If there ever is a time for Waterford, it’s now.

Waterford

Part of what makes the week of a big match so special is the endless previews attached to it. You get to hear everyone’s take on how they think the match will go and great debates can be generated.I was listening to Newstalks Off the ball last night with my dad and Eoin Kelly made a good point when he said Waterford needed to get as far as possible in this championship, because you just don’t know what the future holds. He is right and we’ve seen a very good example in Clare, where they have won an All Ireland, and were quite well fancied to win a few more, but have not managed to reach the same heights as 2013. Waterford are on the right track to paving a good future for themselves. Their underage structures are strong, if they weren’t, players like Austin Gleeson, and Tadhg De Burca wouldn’t be lighting up the championship. They have found a gem of a manager in Derek McGrath, and he seems to have put an air of confidence and more importantly, stability within the camp.

The last time, this Waterford team were such a promising position, was probably 2008. Davy Fitzgerald had come in mid-season to refresh their season and they produced the shock of the season when they beat Tipperary in the semi-final. Fast forward to 2015, Tipperary are now the other half of hurling’s Top Two, and Waterford have gone through a transitional period. The old guard has now exited the dressing room and new voices have emerged. The Waterford of 2008 are now well forgotten about.

The confidence that is emanating from this current group of players is impressive. While you always were guaranteed to get a fearless attitude from the Deise, there is real sense that this team will pull off something special, if not this year then maybe in the very near future. The edge they have had over Kilkenny at underage level is nothing to be sniffed at. Whenever you meet a team full of confidence and fully focused on their own game-plan, then you have a dangerous side.

Another key thing is that Waterford seem to be coming into this game with a full deck to choose from, and do not seemed to burdened by injuries, as opposed to Kilkenny who are facing an injury crisis. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that a player could easily get injured on match day then in training, but it’s all to do with luck too. Kilkenny might be under strength as a result of their injuries and that is when Waterford need to go for the jugular.

After all, there is no time like the present.

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Players have came and went, but Kilkenny’s philosophy is still the same.

Kilkenny have had to deal without icons like  King Henry.
Kilkenny have had to deal without icons like King Henry.

Something, struck me the other day when I was listening to Paul Murphy. The Danesfort man was asked if the level of training was still the same since the mass exodus of players during the winter. To, I presume, most of the journalists  surprise, Murphy admitted that initially it was difficult to get training to the level of intensity that has become synonymous with Kilkenny’s success over the years. He did say that once championship rolls around, it is time to get to work. Newcomers to the set-up, this year more than ever, have a chance to kick-start their senior careers earlier, rather than serving a long apprenticeship. Players such as Kieran Joyce know this set-up better than anyone, having bided his time as an extended panel member and taking the opportunity when presented to him.

Teams have a life-cycle, even successful ones, The players that departed the scene in 2014, were all over the 30 mark. As a result of that, the average age is dropped, and it is back to square one, Fringe players that might not have gotten a look in are now the front runners to take over from the household names. If your surname is Tyrell, Power, Fennelly or Larkin, you are now no longer certain to keep your jersey from the Jj Farrells, Mark Kelly’s and Joe Lyngs of this world. That is the way it has always been with Cody, no one player is bigger than the whole team.

Even last year, there was a sense that the senior team was going through a revolution of sorts, while the bench still boasted 48 All Ireland medals, the fact that the likes of Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan had been handed a secondary role was significant, it highlighted that Cody was looking to the future, instead of dwelling on the past. Take the half back line for example, did anyone envision that Kilkenny would win an All Ireland without the trio of Walsh, Hogan and Delaney. (Granted Tommy’s brother Padraig now operates in the number 5 jersey, so you could not say the defence is devoid of Tullaroan representation!)

There seems to be a trend throughout Cody’s reign, where he uses the League campaign, not just to get a momentum going, but to blood in a few new players. Both in 2014, and in 2015, this philosophy has been further cemented. Especially this year, where not only did Kilkenny have to deal with recent departures, but also an injury list that housed some very influential players, some of which are still struggling. While it was always going to be tough, however, it was also an excellent opportunity for the management to look at different players, and test them in difficult situations. Some of which worked out, some did not. Kilkenny ultimately retained their division 1A status and found out a lot about themselves in the process.

 

Anytime. you attempt to rebuild a team, there is a process. Cody was faced with similar challenges throughout his time with Kilkenny, the biggest being 2006, and we all know what happened after that. That time of transition may short or it may be long, so supporters must be patient. Kilkenny are faced with having to rebuild a new team but the philosophy is still the same as it was in 2006.

 

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4 Key Questions for this weekend.

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This weekend is a potentially season-altering one. Not only do we have a big provincial showdown  but we also embark on a qualifier journey that could produce some surprises. A lot of questions are swirling around this week but I feel there are 4 key questions that will have clear answers once we reach Monday morning.

1. Kilkenny’s No 3.

It’s fairly certain that Joey Holden will line out for Kilkenny at no 3 when they take on Galway in the Leinster final on Sunday. He had a solid game against Wexford, didn’t put a foot wrong, however the magnitude of the challenge put in front of him on Sunday is monumental. To put simply into two words, Joe Canning. The man is on fire lately, scoring 1-15 against Laois in the Leinster semi-final and has scored 33 points in total. When on form, he is absolutely lethal. It is the ultimate test for Holden, and while Kilkenny’s half back line will be important in offering extra protection, it is perhaps Kilkenny’s half forward line which could be vital. Galway will more than likely go direct and play the ball on top of Holden and Canning, so cutting off this supply will be important. If things are going a bit pear-shaped , Brian Cody may make the switch of putting Paul Murphy at full back, an experienced defender who has played at full back in the league and has done well. It is a big undertaking to attempt to curtail someone like Joe, and whoever does, will probably be Kilkenny’s full back for the rest of the summer.

2. Which Galway will turn up?

People are expecting things of Galway now. They are playing the way everyone wished they would play more often, and are doing it consistently. They are now facing a team that they have given plenty of headaches to over the years. Something about the black and amber stripes must set them on edge. The big question is, though, will the Galway that are capable of mauling anybody arrive at Croke Park on Sunday? Cast your mind back to 2012, when they restricted Kilkenny to a solitary point in the first 30 minutes. It was the biggest upset of the year, and it helped Galway reach the All Ireland final. No doubt Kilkenny have learned their lessons from that day, so Galway can’t expect the same things to happen this time. After all, you rarely, if never, catch Brian Cody out twice. A new approach will be needed, and it will interesting what Galway will bring on Sunday.

3. Now or never for Cork?.

It applies to every team this weekend, but none more so than the Leesiders. Cork, at the beginning of 2014 were cited as one of the top three in the country and up to the point of THAT All Ireland semi final, they were serious contenders. Now they are very lucky to be in top 5, if we are being brutally honest. Despite winning a valuable Munster crown last year, they have seen their All Ireland prospects slowly dissipate, and are now faced with the daunting prospect of traveling down to Wexford Park to face a team who were given a not-so rare beating by the Cats. A win is the only option. If not for just the Seniors, but Cork hurling as whole. Their under 21’s and now minors are no longer involved in the championship for 2015, so Cork must now put all their efforts into ensuring their senior side’s hopes stay alive.

4. Hell hath no fury than a beaten team scorned?

The two angriest sides are probably Limerick and Wexford at this point in time. They were both served comprehensive beatings by the two best sides in the country and will want to send out a message that they are better than what these results suggest. While Limerick will be expected to get the better of Westmeath away, Wexford have by far the most difficult challenge of taking on Cork. A home draw is a big advantage, and the Wexford crowd will be there in numbers, and this can sometimes act like a 16th man. Wexford have added experience of knowing how to navigate the qualifier route and have shown last year that they are capable of putting it up to the big teams. This should stand to them and perhaps get them that all important win. Limerick and Clare are two other teams that will start getting a bit of momentum going. The importance of getting a game under your belt is vital, particularly if you reach the semi-final, as the provincial winners will have had to wait four weeks and may be staler as a result. To paraphrase a famous quote, “a wounded team is a dangerous animal”

Enjoy the action this weekend and I’m sure there will be a lot of talking points come Sunday evening!

Ashling.

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Traditional final not a forgone conclusion.

Kilkenny v Tipperary - GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay

When Kilkenny and Tipperary take to the field in their respective provincial finals, many people across the country will have already have pitted them against each other in a September showdown.

The facts speak for themselves. Two weeks ago, Kilkenny beat Wexford by 24 points, and Tipperary defeated Limerick by 16 points. Talk of a revolutionary summer like 2013 has all but been abolished for another year. It’s now time for the other teams to just throw in the towel, one supposes.

Absolutely not. What happened last Sunday, was merely just two teams stating their intent for the year ahead. They had to put in the performances they did in order to prevent being included in a very tough qualifier draw the next morning. As Brian Cody says, you can only beat what is front of you. Kilkenny had a lot of questions going into the Wexford game, who would fill JJ Delaney’s boots at full back, could they fill the void left by Shefflin, Walsh and co . So naturally, they wanted to silence the doubters. After all, it’s not in Kilkenny nature to dwell on the past. The show must go on.

You could say the same for their neighbours. It’s fair to say the pressure is mounting on the Premier county to land an All Ireland title after coming within a whisker of it last year. They, themselves have lost stalwarts such as Eoin Kelly, John O’Brien, Paul Curran and Noel McGrath. However, like Kilkenny, they simply got on with it, with John, O’ Dwyer and Seamus Callanan fast becoming the dynamic duo of their forward line. Where Kilkenny have Reid and Hogan, Tipp have Bubbles and Callanan.

So the questions have been answered and the chance of silverware is up for grabs, but supporters must thread carefully. The championship is a landmine, and one misstep could blow a county’s chances to pieces. It doesn’t come much more dangerous for Kilkenny than this Sunday’s Leinster SHC final meeting with Galway in Croke Park. Galway are now delivering on what they have been capable of since 2012. Their forward had enough firepower to match Tipperary and Kilkenny’s ammunition. The fact that they have scored 8-47 so far in the championship speaks for itself.

While Wexford set out with the best of intentions last Sunday, tactically they were very naïve. Playing a two man full back line gave Ger Aylward space and he punished accordingly. With the likes of Richie Power and Colin Fennelly to come back into the team, Kilkenny’s ability to get goals will increase tenfold. It is highly unlikely that Galway will be as loose defensively. The key thing, for them, is to curtail the influence of Richie Hogan and Tj Reid. Whenever either of them has the ball, the other is never too far away. If Galway can keep it tight and curb Kilkenny’s scoring threat, they are in with a fair chance of causing an upset.

The ultimate acid test for Kilkenny will be in their full back line. Assignments don’t come much harder than marking Joe Canning, so Joey Holden will have his work cut out. As will Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrell, who will have to deal with the equally punishing Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion. In these three, Galway have a lethal combination that could make this championship more than the perceived two horse race.

Tipperary’s opponents in the Munster final, Waterford is another emerging contender for the All Ireland title. They made nothing of the loss of their freetaker and talisman Padraic Mahony and have found themselves within touching distance of a Munster title. Their swift progress has impressed many and to beat Cork, not once, but twice is nothing to be sniffed at. At this point in time. Derek McGrath and his young team deserve to be in the top four. The tactically astute manager will have to replicate Kilkenny in last year’s replay and close down any sort of space that Tipp create, the type they thrive off of.  Like Galway, they have the forward power to trouble Tipperary’s rearguard.

The defeated parties, Limerick and Wexford, will have to look to the qualifiers to try and salvage their season. Limerick will have to travel to Westmeath, where they will be expected to get a win, while Wexford play host to Cork. This will be an interesting one as both sides will be feeling pretty scorned by their previous performances and will want to get a bit of momentum going. It’s a hard one to call. Limerick are another side who will need to get the show on the road as quickly as possible. They have a tough road ahead, and will need to avoid the likes of Kilkenny should they want to still be in the reckoning come August.

As for Kilkenny and Tipperary, they are on the right track, but there is a lot hurling to be done yet.

(Hello everyone, long time no see 😛 I’ve been letting my brother make a few technical changes to the site, which includes a new subscription service where you will get notified whenever I upload a post. I’ve made a few changes to my writing schedule too so I’ll be hopefully posting every Wednesday and Friday. Stay tuned for Friday’s post!)

Ashling.

 

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What is the state of Cork hurling?

Cork.

Perhaps last Sunday encapsulated what has gone wrong with Cork.

A bold statement? Possibly, but it’s one that has done the rounds since. From 20 minutes into the first half, right until the final whistle, Cork lost themselves. They struggled to get to grips with not just the game, but the system Waterford played. A lot of Rebel optimists have  said that the opening 20 minutes could indicate Cork are headed somewhere. If so, what happened for the rest of the game, and second, in all honesty, what supporter would be satisfied with their team only firing for 20 minutes?

The stark reality is this, Cork were beaten by Waterford in the Allianz League final 4 weeks previous, because they failed to answer what Waterford threw at them. They lost the Munster championship for more or less the same reason. Either, it is the fault of the manager, for not putting the appropriate tactics in place, or the fault of the players, for not putting them into practice. Either way, someone needs to take the blame and attempt to move the thing froward if Cork are to salvage their championship. When Jimmy Barry Murphy reprised his role as manager , his presence built an inner belief that Cork could return to the big time. Fast forward to 2015, that seems to have become more of a pipe dream than a genuine realistic goal. Is it time now, for JBM to hold his hands up and say look’ I’ve taken this team as far it can go, but maybe it is a young man’s game now. Nonsense, if Brian Cody followed that idea, he would have walked into the sunset ages ago. If Jimmy Barry Murphy continues with the approach he had in 1999, Cork are going nowhere fast.

The problem is, whether Cork people want to hear this or not, there are deeply embedded problems not just within the Cork senior team, but the whole hurling scene in itself.  Club, and underage structures. How about this, Cork have not won an under 21 since 1997, and a minor since 2001, and are going into their TENTH YEAR without a senior title. Their clubs are not making the grade nationally either, with smaller clubs such as Kanturk having as much representation as the more well known clubs. With nothing coming in at underage, Cork have had to revert back to relying on the current club scene.  Tony Considine said in one of his articles that one third of the Cork team are not up to the standard of inter county hurling. Harsh, yes but is he right? Another reason could be that the strikes that hampered the county in the early noughties might have contributed to Cork being behind in terms of player development. A strike is something that can make underage standards slip and if a county loses that standard , it can have devastating consequences. The sad part is, Cork are, or were one of the main hurling powerhouses. Now I won’t entertain the notion that Cork don’t have the players, because it’s simply bogus. They do have the players, but maybe the players that they need are not playing for Cork. First things first, they need to stop trying to turn footballers into hurlers. Keep the football and hurling underage systems separate, and they won’t have to. Belief is central to all of this. If  Cork can generate confidence into their underage structures, young players will buy into that. Put it this way if Cork can  produce the likes of Christy Ring, Joe Deane and Kevin Hennessy, they can produce players of the same calibre. Cork needs players as good as these, and I refuse to believe they don’t have them,

Presently if they want to retain their chances of still being in the frame in August, Cork have to go back to square one. First they’ll have to wait to see who they get for the first round, which is where luck will have to be on their side. Ideally, they will benefit from a few tough games to see where they are at. Secondly, they will have to find a place for Patrick Horgan to flourish. He was completely blotted out by Noel Connors, so by possibly moving him out the field, maybe to centre forward or even midfield, he will be a lot more involved in the play. He is an exceptional player, his deadly accuracy from frees will hurt teams, so Cork need to utilize that further. The forward line needs to gel as a unit, and build a gameplan which allows them to strike the oppistions defence as a single cohesive unit, ruthless and unforgiving.

The state of Cork hurling is uncertain at present, but provided that County board gets their house in order, it won ‘t be uncertain for long.

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