Friday 15 December 2017

John Mullane: Shefflin has earned right to take time on future

Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin (back left) cuts a disconsolate figure on the substitutes’ bench after being sent off in their defeat to Cork in Semple Stadium
Kilkenny’s Henry Shefflin (back left) cuts a disconsolate figure on the substitutes’ bench after being sent off in their defeat to Cork in Semple Stadium

I have been there so many times, in that losing dressing room after a championship game. It is a surreal place. You've invested so much, training since last November and then bang, the finality of it all. It's over, finished.

For Kilkenny, this will feel strange. Annual All-Ireland finalists since 2006, they won't be there on the big day in September. Wow.

For teams not used to contesting semi-finals and finals, losing might be easier to take – but not the Cats. This will leave a vacuum. No training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. No All-Ireland final weekend suits measured up. No banquets.

This result was the latest twist in the amazing tale that is Championship 2013. Now, let me get this straight first. I have great time for Barry Kelly. I think he is a really good referee, the best in the country. But if I am going to be critical of James McGrath, I have to be a small bit critical of Barry, too.

The second yellow card for Henry Shefflin was merited but the first one was a bit harsh. You can understand why the Kilkenny supporters were a bit aggrieved because Eoin Larkin was roaring through on goal and Shane O'Neill openly pulled across him. No censure. It is no wonder the Cats fans were aggrieved with Barry.

I had predicted a Kilkenny win on the basis of momentum and how they finished extra-time against Waterford. I also factored in Cork's Munster final experience. But credit to the Rebels and Jimmy Barry-Murphy. It boils down to attitude, intensity and a massive hunger – that's what they brought to the table.

Question marks hung over their forwards, and could they bring that high level of intensity, but they did. Would Kilkenny still be in the championship if they had 15 men on the field in the second half? I still think Cork would have pushed on and won.

By the way, these players owe the Kilkenny public absolutely nothing. They have been fabulous ambassadors and are still the greatest team of all time. In their heads, some of them might be wondering if that was their last match but they will take time to reflect. And that is the least they deserve. There will be no big calls until the winter months and then the situation will come under review.

As for Henry, it is too simplistic to wonder if he made the right call when he decided to stick around for another year. Why wouldn't he? He was Hurler of the Year in 2012 and got Kilkenny out of jail in the All-Ireland final.

He was unlucky to get injured at the time he did and the recurrence did him no favours. It was very difficult for him to get any consistency in his training and play. Compared with other years, he was trying to rush things and the clock was against him when the summer rolled around.

As for retirement, he's one man entitled to take time over the decision.

As for Kilkenny, they deserve great credit for their graciousness in defeat yesterday. They are fabulous winners but they showed that they are good losers too. Richie Power went off concussed but was back out on the pitch after the game to congratulate the Cork players. That was a classy touch.

WOUNDS

The Cats will lick their wounds, drink a few pints and there will be no recriminations.

Their supporters understand that time was going to run out for this team. The multiple All-Ireland medallists and All Stars have been a credit to their families, clubs and the entire hurling fraternity.

What Cork had – compared with Tipperary and Waterford – was a forward division with scoring power. All six forwards scored, they are hungry, they are young and JBM has a serious record against Kilkenny.

Just one negative from a great display: this was their third game and they have yet to raise a green flag. To push on and win an All-Ireland, they will have to score goals.

My man of the match was Patrick Horgan. I thought he was outstanding. Daniel Kearney in the middle of the park was really energetic and ran at the Kilkenny defence at all times, getting on an amount of ball.

Seamus Harnedy and Patrick Cronin were effective too. Conor O'Sullivan played the spare man role brilliantly in the second half. A big call from JBM, and O'Sullivan excelled in this role.

Behind O'Sullivan and Shane O'Neill – who was superb again – the Rebels have the best goalkeeper in Anthony Nash. I have said it many times before: this guy is the best in the business.

Fitzgerald's victory in tactical duel raises key questions for Cunningham to answer

GALWAY manager Anthony Cunningham has a lot of questions to answer after his side's defeat against Clare.

I got my prediction right on this one. I felt that Clare would win and I couldn't see where this big Galway performance was coming from.

They've been so inconsistent all year and Cunningham paid a heavy price for not starting his strongest team against Dublin in the Leinster final, and again yesterday.

And he was beaten up a stick by Davy Fitzgerald in the tactical stakes.

Davy won that battle hands down and that's why Galway are out.

Joe Canning, at the end of the day, is only human. He had a day to forget but I've been there. I know what it feels like when the ball doesn't run for you. Galway's problem is that they can't count on other players to come up with big displays when Joe's off colour.

It's unfair on him too, carrying that pressure, but, overall, Clare were tenacious in the tackle, hungry and fought for every ball. There were critical moments too when Galway got to within touching distance but Clare were able to kick on, move into another gear and get over the line.

Again, they used their panel well as the subs made a difference. And Davy got the blend of his team spot on. Cian Dillon did well at full-back and David McInerney looked better in the corner than at full. There was another massive performance from Brendan Bugler, Colin Ryan was on fire and Tony Kelly very good.

Out of the four teams left, Clare will feel they have a brilliant chance to win the All-Ireland. And they hit another big score yesterday.

It's wide open and there for the taking for Clare. But the beauty of the championship is that you have predictions going out the window and the semi-finals are two 50-50 games, very hard to call. For too long, it's been a foregone conclusion but now it's anyone's guess. I've been wrong already this summer but right, too, with a few calls.

Expect that trend to continue as the championship reaches an incredible climax.

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