Power surge looming
Wounded Cats ready to restore the old equilibrium
I heard Tommy Walsh saying on TV the other evening that there was a different feel to this year's Leinster final because Kilkenny weren't going in as red-hot favourites.
I don't know what Tommy regards as hot, but 4/11 sounds pretty scorching to me! In fairness though, I know what he means. A lot has happened to Kilkenny since they swept Dublin and Galway aside in last year's Leinster championship in a manner which suggested they were right on cue to win the All-Ireland five-in-a-row.
We all know what happened there and we know too that, since then, Kilkenny have lost the Walsh Cup and Allianz League finals. It has been a long time since Kilkenny lost three successive finals, so there's no need to emphasise the importance of winning the fourth.
Brian Cody would never admit it, but I suspect he was quite pleased to see Dublin beat Galway two weeks ago.
Galway have done nothing in the championship over the last two years to suggest they were ready to challenge Kilkenny in a meaningful way, but Dublin have made bold, brash statements no less than three times this year. First they beat Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup final, then they came from behind to earn a draw in the Division 1 group game and that was followed by a points avalanche that forced Kilkenny into submission in the final.
Thus far, but no more for Dublin, will be very much the Kilkenny motto heading for Croke Park tomorrow. They will do so with a much different set-up to the one which suffered from a power blackout against Dublin nine weeks ago. The return of guys like Henry Shefflin, Richie Power, Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly to the squad completely changes the Kilkenny dynamic, while presenting Dublin with a whole new challenge.
Dublin beat Kilkenny in the league final and Galway two weeks ago off front-running performances where they set the opposition a tough target in the first half and secured their advantage with a gritty second-half effort. On both occasions, they were afforded an inordinate amount of space from which to operate, something that won't happen tomorrow.
In fairness to Dublin, they created the space cleverly but simply, by backing each other up through all channels and angles. It demanded a high-octane approach from everybody, but they had the fitness to do it. Now, everybody else is up to the same conditioning levels and while that still wasn't enough to enable Galway to assert themselves, it will be different tomorrow.
Kilkenny always like to play their own game and set the agenda to suit themselves, but Cody will have done his homework on Dublin too. Dublin have now reached a stage where they are being analysed in detail and will find that things which worked earlier in the season are no longer as effective.
Anthony Daly knows that and is shrewd enough and experienced enough to draw up some surprises of his own, although it won't be easy to throw something at Kilkenny that they haven't dealt with before.
I was very impressed by Kilkenny's dismissal of Wexford. Granted, their full-back line was uncertain at times, but, further up, they looked as if they were playing well within themselves, yet they racked up 1-26. I have no doubt there were extra gears there, if required.
The one doubt about Kilkenny is whether they are like a heavyweight champion who has taken a few big punches after a long time knocking opponents out. Once there's a slight doubt there, it's not until the next big punch arrives that he discovers if his survival powers are intact.
Unusually for Kilkenny, they reacted peevishly when Dublin took them on physically in the league final, which left them a man down and lucky not to lose another. Normally, they just crank up the intensity in those situations and power on. I'll be amazed if they don't resort to that approach again tomorrow. After all, it's what made them so great for so long.
Irrespective of what happens tomorrow, there's no doubt that Dublin are here to stay as a hurling force. Conal Keaney's arrival from the football camp was a major plus on a number of fronts, while the adaptability of lads like Liam Rushe, Peter Kelly, Johnny McCaffrey and Alan McCrabbe has also been very important.
For the first time in decades, Dublin are taking on Kilkenny with real confidence. However, Kilkenny are taking on Dublin with a real sense of determination to restore their equilibrium to where it used to be. I can't see them being stopped. It should be one hell of a contest, though.
mcintyre's tribesmen can steer clear of disaster
IT'S Galway and Limerick to win this evening and set up ties against Cork and Antrim (in whatever order) next week. I confidently expect Galway to not only beat Clare, but to win again next Saturday and be very much the team to avoid in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
If Galway lose this evening, the consequences will be disastrous for hurling in the county, but I just can't see it happening. Yes, they were poor against Dublin, but nobody knows that better than the players and management themselves, so there has to be a backlash.
John McIntyre has opted for change in several departments and while that may be understandable after the poor display against Dublin, it still leaves the question as to why after playing in the Walsh Cup, followed by seven league games, the management still didn't seem sure as to their best starting 15. Isn't that what the first four months of the year are for?
Clare shot hard and often early on against Tipperary but were well beaten in the end and while a win over Galway would make their season, it's beyond their reach.
Limerick gave their season a real impetus with a fine performance against Waterford and can edge it on with a win over Wexford. They need to be careful though, as Wexford showed they can create goal openings (even if they didn't take them) against Kilkenny, but I'd still expect Limerick to generate a winning momentum.
all the best to ger in his courageous fight ahead
I'm sure all hurling people -- and indeed everyone else too -- will join me in wishing my 'Sunday Game' sparring partner, Ger Lough-nane the very best in his battle with illness.
As a player, manager and analyst, Ger has always been a courageous, feisty character, a quality which will help him in his latest challenge. Hoping to see you back in action as soon as possible, Ger, so we can resume the arguments!