Defence needs to be the best policy for Rebels
Overlooked in the glow of Cork’s victory over Clare two weekends ago was the fact the losers had engineered at least three worthy goal chances without claiming one.
Add that to a run of wides. Still, with only 1-11 conceded and the win bagged it felt like happy days for the Rebels.
For a Cork side that shipped scores at a rate of knots in 2016, it looked like evidence of progress.
Then Dublin came to town last Saturday and hit them for 2-19: Not far off the average of 29 points conceded in last year’s league and the 27 over the course of three championship matches.
Compare that to an average of close to 19.5 that Waterford allowed opponents in their nine-match run from Division 1A through to a replayed league final in 2016, or the 19 shipped per outing by Tipperary in the summer, and priority number one for Cork should be abundantly clear.
Premier with a purpose
Last weekend the amount of rucks and mauls and knots of players stuck in the middle of the field was a clear talking point. This weekend the calmness of Tipperary was equally striking.
Stuck in a physical battle on a yielding field, Michael Ryan and his backroom team brought on three strike forwards — Bubbles O’Dwyer, Noel McGrath and Seamus Callahan — to supply the quality to get Tipperary over the line.
While only a fool would discount Kilkenny’s chances, despite yesterday’s result, or Waterford’s ability to build on last season’s progress, the weekend just passed certainly taught us that Tipperary are now just ahead of the pack.
Not by a huge amount, maybe — Galway would certainly remember how close they came last summer to Tipp — but right now they are top of the tree.
It was never a question of if but when other teams would catch up with Kilkenny in terms of their conditioning and yesterday was another example of how they were presented with an opposition that were prepared to mix it with them and best them at it.
Without Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny look vulnerable.
On at least two occasions in the first half in Ennis, their defenders were guilty of not clearing their lines and found themselves constricted by the doggedness of the Clare forwards.
Not for the first time against Clare did they look second best in the air at the back and their half- forward line didn’t make much purchase against a totemic trio of Brendan Bugler, Conor Cleary, and David Fitzgerald.
A Clare plan
Over 7,000 attended each of the three big hurling games yesterday and the home support among the 7,395 in Ennis will have been pleased to see Clare able to toggle between keeping things short yet playing long when necessary.
It was good head-up hurling from Clare in contrast to their opening travails against Cork.
Kilkenny will be a different prospect in the summer but then so too will Clare and the more they are able to alternate between game-plans the more multi-faceted and formidable they will become.
What will please Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor most is that they looked like a team of equals. Without Tony Kelly and the Ballyea contingent, there may have been a fear they wouldn’t have enough to frighten Kilkenny but they were the ones that looked more like a unit.
Galway must not panic
Let’s keep everything in perspective here. This is a significant setback for Galway. It isn’t the end of the world, however. There is nothing to be gained from going overboard in the criticism of Galway for the way they allowed a six-point lead be eroded in last quarter of an hour.
It is only the middle of February, after all. It wasn’t mental fragility that cost them here so there’s little point in throwing that old argument into the mix.
Galway had targeted promotion to the top tier.
That is now out of their hands and it is unlikely that Wexford will slip up in their remaining three games. Important now for Galway is that they get a result away to Limerick to ensure they finish second in the division and avoid the top two from Division 1A when the quarter-final pairings are made.
The return of Joe Canning is a plus, as was the form shown by Joseph Cooney at full-forward. Their ambition has to be to make an impression in the knock-out stages so to ensure the spring gives them some sort of platform heading into the summer.
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