If the phoney war taketh away, sometimes the phoney war giveth.
Hurling finds its own tickles. Tomorrow afternoon sees the Munster Championship decided. The likelihood is a Cork-Tipperary Munster Final, with Limerick qualifying in third place.
Previews of Tipperary hosting Limerick concentrated on shadow boxing possibilities. Liam Sheedy and colleagues merely dropped in James Barry for Barry Heffernan at full back, Seán O’Brien for Alan Flynn at corner back and the highly talented Jake Morris for Dan McCormack at wing forward.
Subtracting McCormack deletes an accomplished hewer of wood for others’ varnish. Assessing potential change in overall dynamics will intrigue. Most likely, Jason Forde moves out, with Morris doing his stylish ciotóg stuff at corner forward.
Nicky English, one of Tipperary’s finest ever stickmen and an All Ireland-winning manager to boot, is one of the county’s best placed observers. He remarked in today’s newspaper column: “The county’s psyche really depends on momentum”. This verdict seems correct. Tipperary are going in the right direction ― going there with fearsome elegance. Why swerve off into gimmickry and faux cleverness?
Michael Ryan ultimately paid a dear price, as Tipperary manager, for fielding a weakened side against Kilkenny in 2018’s NHL tie.
Meanwhile Limerick rest Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch, Gearóid Hegarty and Graeme Mulcahy for this occasion. Their replacements ― Tom Morrissey, Darragh O’Donovan, Shane Dowling, Séamus Flanagan ― are shouldering a well grooved wheel. Many analysts feel Limerick are not just establishing a track record but a template for 21st century hurling.
Tipperary’s style ― wristwork every bit as important as legwork ― is not preoccupying sciolists quite so much. This dearth remains a curious matter.
Could Tipperary be saving hurling? Maybe so, if ‘hurling’ is defined as ‘the ability to strike cleanly in tight circumstance’, defined as ‘the sliotar is Usain Bolt and the solo run is Pat Spillane’s granny’. While this possibility might be an uncomfortable half truth for Kilkenny natives, soft seats are not alone bad for posture but can alike lead to posturing.
The All-Ireland champions do look like the frontrunners’ most exacting audit. Our hurling world and its grandmother opine that running at the Tipp backs will crack them. But how do you mount this charge? Limerick tomorrow in Semple Stadium will be a chance to see whether there is an entity out there not hoving as a Light Brigade. Calling a winner in this context ― probably Tipperary, who have more goalpower if Cathal Barrett handles Aaron Gillane ― is as yet that bit beside the point.
Nearly everyone is glossing the other Munster final round as Cork victory over Clare in Ennis. Fortress Cusack Park seems changed into Brigadoon, a mirage of stability and succour. Countering strong majority verdict remains difficult. I spoke to three Banner friends and they are uniformly glum. Their sense is that a swell of talent has run its course, bafflingly so in ways, and no clear alternatives lie to hand.
The dream of Barcelona like tiki taka hurling has slid into too many scooters and not enough rooters.
Broached before was Clare’s front six as unusually dependent on creative half backs. Their ball-winning ability up front dictates that successful deliveries exist on a narrow spectrum. Until this spectrum is broadened, Clare will continue to struggle in top flight contests. Both ends of the equation need to be addressed. The half back line wants creativity; the half forward line, indefatigability. Peter Duggan and Diarmuid Ryan are a decent basis for progress up front. Tony Kelly, as a false 11 courting irrelevance, is not.
For Cork, the main query still centres on doing the basics in defence. Some of their back play against Waterford harked back to opening day tomfoolery against Tipperary. Cork need not just the points but a tightening of defensive sinews. Otherwise Clare might score three goals and snatch an audacious win.
All told, I doubt this scenario. Dalcassian supporters are already looking to 2020 (and are a bit fearful about who will be the next manager). Barring a massive alteration in form, barring ferocious Cork head staggers and swaggers at the back, Clare will be most looking to see if some youngsters cut a jib that hints at future voyage.
This afternoon, there will be nothing phoney about exchanges in Austin Stack Park, Tralee. Kerry host Offaly in a winner takes all clash as regards relegation to the Christy Ring Cup. Nothing against Kerry hurling but I hope Offaly come through, since a friend is part of their backroom.
I have written quite a lot about Offaly hurling as the game’s biggest eyesore. While there is controversy about their selection, the reality is that Offaly hurling has many blisters to burst. I would prefer this action got taken as part of the Joe McDonagh Cup.
The Leinster Championship remains finely poised. Tension is all around. Coming down off a showing in which massive investment only meant gained one point defeat, Kilkenny are vulnerable. Again, a draw in Wexford Park and victory for Dublin in Parnell Park would eliminate Galway.
How likely is this scenario? None too probable. Tomás Connolly and Seán Treacy is not a compelling midfield. Cónal Keaney is forever doughty but 37 in September. Cian Boland, Ronan Hayes and Fergal Whitely do not convince as intercounty forwards.
Galway are coming down off a serious performance last weekend in Nowlan Park. Even so, scarce little indicates Dublin can arc upwards sufficiently off previous showings.
Wexford and Kilkenny is a contest that should see welder’s sparks. This affair is likely to be tense and grim before taking off. Kilkenny need to be less passive on their own puckout, where Wexford push up eight on eight. The former need to use wide-lying midfielders as a ploy the latter will need to answer. Wide-lying midfielders would have the jump on puckouts struck to a wing forward. Wexford sending their midfielders out wide in response would open a channel through the middle. And so forth, ploy meeting ploy…
To win, Kilkenny need to absorb a few truths. Paul Murphy is simply not the candidate for free man at the back. His use of the ball persists as wayward. Joey Holden might nominally start at corner back and become the spare man. Local word said that he was being groomed, during preparations for Dublin in the first round, in this role.
Kilkenny are not overflowing with options for corner back. If fully fit, Darren Mullen might have fitted the bill. As it is, experience says Holden is not an intercounty corner back ― a facet decisively established over the last four seasons. Back in 2015, he lost his starting place following indifferent performance at left corner back in a NHL quarter final with Wexford. Holden runs to the ball differently at corner back from full back or at half back.
He is also one of those left hand on top backhand-favouring hurlers, same as JJ Delaney, who much prefers left side of the defence. Why? Because he much prefers having his fetching hand infield. Hence the reason Delaney almost never hurled at 2 or 5. Tommy Walsh is inverse example: a right hand on top backhand-favouring hurler who wanted his fetching hand infield ― and therefore rarely appeared at 4 and 7.
Otherwise I could see Holden slotting into the half back line, with Murphy and Walsh retained in the corners. You could see a half back line of Holden, Paddy Deegan and Jason Cleere, with Pádraig Walsh going into midfield (possibly with Conor Fogarty). Walsh’s ability to break a tackle and travel is all the more important when dealing with a congested middle third. Better that he deploy this weapon from midfield than from half back.
TJ Reid and Billy Ryan are likely to resume at half forward. Richie Leahy at right half forward? Well able to fetch a ball, he would enjoy a height advantage over Shaun Murphy. Leahy is also well able to ghost past a man and carve open scoring opportunities. The aspect of his play most in need of an upgrade remains decision making in possession.
There is much talk of Walter Walsh being started. Is there much point in once more seeing Matthew O’Hanlon as his marker? Paired, these two men tend to act out their own personal Japanese disaster movie, Tullogher Godzilla versus Ramsgrange King Kong.
Besides, corner forward has long been Walsh’s best position. He is nothing like as good a fetcher as his height implies. Although he usually makes one spectacular catch a game, he is not consistent in this regard because he stands under puckouts and jumps from a static position. If Walsh were given right corner forward, he could well do damage on Simon Donohue.
Equally, Ger Aylward should be the withdrawn man up front. He simply lacks the nous, the composure in possession, to play this role. Far better to hand Richie Hogan this job from the start, with Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh as a potent duo inside.
Make no mistake, though. Kilkenny are vulnerable. Wexford have every chance. Can they take it?
A TJ Reid penalty might just give Kilkenny the second goal required for progress.