Posted by Ciaran Whelan
Monday 28 May 2012
There were sweltering conditions on Sunday in the three grounds and I know from playing at Croke Park the ground temperature there could be phenomenal. We’re not used to playing in heat such as that in this country and it can cause its own difficulties.
However, players have no choice but to adapt to it. Hydration is vital but, even so, as the games wore on a lot of guys were affected by fatigue. Having said that, I think if you asked most players whether they prefer playing on days like that or one when the wind and rain are a factor they would choose the former.
It is much more difficult to deal with the wind or with a greasy ball and most players want the opportunity to display their skills on a good surface. Certainly, there won’t be many complaints if there are similar conditions over the next few weeks.
In Thurles temperatures climbed up towards the mid-twenties as Tipperary put up a gallant performance with a good young side. The story in the build-up to the game was Jack O’Connor’s decision to demote Kieran Donaghy to the bench for disciplinary reasons and I just wonder if he would have done the same if his side were facing Cork, for example. It was an ideal way to show the younger players that he has the authority to address such a situation but he was also fortunate that it was Tipperary they were facing. It was much ado about nothing and I’ve no doubt Donaghy will be back in the side the next day.
There were a few lads in their first outing for Kerry and I don’t think the beaten finalists from last year were ever out of second or third gear. They showed signs of sloppiness early on and indeed right throughout the game. It must be taken into account that it was the first round of the championship but, still, there was very little fluency to their play.
I’m sure complacency was a factor for them as well and there was a sense that just about doing enough would suffice. O’Connor will have plenty to mull over when he looks back over the game, particularly when he considers the chances Tipperary should have taken. Had young Michael Quinlivan fired over that free instead of hitting the post it would have put his side within a point of the Kingdom. They also had a decent goal chance with 10 minutes to go and had they taken that there would have been serious pressure on Kerry.
Although Kerry dominated possession around the middle of the field their use of the ball in the last third was poor enough. In fairness to Tipperary their defence did perform well. Paddy Codd at full-back and Ciaran McDonald in the corner impressed but Kerry don’t have to get out of third gear until later in the summer.
I would make Cork favourites to win the semi-final going on their performance in the league final and the fact that they have more strength in depth in the forward line. One of the faults of the championship, though, is that the result of Kerry-Cork games in Munster doesn’t really matter. The Munster championship lacks any real bite or intensity and increasingly the big two focus more on matters later on in the summer.
In Leinster, Meath pulled away in the end to recover from an early four-point deficit. Wicklow’s John McGrath kicked three points from play but, bit by bit, the Royals dragged themselves back into it. Brian Farrell and Joe Sheridan were particularly instrumental, linking well and hauling their side back into it. Graham Reilly then took over with some fine scores and his running at the Wicklow defence caused them all sorts of problems.
Meath had the edge in midfield and when Leighton Glynn picked up an injury in the second half, things began to swing the favourite’s way. Seanie Furlong wasn’t really on his game either with Kevin Reilly dominating at full-back and, really, Wicklow’s big players didn’t perform.
Seamus McEnaney will be delighted that they kicked 15 points from play but whether they will threaten any of the big teams is still questionable. Harry Murphy would have expected a lot more from his side but the Meath forward line made the difference. I think Meath will be in a semi-final against Kildare and they are always tight encounters. Last year they were unlucky not to get something out of the two games. After victory in the league against them, Kieran McGeeney’s side have the upper hand and Meath still have a bit of progress to make.
Tommy Freeman, meanwhile, was the difference for Monaghan against Antrim. The Saffrons were dark horses coming into the championship even though their league form wasn’t great. Monaghan are on the right side of the draw and will feel they have every chance of making an Ulster final.
There were no surprises on Sunday but I would certainly give Fermanagh a chance next weekend in what looks like a very intriguing game with Down at Brewster Park. I’m also very interested to see how Longford will do with a bit of momentum behind them against Wexford. All-in-all, the championship is heating up in more ways than one.
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