Thursday 23 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Dubs settled side make Cody's startled Cats look human

JUST in case there was any doubt – and you'd be forgiven if you weren't sure – Kilkenny are human. For two games in a row now, they haven't been as clinical as you'd expect. In normal circumstances that would hardly be commented upon – especially seeing as Kilkenny weren't beaten in either match – but the Cats are no ordinary team.

Late in the second half, we were looking at the biggest shock in the hurling championship in years but, being the champions they are, they found a way to keep themselves in the Leinster championship.

Credit to Dublin, they were clever in how they set up to help themselves cope with both Kilkenny and the windy conditions.

They should have been ahead at the break but for some bad shooting yet when facing the elements in the second half, they dropped deeper and ran hard out of defence and kept in the game.

Since the drawn game with Wexford, the biggest advance Dublin have made is finding a settled team.

Liam Rushe is at centre-back, the position he was destined for since he burst on the scene a few years ago. Stephen Hiney is another defensive linchpin while up front David 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan and Mark Schutte made a significant impact when they came on.

Dublin looked like a team who were determined to make up for their no-show in this fixture last year when they were expected to give the Cats a rattle. Coming in under the radar suited them much better this time around and when Joey Boland pointed in injury-time, Anthony Daly looked like he had brought them to their first win over the Cats in 71 long years. That was before TJ Reid rescued Kilkenny.

It's easy to say that Kilkenny had been on the road a long time, and there's no doubt that was a factor yesterday, but their absentees told.

However, Reid might be restored to the Cats' team for Saturday night's replay. I'd expect Michael Fennelly to be included too and they are two players who could make a significant difference. Henry Shefflin was pucking about before the game also and looks to be on the right road.

I think Dublin might have missed the boat and I expect Kilkenny to improve but yesterday won't have gone unnoticed in the rest of the hurling world.

And while that draw was a genuine surprise, no one should be shocked at Cork ousting Clare in the Munster championship.

They have already played twice in the league this year, and as Davy Fitzgerald was at pains to point out, there's not so much between the sides that Clare could have been expected to beat them a third time without question.

And while Cork have endured a significant turnover of personnel, it's worth remembering that those who remain played in both a league decider and an All-Ireland semi-final last year. And that edge in experience was vital in difficult conditions.

Jimmy Barry-Murphy got some of the big calls right. They did a good job of playing against the wind in the opening 35 minutes while Brian Murphy subdued the normally lively Tony Kelly.

Clare's preference for the shorter game worked against them too. It can work well but, when teams apply pressure effectively like Cork did, turnovers can prove costly and the Rebels had the hurlers to punish them. In fact, all six of their starting forwards scored from play as did the two subs they brought on.

With only a three-point lead at the break, Clare hadn't given themselves a big enough cushion and Cork stretched for home and returned to the Munster final for the first time in three years.

The pick of the qualifier matches was Waterford's win over Offaly. It was another game affected by the wind but Offaly showed just how much top-level championship games can bring a team on.

They obviously took great heart from their showing against Kilkenny and, in the likes of Ger Healion and David Kenny, they have players who are very good in the air and they are heading in the right direction again.

Still, Waterford were deserving winners and, at times, were brilliant. Maurice Shanahan was fantastic throughout for the Deise while at the other end, Stephen O'Keeffe made a crucial save after being restored to goals. In between Michael 'Brick' Walsh seemed to be under everything. If they could put it all together in one display they would be extremely difficult to beat.

Things are hotting up nicely.

Irish Independent

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