Cats pass gut-check, Mayo don’t

WRIST ACTION: Waterford’s Shane Walsh gets to grips with Kilkenny’s JJ Delaney in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE THUMBS UP: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody on a job well done. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE NET RESULT: Meath’s Cian Ward celebrates scoring a penalty against Mayo. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

MORTAL after all? Waterford put last year’s All-Ireland final behind them yesterday and put it up to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, and though the Cats had five to spare at the finish, the game was alive to the very end, contrary to general expectations.

All of Noreside must be waking up this morning swaddled in relief that Henry Shefflin, though born in Waterford, is a Ballyhale man to the core. Doubts about Shefflin’s place in the pantheon dissipated years ago, like the smoke at a pontiff’s election, but rarely was he needed as badly as he was in Croke Park yesterday. And rarely has a player delivered as he did.

Shefflin ended the day with 1-14, and led his team-mates through one of their toughest challenges in recent years. He converted frees, he won possession, and he scored a vital first-half goal. His manager, Brian Cody, agreed that he’d made a huge contribution.

“Not for the first time, obviously. He’s been outstanding for us on a couple of occasions when he didn’t score from play but he got a few scores.

“His workrate… everything about Henry is top class. He brings everything to the game, everything to training, everything to his life. He’s just an outstanding fella and an outstanding player. He was excellent today.”

That excellence was sorely needed. As expected, one of the sides went for the jugular early yesterday and scored a goal on four minutes to settle themselves. We just weren’t expecting it to be Waterford, when Shane Walsh produced another fine ground stroke following Kevin Moran’s mazy run.

Waterford were much better than they were last September, withdrawing downfield and inviting Kilkenny into a crowded killing zone in front of their goal. At one point Cats keeper PJ Ryan was reduced to short puck-outs to his full-back line, a development so unusual that a couple of his targets forgot to gather the ball.

Add in the fact that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh hoovered up any ball that came into the Waterford half and carried it back upfield with that inimitable loping stride, and Waterford were doing a good deal better than okay.

Until a long ball dropped into Henry Shefflin, that is.

The man in the green helmet found another green helmet, Eddie Brennan, and Kilkenny had a goal. When the Waterford defence suffered a systems failure dealing with a long Tommy Walsh delivery ten minutes later, Shefflin found himself one-on-one with Clinton Hennessy. Goal number two.

Kilkenny were six up at the break, but there was no disintegration from Waterford. Two minutes into the second half Shane Walsh booted a goal and Eoin Kelly added a point. They had momentum, as manager Davy Fitzgerald said afterwards, but they couldn’t kick on.

“When we got them back to two points . . . the one thing we were trying to do was avoid leaving gaps at the back. We were trying to keep it as tight as we could and pull everything back the field.

“They only managed to open us up with 15 or 20 minutes to go – they managed to pull us out and brought on a few fresh bodies who got on the ball and did some damage. And you can see it happening from the sideline and you’re wondering how are you going to get the message out to them to get back into formation?”

The danger of leaving gaps at the back was illustrated by Shefflin’s seven-point haul from the 20 minutes after Waterford’s second goal, but even then the Déise refused to wilt.

A Kelly 65 dropped to the net between too many cooks on the Kilkenny line, and they still needed PJ Ryan to redeem himself late on with a reflex save from an Eoin Kelly snap shot. Breathless. Relentless. But still, when the smoke cleared, a Kilkenny win.

Davy Fitzgerald pointed out that teams are getting closer to Kilkenny on the scoreboard, and he may have offered the winners of the Limerick/ Tipperary semi-final a template to take into the All-Ireland final: to do what Kilkenny have been doing themselves for a few years, as the Clare man put it after the game.

However, the winners of Tipp-Limerick will have to reckon with Kilkenny’s appetite. Brian Cody wasn’t accommodating any suggestions yesterday that his side’s taste for glory had dulled.

“I make no bones about hunger – I never suggest that hunger will be up for grabs. It won’t be up for grabs. That’s intact. That’s there. The players who go out on the pitch and the players they represent on the sideline – there’s too much involved in that to ever give anything less than your best.”

They will also have to deal with Henry Shefflin. The big man has been King Henry in Kilkenny for some time, but on yesterday’s evidence he may need to be elevated to another stratum of royalty altogether.

FOR THE winners of Tipp-Limerick, read Meath in football. They put Mayo out of the championship in yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at headquarters, and now face the football equivalent of Kilkenny in a couple of weeks’ time.

They should savour this victory first, though. Compared to the free-scoring tournament-game scorelines of the previous weekend, this All-Ireland SFC quarter-final was more what you expect of a championship game, with players’ resolve being tested in a game of incremental gains.

Mayo looked to have a foot in the semi-final when Aidan O’Shea touched home a Trevor Mortimer cross to put Mayo four up with twenty minutes left, but then the game really swung.

Cian Ward goaled from a penalty to cut it to one and Meath levelled it through David Bray, but there was plenty of discussion in the stands of the sideline ball which led to the penalty. The linesman appeared to have his flag up for a throw-in when Joe Sheridan made an executive decision and booted the ball into the Mayo red zone.

Meath’s competitive fire seared Mayo from there to the end. With a minute of regulation time left, substitute Jamie Queeney drove past a static Mayo defender committing an Under 12 mistake, waiting for a pass to arrive, and the Meathman won a ball he had no right to claim. When he curled over the point there were five between them.

It’s always tempting to over-analyse the little incidents and overdo conclusions about the overall game, but that was one instance that didn’t lie.

In the hurling game yesterday there was also plenty of evidence in the thousand miniature battles around the field – namely the fact that the Kilkenny number ten won most of them.

MORTAL after all? Waterford put last year’s All-Ireland final behind them yesterday and put it up to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final, and though the Cats had five to spare at the finish, the game was alive to the very end, contrary to general expectations.

All of Noreside must be waking up this morning swaddled in relief that Henry Shefflin, though born in Waterford, is a Ballyhale man to the core. Doubts about Shefflin’s place in the pantheon dissipated years ago, like the smoke at a pontiff’s election, but rarely was he needed as badly as he was in Croke Park yesterday. And rarely has a player delivered as he did.

Shefflin ended the day with 1-14, and led his team-mates through one of their toughest challenges in recent years. He converted frees, he won possession, and he scored a vital first-half goal. His manager, Brian Cody, agreed that he’d made a huge contribution.

“Not for the first time, obviously. He’s been outstanding for us on a couple of occasions when he didn’t score from play but he got a few scores.

“His workrate… everything about Henry is top class. He brings everything to the game, everything to training, everything to his life. He’s just an outstanding fella and an outstanding player. He was excellent today.”

That excellence was sorely needed. As expected, one of the sides went for the jugular early yesterday and scored a goal on four minutes to settle themselves. We just weren’t expecting it to be Waterford, when Shane Walsh produced another fine ground stroke following Kevin Moran’s mazy run.

Waterford were much better than they were last September, withdrawing downfield and inviting Kilkenny into a crowded killing zone in front of their goal. At one point Cats keeper PJ Ryan was reduced to short puck-outs to his full-back line, a development so unusual that a couple of his targets forgot to gather the ball.

Add in the fact that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh hoovered up any ball that came into the Waterford half and carried it back upfield with that inimitable loping stride, and Waterford were doing a good deal better than okay.

Until a long ball dropped into Henry Shefflin, that is.

The man in the green helmet found another green helmet, Eddie Brennan, and Kilkenny had a goal. When the Waterford defence suffered a systems failure dealing with a long Tommy Walsh delivery ten minutes later, Shefflin found himself one-on-one with Clinton Hennessy. Goal number two.

Kilkenny were six up at the break, but there was no disintegration from Waterford. Two minutes into the second half Shane Walsh booted a goal and Eoin Kelly added a point. They had momentum, as manager Davy Fitzgerald said afterwards, but they couldn’t kick on.

“When we got them back to two points . . . the one thing we were trying to do was avoid leaving gaps at the back. We were trying to keep it as tight as we could and pull everything back the field.

“They only managed to open us up with 15 or 20 minutes to go – they managed to pull us out and brought on a few fresh bodies who got on the ball and did some damage. And you can see it happening from the sideline and you’re wondering how are you going to get the message out to them to get back into formation?”

The danger of leaving gaps at the back was illustrated by Shefflin’s seven-point haul from the 20 minutes after Waterford’s second goal, but even then the Déise refused to wilt.

A Kelly 65 dropped to the net between too many cooks on the Kilkenny line, and they still needed PJ Ryan to redeem himself late on with a reflex save from an Eoin Kelly snap shot. Breathless. Relentless. But still, when the smoke cleared, a Kilkenny win.

Davy Fitzgerald pointed out that teams are getting closer to Kilkenny on the scoreboard, and he may have offered the winners of the Limerick/ Tipperary semi-final a template to take into the All-Ireland final: to do what Kilkenny have been doing themselves for a few years, as the Clare man put it after the game.

However, the winners of Tipp-Limerick will have to reckon with Kilkenny’s appetite. Brian Cody wasn’t accommodating any suggestions yesterday that his side’s taste for glory had dulled.

“I make no bones about hunger – I never suggest that hunger will be up for grabs. It won’t be up for grabs. That’s intact. That’s there. The players who go out on the pitch and the players they represent on the sideline – there’s too much involved in that to ever give anything less than your best.”

They will also have to deal with Henry Shefflin. The big man has been King Henry in Kilkenny for some time, but on yesterday’s evidence he may need to be elevated to another stratum of royalty altogether.

FOR THE winners of Tipp-Limerick, read Meath in football. They put Mayo out of the championship in yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final at headquarters, and now face the football equivalent of Kilkenny in a couple of weeks’ time.

They should savour this victory first, though. Compared to the free-scoring tournament-game scorelines of the previous weekend, this All-Ireland SFC quarter-final was more what you expect of a championship game, with players’ resolve being tested in a game of incremental gains.

Mayo looked to have a foot in the semi-final when Aidan O’Shea touched home a Trevor Mortimer cross to put Mayo four up with twenty minutes left, but then the game really swung.

Cian Ward goaled from a penalty to cut it to one and Meath levelled it through David Bray, but there was plenty of discussion in the stands of the sideline ball which led to the penalty. The linesman appeared to have his flag up for a throw-in when Joe Sheridan made an executive decision and booted the ball into the Mayo red zone.

Meath’s competitive fire seared Mayo from there to the end. With a minute of regulation time left, substitute Jamie Queeney drove past a static Mayo defender committing an Under 12 mistake, waiting for a pass to arrive, and the Meathman won a ball he had no right to claim. When he curled over the point there were five between them.

It’s always tempting to over-analyse the little incidents and overdo conclusions about the overall game, but that was one instance that didn’t lie.

In the hurling game yesterday there was also plenty of evidence in the thousand miniature battles around the field – namely the fact that the Kilkenny number ten won most of them.

Have your cake and eat it

WELL, it’s nothing if not entertaining.

At the last count, the past fortnight has provided GAA events as diverse as Parnellgate 2: the reckoning and the exclusion zone around Croke Park for parking.

Our inner Einstein can’t help trying to draw such apparently unrelated events together in a kind of unified field theory of everything way – the brawl in Parnell Park a non-non-violent demonstration against the two-kilometre exclusion zone around Jones Road.

Probably a stretch, that one.

Events in Parnell Park defy belief. Dublin boss Paul Caffrey outlined last week why he didn’t feel his team was a dirty one, only for those same players to make him look rather foolish last Sunday. Either he doesn’t know his team or those players aren’t listening to him.

Isolated sendings-off such as those involving Mark Vaughan against Monaghan are one thing – a manager can explain those away. He can explain away his backroom staff running onto the field to assault opposition players if he sees fit, even if nobody’s buying it. Certainly a generalised dislike of the county team he’s in charge of isn’t something a manager has any great control over.

But a 29-man brawl, coming on the back of the last few weeks of Dublin’s disciplinary record?

It takes two to tango, or rhumba, or foxtrot, or whatever some of the participants last Sunday were up to, and Meath share the responsibility. What’s sharpening the knives of observers
everywhere is that Dublin have been getting nearer and nearer to crossing the line all season, and stepping over it so decisively and unambiguously is like a Christmas present for the commentariat.

What caused it?

It may be over-egging the pudding somewhat, but Meath had a tame exit from last year’s championship, and Dublin went under meekly to Armagh the previous week in the league. As a fixture to show you have hairs on your chest a clash with traditional neighbours and rivals is hard to beat. Maybe that was at the root of it.

As often happens, the associated commentary this week was almost as interesting as the incident itself. We were intrigued to hear Eugene McGee talking about the hatred that can exist between GAA teams and the mistaken idea that two teams can be all pals at the final whistle and put an hour’s combat behind them.

That sounds a bit extreme to us. If it were an hour or two, or maybe a week or two, it’s quite conceivable that the bile could still be tasted. But judging from Michael Foley’s excellent Kings of September, an account of the 1982 All-Ireland football final between McGee’s Offaly and Kerry, even mortal enemies can find peace eventually.

Still, the mere fact that a respected commentator like McGee floats the idea means it has to be given credence. His handle on that loosely defined creature, the culture of the GAA, means attention must be paid, and perhaps ‘good-natured rivalry’ is a loose term covering real enmity.

The most hilarious non-insight into the brawl and its surrounding mushroom-cloud of discussion came on Sunday Sport last weekend, when RTE’s Michael Lyster invited analyst Coman Goggins to comment on the festivities, saying “the media and the newspapers” would be full of the fight for the week ahead – while showing the brawl on national television.

If the papers and the media are on this side, are Michael and his colleagues handing down tablets of stone from the archbishop’s pulpit (The Diocese of Having Your Cake And Eating It)?

Anyway. To judge from Caffrey’s comments to this newspaper yesterday, hatred isn’t at the root of the trouble between Dublin and Meath. He said he rang Meath boss Colm Coyle after the brawl and they ended up laughing.

However, Caffrey said he felt the 16 players who faced suspension were being hung out to dry and the reaction since last Sunday has been over the top . . . while also saying the incident shouldn’t have happened and that Dublin are under scrutiny.

That being the case, he surely understands that that scrutiny comes in a context – that of Dublin’s performance this season so far. Accepting that you have a problem in the first place is the first step towards real change. But that raises another couple of questions: are Dublin in the mood for change? Do we want them to be any different?

And finally, we have to ask: was anyone done for ‘contributing to a melee’?

Contact: Michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

Business
as usual, just quieter than usual

AFTER the goings-on over the last couple
of months you might think the mini-spat
over Cork’s forfeiting of national league points is like another wearying chapter in a book that never seems to end.

Not a bit of it. After the Row That Dare Not Speak Its Name, a little run-of-the-mill crankiness, name-calling and finger-pointing is like a
holiday.

First things first. If Cork had been thrown out of the leagues, not having fulfilled fixtures in hurling and football, then nobody on Leeside could have had many complaints. (Although … hair-splitting though it may be, we understand the GAA agreed to defer the Meath football game, and that Cork were available to play
Waterford. Just saying).

What’s disappointing is the intransigence on the Dublin and Meath sides. You’d have hoped a little goodwill could have been generated to free up maybe a midweek clash with Dublin, for instance.

After all, it’s not as if the Dubs haven’t had goodwill extended to them in the past:
Westmeath were seriously discommoded when they had the throw-in for a championship game delayed because Dublin fans couldn’t make it from Clonliffe Road into Croke Park for the scheduled start time. But they played anyway.

Before we’re accused of bias, consider what one inter-county manager had this to say on the issue earlier in the week: “I’m very disappointed that counties like Meath and Dublin, who are held in such esteem, would take points in these circumstances. Could they not offer to re-fix the games with Cork at their convenience, maybe even in midweek?

“Meath were due to have home venue anyway and Dublin should get it too so why couldn’t they play those games in
midweek rather than having a training session? Who wants points if you don’t play for them?”

The thoughts of Monaghan football boss Seamus McEnaney. He’s not alone, by the way.

Earlier in the week Armagh manager Peter McDonnell said his side would have been agreeable to a re-fixture if one of the games Cork missed had been against the Orchard County. “It’s not about picking up points as if in a lottery,” said McDonnell. “What happened in Cork was unfortunate but we’re all GAA people so there should be a degree of
flexibility now that they’re back in the fold.

“From an Armagh perspective, I would not want points for a game we didn’t play. How much better off would we be in real terms by finishing higher up the table through points we didn’t earn on the pitch?”

Now, a cynic might point out that Monaghan and Armagh both share a division with Cork, Dublin and Meath, and that McEneaney and McDonnell have a vested interest.

But their points are valid, particularly the Monaghan manager’s. His side are being punished because Dublin and Meath are unwilling to help Cork out.

Everyone shouldn’t rush at once to make the point that the initial problem arose because of Cork’s strike. It was still within Dublin and Meath’s power to help re-fix those games, and they chose not to do so. The consequence which nobody seems willing to point out is that it makes an utter nonsense of the league, which is now a shambles halfway through February.

The contrast with Kilkenny’s attitude in the hurling league couldn’t be more striking.

The Cats’ eagerness to play Cork has been interpreted several ways, with explanations ranging from Kilkenny’s anxiety for hard games to an keenness to do the right thing for hurling.

On its merits, however, the generosity of Ned Quinn and Brian Cody is unlikely to be forgotten for a long time in Cork and further afield.

Another likely side effect is the strengthening of prejudices among hurling snobs everywhere.

The knowing looks and satisfied nods will be all the more knowing and satisfied after this
particular exchange, with artistocrats of the game putting aside petty considerations of bureaucracy and procedure for the wicked chuckle of hurleys as dust — or mud — rises in the small square . . . ahem. Back to normality all around, then.

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie