As the build up to the All Ireland semi-finals gathers pace in the background, it was club weekend in Tipperary with a feast of games on offer.
There’s no doubt our county championship is a complex, multi-layered structure with all sorts of ifs, buts and maybes to be factored in. Still the weekend games did manage to bring some element of clarity even if a lot of issues still have to be resolved.
On the relegation front it was a good weekend for West sides. Both Kickhams and Cappawhite produced Houdini acts to escape the trap. Kickhams edged out Davins while Cappawhite did likewise against Moneygall. Ballingarry drew with Ballina but they were already doomed while Cashel, as expected, came up well short against Holycross.
So, the South sides are joined in the relegation battle by Cashel K.C. and Moneygall but even here a footnote has to be inserted. Ballingarry is still ‘alive’ in the South division, facing a semi-final against Killenaule on August 23. On known form they’ll be outsiders in that clash but should they progress to win the South they’ll escape relegation and qualify for the last sixteen in the County championship. In that eventuality the other three relegation sides will play a round robin mini-series with two of them being demoted.
All of which means that the agony goes on for the teams battling relegation who must wait in the wings to see what happens down South before any draw or fixture is made. Nothing is simple in our championship structure.
Elsewhere in the top tier of the county championship two of the four groups have been decided. Clonoulty, minus Timmy Hammersley, scraped past Templederry so they join Nenagh in the last sixteen. Again an asterisk has to be inserted: if either, or both, of the qualifiers win their division then the next two in their group make the last sixteen. Confused? Join the club.
Group two of this section produced the tightest finish of the series with Killenaule, Kildangan and Upperchurch all ending on four points. The ‘Church narrowly missed qualification on score difference. More about that anon.
The only certainty in group three is that Eire Og Annacarty has lost out following their weekend defeat to Moycarkey/Borris. The crucial final game there will feature Loughmore and Toomevara. The ‘greyhounds’ were dumped out of the North championship at the weekend by Borrisoleigh so they must win to keep their season alive. Loughmore can afford to lose and still qualify ahead of Moycarkey on score differential.
In the final group of the top tier Drom have qualified but Borrisoleigh need a big win over Silvermines in their last game to get ahead of Burgess for the second qualification spot. Again in all of these groups teams winning their divisional championship alter the scenario.
In the second tier Lorrha have topped group one following their weekend win over Brackens; Kilruane should top group two when they play Boherlahan in the final game; Ballina are tops in group three while Sarsfields will be expected to take group four when they play Portroe in the last game. In this section group winners make the last sixteen of the county championship.
The best game I saw at the weekend was that between Killenaule and Upperchurch. It ended in a five-point win by the Mid side but they lost out by a single point to Killenaule on score differential. Had they won by six their score difference would have been the same as Killenaule’s but the Mid side would have qualified on a superior ‘scores for’ column. There’s a lot of technical detail this week, I’m afraid, but that’s the nature of our championship structure.
The game between Killenaule and Upperchurch produced excellent entertainment being tough, competitive and high-scoring. The Mid team got away from the opponents early on with Pat Shortt netting a crucial goal but ‘Bubbles’ revived Killenaule when he planted a twenty-metre free.
The Mid side took a two-point lead to the interval and mid-way through the second half went nine-up following two rapid-fire goals by Owen Shortt and Colm Stapleton. Thereafter Killenaule chipped away at the lead and it was ‘Bubbles’ who got the final crucial point to cut the margin to just five.
I’ve been impressed this year by Upperchurch. They’re honest and earnest in approach and their Mid semi-final meeting with Loughmore will be one to watch. Pat Shortt was outstanding on Sunday while, after a slow start, James Barry came strongly into the game at centre back. Jody Brennan is regaining some form at midfield but it’s probably the overall evenness of the side that’s most notable.
Kieran Bergin was outstanding for Killenaule at centre back – good to see the county men in sharp form on Sunday. ‘Bubbles’ hit some classy scores as did Niall O’Dwyer from midfield. Great to see Declan Fanning coming on and making an impact too. They’ll be fancied to retain the South and with the right attitude could make an impact in the county series.
It was disappointing for the ‘Church to lose out on qualification after such an impressive win. They’d win the South or West championships and would have a decent chance in the North too. However, they’re unfortunate to be in the Mid beside such hot-shots as Sarsfields, Drom and Loughmore. If Killenaule or Kildangan win their divisional championships then Upperchurch will qualify for the last sixteen, which I think is no more than they deserve.
Elsewhere in the GAA world the dual-player issue has been exercising minds and drawing some interesting commentary. I suppose Dublin’s dilemma has put the focus firmly on this topic with Anthony Daly being hindered by the draw of football in the capital. Several talented dual-players such as Cormac Costello have opted for Jim Gavin’s side ahead of the hurlers depriving Daly of the sort of replenishment his side clearly needs.
It’s an issue that has no easy solution. Dual players will usually opt for the code with the highest profile and the one where they see most prospect of success. In a football county like Dublin that choice is always destined to go one way. Donal Og’s suggestion of forcing an early decision on youngsters seems harsh though one can appreciate his perspective. It’s frustrating when so much is invested in hurling development squads and then you have the best talents turning their backs on the game.
In Tipperary it’s the reverse. I’m sure the football fraternity feel annoyed when multi-talented players opt for hurling. According to Brendan Cummins that has changed though he offered no supporting evidence, probably because it doesn’t exist. It’s a touchy topic in Tipperary but one we have to live with.
Meanwhile we’ll watch with more than usual interest the first of the hurling semis next Sunday. Kilkenny, inevitably, will be hotly fancied though you have a sense that Limerick is well placed to challenge the established order here. They seem more grounded this year with none of the wild euphoria of last season.
I think the Munster side is well capable of bothering Cody’s crew though I can’t quite convince myself that they have enough to pull off an upset. It’s a big challenge for forwards like Dowling, Downes, Hannon and company who need to deliver on the biggest stage if the Shannonsiders are to advance. It should be a fascinating one with known form pointing to a narrow Kilkenny win.

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