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Wed 26-Jul-2006 9:28
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Hurling ... with a Biblical touch
The hurling weekend may not have been quite of epic status but it did have a biblical touch in that the best wine was kept for last, writes An Moltóir...
On Saturday, the feared Siege of Thurles failed to materialise and the GAA fixture planners’ expectation of a moderate attendance was vindicated. Those who hooted derision at the announced attendance of 34,000 must not be aware of the sporting version of Parkinson’s Law i.e. spectators (at least on terraces) expand to fill the available space.
Limerick and Cork got the weekend off to a reasonably enjoyable start due to the possibility (but never the likelihood) that the Shannonsiders might sneak a goal and win the thing. Games involving Cork have become almost boringly predictable. They spend the first 15-20 minutes absorbing the enthusiastic exertions of the opposition; then they open the throttle a bit to put themselves five or six points ahead. As the other team becomes increasingly frantic they keep their cool and shade the final result. They don’t do big scores, but it is always more than the opposition.
People have been suggesting that a bit of the edge has gone off Cork’s play this year. Probably a better interpretation is that they have been doing just enough to get by, and saving their energies for bigger clashes to come.
The only serious team they have met so far is Clare, and they did put a fair bit of effort into that. One can say that this is a high-risk strategy on Cork’s part, but the record speaks for itself. In the last four years they have only lost two championship games. In the 2003 All-Ireland final their temperament was a bit brittle and was badly affected by Gardiner’s series of missed first half frees (Gardiner not having practised any long range frees into the Canal End before the game started). There are still many people out there who think that Cork threw that game away: in fact, Kilkenny only let them back into it when they relaxed due to finding it so easy. Once Cork threatened to get serious the Cats simply raised their game again.
In the 2004 Munster Final Cork threw away their game plan when they found themselves with an extra man early in the second half. We won’t see that happening again.
Limerick made a mistake in taking Brian Begley off against Cork. Admittedly, he was being destroyed by The Rock, but Limerick always needed a goal to win, and Begley was the only likely source of a goal, either directly or through a layoff to Shaughnessy or Tobin. Certainly, there were a couple of other Limerick forwards who should have been substituted before Begley. With Begley still there, Limerick might have made more of an effort to engineer a goal. In the end, it was pointless (excuse the unintended pun) for Mike O’Brien to shoot a point with virtually the last puck of the game. Given his size and strength and the position he was in, he should have kept going and at least hoped to be taken down for a close-in free.
As with Cork, it is rather unwise to read too much into the quality of Kilkenny’s play either when they were on top in the first half or were placed on the back foot in the second. Kilkenny’s total first half dominance (apart from the first ten minutes) was likely due as much to the absolute poverty of the Galway challenge as it was to the quality of the Cats’ play. The evidence from the outcome from puckouts in the first half says it all. Of the fifteen Galway puckouts which were clearly won by one side or the other, Kilkenny won thirteen and Galway two. Even on the Kilkenny puckouts (the defending team usually wins a majority of the other team’s puckouts) the Cats came out on top 6-4.
The Galway team that came out in the second half was clearly stronger than that which started, although the injury to Fergal Healy and the non-performance of David Forde were major blows to their cause. At the same time, Kilkenny (with a couple of notable exceptions) appeared to relax, which was understandable, given their 13-point half-time lead and the pathetic nature of Galway’s first half non-effort. The puckout statistics show clearly the way the trend of the game changed after the interval. Galway won ten of their own puckouts to just one for Kilkenny. Furthermore, they won nine of Kilkenny’s puckouts while the Cats won just four.
With so much possession, Galway should have made a better fist of eating into the Kilkenny lead. But they needed goals to do so. They had shown last year that they were able to score goals against Kilkenny, mainly by using their pace to run at the Kilkenny defence. However, in the third quarter they wasted an amount of possession by shooting wides under pressure from out the field, rather than taking on their markers. With Cloonan at the edge of the square and Damien Hayes and Niall Healy buzzing about, even the odd ball in would have made more sense. As it was, the first decent ball driven into the Kilkenny goal area was caught by Cloonan, leading to Galway’s first goal. But even though Galway got two more, it proved to be too little too late.
Moving to Sunday, the only controversial item to emerge from the opening non-event was the selection of the man-of-the-match on the Sunday Game. The selection of Tony Griffin reflected poorly on Cyril Farrell (unsurprising) and Donal O’Grady (surprising). As far as An Moltóir is concerned, the award should have gone to Gerry Quinn, but there were several other more deserving contenders than Griffin on the Banner side.
Those who were expecting “one big game” from the Yellow Bellies were to be disappointed. While there are already plenty of vultures hovering over the Wexford hurling carcass, it is hard to believe that a team which was quite competitive up to last year could have fallen so far, and one suspects a motivational crisis in the Model County camp. Those who look to the lack of success at under-age level as the reason for their decline should look at Clare and Waterford, neither of whom have won anything at minor or under-21 level for years and both of whom go into the semi-finals with a decent chance.
And so to the weekend’s
pièce de résistance.
Those who suspected that Waterford opted out of the Munster championship will feel justified after this dashing Déise performance. They did take a little while to get to the pace of real championship hurling, with Tipperary dominating the early exchanges through greater altertness and a better first touch. But once Waterford moved Brick Walsh to midfield and warmed to the task, the trend of the game changed profoundly.
As usual, the statistics regarding how many plays (not counting frees) were made by players on both sides reflects the trend of the game. The first half ended up almost all-square (Tipp 77, Waterford 76) but Waterford clearly dominated the second half (83 plays to 64). Not surprisingly, Ken McGrath was way ahead of his team mates in terms of his number of plays, at 21. Equally unsurprisingly, Dan Shanahan came in second, his 16 plays being extraordinarily high for a forward. Next came Tony Browne (14), Brick Walsh (13) and, notably, Eoin Murphy (12). In the past, Shanahan was noted for disappearing out of games for long periods. This year he has been making it happen from start to finish.
While number of plays is a good indicator of the overall trend of a game in terms of territorial possession, in the end, quality of plays is crucial to the outcome. A lot of the Tipperary plays were bad wides from shots at goal or terribly-directed balls which went harmlessly wide. By contrast, Eoin McGrath only played the ball four times, and three of these were points. But perhaps two of the most important plays of the whole game came from Waterford defender Declan Prendergast. These only became noticeable on video replay, and included his hook on Lar Corbett early in the second half which caused him to mishit his shot for goal and his deflection for a 65 of W
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