Allianz League talking points
By John Harrington
Tipperary and Galway will contest the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final after convincing wins over Wexford and Limerick last Sunday.
Here are five of the main talking points to emerge from those games.
Tipperary’s firepower is frightening
Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan has been ruled out of Sunday’s League Final against Galway with a broken thumb.
The loss of their most prolific forward for the last three seasons is a big blow for Tipperary, but not to the extent it would have been until relatively recently.
That’s because Tipperary have so many options and proven finishers in attack that they are no longer as reliant on Callanan to the extent they once were.
The Drom-Inch man scored a combined 4-5 from play in the matches over Cork and Offaly, but otherwise Tipperary have done just fine during this League campaign without his usual heroics.
He didn’t score from play in the first match against Dublin, was limited to a late non-scoring subs role against Waterford, didn’t play against Clare, and hit just two points from play in each of the two games against Kilkenny and Wexford.
Callanan still has a few years left in him as the leader of this Tipperary attack, but the emergence of John McGrath as one of the very best forwards in the country has taken some of the burden off his shoulders.
McGrath produced yet another man of the match display on Sunday as he hit 2-2 from play against Wexford and has now scored 10 goals in his last nine games for Tipp.
There’s more to his game than clinical finishing. He’s also a powerful ball-winner and has the sort of instinct to be in the right place at the right time that’s very difficult to coach.
His team-mates know when they win the ball that McGrath will have moved into a dangerous position to receive the pass, and that is why they now so routinely look to him when they get their hands on the ball.
McGrath remarked after the win over Wexford that he knew he was going to get the pass from Dan McCormack for his second goal, which is a testament to the telepathic understanding that makes this Tipp forward unit so formidable.
John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is now likely to come into the side to replace the injured Callanan, and he’ll surely be out to prove a point having been dropped from the team for Sunday’s match against Wexford.
O’Dwyer has arguably more magic in his wrists than any other player in the game, but sometimes it looks like the game comes so easily to him that he doesn’t feel obliged to make the same effort as others.
A stint on the bench might have done him no harm, and he certainly looked sharp and keen to make an impact when he came on against Wexford.
Michael Breen also impressed when he was brought in at centre-forward for the second-half, and with Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher chomping at the bit for some action after his return from army duty, Tipperary really do have an abundance of attacking riches.
Seamus Callanan’s loss will still be felt on Sunday, but Tipperary are capable of making a major statement by winning a national title without the leader of their attack.
Wexford are on the right track
Despite Sunday’s defeat to Tipperary, it’s clear that this Wexford team has come a long way in a short period of time.
11 of their players who saw action on Sunday were also involved in last year’s All-Ireland Quarter-Final defeat to Waterford when they out-classed and over-powered all over the field and were lucky to escape with just a 10-point beating.
Nine months on from that defeat, they’re clearly a fitter, more tactically astute, and confident team than they were back then.
Despite conceding two soft goals in the first-half, they had the wherewithal to fight their way back into the contest against the reigning All-Ireland champions when in the past they may have thrown in the towel.
They looked like the team with most of the momentum when Lee Chin brought them within two points with an inspirational score after 57 minutes.
Conor McDonald had a chance to reduce the gap to the minimum but missed a free, and from the next play Tipperary hit the goal that lit the spark for their late scoring wildfire.
Tipperary might have won comfortably in the end on the scoreboard, but this was a serious contest for most of the game.
Wexford will be a hard team to beat in the championship, but if they want to be more than just that they still have areas they need to work on.
Their well-organised sweeper system makes them difficult to break down, but it also dulls their attacking edge at the other end of the field.
The system would work better if they had another powerful ball-winner to ease the burden on Conor McDonald, so the continued rehabilitation of Jack Guiney will be crucial in this regard.
Going by his ineffective substitute’s appearance on Sunday, he’s still some say off match sharpness, so the work that Wexford do with him behind the scenes in the coming weeks will be crucial.
Davy Fitzgerald did his team no favours
Davy Fitzgerald’s one-man pitch invasion unsurprisingly made many headlines after Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League Semi-Final.
He said afterwards it was something he won’t try again, but he also seemed to attempt to justify his actions by saying: “It was important to make the point. You have to do what you think is right for the team.”
By his own admission he was trying to “lift my lads a small bit” after the concession of a second-goal to Tipperary, but it’s hard to see how running onto the pitch and physically engaging with two Tipperary players was going to do that.
In fact, he’s lucky his actions didn’t have a seriously negative impact on his team.
Aidan Nolan felt the need to physically intervene between his manager and Tipperary’s Jason Forde, and had that confrontation escalated more than it did then Nolan or another Wexford player would have put themselves in danger of earning a red-card that would have led to a suspension.
As things stand, Fitzgerald has left himself open to a ban with his actions, which certainly won’t help his team if that comes to pass.
The idea that a manager running onto the field and starting a row could inspire his players to raise their performance level is a ludicrous one anyway.
If anything, it would surely only disrupt their focus rather than narrow it.
Conor Cooney is a class act
The Allianz Hurling League Semi-Final between Galway and Limerick certainly wasn’t a classic, but Conor Cooney’s performance was certainly worth the entrance fee as far as Galway supporters were concerned.
The St. Thomas’ man hit a high quality 1-4 from play, and won almost every ball that was pucked into his general vicinity.
The 24-year-old is coming into his prime and this performance was just the latest in a string of high-calibre displays.
A potent combination of size and skill, he has developed into one of the best attackers in the country and is one of the reasons why Galway are now looking like such a dangerous side.
The Tribesmen still have issues with the centre of their defence, but from midfield forwards they are seriously potent.
The high-energy partnership of David Burke and Johnny Coen in the engine-room is a formidable one, and attackers like Cooney, Joe Canning, Cathal Mannion, and Conor Whelan give them a mixture of physicality, pace, skill, and finishing power that’s difficult to resist.
The League Final against Tipperary will provide a telling litmus test, but right now this Galway team looks in rude health.
Limerick have a road to travel
Limerick hurling fans have a tendency for veering towards pessimism and are probably viewing a half-empty glass after Sunday’s limp defeat to Galway.
They should remember though that inconsistency is one of the defining traits of the early life-cycle of a young and developing team.
John Kiely is trying build a new side, and it’s still very much a work in progress.
He wasn’t helped on Sunday by injuries to two of his three half-backs – Declan Hannon and Seamus Hickey – which robbed his young team of two of their more experienced leaders.
What probably disappointed Limerick supporters the most was that there was little of the fiery and physical hurling that has always been the county team’s calling card whenever they’ve been at their best.
Limerick tend to be a different beast for the Championship though, so it’s too early yet to say whether the emerging generation lack the hard edge necessary at the highest level.
Getting the blend right in terms of youth and experience will be crucial for Kiely when they come to play Clare in the Munster Semi-Final.
If he can get the likes of James Ryan and Paul Browne fully fit and back in harness for that match, it would certainly go a long way to giving this Limerick team the drive and urgency they lacked on Sunday.