The Hurling Minnows

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Carlow Minor Hurling team 2006 was a breakthrough year not only for the county nicknamed ‘The Scallion Eaters’, but also for every minnow hurling county in Ireland. Reaching a Leinster final against Kilkenny was a huge achievement, especially for a county where success in any G.A.A. code is a rarity.

A decade later, 2017 Carlow are now celebrating winning a senior national title by winning the Christy Ring cup. A massive achievement from a small county against all the odds.

Unfortunately, the G.A.A. public were unable to witness this on our t.v. screens. Eight teams playing three national finals on the hollowed turf of Croke Park, and not a puck to be seen.

Think all the young kids in Carlow, looking to be inspired by hurlers in their county. Every summer they watch on their t.v. screens, Richie Hogan and Lee Chin from their neighbouring counties, and hope maybe some day to see a Carlow player do the same.

Enter James Doyle, Carlow’s four goal hero from the Christy Ring final. We all remember watching our heroes on t.v., and post match imitating their moves in our Back garden. I’m sure the name of James Doyle, especially around his St Mullins club, kids in this parish would of wanted to be him.

Unfortunately the powers that be have decided that our hurling county minnows in pockets around our small island dare not dream or be exposed on our national airwaves.

Saturday 4th June 2016, was indeed a dark day for hurling. What should of been a celebration in honour of great hurling men, Lory Meagher, Nicky Rackard, and Christy Ring, turned in to a farce.

In a year where we had seen hope for our second and third tier counties in hurling pockets across Ireland, the plug was pulled and these counties were let down yet again. Not only were the hurlers of Meath and Antrim the losers, but the progress which has been made in Kerry, Westmeath, Carlow, and every other minnow county.

These teams train just as hard, and make the same sacrifices as any of the top tier teams that make it to All Ireland final day. To Sligo, Louth, Mayo, Armagh, Antrim and Meath, this was their All Ireland final day in Croke Park. Every players dream, to play a national final in G.A.A. headquarters.

Human error I can accept, but not having ‘hawk eye’ available for three national finals is disrespectful to players, managers, supporters, and hurling folk across the length and breath of the country.

To see a Meath hurling team lift the Christy Ring cup and celebrate their All Ireland title, only to be told days later that they must replay is extraordinary and would certainly not happen with the top tier teams.

Sunday 20th March on a spring day in Birr, the Kerry hurlers had their biggest win in decades. For the little pockets of hurling rebels in the Kingdom, places like Kilmoyley, Ballyduff ( All Ireland winners in 1891)and Ardfert etc.,days like this are a credit to the work being done in the football kingdom.

Zak Moradi might not be a household name in hurling households across the country, however his story in hurling folklore is truly amazing. An Iraqi born Leitrim hurler, who last year was named on the Lory Meagher Cup best fifteen, and who also represented Ireland at U21 level against our Scottish Shinty counterparts.

At the age of 11 his family moved to Carrick-On- Shannon where he was introduced to a love of hurling. Four years later he moved to Dublin and began developing his hurling skills at a higher level.

Now 26, Zak never forgot his Leitrim G.A.A. connection and has been hurling for their cause across the country and gracing our sacred turf in Croke Park.

Not only is his own personal story truly amazing, but his commitment to Leitrim, his commute from Dublin, his own admission that Leitrim have only four hurling clubs, that he feels obliged to put his shoulder to the wheel. This hurler should be a household name and an inspiration for non nationalists in Ireland to play our national sport. Who needs Sky Sports to spread the word of our national games to a global audience, when marketing a Zak Moradi and telling his story to the sporting world would promote our games no end.

The hills of Antrim have always echoed a strong voice in their love for hurling. The Saffrons biggest achievement was playing in the All Ireland final of 1989. Since then the hurling stronghold has struggled along with the rest of the football dominated counties in Ulster. Still it was encouraging to see Derry winning the Nicky Rackard cup on Saturday, defeating Armagh in a provincial showdown.

Donal Og Cusack has been a strong advocate for a ‘Team Ulster’, where the very best players from each county have a realistic chance of competing at the top tier in the All Ireland championship.

While the idea is fascinating and well intentioned, a traditional county like Antrim would never go for it. It is at least an idea that is worth a debate at Congress and at Ulster Council.

Our hurling minnows, scattered in pockets across our football dominated counties will always be the poor relation. County boards will always favour their football teams first, and at Congress a vote cannot be passed without the same county boards voting on a radical way forward.

One man who tried to make a difference was former Laois hurling manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett. Frustrated and bemused, he resigned in 2016 where he felt he was hitting a brick wall. Let ‘Cheddar’ have the last word, and express what all the hurling minnows are feeling.

I’ve been saying it for three years. It’s time for somebody here to wake up and decide how this thing is going to be done better. Because certainly what is being done in the last 30 years is not working.

We need somebody to look at this differently and take advantage of the opportunities that are arising. And I’d be saying exactly the same thing about Westmeath and Carlow and other counties. They are giving everything they can to prove themselves. And that’s not easy. We’re a small county. We just don’t have the revenues generating that other counties have.

“Will people continue to sit on their hands while all these people do all this work and an opportunity is here ? I can’t keep asking that question often enough.

“It’s about a complete vision for hurling. How we’re going to promote the game. What is the objective here ? Is the objective for the next 40 years to have an All-Ireland championship where only three counties can win it ? Because we’ve had that for the last 40 years.

“If that what they want, let them stand up and be honest and say it.

“And we’ll all go away and do something else. But if the vision is to support people like us in what we’re doing, let them stand back and say what has worked before isn’t working and let’s do something different.

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Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, In Cork GAA


August 2015 was a defining moment in Cork football. This was the day that a committee was selected to pick the next Cork football manager. Three former players, Nicholas Murphy, John O’Driscoll, and John Coleman were the men chosen with the task. However, the county board had to have their say, so Frank Murphy (county secretary), and Ger Lane (county chairman), invited themselves on board. An unusual mix of former footballers and administrators, there was always going to be one winner.

A list of four candidates was drawn up, John Cleary, Ronan McCarthy, Ephie Fitzgerald, and Ned English. These were the preferred choices and were going to be the men interviewed. The dogs on the street knew that John Cleary was the clear favourite and the rest were just token candidates. However, John Cleary had other ideas, and the fact he was overlooked by the county board on the previous occasion, he was not going to play ball now to satisfy the hierarchy.

Fast forward to October 2015, and Peader Healy is appointed as Cork Senior football manager. The  Cork G.A.A. public were drip fed stories of senior players requesting the appointment of Healy to the county board. As a selector/coach in the Conor Counihan era, some players enjoyed his training methods and felt he could add something. How true this is nobody knows. Who interviewed Peader Healy, nobody knows. Was this a county board recruitment ? What role did the selection committee have on his appointment ?

Since August 2015, the process was flawed. A selection committee that included two county board members were always going to have the final say on any candidate. No matter what way you look at it, Peader Healy was a county board appointment. We have never heard any comments from Nicholas Murphy, John O’Driscoll and John Coleman since. Even last year, Billy Morgan described the appointment as being ‘parachuted’ in to the role unfairly as manager.

What happened last Sunday against Clare, should come as no surprise. There has been a naievity on the sideline for a long time now. Rewind to our last championship match against Donegal in Croke Park. A game which was there for the taking, Cork lined up with a defensive system which allowed Donegal’s Paddy McBrearty to score seven points from play. 

“we must see a major improvement from our team management and players in the league and championship in 2017”

Ger Lane (Cork County Board Chairman)

Cork footballers have needed an outside manager since 2013. The modern game has bypassed Cork, the players are not convinced with the style of play they are supposed to play. The most frustrating thing of all is the fact that Cork have a very talented bunch of players. They need to be inspired by an outside voice with fresh ideas and a new way of thinking.

Don’t tell me that Brian O’Driscoll, Conor Dorman, Aidan Walsh, Sean Powter, Colm O’Neill, Brian Hurley and Paul Kerrigan, to mention just a few, are inferior players to what Mayo have at present ? Look at what Malachy O’Rourke has done with Monaghan. Aside from one superstar in Conor McManus, Monaghan are playing a structured game plan implemented by the manager, and understood by the players. 

 “Fiddling while Rome burns”, comes to mind when trying to explain what’s going on in Cork at present. The Cork county board have been sleep walking through the last decade of our sport, and the results in both codes, especially at underage proves that. We are now building a stadium with a centre of excellence which has one pitch. Our footballers took it upon themselves this year to pick a gym and pitch in Fermoy to do their training in. Imagine the Dublin County board telling Jim Gavin and his players they have no training facilities at the start of the year !

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” was once said by a Corkman who set high standards both on and off the field of play. Roy Keane would never play for the Cork footballers especially if you compare our training set up to the likes of Kerry or Dublin. Aspiring to being the best should be a goal for every Cork footballer. 

When Pairc Ui Caoimh was knocked to the ground, the masterplan should of been to build the best Centre of excellence,which would inspire the next generation to train in. The aim from the county board should be that in 10 years time, the best young players will be from Cork, training in the most modern,state of the art training facility in the country. Instead, the boards media machine are rolling out updated pictures of the new stadium without any mention of the centre of excellence.

Mismanagement and a misunderstanding of what is required in preparing modern players , could see Cork with a new stadium, but with Tipperary,Waterford, Clare, Limerick, and Kerry filling it on Munster final day. Are we going to see Bruce Springsteen and not Sam Maguire being paraded on to our new stadium with a parade of chipper vans on our one practice pitch? This stadium needs to be funded, and underachieving teams will not do that. So what will be the priority of the county board over the next few years ?

When you think of the great Cork teams and players of the past, it’s very hard to visualise a future of success with what’s going on. Gyms in Fermoy, and managers being parachuted in should not sit well with both players and the general public.

The county board have made these decisions, the buck stops with them. Peader Healy is a good footballing man, unfortunately he has found himself in an environment through no fault of his own where he is not up to the task. The players also need to take some responsibility. However I feel a talented bunch of players would follow a leader who would give clarity to a game plan and inspiration to achieve their goals. There are good managers out there, there are good footballers in Cork. 

As Dublin GAA wait for planning to build a state of the art training facility in the Spawell grounds, and Kerry in the process of building their centre of excellence in Killarney, Corks new facility is full steam ahead. I wonder in 5 years time when we compare and contrast the trio of facilities, will Pairc Ui Caoimhs facility cater for the modern day athlete ? Will we look on in envy as Dublin and Kerry push out the boundaries even more, with multiple training pitches along with up to date in house facilities.

To put it in context, the new training facility for Liverpool FC at Kirkby, includes a new covered artificial pitch, a pool and hydrotherapy complex, gymnasium and specialist sports rehabilitation suites…dare to dream !

The Cork hurlers have recruited Gary Keegan, former high performance director with Irish boxing, as an advisor. The high performance centre was a resounding success. Irish boxing won numerous Olympic and World medals, and was the envy of the boxing world.

With his limited role with the Cork hurlers, who better to advise Cork GAA on how to set up the best facility for our own high performance centre. I wonder has he even seen the site, or even met a county board member ?

All Irelands are not only won on the pitch, the goal to winning starts with the best facilities, best coaches, and best administrators to create a culture of excellence. We are already a decade behind the top tier of teams, we now need to catch up before we lose a generation of young players to competing sports. Over to you Cork County Board.

“Let no one say the best hurlers belong to the past, they’re with us now and better yet to come”

Christy Ring

Managing Expectations – Our GAA Manager

 Another season over, our inter-county manager can dream once more for their county’s fortunes for 2017. With county club championships in full flow at present, they must keep their powder dry until at least mid December to unleash his masterplan for the new year.

Identifying new players and rejigging his backroom team, are about as much as our bannisteoir can do for now. But realistically what are his goals for the new season ? What would be seen as a successful season for his players, county board, supporters, and national media ?

The pressure and demands on our modern G.A.A. manager are huge. We may envy the professionalism of Dublin, the resources, and financial support. But for Jim Gavin, not winning Sam Maguire any year is failure. The same with all of our top managers, who will find an even more demanding public and media next season.

It was refreshing to see county boards being realistic over the last couple of months and supporting their managers. Kerry have reappointed Eamon Fitzmaurice, while Monaghan and Armagh have backed Malachy O’Rourke and Kieran McGeeney.

Three counties that have different aspirations and targets to fulfill. Armagh looking to be competitive again, need to develop young players within a project. Who better than Kieran McGeeney to achieve this. Monaghan have already won two Ulster titles under Malachy O’Rourke, a county where success is rare. With an Ulster u-21 title this year, these young players would benefit from working under an experienced coach like O’Rourke. Monaghan have been transformed from being middle tier to top eight contenders under his stewardship.

Kerry is a different beast, a bad year is losing an All Ireland final. No excuses, win Sam Maguire, win with style, win again next year. Managing Barcelona or Real Madrid would be an easier gig. Kerry now have a real challenge. They know now that they are realistically the second best team in the country. ‘Operation beat Dublin’ is a mission that both their county board and Eamon Fitzmaurice know is a real challenge. With back to back minor success, keeping their senior manager is the best news for every Kerry supporter. Why would you get rid of Fitzmaurice when tactically he has done everything to maximise Kerry’s potential. Dublin are just better at present, fact.

Every tactical decision made by our G.A.A. manager is now highlighted by our media. Make the right decision and you’re a hero, make the wrong one and your career is tarnished. Take for example Stephen Rochford’s decision to drop his goalkeeper in the All Ireland Football final replay. A huge call by any manager to make, a gutsy call, but was it brave or foolish ? Did it decide the outcome of the game ?
Jim Gavin also made huge calls that people tend to forget. Dropping his marquee forward Bernard Brogan and midfielder Michael Dara McAuley, two of his senior players, could of backfired. However, both players along with the introduction of Cormac Costello swung the game in the Dubs favour. Decisions, decisions, who would be a manager ?

Since the end of the hurling championship, management vacancies sprung up in Limerick, Clare, Wexford, and Offaly. Four counties with great traditions, passionate supporters, and all at a crossroads. Will they ever see glory days again with a new manager on board ?
Last year proved that reaching an All Ireland was deemed as failure for the players in Mayo and Galway. Win at all costs, losing deemed a travesty. Disgracefully in both Mayo and Galway their managers were forced to resign as player power took over. Managers who did nothing wrong only lead their teams to All Ireland finals,time for players to stand up.

When the Cork hurlers striked in 2002, at least they could back it up with All Ireland medals. A just cause where players felt the county board were not matching their ambitions.

The modern day player sacrifices his life to play inter county. However over the last few years we have never seen players being accountable for results. The buck stops with the manager, decisions off the field have seen many managers take a hit for their players. But what about the forward who kicks four wides, or defender who gets cleaned out from his opposing forward ?

Under the microscope of the G.A.A. media, managers are under pressure to play the modern game, blanket defence, sweepers etc. Fortune favours the brave, and maybe one day  in the near future a manager will show us another way. Who knows, even back to a traditional style of play.
Imagine, a team playing with three half forwards and three full forwards. Even a hurling team playing ground hurling as we were thought as kids. ” Let the ball do the work”, was always the advice we were given by our coaches as kids. Is it possible such traditional tactics will be implemented by a manager ? Someone who wants to step away from the safer option for players of the ‘possession game’.
The modern manager has immersed himself in statistics. Player A had 20 possessions, ran 10 km, hand passed 12 times etc. Sometimes blinkered by such information, managers see this as acceptable instead of demanding more responsibility from players. Maybe from the 20 possessions, we should see more creativity and return to maximise each play and players skill set.

In the division 4 league football final of 2015, both managers of Offaly and Longford felt their championship meeting was more important. Winning a national final in Croke park was not their number one priority. The same weekend, Dublin destroyed Cork in the division 1 final. Post match Jim Gavin stated the league final is a ‘blue riband event, that’s what we’re hunting for’.
Managers at different scales of the G.A.A. spectrum need to manage their own expectations. Sometimes accepting second if your team are true to their values should be deemed as success.

With a new season almost upon us, each manager starts with a blank canvass. Is there a new breed of manager out there brave enough to shake things up ? Someone willing to challenge their players and demanding a change in the negative style of our modern day coaching.

Cork hurling manager Kieran Kingston has stated that next season he will give youth a chance. I hope for his own sake that he is true to his word. The Cork public need to accept this and also realise that this may mean a lot of frustrating days ahead. Cork hurling needs a strong manager who implements a style of hurling which is suited to a young team.

A perfect example of a manger who is given a project to develop a new team. Will the public and county board give him time to do this ? Only time will tell.

Even the greatest manager of the modern era, Brian Cody isn’t safe from crtiscism. A defeat in the All Ireland final, and already Ger Loughnane has questioned Cody’s motivation in staying on as manager.

The same for Derek McGrath as Waterford bannisteoir. McGrath has stuck with a system which has now put Waterford as genuine All Ireland contenders. However, two Munster final defeats and All Ireland semi finals means that McGrath is under pressure next year. Is there a better manager in Waterford to guide this group of players ? Absolutely not, but these are the pressures which our current managers are under.

Managing expectations can sometimes inhibit the modern day inter-county manager, results and success are the only acceptable outcomes. Only two managers, one in each code will be successful at the end of the year. How many will survive, only the cut and trust of championship will tell.

Managing The Cork Hurlers


Firstly can I say that losing by nine points to Tipperary was no surprise. This Cork team has lost it’s mojo, and managing the Cork hurlers is now more a mental exercise for Kieran Kingston and his backroom team than a discussion on tactics. How could a team that have taken heavy defeats by Tipperary in the All Ireland semi final of 2014, and again by Galway in last years quarter finals, followed by a dismal league campaign this year, suddenly find form ?

Emotions are running high in Cork as a proud hurling county search for a modern hurling identity. Blaming the county board, lack of training pitches, the players, and manager is now too late, that ship has sailed. Let’s focus on the present and reality in the cold light of day. The players are a committed group of players who are mentally on the canvas.

Kieran Kingston and his backroom team need time, and any criticism on sweepers and lack of performance is unwarranted and unnecessary. Cork were fragile heading in to this game, and the thought of Seamus Callinan and ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer bearing down on goal without any sweeper system would of been very naive. However the way it was implemented and the choice of player utilised for this role may be questioned.  

It was also disappointing to hear seasoned pundits criticising Cork’s decision to stick to the sweeper system with twenty minutes to go. Many thought it should of been abandoned, but I feel it was a correct decision to stick with the plan. The game was over at this stage and a new system needs to be persevered with in order for it to work. 

No player is to blame for this defeat. Cork have individually excellent players, but as a team not enough. A decade of mediocracy at underage level certainly does not help any future planning, but that’s yesterday’s news, too late now to complain about. It’s the now we’re in and the future is the goal. But how to get there ?

Let’s start with the basics. How many of the current Cork panel will be playing in the football championship over the next few weeks compared to Tipperary and Kilkeeny ? This statistic alone would be staggering. How can any dual player compete with full time hurlers in the modern era, where precision in application and total dedication to succeed is where the top players now aspire to. To maximise your potential you cannot be masters to two codes anymore.

Kieran Kingston along with his selectors are all genuine hurling people who are looking to the future while managing the present. Development squads are in place and players have been dropped. Their next job now is to train their minds and not their bodies. Confidence is at an all time low, players are wounded and Cork people’s pride is broken. 

On the positive side, Cork will not meet a team like Tipperary in the qualifiers, worst case scenario would be Dublin. A good run in the qualifiers would certainly build confidence and maybe a defeat by a couple of points against one of the top teams would be seen as progress. However we are where we are, and there’s no getting away from this.

The Cork public will always expect success from their senior hurling team, but it is now important to look at our minor and u21 teams over the next few years, and hope that the work which has started in our Rebel Og academies shows proof of progression.

Nobody is hurting more now than the players themselves. Their pride has been questioned, their resolve to be tested. I have no doubt we will see a performance from this team when they play again, I believe every player will not be found wanting. 

No matter what they say, players do read newspapers, listen to radio and look up social media. A negative vibe of course effects performance and mental resolve. We now have players that must come out fighting and prove to themselves that they can play better than they have shown.

The main topic of discussion over the last few days was the ‘sweeper’, and whether or not Cork will go back to the traditional way for their next game ? I personally believe that some defensive structure needs to be implemented, but in a way which can turn defence in to attack. 

Managements resolve will also be tested in the coming weeks. Their ability to manage a crisis is now critical as well as their application to their players and their style of play will be monitored by all.

Hurling needs a strong Cork competing, but Cork need to sort out it’s hurling culture and modernise it’s structures in order to compete.

Every Inter-County GAA Team Need Their Clutch Players


With the league campaign over for another season, the GAA season now turns to the business end of the cut and thrust of championship fare. Analysis of the league campaign has gone in to overdrive as pundits across the country give their opinions of who’s up and who’s down compared to last season. What teams are struggling, who can beat the Dublin footballers, are Kerry past their prime, is there a new generation of hurling teams emerging, are Kilkenny past it ? 

All these opinions have been written about in great detail, but without any real foundations to back them up. Granted the league is an important barometer to gauge how ones team is progressing, and an opportunity to blood a couple of young players, it is also however a time where teams are building up a base of fitness,strength & conditioning work, and key players rehabbing from post championship operations.

Taking everything in to consideration, we must evaluate every teams starting league fifteen and the big names that are missing waiting to return for championship action.

Kilkenny and Kerry, the two most successful teams in both their respective codes have taken the brunt of criticism for their     losses. Kilkenny for their defeat against Clare in the league semi final have been labelled as “functional” and too reliant on Richie Hogan and T.J. Reid. While the Kingdom footballers are seen to have too many players past their prime.

We now have a GAA media and supporter who now analyse each game and player to such a degree that failure or mediocracy is highlighted to the nation every day. 

Remember,it is the month of May, preparation has moved in to overdrive, players are now primed for battle. Management have now a full panel to work from, the selections made back on a wet and windy training pitch in February are now totally different to the ones that need to be made now. Debutants who started in the league along with new formations and systems will be debated before final decisions are made for championship. However, one thing is for sure, the Kerry’s and Kilkenny’s will be ready along with their clutch players.

The term “clutch player” is often used in American sports to define a key player who makes the big plays down the stretch, the last five or ten minutes in a game. When analysing the national league in both codes, you also have to consider such players that were not available for their county teams.

Take Kilkenny as an example, look at the personnel that were not available for selection. Paul Murphy, Michael Fennelly and Eoin Larkin have all been absent throughout. Kerry have been without Anthony Maher, James O’Donoghue and Paul Geaney. All six players have excelled in major games throughout their careers and will make a huge difference to their teams in future championship matches.

Dublin are without doubt clear favourites to retain the All Ireland football championship, but Jim Gavin knows that even with the country’s strongest panel he is still reliant on a number of key clutch players to get over the line. A Dublin team minus Stephen Cluxton, Cian O’Sullivan and Bernard Brogan, could be detrimental to their aspirations of success. Each player who have made key decisions and big plays throughout their championship careers. 

Stephen Cluxton’s kick out strategy, especially against the top teams has seen Dublin’s possession stats as the best in the country. Cian O’Sullivan is now heralded as the best sweeper in the game, his reading of the game, his intercepts and his link up play makes him the first name on Jim Gavin’s team sheet for every game. Remember last years All Ireland when Cian O’Sullivan was not fully fit but was still selected. Bernard Brogan is one of 10 or 12 quality forwards that Dublin could choose from on any given day. The elder statesman of the forward line, Brogan has always made the big plays, the first goal, a free from a 50/50 ball, an assist that leads to a score, an electricity from the crowd when he receives the ball. Of all the forwards at their disposal, he still is the one forward Dublin cannot do without when an All Ireland final is at stake and you need a big play or a vital score.

 Both Clare and Waterford hurlers have had very successful hurling league campaigns, but imagine Davy Fitzgerald having to plan without a Tony Kelly, Colin Ryan or John Conlon. The same can be said for Derek McGraths Waterford having to plan without Austin Gleeson, Tadgh De Burca or Kevin Moran.

If ever there was the definition of a clutch player, you need look no further than the replayed league final between these two teams when Tony Kelly stepped up with a vital free from distance and sublime strike from the sideline in injury time, proved the difference. Clutch play, clutch player, down the stretch. 

Every team in the country has got their clutch players, however the successful teams seem to have more. The same can be said for all the great teams that have played team sports through the ages. How successful would the Chicago Bulls basketball team have been without Michael Jordan, Barcelona football team without Lionel Messi, or Sri Lanka cricketers without Sachin Tendulkar ? Big players make the big plays. Teammates rely on these players to be the leaders on the pitch, managers want them to lead by example on and off the pitch.

Throughout the history of the GAA, the most successful teams had their marquee players. Cork had Christy Ring, Tipperary had John Doyle, the Offaly footballers had Matt Connor, even the great Kerry footballers needed an engine like Jack O’Shea to set the tone. 

The scene is set for Championship 2016 to begin. The league means nothing now, only a template for the teams who did well and a warning for the rest that changes need to be made, and fast. The championship is a different animal to league, teams feed off the energy from the crowd, this is different, this means more to everyone. The star players are in a different zone to a wet and windy day in Febuary, this is what they have trained for all year, the championship.

Ice hockey’s greatest ever player, Wayne Gretzky was once asked, “what is it like to be in overtime of the deciding game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, knowing that there are 10 seconds left and that puck will be passed to you? “

His response was, “I live the whole season for that moment.”

Over the course of the league we have seen many examples of young players ready to make the step up to being that key player for their teams, the ability to play, defend and score at crucial times during a game. How many will we see over the course of championship 2016 ?

There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

Tommy Lasorda (Baseball coach)

The Goalkeepers Union

  

” Paddy dashed back to his goal like a woman who smells a cake burning….”

The words of the great journalist Con Houlihan,describing the now infamous goal scored by Mikey Sheehy against Paddy Cullen in the 1978 All Ireland final. A very talented goalkeeper who made many a great save for his native Dublin, but will always be remembered for that one goal. Who would be a goalkeeper ?

However, the role of the modern net minder is more than just saving shots and clearing your line. The new generation are now seen as the most important tacticians in both our codes. Possession is king, so both kick outs and puck outs are now key components in the age of blanket defences and sweeper systems.

The current goalkeeper is no longer regarded as the best shop stopper or the longest hitter, but the most accurate from restarts. We also have our goalies scoring frees and we won’t even talk about the ‘Nash rule’ !

However, it was not always this way. Who can remember Noel Skehan’s shovel like hurley and Ger Cunningham’s booming puck outs, or Charlie Nelligan’s rugby boots and John O’Leary without any gloves. 

The plan for restarts was strike it long and to hell with tactics. Hit your midfielders in football, and your half forwards in hurling, simple. Former Dublin goalkeeper Mick Pender explains it perfectly in an article with Hogan Stand magazine back in 1992.

“I always had a very weak kick out. I couldn’t rise the ball at all until I was about 20 or so, but then I noticed that nearly all inter county keepers were wearing rugby boots, so I bought a pair and they have worked for me. I can kick it to 70 or 75 yards now, either with or against the wind. There is technique involved, rather like a golf shot – just head down and follow through.”

Imagine this tactic being implemented by our current crop of keepers, where speed of thought, finesse, and the ability to find a teammate with a chipped kick pass off the tee or a flick of the writs with the hurl is the norm.
  
The modern goalkeepers are tactically astute, quick minded, with the ability to score from frees, and most important of all, a kicking foot or hurling swing that has the ability to hit short to medium restarts. The pressure to appease the statisticians with possession and puck out stats, makes the goalkeeper the most important player in the game. Failure to hit high percentage possession figures is now seen as unacceptable, even though you might be a world class shot stopper.
The Cork footballers have tried four different goalkeepers in this years national league campaign. A weak midfield and lack of ball winners in this sector of the field means Cork are looking for a keeper who can hit the darts from mid range around the half back line or in the hole between half back and midfield. With such a high rate of goalkeepers over seven matches, experimenting with a pivotal position was another reason why Cork were relegated. However the Cork backroom team obviously deemed it necessary to find their quarter back come Championship time.

Our hurling goalkeepers have also evolved. From the hurling bag our goalies are choosing an iron instead of a driver to find their men. The short puck out is now seen as a better option, as the opposition are withdrawing their forwards to leave room for defenders or sweepers to gain possession.

Stats have shown that a hurling puck out at inter county level which takes over 10 seconds to be delivered favours the opposition as they set up to defend it. Imagine that, less than 1o seconds to make a decision once a ball sails over your head, to make a decision, to find your man, to refocus and deliver.

Stephen Cluxton has revolutionised the art of the football goalkeeper. Never before have we seen the importance of the kick out performed so astutely and consistently by any other player. But this did not happen by chance. Cluxton has been ahead of the game for a long time.

Over the last six or seven years Cluxton has been practising his kick outs in training with a 600g ball instead of the regular match ball which weighs 450g. This might explain his accuracy of distribution from close to mid range, where the lighter match ball must feel much easier to control.

Not only is he accurate from kick outs, in 2013 he scored a total of 21 pts from placed balls in all competitions. His greatest achievement of course is that famous winning free to win the All Ireland in 2011. Not bad for a player whose main role is to stop scores !

The first controversy over restarts was when legendary hurling goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, was controversially dropped by then manager Babs Keating back in 2007. How could such a key player, a leader, one of Tipps most experienced players be dropped over his puck outs ? However, in today’s tactical environment, this would not be seen as a huge surprise.

Donal Og Cusack was the first hurling goalkeeper to introduce the short puck out strategy, which has revolutionised the game and the ‘grip it and rip it’ style of goalkeeping is now but a distant memory. Donal Og was and still is a deep thinker of the game, and along with Corks effective possession tactic, he orchestrated the game plan to perfection.

We now see the short puck being implemented as a play by every hurling goalkeeper in the country. 

Of course such tactics are high risk, just ask Donegal football net minder Paul Durcan. In the 2014 All Ireland, with the game in the melting pot, Durcan inexplicably chipped the ball in to Kerry forward Kieran Donaghy’s hands, and the goal which insued was a major part of Kerry winning.

Durcans tactical kick outs were a major play for Donegal that year, and a key play which Kerry knew they had to unlock. Such analysis was unheard of back in the days of our rugby boot wearing  custodians. Kick it long and kick it high was the tactic.

Kerry had their homework done, and by pushing up on the goalkeepers restarts, Durcan was unable to utilise his kicking strategy which in turn led to his fatal error. Such detail and goalkeeping analysis is now key to every teams defensive strategy, as the possession stats are revealed to the nation every Monday morning.

Kicking tactics will certainly come to the fore when the mark will be introduced to our games in 2018. Once a goalkeeper kicks the ball past the 45, a player who catches a ball in mid air can call for a mark. Will such a play see another change to restarts ? Will the reward of a mark see the return to the booming kick out and the end to the modern goalkeeper ?

With an average of 23 restarts a game, kicking tees, and hurling swings, the goalkeeping position is now the most demanding and presurised position in our inter county games. The present crop of players have set a high standard for our future players, but the past players were also heroes and inspirational figures to many.

Players such as Art Foley, Wexford, Ned Power, Waterford, Ollie Walsh, Kilkenny, all heroes in hurling folklore, to Noel Skehan, Kilkenny, Ger Cunningham, Cork, Brendan Cummins, Tipperary, and Damien Fitzhenry, Wexford.

Special mention also goes out to Kilkenny’s PJ Ryan for one of the finest performances by a goalkeeper in an All Ireland final back in 2009.

Johnny Geraghty, Galway, Billy Morgan, Cork, Martin Furlong, Offaly, John O’Leary, Dublin, John Kerins, Cork, all produced wonderful saves through a golden generation of football and inspired many to do the same.

None of these players knew nothing of helmets, protective cups, gloves or kicking tees, but they all have one thing in common. Be it past or present they have all given us great memories, and are united as members of the goalkeepers union.

Rebel-ution Needed In Cork G.A.A.

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“There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” , to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The same can be said about the state of Cork hurling after Saturday’s lame performance.

Like a Shakepearean tragedy played out in the amphitheatre of Croke Park, there were heroes, villains, and for all us Cork supporters, tragedy in the end.

In truth I went to headquarters more in hope than expectation, just to see how bad things actually are with the rebels. Even though our footballers put on a performance that showed some character and structure, our hurlers were not only inept, they were ruderless.

The signs were not good coming in to the hurling game,as management and players all week talked up Corks performance against Waterford as being better than the match against Galway, and also how they finished strongly and were unlucky in the end not to draw.

It’s understandable that management and players talk this way, keeping things positive and not rocking the both, but to the outside observer, both performances were unacceptable and Cork needed to prove a point against a team of similar mental frailties as themselves.

From the start I was worried, looking down from the Cusack stand Corks set up was amazing. This was a game not to lose no matter what, a time to set up with a solid defensive shape, bodies around the middle of the pitch and quick ball to our inside forward line.

Instead, we started with two of the smallest midfielders in inter county hurling, no bodies behind the ball, no structure or no plan. If dropping Bill Cooper in between the half back line and midfield is the best defensive system we can come up with, then it was going to be a long night.

Every puck out Anthony Nash went long with was won by Dublin. Not one outfield player can win possession in the air. This left our frustrated goalkeeper no choice but to go the short route which Dublin pressed up on and more trouble ensued.

Kilkenny are the greatest hurling team of all time, not for doing great things on the pitch, but for doing the simple things consistently great. Every player on their panel has fine tuned the basic skills of the game, and this can be seen in every Kilkenny team, be it minor, U21, or Senior.

Corks hurling structure has pyrite and the cracks are evident in our senior team, a legacy of poor forward planning, improper structures and a lack of vision.

An example of this could be seen last Saturday night when the best hurling coach in Cork was managing the opposition. Yes there is a lack of underage players coming through,but on Saturday the first three players to be subsituted were Daniel Kearney, Pa Cronin and Stephen McDonnell. McDonnell our current captain, Pa Cronin, former captain, and Daniel Kearney our most experienced midfielder.

Every team needs leaders, men the rest follow in to battle, players who lead by example, set the tone, make the big plays. The problem with our hurlers is not only the lack of young players, but the form of our experienced so called leaders who would not make any other top inter county team.

It is easy to blame the players but management have also got to take some responsibility. When Kieran Kingston took over, one of his first decisions was to appoint Stephen McDonnell as captain and relieve Anthony Nash of his duties. To me this was a bizarre decision. Anthony Nash ticks all the boxes of what a captain should be to Cork. He leads by example as Cork’s most consistent player over the last few years, is guaranteed his place, and is one of the teams most experienced players.

Corks obsession with the traditional values of the ancient game of hurling is honourable, however the modern game is now about structure and defensive set ups, where rotation of players and speed of foot rather than ball is the modern twist of ‘let the ball do the running’.

When Derek McGrath first took over Waterford, his first decision was to give his players a structure of play which made them defensively sound and difficult to beat. He was heavily criticised by a lot of hurling folk in his own county for being too negative and for not playing a Waterford brand of attacking hurling. Need we say more?

When Kieran Kingston took over along with his selectors, I was expecting to see a similar approach. After what happened to Cork last year, it was evident that Cork have a soft underbelly, a steely resolve and a defensive set up was urgently needed. Instead, what we have seen so far is the same players, in the same positions, making the same mistakes, under new management.

The county board have also a lot to answer for. How can you plan for the future when you allow an asset like Diarmuid ‘The Rock’ O’Sullivan leave the u-16 hurlers where he has done trojan work over the last couple of years. A former player held in high regard, coaching our young players, who in turn learn from an icon of the game

 It felt over the last few years like a plan had been implemented, and surely now Diarmuid O’Sullivan would nurture these talented crop of players all the way to minor grade. Similar to what the Dublin county board implemented years ago with their juvenile inter county football teams.  We now see the fruits of this where Ciaran Whelan is part of this years Dublin minor football team, a journey which started with these players five, six years ago at juvenile grade. Whelan has taken these players under his wing, nurtured and developed them in to young footballing men ready for the adult game.

Sadly our county board could not see sense in keeping with this formula, and allowed a successful underage coach who has built up a special relationship with a talented underage team to fragment.

The shift of power in Munster hurling now sees Cork ranked fifth in the pecking order. A proud hurling county that has produced some of the best players that have ever played the game. Granted the strikes did not help, and it certainly distanced some of our retired former great players from working with the county board, or indeed our under age teams in the near future.

It is so disheartening to see the lack of the basic skill sets bereft from the current Cork team. Unable to catch a high ball, running off the shoulder, blocking, hooking, and tackling in groups. It is unacceptable to hear that Cork don’t have ball winners. Just look at Richie Hogan (Kilkenny) or Jake Dillon (Waterford), two of the smallest players in the country, but their ability to win high or low ball, work rate, energy and defensive mindset, is a lesson for any forward in the country and a building block for any future Cork hurler to study.

The modern game is passing Cork by, the players don’t have the tools to adapt from the old traditional style game to the present day equivalent. Our best coaches are not been utilised, and some have moved to other counties. Cork need a fix, a style that can be replicated at every inter county level. A style where forwards can defend, and defenders can attack. A vision for up and coming players, a pride in wearing the red and white of Cork, ‘the blood and bandage’.

In order to have a vision you need visionaries, leaders who aspire to succeed. In the Cork County Board I feel the focus is on the past and on the new redeveloped Pairc Ui Caoimh, which is necessary, but worthless if we don’t have successful teams to fill it.

On leaving Croke Park with a heavy heart, my mind cast back to the great men who wore the Cork jersey with pride. Christy Ring, Jack Lynch, Ray Cummins, Charlie McCarthy, John Fenton, Brian Corcoran Diarmuid O’Sullivan. Of course observers will cling to the hope that it is only March and only the league, but ‘beware the ides of March’, as the championship edges closer, and the same old problems remain the same. Cork have always done things the Cork way, at the moment it’s not working, and has not been for a long time.

G.A.A. Players – Elite or Unique ?

 

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The definition of Elite sportspeople is one with no clear definition. World class athletes, Olympians, High performance athletes, are all mentioned but which bracket do our inter-county G.A.A. players fall in to ?

Once Kieran McGeeney opened up a can of worms by stating that G.A.A. players were not elite athletes, the debate has continued from current players criticising the former player and Armagh manager.

McGeeney believes that ” you can’t say you are elite if you do two or three nights a week at something”.

“I still can’t see where G.A.A. players train that hard, despite what people say. Any other sport trains much harder. If you look at a rower, a swimmer, a cyclist in this country. We are all competing at an amateur level.”

But does he have a point?

Our amateur G.A.A. players and inter-county teams have surrounded themselves with modern day training techniques. Sports science is now part and parcel of our games,with strengh and conditioning coaches, nutritionists and sports psychologists at the very core of our association.

A professional approach to train our amateur players, but does this make them elite sportspeople ?

There is no doubt that G.A.A. players have evolved over the last decade. The introduction of strength and conditioning coaches has certainly changed the muscle tone of our players. With the introduction of sports psychologists working on a players mindset and nutritionists fuelling both body and mind,  it would be easy to see how G.A.A. players are frustrated when they are not defined as high performance, elite athletes.

It is always fascinating to hear from other sports people giving their opinions on another sport. Jerry Kiernan, a well respected former Olympic athlete and current running coach was very critical of our inter-county stars.

“I don’t have a high opinion of their fitness or their commitment to fitness”.

“I always notice as well when they’re commenting on things they often talk about the sacrifices they make. You’ll never hear that among athletes, boxers, swimmers or people who do international running.”

Kiernans comments  were frowned upon by the G.A.A. community as being over the top and very harsh. We are not used to outsiders giving their opinions on our national sport.

The same with professional footballer Stephen Hunt back in 2014 who added more fuel to the fire by stating that:

“If GAA players tried to live with the level of commitment shown by a professional footballer, they wouldn’t know what hit them”.

On the GPA website they describe our hurlers and footballers as “Elite amateur athletes”. The official GAA website speak about ‘players’ but don’t actually give them a title.

The Olympic motto is “Faster-Higher-Stronger”, a cauldron where the worlds elite athletes demonstrate to the world their sporting prowess.

GAA players have now over the last decade become faster,higher,stronger. They too play in cauldrons, where they demonstrate to the country their speed, skills and agility every weekend. Do they also have a right to call themselves elite ?

Kieran McGeeney cited rowers as athletes who train harder than GAA players and compete in an amateur environment. However, when you go on ‘Rowing Ireland’s’ official website, they state how due to investment from both the Irish Sports Council and Sports Northern Ireland, the aim is to compete at an elite level.

“The purpose of this investment is to ensure that Ireland’s performance in elite international sport improve, and to create consistent success at elite level defined as producing Irish athletes in the finals at European, World, Olympic and Paralympic level”.

At least ‘Rowers Ireland’ have given their athletes an identity and have clearly defined  what an elite athlete means to them.

John Treacy, CEO Sports Council Ireland, in a foreword to a book titled ‘Changing The Game – Irish Women In Sport 2000-2015’, praises all our female athletes which includes pictures of Cork’s successful ladies football and camogie teams.

Treacy describes, “these elite sportswomen have excelled across a multiple of sports and continue to be an inspiration to young people across the country”.

The GAA’s Medical ,Scientific and Welfare Commitee (MSW) confirmed in December it would conduct blood testing for the first time in 2016 as part of a new anti-doping programme to be rolled out by Sports Ireland.

In response to this,Sean Kavanagh, Tyrone footballer, commented this week:

“As amateur players, sometimes that can be quiet frustrating. From what I believe, they’re bringing in the blood testing now. We’re being told it’s blood testing as well as urine testing.”

He expands on how the modern day GAA player has changed since a decade ago by stating how –

“It’s a complete minefield at the moment. I’m not all that in to it. I’m still stuck in the Tracker bar and Jaffa cake era, 10 years ago.”

“Nowadays there’s that much proteins, branch chains, amino acids, I don’t even understand half the stuff the boys are talking to be honest.”

No one would argue that our GAA players are an inspiration across the country, but I would go further to say even across the globe. Since Sky Sports started showing our national games, Twitter quotes on our games have gone viral with punters who have never viewed a GAA match before commenting in disbelief that these athletes are amateur.

With the 100 year anniversary of the Easter Rising on everyone’s radar, and constant debates through media outlets on our true identity as a nation and republic, isn’t it only fair for our national sport to have a similar debate for our national treasures, the inter-county G.A.A. player !

Whether elite, non elite, or amateur, our high performance athletes deserve our respect, and are entitled to be given an identity by their peers in the Gaelic Athletic Association, the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee, Sports Science experts, and the media.

“Elite athletes know their bodies and train their bodies; elite mental athletes must know their brains and train their brains. Elite athletes commit serious time to international improvement programs, not just haphazard training. They work with a coach, do diagnosis, learn which muscle to work on and how much.”

David Silverstein, author of ‘ Become an Elite Mental Athlete’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GAA – The Money Game

    

 

As a nation we pride ourselves on the amateur ethos of the G.A.A., the players, the volunteers, the supporters, all as one. However the budget now required to run inter county teams and the revenue required from sponsors etc. , shows us that not only is there an ever increasing gap appearing on the field of play, but also off it, between our competing counties.

It is fair to say that our top teams budgets and requirements have now turned them in to multinational businesses,where recruitment of financial and marketing experts is now more important for revenue than selling programmes or county board lottery tickets.

There is now a trend where the top inter county teams are being professionally run like any business where they generate revenue from big corporate sponsors, with the knock on effect of recruiting the best backroom teams.

Strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, sports psychologists, physios, doctors, training camps in Ireland and in Portugal, pre and post training food and hydration, mileage expenses, transport, and of course the new must have all around the country, a Centre Of Excellence.

This is now the reality for every county board in the country, a prerequisite not just to compete, but to participate. It is a trend that is not sustainable for most county boards and one need look no further than the League of Ireland a decade ago when the game was run on a bubble of professionalism to the detriment of a lot of clubs. Can counties the size of Leitrim, Louth, and many others sustain this and pay to participate without success ?

Dare we say it out loud, but the Dublin football team now operate as a professional team both on and off the field. The recent recruitment of Bryan Cullen as ‘High Performance Manager’, overseeing strength & conditioning practises across all grades. In January 2014 another former player Thomas Quinn took up his role as Commercial and Marketing Manager for Dublin G.A.A, the first of its kind for G.A.A. counties. More proof as to what direction our amateur games are going, and in particular how far ahead Dublin are in growing their brand.

The Dublin  Football brand has now surpassed their main rivals Leinster rugby in the capital, and looking at their main sponsors you would think that Dublin and not Leinster were the professional sporting brand in the capital city.

Just looking at all the sponsors of Dublin GAA proves this point :

AIG, Aer Lingus, Ballygowan, Bavaria, Benetti Menswear, Energise Sport, Gourmet Food Parlour, Linwoods, O’Neills, ROS Nutrition, Skins, The Gibson Hotel, and Toyota.

 Kerry have also come to the business table with a massive fundraising event which was held in the Plaza Hotel, New York last May raised a little over €1 million. 420 guests, from businessmen to the Kerry diaspora living across the United States attended, in order to fund Kerry GAA’s €5.8 million Centre of Excellence.

Kerry’s sponsors are no shrinking violets either and can rely on support from the likes of Kerry Group, financial institutions such as the Irish League of Credit Unions and  Acorn Life, Hotel groups like The Brehon and The Malton Hotel, Skins Sportswear, Castleisland Co-op, The Kerryman newspaper, and Keanes Supervalu.

In Kerry Group, a leading global brand in the food sector, Kerry G.A.A. have a major sponsor which at least lets them try to compete with the Dublin model.

Kilkenny have another major sponsor in Glanbia/Avonmore to fuel their success. They have also built a new training centre in Dunmore, which will be funded by MW Hire. Mattie Walsh (MW Hire), a former Kilkenny hurler has agreed to fund this for the first five years ensuring the running costs of the venue are met. 

A typical master stroke from Kilkenny, keeping it local without any loans or debts. Kilkenny don’t do hype on or off the field, and have even named their new facility as the ‘Training Centre’ and not the ‘Centre of Excellence’, which every county team in Ireland now must own and eventually pay for.

Offaly are currently building ‘A Centre’ outside Kilcormac at a cost of €2,250,000. A major fundraiser is currently underway with former player Michael Duignam leading the way and golfer Shane Lowry also involved. They now need to raise €750,000 and hope the development would be debt free.

In Cork at their County Board Convention last December, Chairman Ger Lane stressed that ‘red lights were flashing’ with regards to the county’s finances. Investment bonds which were cashed in were supposedly shielding the existing debt that exists. As the Chairman states in his address to the county board delegates, “No business could operate on the losses we’d made over the last few years without those investments. The red lights are certainly flashing in terms of financing and the cisteoir (treasurer) has a huge task to turn that around in the next year or so.”

Another example of a county board burdening themselves with a debt of €70 million for a project to build a state of the art stadium along with another ‘Centre Of Excellence’.

Only the last few days the Westmeath County Board have announced naming rights for their Cusack Park pitch with TEG Engineering coming on board in a five year deal. Only  at last months convention Westmeath County Board Chairman, Sean Sheridan, spoke on how the county is “practically broke”, with a debt of €194,000.

Carlow’s County Board last year announced an exclusive naming rights with Netwatch.

County Boards are now being stretched in order to survive. A  money game is gripping every county, with corporate sponsors, naming rights of pitches and Centres of Excellence scattered around our cities and towns.

We have now reached saturation point where survival of the fittest is no longer a reference for our teams on the pitch, but also off it. 

Dublin and Kerry lead the way on and off the field, but the likes of Cork is an example to all that even the top counties are now finding it hard to participate in the money game.

The G.A.A. is “Ireland’s largest sporting organisation and is celebrated as one of the great amateur sporting associations in the world today”.

(A quote from the official G.A.A. web page)
 

 

 

2016 Hurling Preview

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Each year we get excited, enthralled, exasperated by the sheer skill, speed and spontaneity of our hurling warriors, and then after all that, Kilkeeny win ! Will it be different this year, who knows ? One thing is for certain though, 2016 will see a lot more competitive teams looking to compete with fortress Kilkenny.

It is fair to say that we now have a hurling top three of Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Galway. Below these come a chasing pack that include Waterford, Limerick, Cork, Clare, Dublin, and then a third tier which includes an inconsistent Wexford, a rising Laois, a fading Antrim, and a brittle Offaly. Kerry and Carlow are putting in huge work, but resources and tradition are always a telling factor in these counties like many more in the country.

So let’s look at the main contenders.

Kilkenny

All Ireland champions who simply don’t have a weakness. Similar to the All Blacks, once opponents see the jersey they crumble under pressure. They are the best team because they do the basic things consistently well. Like any successful team though, an injury to one or two key players could tilt the balance. Paul Murphy, Michael Fennelly, Richie Hogan and T.J. Reid are vital cogs in the Kilkenny wheel and need to stay fit. Still favourites for next year.

Tipperary

The bridesmaids to Kilkenny for so many years, but still their main challengers. A new management team for this year and already some retirements. The talent has always been there just the application and belief sometimes lets them down. How many All Irelands would they have won without the greatest hurling team of all time in their way every year ?

Tipps main problem this year is a lack of experience and leaders on the pitch through a number of retirements since last seasons championship defeat.

Another new management team will expect to see young leaders step forward during the national league.
Any team which possess players of the calibre of Seamus Callinan and John O’Dwyer though must be taken seriously.

Galway

So much talent, but just can’t get over the line. Players are blaming managers, managers are blaming players, past players are blaming both.

There is no doubting that on any given day this Galway team can beat anyone, unfortunately though to win an All Ireland you need consistency.

Galway were not far off last season, leading by 2 points at half time in the All Ireland final you would feel the managers job was done.

The pressure is now on the players after so publicly criticising Anthony Cunningham. Another meltdown this year would surely look very bad on a few of the outspoken players.

Clare

The enigma that is the banner county. 2013 was a landmark year for Clare, even Clare themselves didn’t expect to win the All Ireland that year, and unfortunately expectancy weighs heavy on young shoulders to stay on top.

The appointment of Donal Og as coach is a very shrewd move by Davy Fitz. A new voice, a different approach,a well respected outsider with no baggage in Clare.

It’s time for Clare to step up and for boys to become men.

Waterford

Outside of Kilkenny,Waterford were team of the year. Derek McGrath got it right tactically with a mixture of youth and experience in key positions,playing a defensive Gaelic football style game of bodies behind the ball but attacking at pace,averaging over 20 pts per game.

I still feel they need to find one or two more scoring forwards
to really compete, but in Austin Gleeson they have found the most exciting young hurler in the country.

Cork

The lack of quality players and the annual debate on the demise of underage success is a reality the Cork cannot ignore. The Rebels badly need an influx of youthful, skilful hurlers who play off the cuff, without fear. Unfortunately besides Shane Kingston, they don’t seem to exist, so Kieran Kingston and his selectors need to work with the same panel of players that were so inconsistent under Jimmy Barry Murphy’s tenure.

Interestingly, Kingston has recruited well in his backroom division, and in the likes of Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Pat Ryan, committment to the cause should not be lacking.
However the lack of quality in key positions will never go away until Cork find some new recruits.

Limerick

Similarities with Cork, however Limerick have some very good young hurlers coming through after winning the U21 All Ireland.
Limerick could do a lot worse than looking at how Waterford have developed a system of play which the players have bought in to.

Limerick seem to play without a plan or structure at times and then rely on Shane Dowling to produce some bit of magic.

They rely so much on their intensity and if that’s not 100% then they struggle.

Still too much ground to make up on the top teams.

Dublin

Already controversy in Dublin hurling circles with Ger Cunningham axing a couple of experienced players, who in turn have spoken out against him. However,the biggest setback of all is the loss of Danny Sutcliffe who is taking a year out. Dublin cannot afford to lose a player of his quality, especially as he is the only top class player Dublin have.

By wielding the axe Ger Cunningham is laying down a marker to his panel and sending out a warning that nobody is safe and certain standards need to be achieved.
Gaelic football is still the number one sport in the capital for the county’s talented dual players, and what Ger Cunningham would do to be able to call upon the likes of Ciaran Kilkenny and Cormac Costello into his forward division.

Dublin will be competitive at best with a couple of very strong performances, but like so many other teams, they lack quality and consistency.

All the above teams have one thing in common, they all possess quality players. However the top three teams of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway at this moment in time seem to have more match winners, more consistency, and more competitive panels.

The chasing pack need to find these missing ingredients or else
the same fate as last year will face them again.

Of the chasing pack I feel that Clare have the potential and hunger to challenge again. In Tony Kelly they have a forward who can unlock any defence by playing a free role not unlike Richie Hogan last year for Kilkenny. Tactically they should also be very strong.

Waterford need a Tony Kelly or another John Mullane to add fuel to the fire. Austin Gleeson is such a player but Derek McGrath feels he is best suited in the halfback line at present. Waterford would have learned a lot from last years experience.

Hurling folk nationwide would love to see the chasing pack stepping up and a new name to appear as champions. Whoever that may be will have to beat Kilkenny.