Positive start for hurling league
THE HURLING leagues started on a very positive note last weekend, with big crowds allied to close games being the order of the day.
It was heartening for fans of the small ball game that almost all games in Divisions 1 and 2 were very competitive apart from the hammering that Cork handed to Tipperary, which in itself was unexpected as the Premier would have entered this game as hot favourites.
The hangover from last year's All-Ireland semi final seems to be still lingering however, and the highly-rated Eamonn O'Shea seems to have a major job on his hands to restore former glories to Lar Corbett and Co.
Galway's win over Kilkenny will have done the Tribesmen no harm, although I doubt if Brian Cody is reaching for the panic button yet as the Cats will still have a huge say in the destination of all honours in 2013 (there you have me stating the obvious yet again). Waterford as so often before defied the critics in securing two points down in Clare, and these points could be crucial when final placings are decided.
Closer to home it appears that Division 2 will be a hard-fought affair with little between the teams, and pre-group favourites Dublin and Limerick had to fight hard to secure victories. As we learned a few years ago, Carlow is not an easy place to go and I for one felt decidedly uncomfortable for long periods of our contest, none more so than when Carlow corner-forward Pádraig Nolan was presented with a gilt-edged chance of a goal ten minutes from time which would have put the Barrowsiders three points clear. Luckily for Wexford, he squandered the chance and this allied to the loss of Eoin Nolan for a second yellow ensured that Wexford were able to ease home in the closing stages.
The frustrations of being a corner-forward were brought home to me during this period when the first-named Nolan was almost immediately called ashore. I am not questioning the decision, but surely it must be the most frustrating place to play on a G.A.A. pitch and I would venture to say that if we surveyed substitutions made over the history of the game, the poor old corner-forward would win hands down.
Tommy Bowe referred to playing on the wing in rugby on Sunday night, saying you might go 20 minutes without receiving the ball and this can lead to a lot of thinking time where the demons can enter your head. So a winger, like a corner-forward, needs to be patient and very strong mentally.
You wait for 20 minutes for the ball to come in and the corner-back clears, and there is a chorus advising you to come out in front. You follow instruction and the next ball goes high over your head and wide and yes, you've guessed it, the chorus tells you to stay in (ya gobshite).
The curly finger is not far away at this point and you go home that night swearing you never want to play in that position again. Sorry for bringing it up folks, but I had to get it off my chest after all these years and suffice to say I have sympathy for all the great men that have had to endure this position.
The best thing that can be said to sum up the game is that we gathered the points and this was largely due to the contributions of the brilliant Eoin Moore and Andrew Shore in defence allied to Paul Morris' cuteness around goal, while the introduction of Rory Jacob and Paudge Doran did no harm either. It was our worst performance to date in 2013 and there is much to work on, but one has to give credit to Carlow and their style of play which was superb, particularly in the opening 20 minutes.
John Meyler is doing a great job up there but I suspect they will struggle overall in this group. Their cause won't be helped by the sending-off of Marty Kavanagh (one of their main scoring threats), and in my opinion this zero tolerance stand by referees is a little over the top as it was unfair to pick him and Tomás Waters out of a handbags melee and give them red cards.
If the same type of incident happens in an All-Ireland semi-final I doubt that we will see the same action taken, and I hope we don't either.
It's onwards and hopefully upwards for Liam Dunne and his men, but the management will appreciate more than anyone that improvement is needed for two weeks' time.