Great joy as Shefflin returns, but Ryall might keep his ’phone on

THE second round games in the Kilkenny senior hurling league served up some exciting encounters, but it was the return of Henry Shefflin which was the main talking point. His return to competitive action is just the news county manager, Brian Cody wanted to hear because Shefflin’s leadership is badly missing at present.

THE second round games in the Kilkenny senior hurling league served up some exciting encounters, but it was the return of Henry Shefflin which was the main talking point. His return to competitive action is just the news county manager, Brian Cody wanted to hear because Shefflin’s leadership is badly missing at present.

People need to be realistic, though, as playing a league tie on a Saturday evening in Hugginstown is a long way from the cut and thrust of the Leinster championship. Still, at a time when we are all looking for an uplift after the disappointment of the National League final, the return of the ace forward is great news.

Ballyhale Shamrocks, no doubt, will also be thrilled by his return as they have been blighted with injuries.

Could win

I always felt this was a game Dunamaggin could win. They have an excellent defence, and with the Shamrocks missing some key players, the time was ripe for an upset.

James Stephens continue to set the pace. They scored 2-22 in their opening game and this was followed by a return of 3-15 on Saturday against Dicksboro. That’s impressive scoring by any measurement!

Dicksboro played well and contributed to a highly competitive and entertaining game. The performances of inter-county players Jackie Tyrell, Eoin Larkin and Matthew Ruth were key to The Village success. That central spine is the anchor around which James Stephens operate.

In Ballyragget on Friday night we had the unusual sight of a league tie having to be played under lights. On a damp evening it is doubtful if the game would have been completed without the floodlights.

Well done to the St Patrick’s club!

For 45 minutes Erin’s Own led the county champions, O’Loughlin Gaels a merry dance. They inexplicably collapsed in the final quarter. It was a tricky evening for hurling with the players having to contend with a cross breeze and a drizzle.

Once O’Loughlin’s got on top midway through the second half, the ’Comer men fell apart. They are a side low on confidence right now and will need a big performance in their third round tie against James Stephens.

Ryall was very good

Graigue-Ballycallan scored a deserved two-point win over the Fenians. It was a disappointing game which was largely illuminated on a dull evening by the display of James Ryall. Keep the ’phone switched on James!

I witnessed a lot of games over the extended weekend and the issue of refereeing became a point of discussion among supporters. It’s not easy being a referee, but some of our whistlers are drawing unnecessary attention on themselves by some of their actions.

Remonstrating with players is a necessary function of the referee, but not in a manner which can be heard by supporters. Players will always attempt to take as much advantage as possible, but the best referees are always able to handle such situations with diplomacy and tact.

Close call for minors in Mullingar

WESTMEATH knew when the final whistle sounded in Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday that they had missed a great opportunity to cause a big surprise in this year’s ESB Leinster minor hurling championship.

While a two point loss to Kilkenny is a commendable performance for Westmeath, it could have been so much better had they taken the many chances that came their way.

Kilkenny’s ability not to panic in the closing moments after the home side drew level was crucial. Urged on by a good attendance, Westmeath appeared to be on the cusp on an historic win, but a great point from the visitors best player Kevin Kelly from 45 metres, and another from substitute Robert Moran, saved Kilkenny blushes.

The Noresiders early scoring burst, courtesy of a goal and a point from Kilmacow’s Johnny Hayes, hinted at an easy afternoon, particularly as it took the home side 13 minutes to register their first score.

Attack was wasteful

Although Westmeath had every bit as much of the play as Kilkenny, their attack was very wasteful. That, in the end, turned out to be their Achilles heel.

Any of us who thought that Kilkenny would push-on in the second half and win handsomely were mistaken. Westmeath laid out their stall from the opening moments of the new half with two points scored within two minutes.

Although Kilkenny responded with points from Danny Kearns and a Kevin Kelly free, Westmeath were taking a firm grip on the game. Five unanswered points in a row brought the margin down to four and the concern was beginning to show on Kilkenny faces.

The noise reached a crescendo when the home side scored an equalising goal in the 53rd minute. The big Westmeath following sensed a major surprise. With three minutes remaining and Westmeath now playing with great confidence, Kilkenny had to dig deep.

To their credit the players responded. Late points from Kevin Kelly and Robert Moran did the trick.

The contrast in play from the teams was so different in the closing stages.

Kilkenny could have caved into under the incessant Westmeath pressure, but they kept their composure to score those two vital points.

Chasing goal was wrong

Westmeath, on the other hand, had a number of late scoring opportunities from frees and play but their insistence on chasing a goal proved their undoing. Their mentors were a bit slow in spotting that a draw and bringing the game to extra-time could still have yielded a winning result.

The pedigree of this Westmeath team was well-known to Kilkenny, so there would have been no surprise at their performance. Kilkenny have a lot of improving to do, but the manner in which they held their composure at the finish was important.

Kilkenny’s next outing is on June 25. I am not sure if there is a draw for the semi-final pairings, so who knows, maybe that semi-final might yet see a repeat of Saturday’s encounter!

Championship is the real test for the Dubs

THE delight with which Dublin players, mentors and supporters, greeted the Allianz National Hurling League success over Kilkenny was understandable. Despite many successes at under-age and colleges levels, the Dublin senior hurlers had consistently failed to make the breakthrough.

A couple of Walsh Cup successes in recent years hinted at better days ahead, only for the team to falter badly when the championship came around. Last year, in particular, was a watershed for Dublin hurling.

It promised so much, but they failed ignominiously against Antrim in the quarter-finals.

Manager Anthony Daly thought long and hard about whether he would continue with the Dublin cause. The defeat to Antrim hurt him, badly, but he knew the team still had enough ability to be a genuine force.

He also knew that he had to strengthen his squad if they were to become serious contenders. At the start of his managerial reign with Dublin he made a ’phone call to Conal Keaney. Hurling was always Keaney’s first sport, but the lure of Dublin football with its profile and opportunity for success was a big attraction for the Ballyboden player.

Daly spotted opportunity

Keaney enjoyed plenty of success with the footballers, but only at provincial level. Their consistent failure to reach an All-Ireland final prompted current manager Pat Gilroy to spread the net in search of new players.

Keaney became a fringe player and his love affair with football began to wane. Anthony Daly spotted the opportunity. This time his efforts were successful.

Keaney’s footballing colleague, Shane Ryan, had already rejoined the Dublin hurling squad the previous year.

The unexpected arrival of Ryan O’Dwyer from Cashel was a real bonus. One suspects that the influence of Daly’s co-selector Richard Stakelum was important in convincing O’Dwyer to switch from his native Tipperary to Dublin.

With Keaney and O’Dwyer in their ranks, Daly now had two physically strong forwards with both capable of scoring from all ranges and distances. Six months on after joining the Dublin hurling ranks, we now know how valuable these two players are to the county.

Right to switch

When Conal Keaney scored that late point from 80 metres into Hill 16 in the League final, it more than any other point he has scored since January, brought home to the Ballyboden player how right he was to switch codes.

Scoring at the Hill 16 end of Croke Park holds special memories for every Dublin player, whatever the code. Doing so when you are about to capture a national title is the stuff of dreams.

After trying so valiantly for years to capture a national title with the footballers, I am sure the irony of the hurling league success was not lost on Conal Keaney. He is afterall a hurler first and foremost.

The seeds for this long-overdue success were sown in Dublin in the ’nineties. The architects of the original blueprint for Dublin hurling would have hoped to achieve national success long before now, so their excitement at finally securing a national senior title is understandable.

Early morning coaching

I attended some early Saturday morning coaching sessions with Dublin schools and under-age squads over the years in my various GAA capacities. Those coaches were hurling evangelists; men with a vision and passion for the game.

Their efforts ensured plenty of success for teams at colleges and under-age levels. Now they can finally see their efforts bear fruit at senior level.

It was a long and arduous journey to Croke Park for Dublin hurling. While the support of the County Board was always forthcoming, some in the wider Dublin GAA fraternity had little time for the small ball.

In a way that made the hurling evangelists all the more determined to succeed.

Dublin’s capturing of a national title is great for hurling, but caution is urged when assessing their prospects as senior championship contenders. They have already been tipped by one well-known hurling pundit to win this year’s Leinster title and face Tipperary in the All-Ireland final.

I am sure Joe Dooley and his Offaly team will have noted how easily their chances have been dismissed. It should not be too difficult for Dooley to motivate his team for the May 29 clash with the Dubs in Croke Park.

Championship ready to go

While Dublin scored 0-22 in the League final against Kilkenny, don’t forget that Offaly scored 1-19 against the Cats some weeks previously.

The honest assessment of the League final was that Dublin won comfortably and played very well despite the hugely disappointing challenge from Kilkenny. With the GAA hurling championship starting on Saturday in Portlaoise we can expect the level of competition to be a step up from what we witnessed during the League final.

No doubt, Dublin is genuine Provincial Championship contenders. Their confidence will be sky-high after defeating Kilkenny in a national final, but the championship is where your true credentials will be tested.

Dublin’s toughest examination has yet to be undertaken.