Westside on Championship v Cork

Long awaited, finally arrives. When the fixtures were made back in the depths of an arctic winter, May 30th seemed an age – and a different climate – away. But, as they say, tide and time waits for no man, so here we are previewing another campaign opener. Tipperary and Cork in Munster championship is always a glamour event with plenty of historical precedent to encourage present participants. Tipperary may be marginal favourites this time but most see it as delicately poised and inevitably down to the form and fortune of the day.

Elsewhere the club scene keeps ticking away with Kickhams being caught by Golden in the West and Boherlahan becoming the first side to drop to the Seamus O’Riain Cup following an eventful game with Moycarkey.

So, here we go, the sun shining, the preliminaries over and it’s off to Cork for what promises to be the mother of all battles. Tipperary chase four-in-a-row over the Rebels, a statistic that surely sends a shiver up Cork spines. Apart from the bragging rights the more tangible prize is a place in the Munster semi against Limerick and with it, surely, a final slot given Shannonside woes. The stakes are high then, the battle lines drawn and the stage set for what promises to be a seismic collision.

For Tipperary the game holds obvious importance given last year’s events. Most pundits still see us as second in the queue to Kilkenny though Sunday could easily alter that perception. For Cork too this is a critical occasion. The league final damaged prior notions of a rebel resurgence; a championship knock now would be even more hurtful to self-esteem. In the circumstances it has all the ingredients for a mighty tussle.

Tipperary’s likely line out is a widely discussed topic wherever hurling folk gather these days, the speculation set to continue until a Thursday night team announcement. Realistically only a few spots are up for grabs, which in a sense is a healthy scenario with most of the team having that settled look. Brendan Cummins faces into another season having cemented his status as our finest goalie since Reddin.

Defensively much of the recent debate has centred on Padraic Maher and his likely role. Even the mentors seemed to waver on the issue posting him to half back in some recent encounters before restoring him to his Allstar role at number three in last week’s friendly with Clare. The latest vibe appears to be that the Sarsfields’ man will start on the edge of the ‘square’ between Paddy Stapleton and Paul Curran. That would leave a likely half line of Fanning, O’Mahony and Michael Cahill with Shane Maher losing out after slipping down the rankings in recent times. If Padraig Maher was sent to the half line then Curran would go full with Cahill in the corner, a position that many see as his best given his man-marking capabilities.

Midfield looks automatic with Shane McGrath set to partner Brendan Maher. The attack is the zone of most debate. Callanan, Corbett, Eoin Kelly and Noel McGrath are automatic starters, though their positioning might depend on other factors. The recent arrival of Brian O’Meara has generated quite a buzz and there appears to be now a strong possibility that he’ll make a championship debut at full forward. If he does it will represent one of the most spectacular promotions for many years. O’Meara’s inclusion would release Corbett for the half line where again his speed onto the breaks is seen as a major asset.

That would leave a final position to be filled at wing where Seamus Hennessy, John O’Brien and Gearoid Ryan are the chief contenders. Effectively it looks like a contest between Hennessy and O’Brien with the latter having a major edge in experience against Hennessy who would be making his first championship start. Either way I suspect both players will see action at some stage on Sunday.

Inevitably the half forward line will attract much attention with Callanan defending the record against critics in a newspaper interview. I suppose the best defence of all would be a sterling performance on Sunday.

On the Cork side there’s some uncertainty also about a starting fifteen. Eoin Cadogan looks set to return at full back to position himself between Shane O’Neill and Kieran Murphy. It’s a strong line. That long-serving half line looks formidable too, though Sean Og has been struggling recently with his form; nonetheless it would be a huge decision to omit him from the starting fifteen.

Midfield is slightly problematic for Cork also where Jerry O’Connor has been labouring. One source suggests that O’Connor will start beside Cathal Naughton. Tom Kenny is reportedly out of the frame, though one is always wary of injury announcements in the lead up to crucial championship games. Lorcan McLoughlin was midfield when we played them in the final league round.

For attack Michael Cussen is again reported to be out injured, though being sceptical by nature I wouldn’t discount his appearance either on Sunday. It’s a Cork attack that has had its difficulties finding a settled formation, despite steady progress through the league. One Cork source I heard suggested that Niall McCarthy will be centre forward with Aisake O’Hailpin and Ben O’Connor on the wings and Paudie O’Sullivan at full between Pat Horgan and Kieran (Fraggy) Murphy. It will be interesting to see how they line up on the day.

Cork’s league campaign was steady and consistent until the final where it all unravelled against Galway. Mind you on their day Galway are capable of doing that to any opposition so maybe we shouldn’t take too much comfort from Cork’s discomfort. It’s tempting to see some of the older Cork warriors as showing signs of the years but again they’re capable of answering the doubters on a given occasion even if the legs aren’t up to a full-length All Ireland campaign.

From a Tipperary perspective the league gave mixed signals. A poor start against Dublin ultimately was our undoing but there were impressive days against Kilkenny and Galway as well as that frustrating near miss against Cork. Overall there was enough to suggest that the momentum of ’09 is still with us.

Undoubtedly the team’s main focus was this championship opener so Sunday is a big day for all concerned. Mind you we’re not without our worries. Apart from uncertainty about Padraic Maher’s role we haven’t yet this year seen the best from players like Conor O’Mahony and Declan Fanning. Sunday would be a useful time to rebound and they tend to be big-day players.

We’ll look for big things too from Shane McGrath at midfield whose form has been a little patchy so far this season. In terms of the younger players improving on last year I expect great things from Brendan Maher who is showing evidence of developing into the player many predicted from his minor days.

In attack we’d like to see that half forward line working full throttle – even if they’re not winning clean possession let’s pressurise the Cork clearances. Once again much will depend on the father figures, Corbett and Kelly, to deliver scores and give the lead for the younger element like Callanan and McGrath.

Overall it’s shaping up to be a titanic struggle between these old foes. On the form of recent years we’re deserving of slight favouritism but I can see Cork really bursting a gut to pull off this one. You can’t ignore our poor record in championship games Leeside either even if that particular hoodoo was lifted two years ago. It’s all set then for what promises to be an early season highlight. Avoiding the qualifiers has to be a top priority. Let’s go for it.

On the local scene the Mid put on a crunch tie on Sunday evening at Holycross where the stakes were high between Boherlahan and Moycarkey. And it developed into quite an eventful game of swings and roundabouts with, crucially, Moycarkey having the final say when it mattered most.

Imagine the scene twenty minutes in with the scoreboard reading 2-6 to 0-2 for Moycarkey. It was a nightmare phase for Boherlahan who were hit by two Kieran Morris goals and looked to be heading for a whitewash. Moycarkey were dominant all over at this stage and even when Ger Flanagan set up Darragh Hickey for a Boherlahan goal just before the break it seemed no more than damage limitation. The gap was still seven at break time.

On resuming Seamie Leahy hit an instant Boherlahan goal and suddenly the runaway was halted. The gap was four points now and back up to five on another Kieran Morris point. But then the contest really exploded into life when Boherlahan hit two rapid-fire goals from Brian Maher and Darragh Hickey. A great solo point from Fionn McCullagh followed and incredibly Boherlahan had gone from ten-down to two-up. What a turnaround! Could they sustain it?

After the dismally on-sided first half this was altogether more entertaining, real heat in the exchanges now. Kieran Morris frees drew them level with a quarter of the game still to play but then the match turned on a few decisions. A harsh free against the Boherlahan defence gave Kieran Morris the lead point once more and then an even more critical decision when Darragh Hickey was sent off on a second yellow card, presumably for something verbal because there didn’t seem to be a hurling offence involved. It was a controversial call by the referee and effectively swung this game Moycarkey’s way. With the Boherlahan attack now minus a key player their scoring dried up while Moycarkey tacked on the winning points in the final ten minutes. Kieran Morris scored
2-12 of their total, 2-4 from play. In fairness he’s doing this in all their games. Brian Moran hit a few crucial scores for the winners also.

This result means that the final game of the group is now for positions only. Drom need to beat Sarsfields to make it a three-way tie in which score difference will decide the order. For Boherlahan the O’Riain Cup beckons.

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