1. Antrim rocking the house
Antrim’s victory over Wexford in yesterday’s Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21 semi-final was just the latest twist in a remarkable summer for hurling.
We’ve had thrills and spills galore in the senior championship but this was one of the biggest shocks in the recent history of the U21 grade.
Just 14 Antrim players were present at training last Thursday evening and manager Kevin Ryan travelled with just 19 outfield players and goalkeeper Ger Dixon to Thurles.
But Ryan got his tactics absolutely spot on, with Eoghan Campbell performing the sweeper role to perfection.
Antrim gained an early stranglehold and with Wexford looking desperately flat, the Ulster champions held on all the way to the finish.
2. A big chance missed for Wexford
Antrim’s shock win has really taken some of the gloss off Wexford’s Leinster championship victory over Kilkenny.
Manager JJ Doyle admitted that last month’s victory over Kilkenny, which sealed a first provincial crown for the Slaneysiders since 2002, is now “of no great consequence.”
And that’s a shame as Wexford performed heroically against the Cats in a thrilling Wexford Park decider.
For some reason, and surely complacency played a part, Wexford could not raise themselves sufficiently for the Antrim challenge.
And so much of this year’s good work was undone in the space of an hour as Antrim made off with the semi-final spoils.
Ciaran Clarke celebrates scoring a goal for Antrim
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
3. Cunningham’s injury mars Clare’s day
Aaron Cunningham’s hamstring injury cast a shadow over Clare’s big day.
Cunningham had to be helped off in first half stoppage time after pulling a hamstring and the problem is far more of a blow to the U21 selectors than senior boss Davy Fitzgerald.
Cunningham has made three appearances from the bench for the seniors in this year’s championship but he is one of the mainstay players in the U21 team.
Missing out on two All-Ireland finals would be a savage blow to the 20-year-old Wolfe Tones player but Clare medics will do everything in their power to have him ready for the U21 decider against Antrim on September 14, at the very least.
Cunningham was one of 12 senior panellists in yesterday’s starting line-up, as the rest came through unscathed.
4. Galway’s woes
The current championship structures in the minor and U21 ranks continue to do Galway no favours.
Johnnie Kelly’s U21′s were playing their first championship game of the summer yesterday but Clare had two games against Waterford and Tipperary under their belts.
That lack of competitive fare left Galway as sitting ducks against a Clare side playing to a very definite pattern of play, and with championship intensity in the legs.
Challenge matches are no way for Galway to get ready to face a team playing with Clare’s fluidity.
And surely the time has come for Galway to follow the lead of their seniors by applying for inclusion in the Leinster minor and U21 championships.
Galway’s Cathal Keane and Seadna Morey of Clare
Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
5. Was the Clare-Galway semi-final effectively the final?
No disrespect meant to Antrim here whatsoever but after the Saffrons shocked Wexford in their semi-final, the general feeling in Thurles was that the second game was effectively an All-Ireland final.
On all known evidence, Antrim were underprepared ahead of their remarkable victory over Wexford but now that they have shown their hand, they are vulnerable against Clare in the final.
Clare won’t be as naïve or as complacent as Wexford were and they will look to get the job done early on September 14.
Antrim manager Kevin Ryan has now shown his hand, with Eoghan Campbell deployed in that sweeper role, and unfortunately, they don’t have the depth of talent required to compete with Clare in the final.