look at the key takeaways from the weekend's action...
Even allowing for the hazards of living with success and the difficulties that come with winning an All-Ireland prematurely, Clare’s failure to make it back to Croke Park in high summer in the seasons after 2013 said nothing very good about them. Whatever happens at HQ in a fortnight’s time, Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor have done what they were appointed to do: Get the county back to the business end of the championship.
Saturday’s display was far from perfect, clearly. The Banner endured a nervy 10 minutes after Conor McDonald’s goal and, had it not been for three successive wides, Wexford could have been closer than three points behind with time running out.
However, the Clare management will be happy that they responded with four unanswered points and also that they’d registered 0-12 from play in the first half. Making optimum use of John Conlon continues to be a work in progress, when by now they should have the trick off by heart. David McInerney blazed two balls wide in the first half and two more attempts fell short to Mark Fanning. Lads, this isn’t rocket science.
At the start of the season, most observers would have pegged Davy Fitz’s side as likely All-Ireland quarter-finalists rather than semi-finalists. Thus it proved. Wexford are sufficiently organised to be competitive against most teams, but lack the stardust and scoring power to take out the giants.
Yet, their performance on Saturday was disappointing on any number of counts: Its limpness and lack of ambition for 60 minutes; the continuing disappearance of Lee Chin’s talismanic qualities; the over reliance for scores on young Rory O’Connor; the fact that this was a second successive All-Ireland quarter-final they never looked like winning. Maintaining their Division 1A status meant the season was no failure, but assuming Davy stays on it’ll be intriguing to see if he decides to disregard the league next season and instead recalibrate training so that Wexford are cherry-ripe for the All-Ireland series. He’s now reached the stage where a change of tack is required, starting with a change of system.
One can’t blame the current body for most of the problems with this year’s hurling championship (the absence of a free weekend in the provincial round-robins, the Munster and Leinster finals on the same afternoon, the All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend).
However, an attendance of 10,255 said all that needed to be said about the decision to fix Clare versus Wexford for Cork at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.
Although the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh cost the locals any number of high-profile matches since 2013, it is not the job of the CCCC to make this up to the Cork county board. That’s entirely between the latter and the Munster Council. The sooner the CCCC acknowledge this and in future tailor their decision-making accordingly, the better for the hurling public.
There is no point in whispering it or pussyfooting around the subject for fear of jinxing things: Limerick arrived as a serious championship team yesterday. They beat Kilkenny and even if it wasn’t the Kilkenny of the recent past, it was still a Kilkenny team, one that dug in when the tide was running against them and that looked to have timed their run to perfection when Richie Hogan found the net eight minutes from the end. This was the moment for John Kiely’s youngsters to show their mettle. They did so brilliantly.
Six more points were scored between there and James McGrath’s final whistle. Five of them were rattled over by a man in a green shirt. Firstly, Tom Morrissey, Peter Casey and Shane Dowling — the latter pair had come on in the 58th minute, as Kiely used his bench well — found the range to wrest the lead back. Then, after Richie Leahy’s fourth point levelled matters, Morrissey with a pearler from under the New Stand and Aaron Gillane from a free got Limerick over the line. Youngsters? This was the response of veterans.
The Cusack Park fiasco apart, Limerick spent the provincial round-robin running up impressive scorelines. They returned to old habits here, with 0-15 in the first half, 0-13 of it from play, and 0-27 in total, but for Eoin Murphy’s brilliance, they might have had two goals. They were slow to hit their straps, trailing by 0-7 to 0-3 after 15 minutes, but once they found their groove, the points flowed. All of the forwards scored, as did their aforementioned two forward subs, and, while Cian Lynch was unusually quiet, Darragh O’Donovan weighed in with two points from the middle of the field and another from a lineball, with two further points sourced from the half-back line. This is a long-winded way of saying that Limerick possess a healthy complement of distance strikers and can split the posts from all manner of areas.
Seven championship outings. Three wins, one draw, three defeats. Two of the three wins narrow and late. Brian Cody will not spend the winter harbouring too many regrets, because he cannot. There were no regrets in Championship 2018 for Kilkenny to harbour, no near-misses or might-have-beens. (The absence of Michael Fennelly included. He was never going to be around indefinitely.)
Though hampered by a number of small and irritating factors, Richie Hogan’s fitness included, the biggest problem was the bluntness of their attack and consequent overreliance on TJ Reid.
As against Galway seven days earlier, the lack of scores from play here proved fatal. Limerick’s starting forwards hit 0-17 from play, with each of the six finding the target at least once; Kilkenny’s starting forwards hit 1-6 from play, with three of them drawing a blank. Looking over the season as a whole, the glass was more than simply half-full. The county pulled off an unexpected National League triumph and died with their boots on in the championship, but Cody’s priority for 2019 will be to find scoring forwards.