Monday 23 April 2018

Flying half-backs driving the Dubs into new world

Half-backs:Liam Rushe (Dublin)
Half-backs:Liam Rushe (Dublin)

Cyril Farrell

And then there were six. After one of the most invigorating hurling championships for a very long time, there's a pause from the hectic action this weekend, leaving the remaining contenders for the All-Ireland title to reassess their plans.

As for the rest, it's reflection time. So what have we learned from the 15 counties who started out in May?

They haven't gone away, and Michael Fennelly's importance to the team is greater than ever. His absence from the starting 15 has been hugely significant. Henry Shefflin is still working his way back but Kilkenny have plenty other good forwards. However, they can deliver only if the supply is good, which is why Fennelly's absence from midfield has been so noticeable. His fitness – or otherwise – could decide Kilkenny's All-Ireland fate.

Anthony Daly was right to ignore the many voices that were telling him not to play Liam Rushe at centre-back.

The half-back line of Rushe, flanked by Stephen Hiney and Michael Carton is the real engine that has driven Dublin into a new world. Okay, so they reached the All-Ireland semi-final two years ago, but not as Leinster champions.

Properly channelled effort, carefully moulded within a simple game plan, can yield a rich harvest. Limerick have lots of good individual talent but the sum of the parts is the real key to their success this season. John Allen's calm, measured approach has clearly inspired them

Problem areas won't solve themselves. Galway's trouble spots are well known and need to be rectified. The time for repairs is over. Some new parts should be fitted, even if they are unproven.

Better to go with something different than tinkering with a system which simply hasn't worked this year. Trusting in it when you're in the last chance saloon is too risky.

The progress Davy Fitzgerald promised when he took over is on track. They are now an established top-six side in league and championship, with a top four in the All-Ireland the next target.

They are playing very much to a system and while it's working quite well, they sometimes overdo the attempt at perfection. That will get harder to apply from now on.

When your luck is out... Bad enough to lose Paudie O'Sullivan and Brian Murphy to injury, but losing Patrick Horgan to a harsh red card last Sunday took Cork's ill-fortune to a new level.

Mind you, that had nothing to do with all the chances they wasted in the first half. Still, Cork are making progress, despite what some might have you believe.

No game wins itself and, if your attitude isn't right, you will be caught out. Tipperary's championship wasn't defined by the performance against Kilkenny– which was actually quite good – but by the assumption that when they recovered from a five-point deficit to lead Limerick by four points in the third quarter, the rest of the job would take care of itself.

Tipperary stood off, admiring their handiwork, while Limerick scrapped and won the day. Tipp have a long year to reflect on that.

Solid progress is being made in what is a transition phase. A series of missed chances in the first 40 minutes against Clare left them ripe for despatch to the qualifier waters which, as events transpired, attracted some very big sharks earlier than usual.

Stephen Molumphy was a big loss this year but overall they are headed in the right direction.

On their day they can match anyone. They drew with Dublin and Clare (game went to extra-time), two teams with genuine All-Ireland ambitions, one as Leinster champions.

Presumably, Liam Dunne is happy to remain on as manager and should be backed by the county board. This is no time for changing direction.

They're just off the top pace but certainly not too far adrift that the gap can't be made up. However, they need some younger players to make the grade, even if the minors and U-21s haven't been doing too well in recent years.

That doesn't mean that new talent isn't emerging. It has got to be worked on. Attitude-wise, Offaly remain as competitive as ever, which is always a good launchpad.

When they all pull together, anything is possible. Okay, so the championship ended with a big defeat by Clare, which will provide its own lessons, some painful. However, they should be tempered by the memory of their stirring performance against Galway. That has got to be the starting point for the hard work ahead.

Now is the time to re-double their efforts. Inching forward is a tough process but they are doing it solidly.

There's something radically wrong if all the top players don't want to play for the county. It runs contrary to the great Antrim pride and spirit of old and is a loss to hurling in general but, more specifically, to a county which should be far more competitive.

Like Carlow, it's difficult to make progress at the tail end of the big hitters. The only option is to drive on.

If the footballers can reach a Connacht final, there's plenty incentive for the hurlers to keep up the hard work.

Irish Independent

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