Westside Column 20 June 2014

 

It’s an anxious wait for Tipperary ahead of next Monday’s All Ireland qualifier lottery. A favourable draw and venue here could have a significant bearing on our recovery efforts.

Meanwhile our preparations last weekend featured a challenge win over Laois.

One has a sense that the really critical action in this season’s hurling championship is still to come. The qualifiers will pump up the heat considerably. This is last chance territory and after a very unkind draw last year we’ll hope for better this time.

Next week’s Leinster semi between Kilkenny and Galway will provide the final entrant for the first phase of the qualifiers. For once we’ll be willing on Kilkenny. It’s not that Galway would be easy opponents but there’s something less fearful about the tribesmen than another collision with the ‘cats’.

The bookies see Kilkenny as strong favourites for this Leinster semi and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. Since Galway’s near miss in 2012 the tribesmen regressed last season though there was some evidence of improvement in the league. It wasn’t enough to get them past Kilkenny in the semi, though they only lost by four and will probably feel that they can advance on that form.

A steadier spine to their defence and the forward impact of Conor Cooney are among the aspects that have encouraged the perception that Galway are progressing though I feel that Joe Canning needs to recover his magic if they’re to upset the ‘cats’.

It’s difficult to be definitive about Kilkenny based on their Leinster game with Offaly. They certainly looked sharp and hungry in that one though the poverty of Offaly can’t be ignored in any assessment.

Overall then it’s difficult to look beyond a Kilkenny win on Sunday, which would put Galway in our line of fire as possible qualifier opponents.

All Ireland champions Clare are in the Munster side of the qualifier lottery after coming up well short in their clash with Cork. Five points was the end margin but watching the game it certainly felt like more. Clare’s late goal put a gloss on the final figures.

It was a strange game in many ways with Pat Horgan’s free taking the critical item, an aspect that drew an inevitable blast from Davy. Many of the awards were definitely soft though Clare’s rashness in the tackle was certainly a contributory factor.

The two Horgan goals will have quietened much of the criticism of the change in interpretation of where frees are struck. Critics were claiming that the new instruction would make it almost impossible to goal from twenty-metre frees or penalties, yet Horgan rubbished that notion with two classic strikes. With a striker like Horgan around the change definitely won’t encourage cynical fouling of the Cork forwards.

I suspect a critical element in this game was the two matches Cork had with Waterford, which sharpened them up considerably. By contrast Clare came in cold and lacked the type of zip they displayed in last year’s All Ireland. I certainly wouldn’t go dismissing Clare as contenders on this evidence. They’ll improve and will be awkward opponents in the qualifiers.

For Cork it was a very necessary win given last year’s events and I suspect they’re going to be right in the mix for this season. Aidan Walsh is a massive addition to the team so the rebels are definitely on the prowl once again.

Anyway our main interest now is that qualifier draw next Monday. After the pairings are drawn I understand there will be a separate draw for venue. Our dream ticket would be a home fixture against Offaly or either Laois or Antrim. In the corresponding draw last year we got the short straw; here’s hoping for better luck this time.

Meanwhile the club season continues to limp along in the background with many teams having little to train for and yet having to stay ready for future action. It’s a flaw in our system but I’m not sure there’s a handy solution available.

We’ve watched many lopsided games thus far in the club championship so it’s a pleasant change to mention one that by contrast was tight and thrilling. Holycross and Upperchurch went to extra time on Saturday evening last before the ‘Church got home by a slender two points. It was marvellous entertainment from two very driven teams.

Upperchurch, I felt, were good value for the win but they must cringe when reflecting on how close they came to losing it. At four-up heading into the final minutes of the normal hour’s hurling the men from the hills looked safe. But Holycross had displayed a gusty resilience throughout and somehow they now found a spurt that nearly stole this game.

First goalie, John Ferncombe, came up field to rifle home a close in free, something he’s been doing all year. Incidentally I’m not so sure the restriction on tossing the ball forward was implemented there. Either way in created a late crisis for Upperchurch. Cathal Barrett followed up with an immediate levelling point and then came the great escape or the great miss depending on your perspective.

Holycross raided again in injury time and the ball was worked to substitute, Rob Stakelum, who put it wide with a gaping goalmouth inviting the winner.

It was a let-off for the ‘Church and they took advantage in extra time to eventually ease home by two points.

It was a riveting game with full blooded intensity, some sparkling individual displays and marvellous scores. Holycross were the more dogged but the ‘Church had more individual flair. Par Shortt was outstanding from play and frees but he had impressive companions in such as Paul Ryan, Padraig Greene and Colm Ryan. Between them they clocked up a huge score though on the negative side they had around twenty wides in the seventy minutes or so of hurling.

I thought James Barry outshone his counterpart, Cathal Barrett, on a ‘Church half back line that was impressive with Andy Kinane and Joe Maguire completing the formation. Jody Brennan hit a valuable goal for the ‘Church before eventually being forced out with injury.

I liked the dogged perseverance of the Holycross side, which simply refused to give up and made a thrilling contest of this game. Donnacha Duggan took his two goals extremely well and was a constant threat. They have a lot of young players coming into the side after underage prominence and definitely have material to work on for the future.

For the present, though, Holycross’s year is running out of options. They play Cashel in their final county championship game but depend on an unlikely win by Boherlahan over Kilruane in order to progress through that route.  By contrast the ‘Church now go into the Mid semis with Sarsfields, Drom and Loughmore; they won’t be a push-over for whoever they meet.

In the meantime we’ll watch for that qualifier draw. If we draw the losers of Kilkenny v. Galway the game will be on July 5, otherwise we’ll be out on June 28.

 

 

 

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