Dynamics of Thurles double-header nicely poised

There is a loop of hurling anoraks throughout Ireland and I am cousins, never far removed, with each and every pilgrim.

Dynamics of Thurles double-header nicely poised

Kilkenny’s good fortune is an irk but we talk. We really do. They are the weather. It would not do to fall out with the weather.

Their forecast for this weekend is only fair to middling (and well back towards the fair end of middling). Around the circuits, there is a hum of ennui.

Indifference has crept up on this summer, much as Germany in the end outstared Greece, much as Kilkenny and Tipperary in August have become a fact of life, nigh same as death and taxes. Our times, they are a’rising fatalistic.

Let me anecdote. Lad I know has been organising the younger brother’s stag for this weekend. Hurling people all and a good few of them are still playing club. They are off to Carrick on Shannon.

Yer man organising rang round this week: what about stopping Sunday in Tullamore, on the way back, to see the matches? Each call prompted a crackle of question marks: What matches? How do you mean?

The All-Ireland quarter-finals, sez yer man. Dublin and Waterford and Cork and Galway. Ah yeah, they said. I suppose we may as well stop… Which is hard enough to figure. The dynamics, when you size up these two contests, are nicely poised.

Bookmakers are sweet on a Munster victory in the first match. Yet word from the Leinster camp says they are well fixed in the head space.

Why? Nice little subplot. The counties have hurled three challenges this year. Thrice, Dublin won. The latest instalment struck a few weeks ago, before the Munster Final, when they went at it in Nowlan Park.

Now, any amount of asterisks applies with four flaky teams. And four flaky teams is Sunday’s fare, come down to it.

The Dublin asterisk? Their full-back line. Remember: three poor clearances by Niall Corcoran against Cork in 2013 were crucial to Dublin losing that All-Ireland semi-final.

Cian O’Callaghan, the tyro in this line, has not convinced. Ger Cunningham, same as Anthony Daly, swung back to Corcoran and Paul Schutte. Meanwhile Chris Crummey hurled full-back against Limerick, marking Kevin Downes (and will likely take up Maurice Shanahan). Peter Kelly’s injury remains a curse.

Reverse matters. Waterford’s central gambit for 2015 involves withdrawing two men from full-forward to duties elsewhere.

By and large, this emphasis has served them well. The jibes about ‘Donegal hurling’ running about before the league final lost legs.

Nevertheless, each season is a rolling audit on any and all gambits. The Munster final offered the latest slice of invigilation. Tipperary’s victory indicated that tweaks are required if Waterford are to move from challenger to contender status.

Do they remain best served by same gambit? Does it make sense to allow Dublin’s weakest line in-built protection by withdrawing men? Here is where we will assess Derek McGrath’s genuine tactical smarts.

Waterford, brimming with young talent, are rightfully strong favourites. Most talented of all is Austin Gleeson, a force of nature at 20 years of age.

Still, Gleeson needs to realise that a wide is never merely a wide. Sometimes a wide is a psychological event, shaping the following minutes’ play by its effect on morale, as per what happened last week against Clare’s U21s.

If Gleeson can reach three-quarter mark next Sunday without firing a wide from distance, he will have achieved a pile beside whatever else contributed.

As a hurler, he has everything: bravery, fetching, height, pace, power, stickwork, strokeplay. Still and all, Austin Gleeson needs to realise that steady drizzle fills a bowl more efficiently than constant thunder and lightning.

Had Dublin Peter Kelly at their disposal, they would be an attractive outside bet. Heel of punt, Waterford’s high-octane experiences this season deserve the weight of July expectation. Standing into Tipperary for an hour meant reaching a far higher level than required of Dublin thus far. But I wonder about those challenges and I wonder about leaving two full-backs unmarked.

Galway? The Craughwell connection speaks of a confident camp. Whatever that word means in this context. Galway, like all thoroughbreds, can be awful skittish.

Two days after they drew with Dublin, I was up in Kilbeacanty with Ballyhale Shamrocks for their Sevens tournament. The locals, over and above that Monday’s teeming rain, were iron glum to a man and a woman about prospects.

The Galway players honoured their reprieve against Dublin from championship gallows. They knuckled down and are in the last six on cold merit.

Cork connections discern more buzz around a hive in winter than on local ground. Why the long faces? There is every chance, despite travails in defence.

With Cork, I would asterisk Conor Lehane. More consistently given to passing, Lehane would make at least a goal and quite likely two of them a game. His unwillingness to pass is like Austin Gleeson’s wides: an individual project that could go a long way, handled right, towards collective joy. Lehane passing to Séamus Harnedy for that goal against Wexford was a start.

As 2015 stands, Galway are probably more likely to raise green flags, a Velcro factor where results are concerned. Standing into Kilkenny for an hour meant reaching a far higher level than required of Cork thus far. Same time, honest graft from Rebel forwards would shoe the horse.

This indifference remains a puzzler. Whatever happens, Dublin or Waterford are in an All-Ireland semi-final. Is this eventuality insignificant as regards non-traditional counties’ climb? Sunday, I will be thinking of those lads in Tullamore, peaky with Leitrim beer. I hope they are looking round at each other with the starched look of surprise: how did we ever think of missing that craic?

Hopefully so. Right here, right now, this summer’s hurling is suffering from an excess of sobriety and diffidence.

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