Here are seven things we learned from the weekend’s games at Croke Park.
We know there’s life in the game yet
Is it all part of an elaborate con job being pulled by Derek McGrath and Waterford, to play with a sweeper until you can surprise your opponents with an orthodox formation? No. But yesterday shows good teams can play any way they like, or more accurately, any way that suits them. What suited Waterford yesterday got them within a minute of an All-Ireland final: what’s wrong with that?
We know Kilkenny are never beaten
Less information than confirmation, but Kilkenny’s dominance has been so marked for years it’s relatively unusual for them to be under the kind of pressure they were under yesterday - even in those drawn All- Ireland finals Galway and Tipperary both made up the ground to draw with them. The iron will displayed yesterday shows the value of insisting on honesty and effort and workrate no matter what circumstances - good and bad.
We know who the Young Hurler of the Year is
Waterford’s Austin Gleeson has probably done enough work already this season for a couple of All Stars, but there was a little rumbling his performance in the U21 Munster final a few weeks ago should get a caveat or two - the grade, the opposition not testing him - and his shooting against Wexford wasn’t top quality. The Mount Sion man was terrific yesterday, however, hitting five points from play. Book that tux.
No capital cracks yet
Jim Gavin took off down the M7, heading south yesterday, buying himself a few days’ R&R with his flip-flops and some thoughts to process. Not as many, mind, as the man looking to engineer the downfall of Gavin’s All-Ireland champions in three weeks’ time.
Donegal and a couple of sendings-off threw up some interesting road blocks for the flat-track kings on Saturday, though nothing the Dubs couldn’t scrutinise, evaluate, then overcome.
Donegal were described afterwards as warriors, and their management can be justifiably proud of the players’ labour and toil, but Eamonn Fitzmaurice did not see the scrutiny of the Dublin full-back line he might have hoped for. At the other end, the Kerry management know all too well the threat posed by Paul Mannion, who is fancied to start the semi-final, and the mobility of Dublin’s midfield.
Man for man, Kerry will struggle to compete with Brian Fenton, whichever pairing they select. Hence, some innovative thinking is called for. A midfield sweeper? Mark Griffin perhaps?
Fitzmaurice has been planning for August 28 all season and a gameplan that might force Dublin down a tactical alleyway. He’ll deliver one, that’s for sure (and don’t rule out Bryan Sheehan pulling on the no 1 jersey). But Gavin won’t be fretting.
Silencing the sledgers
Some of the Dublin and Kerry players weren’t too happy to learn referee David Coldrick was microphoned up for a documentary during last September’s All-Ireland final. However, it seems the thrust of their dissatisfaction had more to do with the absence of a heads-up than anything else.
Viewers picked up a few wisecracks from the final day TV special, but nothing as juicy, I’m wagering, as the exchanges between Dublin and Donegal players, and Tyrone and Mayo players on Saturday at Croke Park. Of course, it might have been all harmless slagging, but it wouldn’t take a master lipreader to decipher what a few defenders were up to.
Sledging seems to be a blind-eye issue for the GAA, hard to police and prove. Nevertheless, it is punishable in rule with a yellow card, and maybe it’s time GAA refs were mic’d up for more than tv documentaries. Establishing as fact - and publicising same - what some defenders think of their opponents’ mothers could go a long way to sorting a growing problem.
Are Mayo ready?
Don’t rely on any Mayo supporter’s version of what happened in the final 10 minutes of their quarter-final tight squeeze against Tyrone - most were peering through their fingers at the car-crash keep-ball in front of them.
Watching Mayo stumble into the last four would hardly convince you this is their sixth semi in a row - eighth if you count the pair of replays against Kerry and Dublin. So are they ready to take the final step this year?
Firstly, it would serve Stephen Rochford and his players well if the citizens reminded themselves there is a semi-final to play. But there’s no denying the sense of a released pressure valve after Saturday for the new management team.
Mayo’s form this season has been patchy, but they’ve bounced back from questionable performances to rally strongly - after Cork mauled them in the League, they restricted Dublin to nine points a week later. And few expected Saturday’s effort after the Westmeath show.
So you’re saying Mayo are in bonus territory now?
Not quite. But they’ve matched the ‘achievement’ of last year’s management team, and that’s important inside the county.
And Tipperary are unlikely to suffocate the semi-final if their progress to this point is a reliable barometer, so they should enjoy a footballing semi. All things going with the formbook, Mayo will meet Dublin in an All-Ireland final, and they were closer than anyone last year and this to upending the champions.
Rochford and his team were quick and decisive in their decision-making on Saturday. With the likes of Maurice Horan and Donie Buckley in the backroom team, Rochford will be well briefed on the Tipp threats. Unless Mayo are unforgivably sloppy, they’re going to be too savvy for Tipp.
More cud for Liam Kearns to chew on....
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