Westside column – May 12th 2012

Rarely has a league final been over so quickly. Kilkenny made short shrift of Cork’s newfound confidence; 2-6 to 0-1 after about eleven minutes represented a nightmare opening for the rebels and it didn’t get much better for the remaining hour or so. It all looked so routine for the ‘cats’ as they delivered another heavy rebuff to a wannabe power.
For Tipperary, now just a few weeks away from the championship opener, the implications will have been duly noted.
It was the margin rather than the outcome which took people by surprise on Sunday. Cork had been motoring along nicely during the league. Their mix of new and old seemed to be building real momentum and there was a recognisable buzz around JBM and his team. Then they hit the wall that is Kilkenny and suddenly all bets are off.
So it’s back to basics for Cork. In the semi-final Brian O’Meara had Stephen McDonnell under the cosh; on Sunday Eoin Larkin ensured that the full back went for an early shower. With Larkin calling the shots in a man-of-the-match display Cork were instantly floundering in a key area of the pitch.
Mind you the full back wasn’t helped by a jittery display from newly-promoted goalie, Martin Coleman. When Donal Og Cusack was injured against Tipperary Anthony Nash very ably deputised so there was surprise when Coleman was given the nod for the final. It’s a decision that will be revisited now in the post-mortems. Two of the Kilkenny goals were preventable. The first was poorly hit but the goalie was badly positioned and got his legs in a tangle as he tried to react. The third goal was gifted to T.J. Reid when Coleman spooned the ball out to the forward. It’s likely Cusack would have prevented both.
So an untypically nervous display by Cork gave Kilkenny an early nod and the game was up. And when it rains it pours thus Cork were downright luckless on several goal opportunities during the afternoon. A Horgan free was tipped over in the first half; his second half penalty cleared the crossbar too. Luke O’Farrell had his goal chance cleared off the line by Paul Murphy. Darren Sweetnam blazed over too and then there was a spectacular save by David Herity. On another day with the gods in more benevolent mood Cork might have had three or four goals and the maths of the game would be entirely different.
It was something of a reality check for Cork rather than a knock-out blow and they’re likely to remain favourites for Munster. They’ll have to sort out the full back slot, rethink their goalie options and employ Darren Sweetnam from the off in future games. Sweetnam was the one bright spark for Cork on a troubled afternoon. They had good displays too from Shane O’Neill, Pat Horgan and the high-fetching Pa Cronin. In a Munster semi-final in late June they’re likely to be a different proposition entirely.
The story with Kilkenny is one of continuity. They make light of injuries and simply churn out more of the same power-packed play year on year. With their patented blend of physicality and skill they simply blow aside any team that is unready for the collision. Defensively they’re ruthless. Witness the way J.J. Delaney dealt with the Conor Lehane threat in one incident in the first half onSunday.
In the lead up to the game Brian Cody was in the news with his comments on items such as referees, assessors and the game’s physicality. He claimed that the physicality is being refereed out of the game. What is the man talking about? I don’t see any evidence that the game is becoming less physical; in fact Kilkenny have brought the physical element to new levels of intensity. I’ve seen the Kilkenny training sessions where Cody keeps the whistle in his pocket and the normal rules of engagement are ignored. He’s hardly suggesting that as a standard for the game nationally?
Nor do I agree with his comments on referees’ assessors. He claims they’re putting undue pressure on referees who should operate on a common sense approach. Surely being assessed is crucial to improving standards and standardising interpretation of rules. Otherwise each referee goes off on a solo run. Cody very rigorously assesses his own players, I’m sure, so it’s vital that referees are inspected in the same way.
This ‘common sense’ argument crops up regularly, usually accompanied by a plea to let the game flow. Decoded, that normally means ignore the rules and let ‘em at it, just like Cody’s refereeing of his training sessions. It’s a nonsensical argument. There’s not much point in having rules if you’re going to ignore them. Good refereeing involves the consistent application of all rules and if that breaks the flow of a game then the problem is with the players and not the referee.
Anyway one suspects that Cody may well be putting subtle pressure on referees ahead of the championship which might win his team a few vital decisions during the summer.
In theory Cork’s resounding defeat last Sunday reflects poorly on Tipperary though of course each game is different. Still we have slipped in ranking since that defeat to Cork. And then there’s the rumour mill going into overdrive with stories of all sorts of civil unrest in the Tipperary camp following the league semi-final. I understand Tomas Mulcahy took up the theme on Sunday night during a Munster championship preview on TV.
There’s one part of me which says you don’t give this stuff the oxygen of publicity but on the other side it’s part of public debate anyway so there’s little point in ignoring it. Given the nature of social media these days means there’s instant access to rumours and gossip whether through twitter or facebook or the various websites designed to facilitate such interchange of material. I know of some at County Board level who cite the Premierview website as a culprit in this regard.
The wilder stories doing the rounds suggested major blood-letting at a players’ meeting following the Cork game. Tommy Dunne was said to have been ousted by the revolt. Eamonn O’Shea was back and Lar Corbett too was returning. All very dramatic and sensational stuff; the only problem was that it was entirely fictional. Now I don’t have a fly-on-the-wall presence at player meetings but there are people close to the scene whose word I respect and trust. When they tell me that nothing so dramatic happened I tend to take their word on it.
I’ve no doubt there are inevitable tensions and frictions within the camp. The defeat to Cork was troubling – perhaps even more troubling now given the final outcome. Declan Ryan described the performance that day as flat. Others might describe it as dispirited. For whatever reason the league campaign has failed to generate momentum for Tipperary and that remains a worry as the championship opener approaches. Ultimately the buck stops with management when the mood music in the camp isn’t harmonious and for that reason these are testing times for Declan Ryan and Co.
Meanwhile back at the ranch the home fires keep burning with the local championships pottering away at a low-key level. The early rounds in all divisions involve a certain amount of sifting before the more crucial ties take place later on. I went West-side at the weekend and saw two games of significance. Clonoulty scrambled a one-pointer against Eire Og while Cappawhite had a lot more to spare over Kickhams. Newly promoted Aherlow came up short against Golden in the other West game at the weekend.
Clonoulty have been the dominant West force for some time now and there was major interest in their clash with Eire Og on Sundayevening at Dundrum, given the generally accepted view that the Annacarty side is second in the pecking order in that division. Well the order remains unaltered after Sunday evening – but only just.
I thought Eire Og were very unlucky to come away empty handed after putting up such a spirited resistance to the champions. The Eire Og defence in particular can take a collective bow after stifling the Clonoulty attack so effectively. Brian Fox was outstanding on John O’Neill, then you had his brother Kevin at centre back and teenage cousin, Tom, really catching the eye at wing. It was a Fox-led defence but all six in that rearguard were excellent in front of an untroubled goalie, Darragh Mooney, who hit a monster point from a free deep inside his own half in the first period.
They led Clonoulty by four at one stage in the first half and still held one advantage at the break. Ultimately it was attacking shortcomings that cost Eire Og in the second period. The Clonoulty half back line especially, with Padraig Heffernan excellent in the middle, put up the shutters in the second spell and there was intense pressure on the Eire Og defence. Eventually John O’Neill put the reigning champions ahead near the end and Eire Og had a few costly misses at the other side.
So Clonoulty just about got there. O’Neill, Hammersley and company got little change out of the Eire Og defence, Timmy eventually being substituted. Good to see Thomas Butler back for the West champions after injury blighted last season for him. Eire Og can take a lot of positives from the result however, given that they were without players like Diarmuid Ryan, Eoin Kennedy and Donal O’Dwyer. I’m sure they’ll cross swords with Clonoulty again before the season is out.
At Bansha on Saturday evening I missed Golden’s narrow win over Aherlow but saw Cappawhite reignite their season with a resounding success over Kickhams. It was a strange game of two contrasting halves, Kickhams having the better of the first but Cappa’ dominating the second.
I thought it was a fine first half with sharp exchanges and plenty of crisp hurling. We certainly saw the best of Kickhams at this stage with some great scores being taken by the likes of Alan Horgan, Paul Breen and David Butler. They would have been in the lead at half time but for conceding a freakish goal when goalie and full back got into a tangle. Still at level pegging one felt that an exciting second half was in prospect.
Not a bit of it. Cappa’ sprung from the traps in right positive mood for the resumption and it was one-way traffic thereafter. They got on top all over and Kickhams had no response once the tide went against them. With Eugene O’Neill having an influence at centre forward and Jerry O’Neill a threat inside the scores began to flow. Two points from up-field surges by Jim Carr typified the altered mood for Cappawhite. They won in the end by nine, Kickhams night of misery compounded by the dismissal of Patrick Ryan midway through the half.
After their difficulties over the opening round against Clonoulty, where they conceded a walk-over, this was a welcome resurgence by the Cappa’ side. Incidentally they’re coached by Brian Foley, brother of ex-Limerick player, Mark.
Finally, I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that the structure of the West championship is farcical. There are two groups comprising four and three teams respectively. The winner of each group goes straight to the semis while teams two and three from each section play quarter-finals. In the three-team group that should mean that all three go through to the knock-outs. Here, however, it gets a tad confusing. If one of the three teams has no points they then play-off with the bottom team from the other section for the last quarter-final slot. So after all the league rounds it could mean that all seven teams are still in the championship. Farcical or what?

Comments are closed.