Championships came alive last weekend
We had to wait a long time but the football and hurling championships came alive last weekend. I am certainly no follower of defensive systems in Gaelic football and the way the game has become, but even though there were plenty of men behind the ball in both games last Saturday, I thoroughly enjoyed both games. They were real championship encounters, tough and hard, with no quarter asked or given. Both games got slated in the Sunday papers but there have been much worse games played this year and I have been at a number of them!
You have to hand it to Mayo. They looked a beaten docket, not only after the game against Galway, but in subsequent games as well. But they have timed their run well and they have improved with every game and the door is now open for them. If they treat Tipperary with the respect that they deserve they have a great chance of getting to the final. They are so experienced now and that is so vital. The likes of Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan. Kevin McLoughlin. Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran and Donie Vaughan have been through it all over the years, and Mayo have learned how to win a tight game which they were not able to do a few years ago.
They had some mighty performers last Saturday. Aidan O’Shea played his best game of the year, Andy Moran was really effective at full-forward, David Clarke was superb between the posts and Cillian O’Connor was back to his best but I thought that Lee Keegan was sensational. Not alone is this guy a super player, he has a ruthless streak that separates good players from great ones. He made sure that Seán Cavanagh was not going to feature last Sunday and he succeeded where many defenders have failed for the past 15 years. Not only that, but Keegan kicked two massive points from play, including the winner from 50 metres out. What a player this man is.
Mayo deserved to win it but they almost threw it away with their conservative approach in the last five minutes. The mask slipped when Mickey Harte was interviewed afterwards. He blamed the sending off of Seán Cavanagh and the intimidation he received from the Mayo players as the reason for their defeat. It was the failure of Tyrone to be able to kick the ball over the bar that was the reason for their defeat, simple as that and not anything else.
Dublin never looked like losing the game against Donegal but they are beatable and the loss of Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey could be crucial before the year is out. The semi-final between Dublin and Kerry will be another epic, but unless Kerry have made a massive change since the league final, the Dubs should be too good for them. I am expecting a Dublin v Mayo final.
In the hurling, the Waterford v Kilkenny match was a classic, and it shows what can be achieved if you throw away the laptops and abandon the systems and go for the opposition man for man. Waterford threw the tactics book out the window and they took on Kilkenny 15 against 15 and it almost worked. I think Waterford will have even more confidence in the replay and I give them a great chance of overturning the champions. If they play with belief and self-confidence they can get to the final.
Expect fireworks this weekend!
The local club SFC and IFC championships are coming to a very interesting phase now and it is incredible to report that every single team in both championships are still in contention after the first three rounds. Round four next weekend will make things a lot clearer but the new format of six teams in each group has been a great success and it will be interesting to see who emerges.
There is a huge game for the senior champions Clann na nGael this weekend against a rejuvenated St. Brigid’s. It’s a game that Clann must win. Stand by for fireworks in Johnstown! Previews elsewhere in People Sport this week.
The passing of a handball great
I was shocked to hear of the sudden death last week of Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh who was definitely the greatest handballer that has ever graced the sport. I was privileged to see him in action on a number of occasions and he was so strong and accurate and skilful. I listened to DJ Carey, a man with whom he won many All-Ireland doubles titles, speaking about him on radio at the weekend and the respect and awe that ‘Ducksie’ earned over the years in Kilkenny and all over the country is phenomenal. He was one of the great sports people of our generation and he was just 50-years-old when he passed away last week. A dheis De go raibh a anam dlis.
The Premier League returns
It’s back this weekend. That’s right, the Premier League returns and despite the fact that we will all give out about the boring matches the obscene money involved and the fact that Sky overhype it to the point of driving people to distraction, once the GAA season winds down the interest will gather momentum. With Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger just to mention a few of the high profile managers involved, and add in the players who have arrived over the summer then it should be a fascinating season ahead.
However the quality of the Premier League is very questionable. The fact that Leicester City won the title last year shows that anything can happen. As a Man United fan I will be hoping that they can improve on the past few seasons. I’m not a huge fan of Jose Mourinho but anything would be better than having to listen to the awful Louis Van Gaal. I won’t bother trying to make a prediction but as the season progresses there will be plenty of talking points. One thing is for certain. It won’t be dull.
Dundalk’s Euro adventure continues
The achievement of Dundalk to get to the final qualifying round for the Champions League is some feat and let’s hope they can keep their nerve and they can reach the group which would be quite incredible. As it is they will be in the Europa League at worst and they are guaranteed at least €5.4 million which is some money. Someone pointed out last week that with the prize money available for winning the League of Ireland Premier Division at the moment, Dundalk would have to win it 49 times to get the money that they are guaranteed already!
Well done to them and especially to their manager Stephen Kenny. I had plenty of dealings with Stephen Kenny when I was working on Shannonside when he was the manager of Longford Town and he is a very capable operator and an impressive guy.
From the Internet
“I wouldn’t put myself in the same bracket as people who are really devout. I would, every Saturday before every game, go to De La Salle College, go into the prayer room (and) go through the whole St. Joseph’s booklet beforehand, praying for luck, praying for everything.
“I call myself a hypocritical Catholic! I promise God, I promise St. Joseph, that I’ll be a good person, and I’ll go back to Mass every Sunday and bring my ten-year-old and three-year-old, and (ask) if he can just make us be our best we can possibly be during the games.” – Waterford hurling manager, Derek McGrath, on Newstalk last Sunday before the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny. (Balls.ie)
Championship Crystal Ball
All-Ireland SHC Semi-Final replay – Waterford v Kilkenny on Saturday at Semple Stadium at 6.45 pm: What a game these two treated us to last weekend. There is an old adage that ‘you won’t beat Kilkenny in replays’ but Waterford showed great resilience and some fantastic skill last Sunday and their performance will give them great confidence that they can finish the job. If they keep the faith in their ability they can win this semi-final replay. Prediction: Waterford
All-Ireland SHC Semi-Final – Tipperary v Galway on Sunday in Croke Park at 3.30 pm: Galway played very well against Clare and they will have to play even better again to have a chance against Tipperary. The performance of Joe Canning will be vital to their chances. I have a feeling this might be a very close-run encounter but Tipperary have too much power and they might just shade it. Prediction: Tipperary