Cyril Farrell: Dublin face tough test as the Model revolution gathers pace
There's one certainty about this evening's Leinster SHC semi-final in Wexford Park – Dublin know what to expect. They came mighty close to be being tossed out of last year's championship when their visit to the south-east drew a powerful response from Wexford.
Liam Dunne's lads hurled with the spirit of old and while they were disappointed not to have won, they appeared to have set themselves up for a real cut at the replay. Unfortunately for them, things took a disastrous turn second time out when they had a man sent off early on. Effectively, it was game over.
That painful experience will have taught them a valuable lesson. Fire and brimstone have their places in getting the attitude right, but it must be controlled and well-channelled. There's no point putting in a huge effort for months and then undoing it with a lack of discipline.
I'm sure Dunne will have talked about that, because, naturally, he wants to give his squad every possible chance of winning. There's a mini-revolution going on in Wexford these days. There's more structure in how they play, everyone seems to be buying into the new way of doing things and, throughout the county, there's a feeling that better times are ahead.
The big win over Kilkenny in the U-21 championship further adds to the feel-good factor. Most of Wexford's younger players are mixing with their counterparts from other counties in third-level colleges, so they know what's going on elsewhere.
Holding Dublin and Clare (in normal time) to a draw last year gave Wexford impetus and while they were behind Cork and Limerick in 1B, they still took enough from the league to keep confidence levels stable.
Dublin had to work hard to fend off relegation from 1A, but too much shouldn't be read into that. With only six teams in the group, two big powers always find themselves in a relegation shoot-out. Dublin dropped down a few years ago, but they avoided it this year, beating Waterford in a play-off.
Like most other counties, Dublin were patchy in the league, but it shouldn't be forgotten that they are Leinster champions. And good ones at that, having beaten Wexford, Kilkenny and Galway. Retaining any title is always difficult, especially when you're facing such a tricky opener. Dublin have injury problems, too, which adds to the pressures.
They are favourites to win this evening, which is understandable on the basis of their status over recent seasons, but that won't count for anything against this Wexford team. Home advantage could prove crucial here. Wexford to win.
I'll go for Clare but anything could happen
When the draw for the Munster championship was made, Clare were happy to get straight through to the semi-finals. One less fence to jump and all that. Now, it's a disadvantage. Cork have had two games – contrasting in every way – but there's no doubt that the clashes with Waterford will have sharpened them up considerably.
Other than jersey colour, there was no comparison between the Cork team of last Sunday and two weeks earlier. The change of attitude was evident from the start and, with it, came a return to the neat, skilful game that Cork do so well on their better days. Seamus Harnedy (pictured) was happier out the field, Conor Lehane was much more effective, Patrick Horgan fizzed around goal and Pa Cronin broke up play and created openings for others.
It was Cork at their creative best, relying on touch and instinct in an uncomplicated game where they trusted traditional values. It worked against a Waterford team that lost at least 30pc of its power since the drawn game, but will it be good enough against Clare?
Last year's league and championship showed how little there was between Clare and Cork, a pattern that is unlikely to have changed in the meantime. All-Ireland runners-up tend to be forgotten about and, in Cork's case, their isolation was more pronounced because they were in 1B.
That doesn't alter the fact that they could so very easily have been going into tomorrow's game as All-Ireland champions, in which case they would have been favourites.
Instead, Clare hold that mantle for a game where this squad is facing a completely different challenge to anything they encountered before.
As All-Ireland champions, they are there to be shot at. Every aspect of their play will have been analysed in minute detail. Even Cork, who tend to play to their own strengths rather than worrying too much about the opposition, have acquired a bank of knowledge from their string of clashes with Clare last year.
As for Davy Fitz, he will have rummaged deep into what appears to a bottomless pit of plans and schemes. Ultimately, though, it's about players performing. Clare need to have the likes of Brendan Bugler, Patrick Donnellan, Patrick O'Connor and Tony Kelly right up to – if not even higher – than last year's levels.
Clare will test Cork physically, hoping to break the rhythm which Waterford so generously facilitated last Sunday. How Cork respond will be crucial.
As last year's championship trilogy showed, just about anything can happen in this particular rivalry. My hunch is for Clare to book a Munster final clash with Limerick.
Hurling rule change makes sense – unlike the claims that cynical fouling will now increase
Sanity and common sense had a good week in Croke Park, with the decision to tidy up the messy penalty/20-metre free rule.
It needed to be done and hopefully now there will be some order for the rest of the championship.
I was amazed to read and hear so many comments about how forcing the striker to remain on or outside the 20-metre line will lead to an increase in cynical fouling on the basis that the chances of conceding a goal from a penalty or free have decreased.
For a start, the referee can play an advantage and, secondly, it all happens so quickly, that I doubt if defenders will make calculated decisions to foul in the belief that a goal won't be scored from a 20-metre free. Plenty of goals will be scored from that range.
It might not suit Anthony Nash and others who use the long run-up.
But I guarantee you that the likes of Joe Canning (left) and Patrick Horgan – and several others – will still score goals from 20 metres, thanks to the technique they have.
Let's give the new rule a chance – it sorts out a messy situation that could not be allowed to continue.
Finally, amid all the high-powered All-Ireland action, it would be easy to forget the achievements of Kildare, Tyrone and Longford in winning the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups respectively last Saturday.
The more hurling prospers below the top tier, the more likely it is to increase its base and widen the elite band.