After a lull on the inter-county stage it’s back to action once more this Sunday with the league semis at the Gaelic Grounds.
Kilkenny and Clare will be fancied to come through but Tipp fans will be interested to see if recent improvements in their team are consolidated. Clare should fully test our credentials six weeks ahead of our championship opener.
During our troubled league run the Clare defeat was probably the most traumatic. Spilling a grand total of 4-15 with a team that looked utterly shapeless drew widespread criticism. That was mid March. Since then the wins over Dublin and Cork have revitalised our hopes and this league semi now offers some prospect of atonement against the All Ireland champions.
Team selection will be watched with more than usual interest. We were missing some key personnel through injury for the quarter-final versus Cork but all seem to have recovered by now so the management has a fuller hand to play with. How that will translate into the first fifteen will be fascinating to see.
One assumes - a dangerous pastime! – that Darren Gleeson will be restored to goalkeeping duties after Darragh Egan’s difficulties the last day. Paudie Maher, Michael Cahill and Cathal Barrett are all healthy and in the mix for defensive roles this time. With Paul Curran still recuperating and Michael Breen untried at this level we don’t have a specialist full back so presumably either Conor O’Mahony or Paudie Maher will patrol the edge of the ‘square’. Brendan Maher was seen as a success at centre the last day and James Barry made a significant impact too. Then you have Paddy Stapleton, Cathal Barrett and Conor O’Brien so we’re not short of options.
Midfield had James Woodlock and Kieran Bergin the last day; Shane McGrath might also be considered for a start here. In attack you’d expect Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan, John O’Dwyer and ‘Bonner’ Maher to be starters with less certainty about the other two places. Perhaps Denis Maher deserves another start after his early impact against Cork and then you have several contenders to choose from with little to separate them. There’s no indication of Lar Corbett being ready to resume though Gearoid Ryan played for his club at the weekend and may be in the reckoning.
I’ve learned to expect the unexpected with Eamon O’Shea so let’s wait and see what emerges this time. Winning this one is not vital but the quality of the performance is. Most agree that Clare are the new benchmark so we’d like to see evidence that we can match them in key areas and not be left chasing shadows like the last day. Winning would be a welcome bonus but it’s the performance that will be crucial.
Meanwhile our new-format county championship kicked off last weekend with followers spoiled for choice. Sixteen games were played but, despite the glut of activity, there was no shock result. Indeed the red cards for Paddy Stapleton (inset) and Jason Forde were more noteworthy than any score line.
I noted our colleague, Shane Brophy, in the ‘Nenagh Guardian’, anticipating the outcomes in advance got fourteen of the sixteen correct. It’s an impressive strike rate even allowing for the predictability of several games.
Shane underestimated Killenaule who pulled off a valuable win over Kildangan and he wasn’t alone in misreading events at Dundrum where Boherlahan heaped relegation pressure onto Cashel K.C.
That Dundrum game attracted more interest than most, yet it didn’t quite live up to the nail-biter we anticipated. Boherlahan won by a bubbly seven-up and in truth once their fourth goal was posted in the third quarter it was game over for this contest.
Ironically Cashel began smartest and went a few points up before Boherlahan settled to the job. Then goals by Lawrence Hickey and Seamie Leahy soon gave the Mid side the initiative and even when the King Cormacs clawed their way back into the contest there was another hammer blow for the West side in stoppage time when Darragh Hickey banged home a twenty metre free.
Boherlahan haven’t been noted goal scorers but they certainly hit a rich vein in this game. John Hayes set up Lawrence Hickey for their fourth in the second half and the rest was simply a playing out of time, Jonathan Grogan getting a consolation one back for the losers.
It was the best I’ve seen from Boherlahan for some time. They were souped-up for this collision and simply bullied the King Cormacs with endless blocking and hooking which the West team couldn’t handle. I’d rate Lawrence Hickey the key individual.
It was a huge win for Boherlahan and the corollary is that it’s a massive blow for the King Cormacs. Unless Cashel can muster something special against either Holycross or Kilruane they’re heading for a relegation play-off.
Most other games went according to general prediction, which meant it was a blank weekend for the West overall. Annacarty were narrow losers to Loughmore and it was likewise for Clonoulty in their Sunday evening clash with Nenagh at the Ragg.
Two late Michael Heffernan points got Nenagh over the line after a game which could have veered either way. With Roscrea and Templederry to come I don’t think Clonoulty will be overly downcast though an opening win would have set them up nicely.
The disappointing news from the weekend games was the dismissals of two county players. Jason Forde saw red against Burgess and Paddy Stapleton was sent packing for a heavy hit on Seamus Callanan. It raised immediate issues about their availability for next Sunday’s league semi-final. Apparently it all comes down to the referees’ wording of the offences; a suspension of a month or less makes them eligible for the county but anything more and they’re out. I think we can safely presume they’ll each be banned from the club championship for a month at most.
Suspension procedures were raised also on Saturday evening at Boherlahan where J.K. Bracken’s had a dozen points to spare over Kickhams. Eamonn Corcoran starred in the win despite having been red carded in a county league game earlier. Apparently this is legitimate, under present rules a month’s suspension doesn’t carry over to championship from a subsidiary competition.
Who was it who said the law is an ass? It seems the GAA in an attempt to move away from time-based suspensions has legislated for its own asininity.
We might (should?) have seen another red card in that Saturday evening match at Boherlahan. Instead the referee traipsed from one set of umpires to the other before waving three token yellows. The problem was he had linesmen drawn from the competing teams so he couldn’t consult the best-placed man. Isn’t it indefensible that a county senior championship game hasn’t neutral officials?
An incident in the second half of the game further highlighted the problem when an umpire awarded a point even though everyone behind the free taker saw clearly that it was as wide as the proverbial gate. Again the linesman was perfectly placed to make the correction but sadly he wasn’t neutral so the error was let stand.
We expect better from our games, especially in our premier championship grade.