Tipp still top as championship looms
The National Hurling League semi-finals were reasonably entertaining but they underlined once again that this Tipperary team are a fair bit ahead of everyone else in the game at the moment. Wexford were very competitive for most of last Sunday’s match but when push came to shove, Tipp were clinical and they scored some fantastic goals. In the other semi-final, Galway were a good bit better than Limerick and they deserved their easy win. The final on Sunday should be competitive but I am expecting Tipperary to win it.
In both football and hurling, the league has now grown in stature and to win the secondary competition is now seen as great preparation for the championship and Tipperary would see a win on Sunday as the perfect way to prepare ahead of the defence of their title.
Galway are probably the second best team in the country at the moment and Sunday’s game will show them exactly where they are. But back to Sunday and Davy Fitzgerald is in danger of letting his childish and stupid behaviour overshadow his obvious talent as a coach and motivator. His record as a coach is excellent, bringing Waterford to an All-Ireland final, winning one with Clare, and now he has transformed the fortunes of Wexford. But racing on to the field to remonstrate with the referee and getting into a shoving match with a player is very childish. I know people love his passion and he is one of a kind, but to get involved with players is a step too far. He was in hospital earlier this year with a health scare and the kind of carry on we saw last Sunday is not good for anyone’s health. Davy Fitzgerald is one of the great characters of the GAA for sure but someone is going to have to curb him.
Club championship throw-in draws near
Here in Roscommon the local club scene is beginning to heat up and the senior football championship will be one of the most open for many years this year and remember it starts in two weeks’ time.
St. Brigid’s have been the kingpins over the years but even they will admit that they have come back to the pack. They are still the team to beat for sure. But Pádraig Pearses, Clann na nGael, Western Gaels and Roscommon Gaels will all be hoping to do well this year and dark horses Strokestown and Boyle will also be in with a chance. Then consider that St. Croan’s are blazing a trail at the top of the league Division One table with four wins out of four, it looks a really open championship.
I was looking at the odds and St. Brigid’s look very skimpy at 7/4, but it’s all to play for. The odds from Paddy Power this week are as follows: St. Brigid’s 7/4, Pádraig Pearses 7/2, Clann na nGael 11/2, Roscommon Gaels 13/2, Western Gaels 15/2, St. Faithleach’s 11/1, Boyle 12/1, Strokestown 20/1, Castlerea St. Kevin’s 25/1, St. Croan’s 33/1, Elphin 40/1, Kilmore 50/1.
Outsiders provide shock in U-21 championship
The U-21 football semi-finals were very interesting last weekend as both outsiders won through to the final. Dublin lost probably their best player (Con O’Callaghan) to a black card after only three minutes yet they totally dominated the game. It was definitely unfair on Donegal to ask them to play an All-Ireland semi-final just five days after playing the Ulster final but I still think that Dublin would have won because Donegal were at sea for most of the game and they were simply outclassed.
But the real shock was in the other semi-final where Galway sensationally knocked out the almost unbackable favourites, Kerry. Galway were an incredible 11/2 to win but they won by far more than the four point margin suggested. At one stage, they led by 1-8 to 0-1 and they missed at least two or three more in what was a sensational first half. Kerry did make a bit of a comeback in the second half but they were well beaten in the end.
Jack O’Connor was whinging after the match about the referee not giving Kerry anything during the game but the facts are that they were blown away by a better side. Kerry are the best GAA people of all - until they lose. They don’t like it one little bit. It will be a cracking U-21 final. Galway always do well when they leave Connacht at any level of football and they have a great chance of winning another U-21 title this year.
League campaign raises championship questions
Now that the National Football League has finished there is much debate about the structures of the football championship and the elephant in the room remains the provincial championships and until something is done with that system then we will never see real reform. I think we are a long way away from that situation yet, but it will happen in time.
The reason the National Leagues have become so successful in recent years is because teams are playing against opposition of a fairly similar standard and the players on the weaker teams know that they have a chance of actually winning something. Then when it comes to the championship the weaker counties do not have the same interest and a lot of the games are very one-sided.
The facts are that there are no more than four teams that have any realistic chance of winning the Sam Maguire. The next really competitive games that we will see in inter-county football are in August when the quarter-finals come about. There may be one or two games of interest in the Ulster championship but that will be about it. If anyone was under any illusions about the gap in standards, then the difference between the league finals in Division One and Two last weekend was the clearest indicator. The Dublin Kerry match was a tremendous battle and full of top quality football while the Galway Kildare game was very poor with caution the watchword. The Sam Maguire Cup will be fought out between Dublin and Kerry with Mayo, Tyrone and maybe Donegal in with an outside chance. Those are the facts unfortunately.
Irish sides can make European decider
There is a real possibility that both Leinster and Munster will qualify for the final of the European Championships when the semi-finals are played at the weekend. Leinster look back to their best and while Clermont will not be easily beaten in France, they have the players to do it and I am expecting them to win.
Munster have a 50/50 chance against Saracens and the transformation in their season has just been phenomenal. They have used the tragic and untimely death of Anthony Foley as a huge motivation factor and they have been sensational. Saracens are a great side but I think that if Munster can once again harness the spirit that they have shown in recent months, they can get to the final.
What a day that would be for Irish Rugby of both sides were to get to the biggest day out in European club rugby. It is entirely possible.
United come good to dent Chelsea’s hopes
Is there life in the race for the Premier League title yet? Probably not, even after last Sunday’s win by Manchester United against Chelsea because Antonio Conte’s men have a very easy run-in to the end of the season. But Spurs can keep it going to the end. They are by far the best side in the league at the moment and they are playing some fantastic football. They have some brilliant young players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier very prominent.
Manchester City and Liverpool now look odds on for top four positions as they keep on winning. But Manchester United fans (and I am one of those) will be very happy at what they saw last Sunday. I know that there are a lot of people who hate United, but against Chelsea they produced their best display since Alex Ferguson left the club. They reverted to 4-4-2 which is the formation that United have always played over the years. But the question I would ask is - why can United not play like that in every game? They have become so frustrating to watch, dominating games but failing to score. Hopefully this game will see a corner turned for United but I am still waiting to be convinced.
Box office Ronnie can light up Crucible
Over the next two weeks the World Snooker Championships will be on the TV and while it is still great viewing, it has diminished in terms of interest among the general sporting public. At least we have Ronnie O’Sullivan who is rowing with the powers that be again this week. He is probably the greatest player ever to take up a cue but he is a very erratic character. There is no doubt that when he is on his game he in unbeatable but he is too easily distracted and he should have three or four more world titles won at this stage. But at least he is box office. If he is switched on, no one will beat him, but you just wonder which Ronnie O’Sullivan will turn up every day.