Sunday 18 February 2018

Easy passage to Leinster decider may cost Galway

Cyril Farrell

John Allen was the happiest hurling manager in the country last Sunday night, Eamonn O'Shea the most disappointed, Anthony Daly the most puzzled, Liam Dunne the most encouraged, Ollie Baker the most frustrated (when your team scores four goals you expect to win).

And the most contented? Brian Cody.

Tipperary's defeat by Limerick will send them on the All-Ireland quarter-final route (provided they survive the qualifiers) and if Kilkenny regain Leinster, Galway will also be in the quarter-finals.

All neat and tidy for Cody, who would love to see a Galway-Tipperary showdown, leaving Kilkenny with one less major power to worry about later on.

Cody would have been surprised to see his defence leak four goals against Offaly, but if it's going to happen, then when better than on a day when they hit 26 points?

Besides, it was a loud wake-up call for the entire Kilkenny team, reminding them that nobody knows what new challenge will present itself on a given day.

In that sense, it was the ideal championship opener, identifying areas that need work, while highlighting others that are in good order.

Kilkenny handicapped themselves with sloppy defending, yet survived comfortably in the end.

That could well be Kilkenny's messy performance out of the way for the year and now they can set about tightening the bolts, having achieved what they set out to do last Sunday, albeit in a different manner to what was envisaged.

Tomorrow, it's the turn of Galway, second favourites for the All-Ireland title, to display their early summer wares after a league that raised more questions than it answered. Galway needed a better league than they got, but it's in the past and all they can now do is press on and hope the season comes together.

They will beat Laois tomorrow, but what it tells them about their standing depends on the consistency of the challenge they face. Even then, how reliable will the information be?

Seamus Plunkett has done a good job with Laois, steering them out of Division 2A and into a Leinster semi-final.

They have established a degree of consistency which wasn't there over the previous few seasons, but, of course, they were operating at a much lower level this year.

Now, they are stepping in with the big boys and the best they can hope for is to keep it competitive for as long as possible.

Galway would have been pleased with the Leinster draw when it was made last October as it all but guaranteed them a place in the decider. However, now that they are watching their main rivals getting competitive games before the final, the easy run looks a lot less appealing as it will tell them very little about themselves.

The big challenge facing Galway is to settle on the spine of their team. That has got to be right, which is why the league was disappointing as it didn't give them any clear answers.

Tomorrow won't provide them with such answers either, so Galway will be going into the Leinster final with uncertainty hanging over them.

One point: In my view, the debate over where Joe Canning should play is pretty straightforward.

Your deadliest sniper should be closest to the target, which means that Canning should not venture too far from goal. He won't shake the net very often from 50 or 60 yards out.

WORRYING

By the time Galway and Laois throw in, either Dublin or Wexford will have booked a semi-final date with Kilkenny. What's happening in Dublin is worrying for them.

The seniors have gone back in the last 18 months and the good minor teams of recent years failed against Carlow in the Leinster U-21 championship on Wednesday.

The seniors looked tight and uneasy for long stretches against Wexford, who sensed it and set about making life extremely difficult for the visitors.

Dublin seem to find it very hard to deliver as favourites, a barrier which, by now, they should have overcome. That's why this evening's game is so vital.

A win keeps them on line, even if it does lead to the rather daunting roadblock erected by Kilkenny. Better that than being despatched to the qualifiers, which would be a serious setback to Dublin.

A defeat would not be as serious for Wexford, who weren't expected to beat Dublin this year. They will have been delighted with the spirit shown last week and, no doubt, it will be there again. This time though, it might not be enough.

* Congrats to Down, Donegal and Warwickshire on their wins in the Ring/Rackard and Mackey Cup finals last Saturday.

Hurling belongs to everybody, most of all to those who work so hard to keep it alive in the so-called weaker counties at home and in cities and towns around the world. Their efforts should always be recognised.

Irish Independent

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