After a number of very exciting games in the 2013 National Hurling League, both semi-finals on Sunday in Thurles were a huge disappointment.
Tipperary won in a canter against Dublin in the first game. The Metropolitans gave as poor a display as we have witnessed for years.
Maybe manager, Anthony Daly is trying to mislead his Leinster championship opponents Wexford, but based on what we witnessed his side has fallen alarmingly down the ladder. If Dublin could win Division 1B what does it say for the other teams in the division?
Surely that is ample proof that the current League structures are not beneficial to improving counties like Dublin.
Work rate is an essential ingredient for any top side and too few of the Dublin players were prepared to put their body on the line on Sunday. Tipperary looked eager and focused, just as one would expect from a side managed by Eamonn O’Shea. They dominated every sector and are now playing with plenty of confidence.
Played ball intelligently
The opening stages of the Kilkenny/Galway semi-final saw the Westerners in the ascendancy as they played the ball intelligently around the pitch. An early Cyril Donnellan goal hinted at a difficult afternoon for Kilkenny. Galway created plenty of space in the opening quarter but an obsession with scoring goals was not a wise tactic against a tight-marking Kilkenny defence.
Whatever momentum Galway was building came undone when its captain Fergal Moore had to depart with concussion. The long delay appeared to unsettle the Westerners as Kilkenny took a firm grip on the game.
Kilkenny’s dominance continued for much of the second half also. Any time Galway appeared to be getting back into the game up popped Kilkenny for another score to halt the Westerners momentum.
Colin Fennelly’s second half goal was the killer-blow and it must have been particularly galling for the Galway ’keeper Colm Callanan, as he had earlier saved brilliantly on two occasions from Richie Power. For much of the second half it was difficult to fathom the formation of the Galway attack.
At times the Westerners appeared to be only playing with three attackers. The team mentors have still not decided where to place Joe Canning. The Portumna player delivered an almost faultless display from placed balls, but his overall contribution in open play was minimal.
How often did we see Kilkenny defenders on their own without a Galway player in sight? At times it was difficult to understand who was directing matters on the pitch for the Galway players.
The Tribesmen also had difficulties in defence, particularly in both central positions. A number of players have been tried at centre-back this year without success. David Collins did not look comfortable in the No. 6 jersey.
Given a torrid time
Richie Hogan gave the Galway full-back Kevin Hynes a torrid time, but in fairness to Hynes the deliveries into Hogan were beautifully executed.
Michael Fennelly’s absence was a worry before the game, but fears were ill-founded as Lester Ryan and Michael Rice gave as dominant a performance as we have seen from a Kilkenny midfield duo for some time.
Ryan has been Kilkenny’s outstanding performer during the League and it will have pleased every supporters to see Rice back to his very best. The work-rate from the two midfielders was awesome.
Except for some early hesitancy the Kilkenny defence was on top, helped as I noted earlier by a Galway attack that wandered aimlessly all over the pitch. This defeat is a setback for Galway as it leaves many positional conundrums for manager, Anthony Cunningham to resolve. The Westerners are still genuine championship contenders, but have much to ponder in the weeks ahead.
The upcoming League final brings the two best teams into opposition. The bonus for Kilkenny supporters is that the game will be in Nowlan Park.
Kilkenny continues to do what Kilkenny does best, winning games with ruthless efficiency.
Tipperary is steadily improving and the Nowlan Park clash with its great rivals is going to be a game to savour.