Long ball tactics


September Road:  The cream of the island's big hitters will be on the Annaverna mountain in Cooley today, competing over a 5 km course for the coveted title of Poc Fada champion of Ireland.

Never has "sure there'll only be a puck of a ball between them" seemed more appropriate.

In a sport where each player is normally just one cog in a 15-spoke wheel, today is an unmissable chance for each hurler to test themselves individually.

"It shows the esteem the event is held in when you see the likes of Brendan Cummins making the trek up to take part," agrees Pat Mc Ginn, who - along with members of local Armagh and Louth GAA clubs - has spent the last few months organising the tournament.

The winner of the Poc Fada na hÉireann is the player who takes the fewest pucks to drive the sliotar around, as McGinn calls it, "the biggest bunker in the world".

Twelve hurlers will battle it out:

Michael Flannery (Tipperary), Martin Coleman (Cork), Brendan Cummins (Tipperary), Aidan Ryan (Galway), Graham Clark (Down) Eoin McGuigan (Derry), Damien Fitzhenry (Wexford), Tom Finn (Wicklow), Brian Campion (Laois), Clement Cunnife (Leitrim), Mark Gannon (Meath), David Fitzgerald (Clare).

The inspiration for the event comes from Táin Bó Cuailnge, in which Setanta drove his ball from Dún Dealgan to Eamhan Macha. The other stimulus for the Cooley competition, however, came from the late Fr Pól Mac Seáin.

"Fr Pól developed the whole thing after he heard some kids arguing over how many pucks it would take to go around the mountain," says McGinn. "This year's event is tinged with sadness due to the death of Fr Pól, who died on All-Ireland (hurling) final day last year."

It has been recognised by the top brass in the GAA that the event has showed enough worth to warrant a day of its own - and not have to share the August Bank Holiday Monday with two big games down south in Dublin.

However, McGinn promises spectators will be kept up to date of events at headquarters. "That's no problem. The PA system will be blaring out live coverage of the matches in Croke Park during the afternoon, so no one will miss out." Action will begin around 1.30 p.m. this afternoon, and the winner should be known by 4.30 p.m.

And, of course, there's another small difference between Croker and Annaverna mountain.

"There's no corporate boxes on the mountain," laughs Mc Ginn. "Everyone'll have the same chance to get the perfect view."

Three to watch today

1 - Brendan Cummins has been on the mountain twice before, only barely missing out last year.

2 - Aidan Ryan played for the first time last year and

was so impressive he will start as one of the favourites this time round.

3 - Defending champion David Fitzgerald will be looking for his third An Poc Fada Craobh na hEireann medal.

Poc Fada: Roll of Honour

2002 - David Fitzgerald (Clare)

2001 - Albert Shanahan (Limerick)

2000 - Colin Byrne (Wicklow)

1999 - David Fitzgerald (Clare)

1998 - Albert Kelly (Offaly) 

All-Ireland SHC Semi-finals

Cork  4/11 Wexford 13/5 Draw 10/1

Kilkenny 8/15 Tipperary 15/8 Draw 8/1

(Odds courtesy of Paddy Power)

Quote of the weekend: "I'll be back. You needn't worry about that. You're not going to keep me out of this place, I can assure you." - Laois manager Mick O'Dwyer