Anthony Daly: Sideline subplot brings extra sizzle to Wexford Park

WATCHING a club challenge game recently one of our forwards scored a brilliant goal but he was still admiring the strike when his man won the resultant puckout.

Anthony Daly: Sideline subplot brings extra sizzle to Wexford Park

WATCHING a club challenge game recently one of our forwards scored a brilliant goal but he was still admiring the strike when his man won the resultant puckout.

The ball ended up in the hand of one of their forwards and, while he struck it wide, it could have easily ended up in our net.

It sounds like a banal and basic story that happens in every hurling match, at every level across the country, but it got me thinking about the vagaries of our game and its unique position in world sport.

Is there any other sport out there where so much is possible in such a short space of time?

Ice-hockey came into my head for a second, because of the game’s speed, before I soon realised it had no place in the discussion; it’s all goals; the goalkeeper is padded up with so many layers that he nearly covers the whole goal.

Rugby? Nah. Soccer? Don’t think so. Lacrosse? Don’t know enough about it but, again, it’s all goals. Tennis? Forget about it, especially when there’s only two players.

Golf? Maybe, especially when nature can play the deadliest or kindest hand, where a ball might end up in a lake, or bounce off a tree and roll to within two inches of the hole.

Then again, you can’t come charging down the fairway and try and block down Tiger Woods when he’s trying to close it out on the 18th. With Offaly GAA blood pumping through his veins, Shane Lowry might feel like doing as much on the odd occasion, but he’d hardly try that stunt.

In hurling, anything is possible, not just because the game is so fast, but because the skill sets are continually increasing.

On top of goals and points, wides, balls coming off the posts, saves, goal-line scrambles, shemozzles around the square, miraculous hooks and blocks, kicked balls, batted goal attempts, hand-passes, reverse hand-passes, first-time striking, long-range freetaking, Brick flicks, sideline cut specialists, you now have goalkeepers regularly catching the ball going over the crossbar.

Enda Rowland, the Laois keeper, scored a point from a puckout in last year’s Laois championship.

We saw in the Limerick-Tipperary game last Saturday how the crossbar was a help to Limerick right at the death. On another evening, that ball could have rebounded out to a Tipp player, who’d have smashed it to the net.

The most important placed-ball I ever hit was in the 1995 All-Ireland final, when Offaly goalkeeper David Hughes tried to bat the dropping ball clear.

The sliotar hit the crossbar and ricocheted out to Eamonn Taaffe, who drove it past Hughes and a phalanx of Offaly defenders.

I wasn’t trying to hit the crossbar. Ger Loughnane ran out onto the pitch wondering why I wasn’t leaving the free to Seanie McMahon.

A few seconds earlier, Loughnane and the Clare management was trying to get Taaffe off the field.

Sometimes, you just get lucky. On the other hand, you make your own luck by trying to hit 100% on your controllables. That’s the problem with some teams — they just leave too much to chance.

If you’re wondering at the back of your mind if you’re really up for it today, you’ll definitely be beaten if the other crowd are pumped and ready to take you on.

That’s what struck me most about Tipperary last year.

They were charged and primed from the first ball in Munster. When they lost the Munster final heavily to Limerick, they just dusted themselves down, rebooted and rewired the machine and went again.

Tipp had that consistency that Cork desperately need to find. It’s a big game this evening after both teams losing last weekend but it’s a much bigger game for Cork again.

I’m not sure the result is what it’s all about for Cork either — it’s the performance, the application, that raw desire to chase down every ball, every cause. And then go again.

Cork need to bring that intensity every day if they are to have a say later in the summer.

Cork-Tipp is a tasty starter to a nice meaty course of action over the weekend.

Limerick-Galway may be top-billing tomorrow but, as a Clare-man, I’m more drawn towards Clare-Wexford in Wexford Park. And for reasons more than just loyalty and interest in Clare’s performance.

The tension between Brian Lohan and Davy Fitzgerald may only be a sideshow to the main event but it’s still a significant narrative around this game. There are a multitude of reasons why the boys don’t get on anymore but the spark was probably first lit when Lohan was manager of UL’s Fitzgibbon team, and Fitzy was with Limerick IT.

When the teams and managers met in the 2014 Fitzgibbon quarter-final in UL, Fitzy threw the first drop of petrol on any smouldering flames.

The LIT bus dropped the players off on the road behind the bottom goal in Plassey before they ran through the bushes and on to the field for their warm-up.

Davy noticed that UL had set out all their training cones for their warm-up so he told his players to warm up there.

Cones were kicked out of the way and when UL arrived up to that side of the pitch, chaos ensued. Lohan was never a man to back down but UL eventually retreated to the other side of the field.

The pill was harder again for Lohan to swallow when LIT shocked a star-studded UL side in their own back yard.

A LOT of other stuff happened between the pair over the following years but Fitzy said in his book that this Fitzgibbon game was the beginning of the end of his relationship with Lohan.

There was probably never any massive love between the pair when they played. When I lined out outside them, there was always some barking between the pair.

‘You should have come off your line for that ball,’ Lohan might snarl. Of course, Fitzy would bite back: ‘That was your ball.’ They’d growl away at each other but, by God, when we went to war, they’d fight on their backs for each other.

Knowing Lohan, he’ll be a lot more focused on the specifics of Clare’s performance than the photographers ganging around the sideline to see if there will be a handshake before or afterwards.

With Peter Duggan in Australia for the year, and with the tricky wind in Wexford Park, this will be another opportunity for Lohan to see if Tony Kelly will be his nailed on free-taker for the season.

Shane O’Neill will be looking for similar learnings when he takes his Galway side to the Gaelic Grounds. They had a strong team out last weekend against Westmeath but Galway were still able to infuse the side with plenty of youth and freshness.

And tomorrow’s bear-pit will be the ideal opportunity for O’Neill and his management to see if some of these lads are able to withstand some of that heat.

It was great to see Joe Canning back but it was also positive to see Conor Whelan — whose injury withdrawal against Dublin last year was critical to Galway exiting the championship — banging in goals again. Whelan’s battle with Sean Finn now will be mouth-watering.

So will Cathal Mannion and Cian Lynch. But there are any number of tasty match-ups, no matter where you look.

Galway will be keen to lay down a marker after losing two massive games to Limerick in 2018 — a crucial league game as well as the All-Ireland final — but, for me, the game with most at stake this weekend is taking place in Parnell Park tomorrow.

Dublin’s defeat to Laois in last year’s championship opened a deep wound that clearly still hasn’t closed. Kilkenny tore at that scar again last Sunday but facing Laois again now is a chance for Dublin to shed any psychological damage left from the defeat last July.

The two points are even more important considering the damage another defeat — especially at home — could inflict on this group.

Kilkenny and Waterford should beat Carlow and Westmeath but another important game taking place off Broadway is Offaly-Kerry in Division 2A.

Offaly just about scraped past Meath at home last Sunday.

Kerry had a huge win against Mayo in Castlebar. Kerry are at home but this is a glorious chance for redemption for Offaly against the same crowd who relegated them from the Joe McDonagh Cup last June.

Hurling is just off the charts at times. It’s certainly unlike any other sport. And it always will be unless Lowry tries to hook Tiger on the tee-box someday!

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