Read former Limerick hurling All-Star Ollie Moran’s weekly article every Friday onwww.sportstalk.ie
The highlight of last weekend was undoubtedly Tipperary’s pulsating victory over Galway in the All Ireland football quarter final. In a year where standards and attendances have been falling in both codes, it was the shot in the arm that the GAA badly needed. The scenes of ecstasy and jubilation at the end reminded us of why Gaelic Games are at the heart of this country’s soul. But for me, Robbie Kiely’s second half point stands out as the game’s defining moment. Kiely, along with Bill Maher and Brian Fox, have been the unsung heroes of Tipp’s journey this year. It was a clear indication of the level of confidence flowing through the team’s veins, that he had the nous to get on the end of a passing movement under the Hogan Stand, and kick an audacious point with the outside of his right boot from all of 40 yards out.
It was a tonic that every GAA supporter needed. No doubt every aspiring young gaelic footballer in the country was out practising that same kick on Sunday evening. It also serves as a reminder that people go to hurling and football matches to be entertained and enthralled by the skills of the games being executed at a high level. They are much less interested in a team’s conditioning, their tactical awareness, the mass defences, the sweepers etc. Tipp know that they will be up against it against a Tyrone or Mayo in the All Ireland semi-final, but they are already the story of the summer without question, and will be a force to be reckoned with for the years ahead.
On a personal note, I was especially delighted for the Tipp manager Liam Kearns and his Strength and Conditioning coach David Moriarty. I’ve known these men a long time in both a personal and sporting capacity. There are few more dedicated and passionate individuals in the GAA fraternity. They appear to be a really good fit for the brimming talent at their disposal in Tipperary. Liam especially would have been well used to playing second fiddle to the small ball during his years as Limerick football manager. Such was his popularity and his attention to detail, that many “dual” players in those years chose football over hurling when the gun was put to their heads. He seems to have used that experience to good effect in getting the best out of this group. To be fair, the demands of the modern game are so great that players really have to choose one over the other. Fair play to Podge Collins in Clare for trying it, but ultimately it is nigh impossible to perform at such high levels week in week out.
Speaking of player welfare, the announcement last week by the GAA to provide an estimated budget of €6.2 million annually to inter county players has sparked much debate. In broad summary, the package provides for increased mileage expenses, a nutrition allowance and a share of gate receipts to be set aside for all inter county panels. Some see it as being the most definitive move yet in the direction of all out professionalism in the GAA’s long history of maintaining an amateur ethos. Others look on it as providing much needed recompense to young men who are putting their lives and careers on hold to pursue the dream of team glory. As a former player’s rep and supporter of the GPA, I fully believe that anything that can be done to reduce the financial burden on players while they commit their lives to the cause of the county has to be a good thing. No player that I know (or ever knew) wants to go “professional”, but they don’t want to be mugs either as everybody else seems to pocket from their endeavours.
To be honest, I would hate to be an inter county player today. The extent to which they seem to train incessantly, their complete sacrifice of a proper social life, the massive pressure to perform, the degree of scrutiny from the public and media, the demands being placed on their family, and the delay of their professional careers is a huge burden to carry, but one they will gladly put up in their pursuit of glory. The flip side however is that this announcement will create an even greater divide between the club and the county player. I have noticed this more and more of this in the last number of years in particular. The “county man” is becoming an elite athlete who will really only appear for the important club championship matches, that is if he isn’t already in Boston, San Francisco or Chicago hurling, once their inter county season has finished. This of course might also be as much a symptom of the greater issue of crazy scheduling of club matches, but has bred a sort of resentment amongst the club player against all things inter county. The county player is sometimes seen as a protected species and this move might reinforce that notion even more. Only time will tell.
The build up to the meeting of Waterford and Kilkenny in the first of the All Ireland hurling semi-finals has been quite muted thus far. Kilkenny will be strong favourites to progress to their 13th All Ireland final in the last 15 years, a statistic unmatched in the history of GAA. While there are question marks around their full back line and the ability of their forward line to function without a fully fired TJ Reid or Richie Hogan, it will still be a huge upset if they don’t overcome their south eastern neighbours. The thing about Kilkenny, as we all only know too well, is that the sum of their parts is greater than their individuals. Their high intensity game is founded on a huge and unselfish work rate. The ability to win their own possession is at the core of the Brian Cody playbook – after that they rely on highly tuned support play and an innate ability to find weaknesses in opposition defences.
It will be interesting to see how Waterford set up. They know they will not beat Kilkenny unless they improve dramatically on their last 2 outings against Tipp and Wexford. If they can repeat their first half performance from last year’s semi-final, and maintain for a full 75 minutes, they will give themselves a great chance. But they simply have to commit more numbers to their attack if they are to have any chance. They won’t beat Kilkenny by out pointing them alone – they need goals. Derek McGrath will no doubt have identified chinks in the Kilkenny defence and will look to expose them. While their performance curve has dropped in the last month, this could be the game to get them back on track. However, they will need Kilkenny to have a rare off day if they are to have any chance. Such is their relentless pursuit of perfection; I doubt that will happen.
Ollie Moran – Sportstalk columnist
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