After the Tipperary-Kilkenny game, in the tunnel to the dressing-room in Nowlan Park, Michael Ryan was frank about the playing conditions.
“To be fair to the pitch out here, it played like summer hurling, lads only love that.
“Without a doubt (it made a difference), top surface. could it possibly be better, even in the summer? The hurlers just respond to that. The ball flies, they fly.”
There’s surely no coincidence the high-scoring thriller, the best game of the league so far, was fought out on what was by far the best surface this reporter — and others in the press pack — have seen for a hurling game this spring.
There’s no need to point out the advantage Kilkenny have in not having to accommodate Gaelic football in their showpiece ground, that’s taken as read. Quite a few stadia in different parts of the country could learn a bit from a trip to Noreside and maybe finding out how they keep it so well.
Anyone who didn’t think there were going to be teething problems with Páirc Uí Chaoimh wasn’t living in the real world. Croke Park had difficulties early on, but nobody could have expected the Ballintemple surface to be as poor as it was yesterday.
After the All-Ireland quarter-finals last year, it was mentioned that the area that falls under the shadow of the South Stand doesn’t enjoy as much growth as the more exposed north side, but then the amount of sand on the turf suggested an expected fall of rain never came. At least in Offaly, they were wise enough to stage their hurling game as the curtain-raiser in the double-header. Following the footballers did not help the hurling one bit. One player quipped that the warm-up 4G pitch behind the South Stand would have been a better option than the Páirc Uí Chaoimh sod.
How much of the Cork football team will be settled before the reintroduction of the Nemo Rangers contingent next month? Not enough, going by yesterday’s home defeat to Cavan — the second Leeside loss of the spring campaign.
There were players needing to make an impact in every line of the field, but four were hauled off after a poor first half. That included three defenders — Sam Ryan, Brian O’Driscoll, and Kevin Crowley — and only one attacker, Michael Hurley, even though the forwards only mustered five first-half points and no goal chance all day.
Ronan McCarthy had said this game would tell a lot about this team. What he learned, he might not like. Cork’s leaders didn’t lead enough and their youngsters, with points to prove, didn’t prove enough.
Following what McCarthy labelled “a poor day in the office” after beating Louth, they’ve put in three poor performances at home. They’ll be keen to make a better impression as hosts to Clare in round six.
It might have been an understrength Tipp side. Kilkenny, too, await the return of seasoned warriors. Afterwards, the managers were quick to contextualise. Yet there were flashes of action yesterday that might have been cut and pasted into any of the torrid tussles between these rivals and not looked out of place. Former Armagh footballer Aaron Kernan tweeted TG4 viewers’ appreciation for a little heat on a bitter afternoon: “The edge has gone off hurling... Said no one ever. What entertainment from Kilkenny & Tipperary. Men putting their head where some wouldn’t put a shovel. All for 2 league points. Heroic stuff.”
Damien Comer aside, Galway’s football forwards are a strikingly similar bunch. Heaney, Walsh, Brannigan, McHugh; lightning quick, skilful, brimful of confidence, well at least they are now, and likely to do just about anything with the ball in hand and the posts in sight.
No one typifies the latter point as much as Shane Walsh. There is no doubting the talents of the Kilkerrin-Clonberne speed merchant, but some of his second-half play at Austin Stack Park yesterday was head-scratching.
In the first period, he converted a free from an almost impossible angle, rounded Ronan Shanahan on more than one occasion, and was unlucky to see his goal shot kept out. Upon the restart, he worked himself into so many scoring positions, but, invariably, his trickery was followed by a poor wide or misjudged pass. How he didn’t score from play was bewildering.
If Galway are to be as relevant come summer as they are at present, they’ll need Walsh’s conversion rate to reflect his approach play.
Donegal and Tyrone have bossed the Ulster championship for the best part of a decade with seven successes between them from nine.
Only Monaghan, who lifted the Anglo-Celt in 2013 and 2015, have joined the party but in terms of Division 1 this term it looks as though one of Ulster’s protagonists might well fall through the floorboards.
And it’s unlikely to be Monaghan, who moved onto six points with a 0-15 to 0-14 victory over Mickey Harte’s team on Saturday night at Castleblayney.
Tyrone and Donegal, following the latter’s 1-16 to 3-7 win over Kildare yesterday, are deadlocked on two points apiece and on Saturday night will go under the lights at Healy Park.
Kildare are rooted to the bottom of the Division 1 table and with Mayo still looking over their shoulders with just the one win so far, whoever leaves Omagh empty-handed next weekend will be in serious trouble.
No one knows how this club month set aside for April is going to pass off. Suggestions are already rife that a cohort of inter-county managers will ignore or stare down the edict from on high and demand access to their players.
Davy Fitzgerald won’t be knocking on any doors looking for his boys, it seems. The Wexford manager said as much after yesterday’s Division 1A defeat of his native Clare.
“It’s a risk,” he said, but one he seems ready to take.
The longer game may be worth it this year given the added demands to be imposed on hurling’s top sides with the extra championship games. Wexford lost steam between spring and summer in 2017. Fitzgerald’s thinking may be enlightened in more ways than one.