Westside column – June 26th 2010

From www.tipperary.gaa.ie

A busy weekend on the club scene has left three of the four divisions with semi-finalists in place. The exception is the West where Cappawhite and the combo’ play their crucial tie next weekend to decide the fourth team.

Meanwhile Tipperary continue their build up to the Wexford match with a challenge against Waterford this Tuesday evening at the Stadium. Last week the seniors hammered the U21s in a similar tie. Elsewhere the Kilkenny drive-for-five is underway as the Dubs are mauled and Galway dice with danger against Offaly.

First a glance at the local club scene, a scene that has made much progress in recent weeks but now slips into the background as the focus switches to the qualifiers. North and Mid tidied up their affairs at the weekend with tightly-fought quarter-finals. In the Mid we had two one-pointers as Drom and Holycross got through by the minimum while up North Toomevara haven’t gone away, you know, following a seven-point verdict over Moneygall. Burgess put out Kilruane in the second tie.

The Mid has been competitive all year and typically the quarter-finals were real toss up affairs at the weekend. I didn’t get to Templetuohy on Saturday evening where Drom and Loughmore squared up. Neither side has been enjoying the best of seasons so it was interesting to see which of them would improve most now that the championship is down to knock-outs. Loughmore were without both Micheal Webster and Derek Bourke and their combined loss must have been significant in a one-point outcome.

It seems Loughmore squandered quite a lot of chances before trailing by two at the break. David Butler had a first-half goal for Drom but it was a Noel McGrath special that sparked a Loughmore rally, one that ultimately fell just one short. At two-down it seems they had a real chance when Evan Sweeney raced through but got too much elevation on the shot. Drom survived and now face Upperchurch in one of the semis, a game that will be a repeat of last year’s rain-soaked final.

The second Mid semi will feature Holycross and Sarsfields after the former edged past Moycarkey in an exciting quarter final at Boherlahan on Sunday. I was at this one and while the quality may have been below par the closeness and excitement managed to compensate. It all came down to a knife-edge finish where Holycross just managed to get through.

Moycarkey can feel unlucky in this one. They lost centre forward, David Sheppard, to injury in the first half. He’s been the engine-room of their attack all season and his absence was sorely felt in that second half when they got hit for two rapid-fire goals and needed some saving scores in response.

Moycarkey still looked to be in pole position at half time when leading by four, 1-8 to
0-7. Kieran Clohessy hit the goal. But it was a pair of Brian Barrett goals for Holycross that turned the tide in the third quarter. The first was a real peach of a score as a deft little flick from Liam Dwan put Barrett through for the finish. The second, however, was a stroke of luck as a Barrett shot from outfield took a vicious bounce off the bone-hard surface and hit the roof of the net.

Even with those scores it all came down to the tightest of finishes. Michael Doyle did a fine marking job on Kieran Morris, Moycarkey’s main score-source all year. With Morris subdued and David Sheppard out injured Moycarkey’s attack was noticeably blunted. And when your luck is out it’s really out: at one stage they hit the post in the final quarter and had the rebound saved. With a few breaks going their way and playing a spirited game throughout Holycross just about got over the line, though few will fancy their chances now against Sarsfields in the semi.

Up North the scene was also clarified over the weekend. Toomevara trailed by three to Moneygall at half time but then appeared to up the ante considerably in the second period. John O’Brien had a goal and with Kenny Dunne finding the range impressively they eventually won by seven. Joey McLoughney, former All Ireland winning minor captain, was sent off for the ‘greyhounds’.

In the second quarter-final Burgess, qualifiers through that strange system referred to last week, managed to go a step further when putting out Kilruane. Aided by a fortuitous first-half goal Burgess led by four at the break and eventually went six-up on resuming. Kilruane hit back with a Diarmuid Cahill goal and might have had another when Mark O’Leary was denied by a fine save from Niall McGrath. A Brian O’Meara goal eventually brought Kilruane to within a point of the leaders but Burgess held their nerve and two late frees saw them safely through.

Underage success has still to reap senior reward for Kilruane who now enter the Seamus O’Riain Cup, a competition that is becoming something of a minefield with the likes of Loughmore and Nenagh also in the mix. The North semi-final pairings now involve Toomevara against Kildangan and Borrisoleigh facing Burgess.

In the West there’s still an outstanding issue, one that should be resolved next weekend when Cappawhite play the combo’ for the right to join Clonoulty, Eire Og and Kickhams in the semis. The pairings too have to be resolved with the top team playing the fourth and the second against the third.

Strangely the South appears to be having an open draw to decide the semi-final pairings. The two Carrick sides are through as are Mullinahone and Killenaule but it appears that the four will now be drawn to decide semi-final line-ups. It seems strange that you go through an entire round of fixtures to eliminate just two teams and then effectively ignore all previous results when you put the four into the hat for semi-final placings. It’s not how the system works in other divisions and surely methods should be standardised throughout the county.

Anyway with club activity due to take a break next weekend I assume the divisional semi-finals will have to await the county’s progress in the qualifiers. The wrong result against Wexford and we’ll have the entire summer to play our club championship – hopefully not.

All of which leads on nicely to the inter-county scene and events at the weekend where, surely, Kilkenny’s position was enhanced. When you combine their drubbing of Dublin with Galway’s difficulties against Offaly then it tends to solidify Kilkenny’s status as unbackable favourites to win that five-in-a-row. Cork too looked mediocre against Limerick and given our stumble in the opening round it seems that all the main contenders have problems while the ‘cats’ do what they’ve been doing irrestibly for the past four years.

As ever Brian Cody will talk up the opposition – one of these days he might actually say something meaningful in an after-match interview. The truth is that Kilkenny were in a different league to Dublin. But for some ring-rustiness they’d have been home and hosed at half time. What other team can introduce substitutes of the calibre of Eoin Larkin and Aidan Fogarty and Derek Lyng? They won by nineteen at the end – it could have been double that figure.

Like most hurling pundits I share the desire that Dublin become championship contenders, yet the reality is that they are not in the hunt. Dublin is the media capital of the country and one of the problems that the GAA in that county faces if that even a whiff of progress is inflated into wild expectations. Their footballers have long been victims of such hysteria. The problem with great expectations is that if you write up a side and it fails to match the hype then the disappointment is correspondingly large.

As for Kilkenny they remain firmly on course for that high-five at a time when their main challengers are all struggling.

Which brings me to Galway and their escape against Offaly. I admire John McIntyre’s forthright assessment afterwards when he admitted that his side got out of jail. Other managers would waffle and bluster their way through meaningless platitudes but McIntyre called it as it was. Galway were lucky against a rejuvenated Offaly side, one that recalled memories of the county’s finer years, which we had assumed were over.

Shane Dooley’s last-gasp leveller was poetic justice for a team that had defied the odds to take the game to Galway at a time when the previews of a Kilkenny\Galway Leinster final were already being written. Offaly’s three goals revealed a brittleness in Galway’s defence, a most unlikely vulnerability where even the stalwart Ollie Canning was left flailing at shadows. A man down and getting no breaks Offaly somehow refused to be cowed and in the end got their just desserts.

The replay goes on at Portlaoise this Saturday. The team that hurts most from the draw often wins the replay and from that perspective I expect Galway to emerge. They’ll hardly leak such goals again and without that haemorrhage you’d expect that they’ll have enough to cope with Offaly. Still it has dented the perception that the league champions might be the ones to rattle Kilkenny’s cage. On this form they won’t, so we await evidence of something stronger from the Tribesmen.

Cork’s stock won’t have risen either after a limp enough display against Limerick’s novelty side. However, in their case there was the excuse that they were playing a team without championship hope and were never likely to be tested. Forget the end margin of thirteen points. This was a Cork side going through the motions against a Limerick fifteen that was game and gallant but never likely to trouble the hurling universe. Stronger counties than Limerick couldn’t put out a second fifteen and expect to be competitive, so anyone who takes comfort from the fact that the end margin was only thirteen points is being deluded. Enough on that sad saga.

Meanwhile Tipperary continue preparations for the visit by Wexford on Saturday week. Ryan O’Dwyer and Pa Bourke have been reintroduced to the side, though on a trial basis rather than being co-opted onto the panel. Their call-in at this stage indicates that the management is still trawling for potential panellists. Otherwise the mood in the camp is said to be improving. Team selection for the Wexford game should reflect the fall out from the Cork defeat. Matter for next week.

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