John Allen: Under-21s will give Thurles a full-sized helping
Waterford and Galway seem to have advantage in All-Ireland semi-finals
Waterford’s Conor Gleeson has impressed with the senior side this season. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.
The intercounty hurling spotlight shines on Thurles again this weekend where the under-21 semi-finals take place on Saturday evening.
Last Saturday night the same venue hosted the game of the year to date. Kilkenny, once again, proved what champions they are. What preparation for early September the two games have been for the Cats who ground out another character revealing win in the cauldron that Thurles was a week ago.
This game had everything including goals which have been in short enough supply in hurling of late. It resembled, almost from start to finish, an amalgam of sports such as rugby, figure skating and ice hockey in its ferocity, intensity, skill, balance, scoring, courage and athleticism.
What a pity there had to be a loser, and particularly that it was a county like Waterford who are so long trying to win a Liam MacCarthy. The player and culture platform is being created though and the time is on most of these players’ sides.
Since the ill-fated Munster final they have turned a metaphorical corner. The days of moral victories might now over. This team is shaping up to make that long awaited breakthrough but of course that is easier said than done.
Carpe diem (seize the day) is a phrase often used in sport, particularly where the stakes are high, and they were high in hurling terms last weekend.
Strength of character
Much of the above could be written about last Sunday’s action at headquarters. This was a battle royale as well, maybe without the absolute intensity of the previous night. Tipperary, fortunate enough to win, will go into the final as underdogs and Galway, will like Waterford, have to accept the lesson and live to fight another day.
Both games were played very much off the cuff and as spectacles were a big improvement on much that we have seen over the past few years. It was wonderful to see all four managements have belief in their players and allowing them to play in such a positive attack minded fashion.
The immediate post-match consensus was that Tipp will need to match Kilkenny’s intensity before they think about winning the final. In recent years we been privileged to see some epics between the counties.
There is no reason why we won’t witness the same in a fortnight’s time. Michael Fennelly will be a huge loss to the Cats but this gives another panel member a chance to start on hurling’s biggest day.
On Saturday we’ll get to see a number of the Waterford players who have lit up the hurling canvas this summer. To date Austin Gleeson has been the player of the under-21 championship, indeed he has been the stand-out player in many of the games he has played at all grades this year. He is as impressive as Tony Kelly was for Clare in 2013 or as Ken McGrath often was for the Déise over many years.
Unfortunately for their opponents Antrim they haven’t played the quality of opposition that Waterford have overcome. I can only see one result here, even though I’m sure Déise manager Seán Power will remind his players of Antrim’s victory over Wexford at the same stage three years ago.
The second game has the usual unknown factor about it where Galway are concerned. Yes, they have quality players. They won last year’s All-Ireland minor championship and they lost to Waterford three years ago in that year’s minor final. But of course they are under the considerable handicap of not having played yet in this year’s competition. Their minor manager Geoffery Lynskey, in the aftermath of a drubbing by Tipperary last Sunday has called for a restructuring at minor level. Maybe the under-21 grade would be included in any change to the structure.
Dublin have had three games but didn’t have to play Kilkenny which is always welcome. They had periods of excellence in all those games but they have yet to put in a full satisfactory hour’s hurling. Their opening half against Wexford was probably their most complete team performance.
Eoghan O’Donnell, Shane Barrett and Cian McGabhann are quality defenders. Cian Boland has been struggling to find form after an injury that has sidelined him for a long period. But Seán Treacy and Chris Bennett and AJ Murphy have delivered many of the scores so far.
This has the makings of a good game. Obviously without Galway having any form to adjudicate on it’s very difficult to make a reasoned call as to who’ll win it. The bookies though with their sagacious savy are seeing a Waterford/Galway final.