Clearer picture of challengers for MacCarthy Cup revealed

Even though none of the contenders are out of contention yet, there have been a few surprises

Mark Ellis held the centre of defence for Cork in their Munster semi-final defeat of Clare at  Semple Stadium. Photograph Inpho.

Mark Ellis held the centre of defence for Cork in their Munster semi-final defeat of Clare at Semple Stadium. Photograph Inpho.


So after last weekend’s hurling games we have now seen all the contenders, pretenders and also rans in action since the championship began a number of weeks back.

Last year we had a number of red-card incidents that had fairly severe consequences for the penalised teams. This year the penalty or semi penalty is exercising the hurling public’s interest. The unexpected resolution isn’t satisfactory though (not that it made a difference to Patrick Horgan in Thurles last Sunday).

But on the field of play the “tales of the hurling unexpected”, which began last season, continues, even though none of the contenders are out of contention yet, there have been a few surprises.

Galway composed themselves enough to defeat a Laois team that are improving but haven’t been able to find a consistency yet to make a breakthrough of sorts.

They seem to be able to put it up to and compete with the “better” counties but find it difficult to impose themselves on the “lesser” teams.

Galway have been reverting to type. Like Laois they aren’t consistent. But, unlike Laois, they have a plethora of top-class hurlers in their panel. I don’t think the management know which is their best first 15. But they need to have a good idea before Sunday when they travel to Tullamore to take on the might of Kilkenny. They know how to beat the Cats and won’t need any motivation. As usual we’ll have to see which Galway team turns up.

Defied odds

Limerick, despite a poorish league campaign and a pre-championship off-field public spat, defied the odds against Tipperary and proved that last year’s Munster success was a foundation stone for this year. They proved once again that the unquantifiable component usually called “heart” in Gaelic games is a quality that this team is not short on. They played with a great spirit and drive against Tipperary to cause the year’s first upset.

Tipperary, on the other hand, cannot be happy with the performance or result against Limerick. They improved incrementally in the latter stages of the league but failed to consolidate their new-found status with a championship win. There are certainly questions about the team’s ability to “put teams away”.

Cork possessed lots of that aforementioned unquantifiable component when they, once again, brought Clare’s Munster championship interest to an abrupt end.

Jimmy Barry Murphy doesn’t profess to being a tactical genius but Cork won this particular tactical battle. They tracked Clare’s runners and centre-back Mark Ellis held the centre of defence while Bill Cooper played very deep to pick up any straying Clare runner in the middle third of the field. All this denied Clare the luxury of launching quality ball into their usually spacious forward area.

However the biggest factor in this victory was that Cork never allowed Clare any time on the ball. They closed them down from the off. They, as the saying goes, “wanted it more”.

It was interesting to read in the press in the lead up to the game the description of Clare having numerous systems of play. They mightn’t have factored in the fact that possession of the sliotar is the first prerequisite and time enough on the same sliotar to set up the plays is the second.

Diagnose and solve

They had neither last Sunday. But they’ve not gone away. They might need a bigger box of biscuits and a larger quantity of MiWadi to diagnose and solve the cause of this hiccup. Maybe not as easily done this year as the element of surprise is no longer with them.

Dublin, in the first half, coped with an improving Wexford last weekend and improved themselves in the second to finish strongly. They have a good mix of experience, youth, skill, brain and brawn and won’t surrender their Leinster title too easily.

Liam Dunne has impressed as Wexford manager. He seems to me like a man with a very definite mission statement. They are making progress as are their under-21 team.

Waterford, after flattering to deceive, have a lot of very talented young hurlers coming through at present. The Déise followers need to find some more patience and wait for these players to develop. The future should be bright once they all realise that there are no short cuts and, equally, no secret formula.

At the far end of the Liam MacCarthy spectrum sit Offaly and Antrim. I’m loathe to criticise either. They are off the pace at present but no doubt there are many in both counties very committed to the cause but they have a bit of a mountain to climb to reach the contenders corner.

Kilkenny have been the most consistent team so far this year. The management experimented in every league game, did enough to make the final, and, getting there, just did enough to hang on to their league title. They are in a much stronger position now than they were at this time last season.

There is an energy and drive back in their game that was conspicuously absent 12 months ago. They, however, are not unbeatable. I’m not sure that Jackie Tyrell’s best position is at centre back.

Meaningful contribution

Their forward unit was fairly well held by Tipperary in the league final and if Henry Shefflin is unable to make a meaningful contribution over the season they will be further weakened.

They are the bookies’ favourite and from what we’ve seen so far they are deserving of that tag. We’ll know more after Sunday. Maybe another surprise result awaits.

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