Sport Hurling

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Hard to look beyond a Tipp-Kilkenny renewal

Cyril Farrell

I bet Limerick people never knew they had so many friends in Tipperary. The whole of Tipp will be behind John Allen and his squad tomorrow -- not as part of a Munster solidarity pact but with purely selfish motives at heart.

If Limerick win tomorrow, it will significantly alter the semi-final dynamic, sending Tipperary in the direction of Limerick/Cork/Waterford, all of whom they defeated in the Munster championship, rather than heading for a showdown with revitalised Kilkenny.

It's an interesting aside to the Limerick v Kilkenny clash, but not nearly as intriguing as the key question occupying the minds of all hurling followers over the last few weeks: how will the black and amber boys react to the Leinster final defeat?

It wasn't so much the result that surprised people but rather the scale of Galway's dominance and the manner in which they established it. They did to Kilkenny what Kilkenny have done to many others (including Galway on several occasions) over the last 12 years and lived to tell a very happy tale as they powered to a 10-point win.

You could analyse it forever, come up with some deep, meaningful theory as to why it happened but, in the end, it comes down to this: Galway established early momentum, made it count on the scoreboard and had set Kilkenny an unreachable target well before half-time.

Galway have the skill to match anybody, but the rest of their game has been far too patchy over recent years. Whether that problem has been fixed or temporarily put aside remains to be seen, but on Leinster final day, at least, all the jigsaw pieces lined themselves up, asking to be slotted into place.

Kilkenny's picture was blurred, but I have no doubt the focus will have sharpened since then. However hard players or management tried to ignore the hot favourites rating, it was there in the background.

Hearing and reading comparisons with the All Blacks may well have seeped through the Kilkenny players' consciousness and by the time they realised Galway were really primed for the challenge, the game was lost.

It was a one-off. That's not to say that Kilkenny won't be beaten again this year, but certainly not in the same manner as the Leinster final. Nor are they likely to lose tomorrow, even if the Leinster final will have provided Limerick with huge encouragement.

Limerick have made real progress this year, even if they did miss out on promotion to Division 1A. However, their graph is still going very much in the right direction under the sensible leadership of Allen, who goes about his business in a calm, structured way.

He'll need his team to do the same tomorrow because they can expect a furious onslaught from Kilkenny straight from the throw-in. Even allowing for injury concerns, Kilkenny still have a huge talent pool to fish from and with so many players under-performing against Galway, the pressure is on to deliver an immediate riposte.

Limerick played very well in a challenge game against Galway last Sunday. You can't read too much into that, but when you put it alongside everything else Limerick have done this year, they are well-equipped to offer Kilkenny a stern challenge.

However, Kilkenny's determination levels will be spilling over the edge and all the way down to Thurles town centre. After that, the rest will fall into place by 5.30, a Kilkenny-Tipperary clash on August 19 will be on the appetising menu.

Cork attack can end Deise losing streak

REACHING the All-Ireland quarter-final was the minimum that Waterford and Cork would have expected from themselves this year but, having got this far and with the championship opening up as a result of Kilkenny's Leinster final defeat, their ambitions are now much loftier.

With the Cork-Waterford winners likely to play Galway in the semi-final, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Michael Ryan will believe that a Croke Park date on September 12 is a distinct possibility. Of course, that ambition will be crushed for one of them tomorrow and I have a feeling that Ryan will be the unlucky one.

I base it on the belief that the Cork attack will find enough room among the Waterford defence to compile a match-winning score. Cork were goal-shy up to their last game against Wexford, when they hit three, but they were creating the chances in their previous games. Their scoring rate should have been better but once a team keeps finding the openings, there is nothing fundamentally wrong and it becomes only a matter of time before the conversion rate improves.

Defensively, there are some concerns over Cork, who have yet to find someone to make the No 3 berth their own.

Stephen McDonnell is recalled, following his omission after enduring a torrid afternoon against Kilkenny in the National League final.

He's a good player -- certainly better than he looked against Kilkenny, when he was by no means the only one to struggle -- but you'd like to have your No 3 slot signed off by this time of the season.

As for Sean Og O hAilpin's return to the half-back line, there's a lesson there for players everywhere. When things go against you, keep the head down, work hard and your chance will come again.

Waterford played well for a long time against Tipperary in the Munster final but were undermined to a large degree by missed chances, from placed balls and frees, in the second half. They will feel that those errors were down to themselves, rather than being forced on them, and can be rectified.

That's very much the case but, even then, they might still come up short tomorrow. Cork did better than Waterford against Tipperary and, as a developing side, would appear to have more room for expansion as the season progresses.

Cork haven't beaten Waterford in the championship since 2006, another good reason why JBM will have his side primed to deliver a massive effort. Cork don't take kindly to lengthy losing sequences against any opposition and with the prize of a semi-final at stake tomorrow, it's the ideal day to end this particular one. Their enterprising attack can make it happen.

O'Gara point shows key role of linesmen

WE shouldn't be too concerned over the details of how the correct decision on Eoghan O'Gara's point in last Sunday's Leinster football final was reached.

All that matters is that a point scored was a point awarded. It's interesting that it was linesman Maurice Deegan who made the crucial call. There should never have been restrictions in what umpires and linesman could involve themselves in since all that matters is getting the right outcome.

Linesmen can often be well placed to offer a view on a score/wide and should be involved if there's any doubt. And since it's easier to get a call wrong with a sliotar than a football, it's even more important in hurling.

Irish Independent

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