Westside Column 5 April 2019

WESTSIDE

 

It’s lift-off weekend for club hurling with over twenty games listed across the county in senior and intermediate grades. April’s window of opportunity is now open for clubs who hopefully will enjoy their day out next Saturday or Sunday because they may not have another until September.

That’s the scenario that faces club hurlers under the present GAA calendar. They began training in the dark and dirt of winter. A few challenge matches, no doubt, were factored in to try and get them match fit. Add in a couple of league fixtures in recent weeks and now they face a crunch first round of the county championship after which they may retreat back into hibernation for five months until the ‘real’ action resumes.

For clubs it means no meaningful games for most of April, May, June, July and August, which includes some of the best months weather-wise for hurling. Of course there will be the odd league fixture slotted in here and there and maybe a divisional game depending on circumstances. But the meaningful stuff that decides championships and table positions and relegation will be on hold for a huge chunk of the year.

For team managements it presents a major dilemma. What do you do after next weekend? Do you down tools, send the lads away and tell them enjoy the summer and come back in August. Or do you ease off and try to keep matters ticking over through the idle months hoping you can pick up momentum again later in the summer. Many players will drift away to the US and other destinations and may not return in the best of nick for a championship assault in September.

I’ve no doubt the designers of this club month were well meaning but it’s clear by now that it has failed and must be abandoned. Part of the problem is that it was never a full month in any case. County managers saw to that, especially when the Munster championship dates were brought forward. It’s at best a two-week window at the start of the month.

An obvious solution is to delay the start of the county championships until late August. If that means bringing the All Irelands forward another week or two then so be it. Actually most years it’s quite feasible to start the championships in August anyway because we’re not in the All Ireland final. A solution must be found because the present position is unbearable.

Anyway three divisions put on championship rounds last weekend with Clonoulty/Rossmore making it hot for Cashel K.C. in the West; Loughmore had just enough to see off Holycross/Ballycahill in the Mid; while down South Ballingarry pulled off a surprise win over St. Mary’s.

Cashel’s return to senior ranks was always going to be challenging. When they lost Eoghan Connolly to a serious knee injury then the odds became skewed even more. In the end they fell heavily to the reigning county champions. It will have been a sharp reminder of the realities of life in the top flight. Regrouping now for their first round clash with Clonakenny next weekend, presumably without Eoghan Connolly, will test their resolve even further.

I figured the Ballingarry and St. Mary’s game would be a tighter affair and so it transpired. Mary’s might have been fancied in advance against an under-strength Ballingarry but the underdogs wouldn’t lie down. Despite playing three-quarters of the game a man short they out-fought Mary’s to hold out for a precious one-point win.

It was a passionate affair, especially from Ballingarry, who were fanatical in their will to win. The passions boiled over midway through the first half when a pair of players got entangled off the ball. (It reminded me of an incident in Semple Stadium many years back when a pair of players were locked in a similar embrace and a certain wag in the press box was heard to say, ‘I hope ‘tis fighting they are’).

Anyway the Ballingarry goalie unwisely got involved and received a red card for his intervention with the original pair collecting yellows.

Significantly in the minutes after that flare-up it was Ballingarry who produced the best move of the match which ended with Eamon Touhy hitting the game’s only goal. In the context of the game’s tightness it was a huge score.

That goal separated the teams at half time and even though Mary’s quickly equalised on resuming they could never push ahead. Ballingarry didn’t score from play in the second period but Michael Ivors and Padraig Hayes hit valuable frees and to keep them ahead of Seamus Kennedy’s best response for the Clonmel side; Kennedy hit three second half points but the equaliser eluded him and his colleagues.

The excitement of the Ballingarry gang afterwards underlined their satisfaction at this outcome. They were without several key players such as Philip Ivors, Dylan Walsh, John Walsh and Ger Fennelly so to defy the odds in this manner was hugely pleasing. They were simply manic in broken play and just bullied St. Mary’s out of it.

For the Clonmel team it was a huge setback. That minor double of a few years ago is starting to fade into the distance and the follow-up progress is proving problematic.  They had their chances but didn’t take them. Ross Peters made several useful contributions but missed two crucial frees in the second half. Bad decision making by defenders cost them as well. They have little time to lick wounds now as they face J.K. Bracken’s in the Seamus O’Riain Cup at the weekend.

Ballingarry have a bye in their O’Riain Cup group so they have plenty of time now to savour this win and look ahead to a pair of meetings with Mullinahone in South and County championships.

A final word on the game: the referee took a lot of stick from Ballingarry supporters. I disagree with them. I thought he did very well in what was a tense and very physical game.

In the Mid Loughmore put out Holycross by a narrow enough call in a Saturday evening game at the Ragg. This was an interesting clash with Holycross putting in a very creditable effort, one that fell just short to a wily Loughmore outfit.

John McGrath set up cousin Liam for the game’s only goal in the first half. It was a crucial score. Dinny Ferncombe denied Liam Treacy on another goal attempt again created by John McGrath. It was a half in which Loughmore slipped into an eight point lead only to be reeled in by a Holycross effort spearheaded by Darragh Woods. The margin was four at the interval.

Early in the second half Evan Sweeney denied Liam Moloney what would have been a crucial goal for Holycross. Nonetheless the Holycross rally continued and they eventually leveled with a Bryan O’Meara point.

That was as good as it got, however, they just couldn’t push on. Anthony Ryan came on and got two crucial points for Loughmore and they eventually got home by four. A late Darragh Woods free was saved.

It was a fascinating game. Cathal Barrett and Noel McGrath pretty much cancelled each other, neither having a significant impact on the game. Brian McGrath was strong for Loughmore at centre back in a defence where John Meagher also did well. John McGrath was excellent on the frees and creating chances for others. Liam McGrath was top scorer from play on 1-2.

For Holycross Bryan O’Meara moved to centre back when Barrett tracked Noel McGrath; he was yet again outstanding. Darragh Woods led the attack with an eye-catching contribution; he scored thirteen points including four from play.

Holycross will be disappointed but there was much to praise about a team that is a work in progress. Fethard’s Michael Ryan, a great hurling man, is doing the coaching and it will take patience from all involved. They’ll be strong in the O’Riain Cup, though they’re in a touch group beside Newport and Silvermines.

Next weekend then has a glut of games with plenty of tasty pairings to entice the followers to venues around the county. In Group 1 the Nenagh/Upperchurch tie at Dolla will be intriguing. The highlight from Group 2 should be Borrisoleigh versus Clonoulty at Holycross.  Both games in Group 3 are high on attraction with Sarsfields facing Annacarty at Dundrum and Killenaule tackling Kilruane at Templetuohy. In Group 4 I’d love to see Kiladangan and Drom/Inch in action at Templederry.

The Seamus O’Riain Cup and Intermediate games also carry much appeal so fans are spoiled for choice. Hopefully the weather will co-operate on such a hectic weekend of action.

Credit is due to the County Board for issuing a €15 weekend package which covers all 22 games on offer. It’s a welcome acknowledgment of those who are ever present at games each weekend. Hard choices of course will have to be made but getting to see even three or four senior/intermediate championship games at that price is great value.

Less commendable, however, is the Board’s ongoing failure to update the archive section of the county website. It’s an old bugbear of mine that continues to irritate. Outstanding work was done initially to set up this resource but in recent years is has been neglected. As a regular user I find this inaction shameful on the Board’s part.

Finally there was the curious story last week of the cancelled football game in West Tipperary. Eire Og Annacarty was due to play Arravale Rvs in the senior championship but the game was mysteriously postponed. Eire Og had sought a deferment but they never got a response to their request. There was a suggestion that the county hurling management wouldn’t release Tom Fox for the game but Darragh Egan took issue with John O’Shea on this claiming all hurling panelists were free to play. It would have been odd indeed if Fox was denied involvement in a football tie while several other county panelists played in key hurling fixtures. But if it wasn’t the county hurling management then who pulled the strings here? Somebody is being less than frank methinks.

 

 

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