Championship talking points
By John Harrington and Cian O'Connell
It’s a simple game
Galway’s victory over Kilkenny in the Leinster SHC Final proved there’s still few substitutes for a big man on the edge of the square flanked by a couple of fliers in the corners, especially when that man is as big and skilful as Jonathan Glynn.
He scored 1-1, but his influence went far beyond his own personal scoring tally.
Kilkenny full-back Padraig Walsh had lorded things in the drawn match, but his influence was severely diminished yesterday because he had his hands so full with Glynn.
Walsh was anchored to the edge of his square by Glynn’s considerable presence, so he wasn’t in the position to sweep in behind his corner-backs as much as he would have liked.
That meant Paul Murphy and Paddy Deegan also found themselves isolated one on one against Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan, and they were also coming under severe pressure.
Galway’s half-forwards had retreated out the field leaving acres of space in front of their inside forwards.
And because the Tribesmen were dominating the physical exchanges in the middle third and hoovering up possession, it ensured a great supply of quality ball was being delivered into Glynn, Mannion, and Whelan.
It’s effectively the same relatively simple game-plan Kilkenny implemented to such good effect when they dominated the game in the noughties, and saw Tipperary crowned All-Ireland champions in 2016.
You need to have inside-forwards of a very high calibre to make it work, and some counties don’t which is why they have to cut their cloth to suit in a tactical sense in order to be competitive.
But the success of Kilkenny, Tipperary, and now Galway in recent years proves that successful hurling is also simple hurling – get good ball into a ball-winning full-forward line as quickly and directly as you can.
Who has timed their run best?
If this year’s hurling championship has taught us anything it’s that the six teams remaining in it – Galway, Cork, Kilkenny, Clare, Wexford and Limerick – are all genuine contenders.
Galway and Cork as provincial champions have obviously been that bit more impressive thus far, but both have also shown frailties that suggest they’re not locked in to make it all the way to the Final.
With the margins so fine between the remaining six teams, this championship will likely be won by whichever one has best timed their run both physically and mentally.
It’s very difficult for any team to plateau at a high level for a full championship campaign and in the current format you couldn’t afford to build your form steadily, as Tipperary found to their cost.
So that means peaking for a provincial campaign, catching your breath, and then peaking again for the knock-out series.
It’s hardly an exact science, and you can be sure that some teams will manage it better than others.
“You can’t stay at a peak fitness all year round,” says Wexford midfielder Lee Chin.
“For ourselves we would have came into the Leinster championship at a high level of fitness, in the four weeks that he we had off we took training down a small bit and built it back up again.
“You try to let yourself dip so you can bring it back up. I think coming into the last phase teams are going to be at the peak of all fitness.
“With the couple of breaks they get in between, after this weekend and next weekend there is a two-week break then into the semi-finals and that kind of stuff.
“Even that week off is huge. I think it will be about mindset, everyone will be ready physically, it’s about being ready upstairs.”
Kilkenny are arguably in the hardest corner of any of the remaining teams because the All-Ireland quarter-final against what should be a relatively fresh Limerick team is their third match in as many weekends.
They haven’t had the same opportunity that other teams have had to rest, reset, and reinvigorate after the provincial campaign, whereas Limerick are coming in fresh with the nice tune-up of a convincing win over Carlow last weekend.
The Cats have no option but to maintain a high plateau, whereas their rivals will be aiming to build up to a peak.
Limerick and Wexford have arguably had the best run-in to the knock-out matches in terms of a schedule to facilitate that sort of surge in form.
We’ll find out this weekend if that’s the case.
Roscommon roar once more
In the closing minutes of a gripping game as Roscommon landed the insurance scores the celebrations were loud and wild.
Roscommon's seasonal mission was being accomplished: a place in the All Ireland Quarter Final round robin series assured.
Three more matches will be lodged into the Roscommon account. For so long Roscommon have traded on the promise of the future, but they can live in the present now.
Kevin McStay's work with Roscommon is worthy of the utmost respect and an emerging team has a canvas to demonstrate their ability on the national stage.
In the underage grades out west Roscommon's clever planning and sheer hard work ensures a talented collection of footballers has been assembled.
During last Saturday's fascinating clash with Armagh, who also deserve immense credit for their approach, Roscommon's craft was evident.
It was heartening to see the great warrior Seanie McDermott back on the beat, playing with trademark energy and enterprise.
Enda Smith's splendid influence was reflected with 2-1, while the sparkling attacking play of his brother Donie, the Murtaghs, and Cathal Cregg showed why Roscommon can examine any outfit remaining in the hunt for Sam Maguire.
It is a real family affair in the Roscommon panel with the Compton, Cregg, Stack, Smith, Daly, Lennon, Murtagh brothers all featuring at some stage during 2018.
Next weekend's encounter with Tyrone should be revealing, but Roscommon motor on armed with increasing hope and belief.
Tyrone deliver again
Tyrone remain the ultimate qualifier team: capable of digging out results regardless of circumstances or form.
Suddenly a four match winning sequence has been stitched together and while Cork's display was alarming Tyrone carried out their business with the minimum of fuss.
Such was Tyrone's utter supremacy they were able to call Connor McAliskey, Cathal McShane, Peter Harte, Michael McKernan, Ronan McNamee, and Frank Burns ashore early as sufficient damage had been inflicted.
Amazingly in 32 qualifier matches Tyrone have registered 28 victories and in O'Moore Park the issue was never in doubt.
The reward for Tyrone now is a trip to Croke Park for a game with Roscommon, an intriguing home tie against Dublin, and a last round fixture away to Donegal.
Intrigue is certainly attached to all of those three games and the Ulster Quarter-Final defeat against Monaghan appears to have been cleansed from the system.
The next month is sprinkled with challenges Tyrone should relish.
Kildare and Monaghan prevail in Navan
In Championship fare the importance of momentum should never be underestimated. It was proven once more in Pairc Tailteann over the weekend.
Kildare, with Daniel Flynn supplying the forward power, pace, and punch proved too strong for Fermanagh on Saturday.
The following day Monaghan were able to cope with a spirited Laois display.
Kildare and Monaghan are in the All Ireland Quarter-Final round robin series and face each other in a critical encounter at Croke Park.
Whoever lands the spoils at GAA headquarters will be well placed to emerge from a interesting group also featuring Galway and Kerry.
Surprised by Fermanagh in Ulster Monaghan's response has been to chalk up three wins over Waterford, Leitrim, and Laois to reach the last eight.
Kildare's road was loaded with more danger beating Derry, Longford, Mayo, and Fermanagh, but Cian O'Neill's charges have learned plenty of valuable lessons in 2018.
Despite being relegated from Division One of the Allianz Football League and losing to Carlow in Leinster, Kildare have thundered back into the Championship reckoning in seriously impressive fashion.