Offaly’s hurlers still have it
Well, the championship season rolls on and there is no let up in the surprise results. One venue where there were no surprises last weekend, however, was Croke Park, where the opening game of a hurling double-header was the clash of Dublin and Kilkenny. Dublin had shown some promising signs by winning the round-robin stages of the competition. Kilkenny were coming into this fixture with some injury worries to key players. In the end, the Cats eased past Dublin with a seemingly effortless display. The wide gulf in class between the teams was illustrated by the clinical manner by which Kilkenny were able to up the pace when necessary to kill off the Dubs’ challenge. The manner of the defeat must be heartbreaking to the Dublin players who have given such great committment. This team have trained as hard, if not harder than their opponents in Kilkenny, they are as fit and as physically strong but the innate hurling abilities and confidence of ‘The Cats’ has seen them comfortably through again.
Great strides have been made in recent years with the underage structures in Dublin. Development squads have been created and resources have been dedicated to the coaching and development of young hurlers. The days when the hurlers of Dublin can realistically compete with the established powers may be a long way off, but the right approach is being taken and some day the sight of Dublin jersey might strike fear into the hearts of the hurling aristocrats. That day is not yet with us, so for now the hurling evangelists of Dublin will keep on keeping on.
The main event in Croke Park was the meeting of Wexford and Offaly. In the run-up to this fixture, both sides had question marks surrounding their advanced yerars and perceived high mileage. Wexford had old warriors Martin Storey and Tom Dempsey giving it one last go. Alas, the minds may have been willing but the team as a whole looked a tired outfit. Offaly on the other hand seem to delight in confounding their critics. This panel of players have withstood several managerial heaves and splits in the camp over the years and last year the media was awash with obituaries lamenting the death of Offaly hurling.
On Sunday, though, the men from the ‘Faithful County’ showed they still have all the drive and enthusiasm required for top-level championship hurling. They dismantled Wexford with an ease that should send a clear message to the rest of the country. There’s life in the auld dogs yet and anyone with aspirations of success in the championship this year should keep a close eye on them.
But the football championship is still throwing up major surprises. This week’s came from the footballers of Antrim, who previously ended an 18-year barren spell with a well-deserved victory over Down. This time, they faced Derry, many people’s tip for at least the Ulster title this year. At half time, Derry’s favourite status looked clear, as they were seven points to the good and Antrim had yet to score from play.
The second half however, saw Antrim rediscover the form they displayed against Down. They clawed themselves back into the game and at the finish it took Derry’s Anthony Tohill (aided by the crossbar) to deny them victory.
The conventional wisdom in situations like this is that Derry will assert their authority in the replay. On this occasion, I’m not so sure and this Antrim side may well have more to offer. They are as good a footballing side as we have seen in Ulster this year and finished stronger than Derry on a blistering hot day.
Last year’s finalists Cork lost their Munster title in Killarney to a rejuvenated Kerry. This result was not particularly surprising, as Kerry have been spoken of as genuine contenders for the All-Ireland this year. At times on Sunday they lived up to that billing with some superb attacking football, but for a long period in the second half they totally conceded possession to the Corkmen and their continuing problems in the full-back line were exposed by Cork’s Colin Corkers. Kerry will have to tighten up this area if they are to be in the shake-up in September.
Tiger mauls Open field
Of course Gaelic Games were not the only sporting activities of interest this week. Over in Pebble Beach, Tiger Woods left the world’s best golfers trailing in his wake as he cruised to the US Open title. His peerless performance against such a top quality field and difficult course was at times simply breathtaking. It became apparent early in the competition that the only competition was for the other placings, and once again that ex - Ballyboden hurler Pádraig Harrington proved himself to be emerging as one of the world’s elite. The consistently high level of performance from the Dubliner is probably the best being shown by any Irish sportsman at world level this year.
I suppose I couldn’t conclude without mentioning the Euro 2000 championships currently taking place in Belgium and the Netherlands. At the time of writing, our nearest neighbours have just bowed out of the competition at the hands of Romania. The results of the group stages thus far have laid to rest their perennial claims of being a world power in soccer.
The English team and other teams that play what is commonly referred to as the ‘British’ style of play have been shown up to be years behind those European nations who play with a level of sophistication far beyond the capabilities of ‘British’/Premiership players. The teams remaining in the competition are now set to face each other in games that are going to be played at a level of skill ‘streets ahead’ of many of the teams that are going home, with the honourable exception of the unlucky Czechs.