A milestone victory for Clare’s youngsters
An All-Ireland U21 title in 2009, and Munster minor crowns in the last two seasons, had certainly drummed up optimism for the future of the Clare hurling. But that needed to translate into a victory of substance at senior level in order to ensure continued progress. Clare have failed to make a mark in the championship in recent years yet they reversed that trend on Saturday night in Ennis and posted a signature victory.
It was an evening where Cian Dillon and John Conlon illustrated why they can become the team leaders in defence and attack respectively. When Patrick O’Connor and Sean Collins delivered their best performances at senior level. And when Darach Honan showed how much of an attacking focal point he can be if he shakes off his injury problems. 2012 has now been a fruitful season for Clare after securing a Division 1B league title and claiming a major championship scalp. There is proof they are travelling in the right direction and why the policy of being patient with this emerging team is the correct one.
An evening of vindication for Davy Fitzgerald
Clare were not far off victory in the Munster semi-final against Waterford but rather than settle with the team from that game, Fitzgerald took the scalpel to his starting fifteen and cut it apart. His selection was ruthless and imaginative, not just in the team that lined out from the off but also in the substitutions made during the encounter on Saturday. It reaped a handsome dividend.
The emphasis on youth was best depicted by the fact that Clare finished the game with four members of last year’s Munster minor winning team on the pitch. Yet despite their inexperience, both Tony Kelly and Seadna Morey grew into the game to influence matters while Colm Galvin and Aaron Cunningham, drafted in during the second-half, quickly warmed to the task. The maturity of Cunningham in carrying the ball from defence in a pressurised situation in injury-time and setting in train the move that lead to John Conlon’s insurance point, was extremely impressive.
Fitzgerald also set Clare up well tactically when they were reduced to 14 men and was rewarded with Brendan Bulger storming into the game with a tremendous display at centre-back, John Conlon leading the line effectively at centre-forward and both Honan and Conor McGrath intelligently retaining possession in attack. The former All-Ireland winning goalkeeper showed a level of trust in his young players that they could prosper at senior level. This was best exemplified by his order to Kelly to go for a goal from that 20-yard free in the second-half. He was rewarded then when the Ballyea youngster found the net and rewarded at the finish as they produced a famous victory.
The collapse in Dublin’s form this year
Clare’s progress this year has been in sharp contrast to the decline experienced by Dublin. How can a side who chased Tipperary all the way until the conclusion of last August’s All-Ireland semi-final endure a disastrous campaign that featured league relegation, a Leinster semi-final hammering and an early qualifier exit?
Clearly they have not been able to tap into a winning groove in 2012. Last season they had the fillip of a league final success to guide them into the summer action whereas this year they entered the championship arena under a cloud after falling through the trapdoor to Division 1B.
What is most dispiriting about Saturday night’s loss was the manner in which it occurred. In the first-half there was evidence of a side intent in bouncing back from their defeat to Kilkenny as they bossed the physical exchanges around the middle and had Paul Ryan in stellar sharpshooting form up front. A fine start to the second-half saw Dublin move six points clear and they had the benefit of a spare man following O’Connell’s dismissal.
It was a game that they were the proprietors of but they let it slip from the grasp, wilting in the face of Clare’s second-half revival. Key players failed to make an impact and they only amassed three points in the last half hour of the game with no pattern evident in their attacking play and wretched shooting blighting their performance up front. 2012 has ended on a sour note and the regression on last year’s form is a disconcerting development for Dublin hurling.
The future for Anthony Daly
The manner in which Dublin’s hurling fortunes have unravelled this year brings the future intentions of their manager into sharp focus. Anthony Daly has undeniably brought serious improvements to Dublin hurling and helped engineer great days for the county but the bright outlook at the end of 2011 when it was reasonable to rank them as number three in the country, has dissipated considerably. It’s going to be difficult to recover from this type of psychologically damaging defeat.
When the pressure was inflicted on Dublin in the second-half last night, they looked bereft of leaders and incapable of maximising the advantage of having an extra man at their disposal. Daly made a succession of substitutes, five in all between the 43rd and 56th minutes, but they made little difference and seemed to destabilise rather than settle the team. There are still plenty encouraging developments in Dublin hurling and it is defeats like this that are often most instructive for teams attempting to make a breakthrough.
The irony was the weekend brought about promise for the future of the game in the capital in the form of St Brigid’s winning the All-Ireland Féile na nGael title and the Dublin minors winning the Leinster championship. Yet Daly is sure to now question whether he has taken the senior flagship team as far as he can. Defender Niall Corcoran admitted afterwards that it will be up to the players to implore the Clare man to remain in charge. But he will need convincing that they can turn things around after the season they have endured.
Cork’s Conor O’Sullivan and Brian Carroll of Offaly during Saturday’s tie. Pic: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Cork progress but have scope for improvement
They did what they had to do on Saturday night and no more. Amidst the warm afterglow of their spirited display in challenging Tipperary in the Munster semi-final, optimism abounded about the prospects of this Cork hurling team. Saturday’s qualifier exertion against Offaly injected some pragmatism but taught the players and management nothing they were not aware of. This team is a long-term project under Jimmy Barry-Murphy and there needs to be substantial improvements wrought out of them if they are to bridge the gap between themselves and the elite.
Victory was the key objective and they achieved just that. There are still issues over their defensive structure and their best midfield partnership but chalking up 1-26 without playing particularly sparkling hurling is a step in the right direction. Barry-Murphy’s attitude of giving youth its head is getting some rewards with substitutes Daniel Kearney and Stephen Moylan showing up well during their second-half cameos. They’re still standing in the 2012 championship and the test on Saturday should stand to them when they square off against Wexford next weekend.
Another moral victory for Offaly
They picked themselves up admirably after the desolation of their heavy defeat to Galway. They restored some pride and proved they can stand toe to toe with top-flight counties in the championship arena. They posted a decent total on the scoreboard on an evening when star man Shane Dooley’s input was supplemented by fine productions by Joe Bergin and Brian Carroll. That would suggest Offaly have something to build on in the wake of Saturday night’s qualifier defeat to Cork.
But instead their 2012 campaign has ground to a halt and they have suffered the demoralizing experience of claiming another moral victory. For a team in a development stage, a pattern of narrow defeats will not suffice to keep them progressing. Clare were in a similar situation to Offaly entering this championship weekend in that they finally needed to issue a summer statement and deliver a success. They did just that in Ennis on Saturday whereas Offaly’s luckless run continues with another July exit and frustration is sure to start creeping in.