Wexford V Dublin, Sunday 20th May, Innovate Wexford Park, 3pm
It’s only one game in and I already adore the format of the new hurling championship. Sure, there’s going to be a few teething issues: the games are all bunched so closely together there’s bound to be some problems with lack of recuperation and injuries. But if nothing else, teams having home games in small venues, rather than a quarter full Croke Park, has automatically increased the atmosphere and intensity of the fixtures. And with sides as equally matched as the majority of those in the championship are, we’re certain to have some classic games.
Not only that, but rather than more games taking away the cuthroat element of the championship, as Kilkenny’s epic with Dublin last week suggested, they may have enhanced it. So yes, I’m on board with the format and I think this may well contribute to it being one of, if not THE best, championship in living memory. There’s just one question I have to ask. Why, oh why didn’t we think of this earlier?
But anyway where were we? Oh yes, Wexford Park. Well this is a saucy one isn’t it. There were a lot of question marks about the wisdom of Dublin’s dual managerial appointment last year. Sure Pat Gilroy is only a football manager. What would he know about hurling? And Anthony Cunningham was run out of town by the Galway lads. Is he going to be the fella to harmonize the dressing room?
What we should not have underestimated however, is the innate managerial attributes of both. Maybe Pat Gilroy’s hurling knowledge isn’t quite at Phd level, but wherever he’s gone, whether it be in business or sport, he has brought success. And maybe it didn’t end sweetly for Anthony Cunningham in Galway. But still, he took them closer to the All-Ireland than any other manager did in 25 years. So for the majority of his tenure as manager there, he must have been doing something right.
It seems strange that two, apparent chiefs, should be operating in tandem together but it’s so crazy, it just might work. We don’t know what goes on in the dressing room or on the training pitch, who takes the sessions, who makes the calls. What we do know is that Dublin gave a performance last week that eclipsed anything they gave in the Ger Cunningham era. And isn’t that enough justification for them being given the job in the first place?
Last Sunday’s performance, up to the 65th minute at least, seem to dispel any doubts that we had about the management team. So we can say now, without any fear of contradiction, Dublin are back. Maybe not “back” as in winning All-Irelands in the 1930’s back, but as in giving on edge performances like the 2011/2013 version under Anthony Daly, then yes, this is a proper team again. And isn’t the championship all the better for it?
On the other hand, you’ve Davy. What he’s been doing since we last saw the Yellow Bellies in action we don’t know. Has he been bringing them off on warm weather camps? No they say. Has he been running the legs off them in training or trying to scale it back? Perhaps the latter, most probably the former. My guess is he’s been starving them, teasing them, singing off key…mee mi ma mo.
All jokes aside, the last Slaneyside performance in the league against Kilkenny was seriously underwhelming and lacking in intensity, and will be nowhere near good enough to win a championship game. So the likes of Lee Chin, Conor McDonald and whoever else need to step it up big time this Sunday. My guess is that they will do so.
It’s a cliffhanger of a tie and with so little to choose between them, it may all come down to the fitness of one man. Conal Keaney. Why would he come back we thought? He’s not going to be as good as he was before, is he? Well if anything, judging by last Sunday, he was better. With him and Liam Rushe up front, the Dublin side had a physical presence that would scare any defence. And his departure from the pitch was the single greatest reason why they lost last Sunday. So with a fit Keaney you’d fancy the Dubs to give Wexford an almighty rattle on Sunday. Without him? It’s difficult. Not impossible obviously. But difficult.
PREDICTION: Wexford by 3
Kilkenny v Offaly, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, Sunday May 20th, 3 pm
Nothing so emphasized the perilous state Kilkenny found themselves in last Sunday, as the ominously slow walk of their management team to the dressing room at half time. You almost felt sorry for whoever was inside, as it seemed certain, that whatever paint was on the four walls of that room, would be stripped off it by the end of the period. What was going to happen? Who was Cody Soprano going to take out? Would we ever see some of those poor young fellows in a Black and Amber Jersey again?
As it turned out, there hasn’t been a massive overhaul of the side as was expected. Sure, Paul Murphy has come back into the fold ahead of Enda Morrissey, but after steadying the ship so much in the second half, it would have been remiss not to reward him with a starting spot. And Luke Scanlan has come in instead of Ger Aylward, but there’s no place for the massively impressive Colin Fennelly, or the matchwinning goal star Liam Blanchfield. And Conor Fogarty still has to make do with a spot on the bench.
So there seems to be no real panic on Cody’s, side that a springtime’s worth of good work by the likes of Martin Keoghan, Richie Leahy and Joey Holden, has been completely undone by a sloppy 35 minutes last Sunday. Either that, or he just doesn’t have the calibre of players to replace them. And that’s certainly the one possible stumbling block between this team and August success.
They got away with it last Sunday, but it’s obvious that such a performance level as that, will result in a quick exit from the All-Ireland series. Even this weekend, ostensibly the easiest of the four fixtures in the group stage, could be a potential banana skin if the intensity isn’t amplified significantly. Offaly have already given Kilkenny one massive shock in the league this year. They will fancy giving them another in the Championship.
It has been a massively encouraging few months for Kevin Martin and his men, and one can only hope the powers that be will not punish their progress this annum, by demoting them to the wilderness of the Joe McDonagh cup, where even the RTE cameras never dare to go to. Even in defeat last Saturday there was more than enough encouragement that this an Offaly side on an upward graph. Eoghan Cahill was stopping bullets in goal. Ben Conneely was putting out fires at corner back. And Shane Dooley, was doing what Shane Dooley always does, up front.
But it doesn’t get any easier. You take on the All-Ireland champions at home one week, and now you’re up against the League winners away the next. Goodbye mister Frying pan. I’m off to meet my new friend the Frier. When the side looked at the line up of their fixtures for this series, it’s likely it was their latter two, rather than the former duo, that gave them most hope of success. So while I fully expect an Offaly performance on Sunday, a recharged Cody and his troops, may just have enough in the tank for victory.
PREDICTION: Kilkenny by 8