quickly. An interesting two weeks beckons. John Kiely looked like a man who was absolutely livid with that display in his post game comments.

One game does not make a team a bad outfit but this was a performance to focus the minds of all associated with Limerick; the euphoria of last year’s championship win has being smashed after today. It is the here and now and failure to produce better performances in the coming weeks will see an early summer exit for the reigning All Ireland Senior Hurling Champions.

For Cork, a day to be proud of. A game which required a performance was delivered and for the squad and management, confidence should be restored to launch another provincial tilt. With Horgan, Harnedy and Cadogan in the forward line sparkling, this level of consistency is the blueprint.

If Cork can deliver this performance until the end of the season, then they will be a tough side to watch. Two teams met today; one team entered the arena with their backs and reputations on the line, that team delivered, that team was Cork!

Senior Hurling Reflections

Key fixtures on tap this weekend

After the opening round of provincial championship games, early trends have emerged. This weekend is backs against the walls for some, for others the prize of a much coveted home win will be crucial in their championship ambitions. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the fixtures on tap.

Munster SHC: Cork and Waterford in must win territory

The mission statement is simple for Cork and Waterford this weekend; it is a must win game. A loss this weekend and their championship ambitions will be given a fatal blow.

Cork travel to Limerick whose performance will be keenly observed. The squad looks well equipped to go deep in the championship but for that to happen John Kiely’s charges must deliver from the first minute tomorrow.

Cork have taken stock of their loss to Tipperary at home last weekend; the lack of defensive and middle third dominance was glaring. Cooper comes back to the starting lineup, a massive boost as his experience was sorely missed.

Limerick have named a strong first fifteen with fourteen of those featuring in the All Ireland final last year. Peter Casey in the corner forward position potentially could be a pivotal player for Limerick as Cork focus their attention on the likes of Hayes and Gillane.

If Limerick can produce the work rate, tempo and slick passing game which they showed in the NHL final, then the Cork middle third are in for a long afternoon. Cork need more from Harnedy, Lehane to support Pa Horgan who was outstanding last weekend.

The opening exchanges in this contest will be pivotal. If Limerick can start in good fashion, then this game is theirs. Cork will travel to Limerick with no fear; they did a job on Limerick in the NHL earlier this year. Limerick have been warned and will want to send out a massive statement of intent. Limerick for me by five points after a testing opening period.

Waterford were very disappointing last weekend. Their performance was off from minute one. The skill set and first touch was off. Was it due to the long awaited Walsh Park cameo? Some players let the occasion get to them and the free taking situation was a source of concern throughout.

When you consider Padraic O’Mahony is one of the standout free takers in the country, how is he not on the frees? A question for Waterford management to reflect on. Points went a begging last weekend and it was crucial when it came down to the wire.

The inside full forward line needs bolstering. Maurice Shanahan for me is the perfect full forward target man alongside Patrick Curran. Both players could contribute if given space in a two man full forward line.

Tipperary on the other hand will look to consolidate their performance last weekend. O’Dwyer was majestic in the half forward line but will he and the Tipp forward line unit be afforded the same space and time as last weekend?

The Tipperary half back line were standout. The Maher’s last weekend dominated everything in the air and they setup a massive attacking platform with quality scores and distribution from long range. It was great to see Brendan Maher back to his prime after a horrific knee injury last year.

The outcome of this game is the performance of Austin Gleeson. If the Waterford talisman continues to be a minimal game change influencer in the half forward line, the game is up for Waterford. Gleeson needs to be either half-back or roving in the middle third to make things happen.

Tipperary for me were very impressive last weekend. The pace and speed of Waterford will test them defensively but their scoring power looks awesome again. Tipperary for me by five points.

Leinster SHC: Wexford enter the fold

I am looking forward to the fixture of Carlow and Kilkenny. It will be a good barometer to see Carlow’s form in this championship; their promising cameo against Galway last weekend was full of energy and work rate. Kavanagh and Doyle shone for Carlow.

Kilkenny showed why they will go deep in the championship later in the year; their ability to adjust at half time against Dublin was managerial masterclass 101. The tactic switches worked perfectly and with the Ballyhale contingent playing superb hurling in the attack, this win was the impressive performance last weekend.

What to expect in Netwatch Park? Carlow to provide stiff resistance in a local derby contest. Kilkenny to make the adjustments to secure a road trip win but the hope is that Colm Bonnar’s side will be competitive for the whole contest. The discipline issue was highlighted last weekend in Galway and has to improve this weekend and for the rest of the championship.

Kilkenny for me with TJ Reid providing inspiration and creativity in a six points win.

Dublin like Cork and Waterford are in a backs against the wall situation. A home fixture to focus the minds after a demoralizing second half loss to Kilkenny. The defensive setup from Dublin was exposed in the second half as TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly tore into the Dublin rearguard creating player overlaps.

The sight of Greg Kennedy catching a Kilkenny free was an embarrassment to anyone associated with Dublin hurling. The four week ban was soft; should have a couple of months to act as a deterrent. Mattie Kenny and selectors need to focus on hurling and not this stupid stuff.

Wexford. What an enigma in the championship last season, potential and promised evaporated and a meek All Ireland quarter final exit was a disappointing end to the season.

This fixture is going to be huge for Wexford. The hope is that the team’s key stars will come to the party. Ryan, O’Connor, Chin, McDonald need to provide leadership and set the tone for others to follow.

The fixture with Dublin could be a cagey affair; middle third stalemate as both teams flood the area. The Dublin attacking threat needs to improve; precious little from Rushe in the second half and inside full forward line.

A slight hesitant nod to Dublin by a point or two but Wexford should be competitive and dare I say would not be surprised to see them win on the road. Dublin need to deliver here or Mattie Kenny will put under the microscope.

Intercounty Hurling Hopes for 2019

Championship is back!

And so it begins. The odyssey for the Liam McCarthy, Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher begins in earnest this weekend where we should see epic tussles in all competitions.

Hawkeye Sidekick is in reflective mood ahead of the big throw in and outlines his hopes and dreams for the upcoming championship season.

Media coverage for all!

The start of the Gaelic Football championship was greeted by the media hordes with some indifference. Games were not broadcast to the maximum viewing audience; an opportunity to show case these fixtures to a global audience.

An opportunity spurned by the media who have won televised rights to these games. An opportunity which should be given to other media organizations who are genuinely interested in covering all teams participating in the championship and not just the big games.

The start of this season’s hurling championship sees a tasty Midlands derby in Tullamore tonight where Offaly will face a rejuvenated Laois side in the Joe McDonagh competition.

Hopefully, we will see a match report tomorrow in the national broadsheets for this fixture and other fixtures played this weekend but you might have trouble finding it nestled amongst the articles about the big marquee Munster and Leinster SHC fixtures set this weekend.

Hurling needs as much coverage as possible come championship time and hopefully TG4 or Eir can take on the mantle for competitions such as McDonagh / Ring / Meagher and Rackard with care and respect for these competitions that they deserve!

Wide open provincial races!

Limerick looked superb in the NHL but a loss against Cork next weekend and they are under huge pressure to get even out of Munster SHC let alone the All Ireland series later in the season. The provincial championships in Munster and Leinster look extremely competitive.

Munster SHC looks potent. Waterford at last get some home comforts but whether Walsh Park will suit their fast tempo game is another story. Cork and Tipperary clash and renew old rivalries down in Pairc Ui Chaoimh which hopefully can stand up to the fixture. Clare are the dark horse this season, regrets from last season should spur them on and then you have Limerick who are the side to be shot at this season. Anyone’s guess who the top three will be from this.

Leinster SHC has been in recent times dominated by Galway and Kilkenny but I think there is a growing feeling that either Dublin or Wexford are primed to cause shocks and go deep in the championship.

Kilkenny have a tricky banana skin fixture at home to Dublin this weekend; injuries aplenty to contend with. Can Dublin be defensively solid yet look potent in attack at the same time? Defensively minded formation against Limerick in NHL semi-final was good but the attacking side of the game was neglected.

Wexford need to push on this season, a few years of steady progression from Davy Fitzgerald’s men but the championship performances apart from the Kilkenny win two seasons back have been a mixed bag. Hoping that the likes of McDonald, Ryan, Chin and O’Connor can deliver game winning performances. Munster has provided much excitement in recent years and it is time Leinster SHC delivered in the same vain.

Carlow Rising

The Galway team sheet against Carlow this weekend can be considered in two ways. Galway management looking at options ahead of tougher battles in the championship or giving players who have impressed in training a chance to stake their claim in the jersey. You know what school of thought will be plastered on the Carlow dressing room wall tomorrow!

Carlow arrive in Galway in good form and confidence. Their progression under Colm Bonnar has been exceptional, excellent grassroots structures coupled with Carlow IT’s emergence in Fitzgibbon Cup has propelled the county to new heights.

This is a side who have had an excellent NHL 1B campaign. They drew with Galway, staved off relegation with a road trip win over Offaly. If their discipline can hold, they will match teams for long periods in this championship. Hopefully, Carlow rattle a top side in Leinster SHC and provide more talking points.

Galway have been warned. The team selection if the side do not settle early this weekend has all the hallmarks of an upset waiting to happen. Carlow need to deliver quick ball into Doyle and the inside full forward line and test out Galway early doors.

Defensive Setup hopefully ditched!

Let us hope that teams decide to ditch the defensive orientated setup. It would be great if teams went man for man but I fear that you will see sides stifling the middle third with goal chances a rare commodity. Cork vs. Tipperary personally should be an epic encounter tomorrow; both sides will love to rattle the other in 1-1 situations but this could be exception than the norm this season.

Defensive setup works to only a point. The summer months require more nous and creativity from an attacking sense. Dublin in particular need to provide an answer to that mission statement in the coming weeks.

Top players are back on the pitch soon!

The sight of Eoin Murphy, Joe Canning and the like looking on at the fixtures this weekend due to injury is a massive disappointment. Hopefully all marquee players will feature in the championships sooner than rather. We need the top stars on the pitch, showcasing their talent and the sport of hurling to the viewing public.

Joanne Cantwell

The unenviable task of replacing the legendary Michael Lyster falls to Joanne Cantwell, a journalist I have admired and respected for several years. Hopefully, she can settle into the Sunday Game show role and let the pundits flow with their viewpoints and key match up points.

Let us hope that key flash points and match winning scores are given the time required. It is an exciting time for the Sunday Game show and I have no doubt Joanne will deliver big time!

Predictions:

Munster: Tipperary

Munster Top Three: Tipperary, Clare, Limerick

Leinster: Kilkenny

Leinster Top Three: Kilkenny, Wexford, Galway

Liam McCarthy: Clare

Joe McDonagh: Laois

Christy Ring: Meath

Nicky Rackard: Warwickshire

Lory Meagher: Leitrim