When this year’s hurling championship is being reviewed there will be plenty to discuss. This has been a year of change, but whether it was a once-off only time will tell.
Of course every Kilkenny supporter would dearly love to be still involved, but this year’s semi-final parings have created a great buzz in hurling circles, and particularly in the four counties.
Cork and Clare are the ones who will battle in out in September’s All-Ireland final. I always felt the Rebels possessed the players to out-smart Dublin in the open expanses of Croke Park. The big field was well used by Clare too.
As the Dublin players and management assess their performance they will know that a great opportunity was lost to reach a long overdue All-Ireland final. Against Kilkenny and Galway in the Leinster championship, Dublin built from the back putting an extra player in defence with their first target being to contain their opponents’ attack.
It was a tactic that, for the most part, was highly effective. It helped to keep the opposition scores to a minimum for long periods and ensured a liberal supply of ball into the attack.
An extra defender, at least for the opening 20 minutes, would have helped to contain the lively Cork attack. Cork were afforded far too much time on the ball and there is none better than the Rebels to punish opponents who give them so much room.
Dublin was in trouble at midfield from an early stage. This area has never been Dublin’s strongest sector but with their half back line also struggling much of the first half was difficult for the defence.
The Cork defence also had some anxious moments but over the 70 minutes, and particularly in the second half, they stood up manfully to the challenge. While Cork held the upper hand, it was still anyone’s game up to the time Ryan O’Dwyer was dismissed.
The loss of their colleague impacted negatively on Dublin. Irrespective of the circumstances, O’Dwyer’s dismissal was a fillip to Cork. As against Kilkenny, they used the extra man astutely in defence. The one thing Dublin could not do in the closing stages was make elementary errors.
Unfortunately they did. Balls were dropped at key moments and one of these errors also led to goalie, Gary Maguire being unusually careless with what appeared to be an easy clearance. Like any good forward Patrick Horgan followed up what some might have seen as a lost cause.
The resultant goal was ultimately the primary difference between the sides.
After recent games all the talk appears to be about the changing tactics which were seen in the latter stages of the championship. It was the same with Clare’s all running game, although their finishing was superb.
The pace of the players, the silken touches and deft flicks and the classy scores are all being mentioned as if they have only been introduced.
There is no doubt that the first semi-final was hugely enjoyable and while it had a level of physicality which one would expect, nevertheless, the exchanges for much of the 70 minutes were not on a par with what we have seen over the past decade. It is going to be interesting to see how the contrasting styles develop in the coming years.
The emergence of new contenders has brightened up the hurling scene, but when the year is reviewed refereeing performances will inevitably grab much of the headlines. The fact that the CHC saw fit on two occasions to overturn refereeing decisions is worrying.
I have no idea what instructions were given to hurling referees, but there is a seismic difference in how games are being handled. Yes, there should have been some additional red cards issued last year, but it hardly merited such drastic action as we have witnessed in the past few months.
This so called change of style is perhaps the most interesting outcome of the hurling we have witnessed this summer. Time will tell if this new style is real or imaginary.