An unbeaten start to the league, defeating the original big three of Tipperary, Kilkenny and Cork, marks an exceptional 2018 so far for the Banner. Their one fault thus far has been letting the aforementioned sneak back into the game late on, but for that negative you can point to the positive in showing resolve to see the result through.
From 8 to 15, Clare are as good as any team in the country. If they can find away to get David Reidy, Conor McGrath, John Conlon, Peter Duggan and Podge Collins all blitzing, circling dangerously around the centre of the wheel Shane O’Donnell, Clare will be a threat to every side of the country.
It’s delivering for the entire 70 minutes that is Clare’s problem right now. Too many parse wides in the second half and not putting the sword to opponents will catch them eventually, unless they find that deathly touch in the late quarters.
Clare suddenly look big, strong and are letting their best hurlers hurl. A mention to Colm Galvin, too, who is finally reaching his potential. If Tony Kelly can spark into his greatest form this summer, Clare could have realistic visions of a long All-Ireland run.
The Premier County, in their last game and half, have shown what a brutally clinical and scary team they are capable of being. Within fifteen minutes of the game on Saturday night in Thurles they had 15 points on the board. By half time, all of their starting forwards had scored.
This type of form partly justifies some of the hype they are receiving as possible All-Ireland champions come August. Now that what they had has been taken away from them, Tipperary are hungry in preparation for a return to glory should their wiry and determined defeat over Wexford say anything.
A bonus to Tipperary’s chance, is it appears they’ve found a #1 hopeful in Daragh Mooney, who was terrific in the nets, despite floundering at Aidan Nolan’s penalty. Across the back line, Sean O’Brien is giving Michael Ryan something to think about it and putting to question Cathal Barrett’s chances of immediately returning to a corner back role.
With Seamus Callanan, Bubbles Dwyer, Dan McCormack, Joe O’Dwyer and Niall O’Meara still to return, not to mention Barrett, Seamus Kennedy and Tossy Hamill providing depth at back positions, Tipperary are looking strong going forward.
Since the 21st of January, this has been Jason Forde’s stat line:
21 Jan – DIT – 1-09
28 Jan – Clare – 0-10
3 Feb – Waterford – 1-09
8 Feb – UCC – 2-01
13 Feb – IT Carlow – 2-05
17 Feb – Wexford – 2-09
In less than a month, he has played six games and scored 8-43. A lot of his scoring may be from frees and penalties, but averaging 1.33 goals a game and proving clinical from frees is a forward in form and a forward every team needs in their line-up.
Considering he’s doing all of this while juggling his time between UL and Tipperary, it’s terrific hurling. Jason Forde could be undroppable at the full forward position by the time Seamus Callanan returns from injury.
A fine win over Kerry after last week’s postponement drives them outside of the bottom four in Division 1 and underlines their quality, despite being one of the smallest counties in the country population wise. They welcome Tyrone next week to Castleblayney, favourites this time.
“They’re not dead, yet.” Kilkenny claimed their first win of the campaign this weekend against a Waterford side who are treating the league as no more than a pre-season warm-up. Regardless, a win is a win and with TJ Reid on song, and youngsters like Martin Keoghan emerging impressively, Kilkenny won’t be far off come the championship months.
Despite all the hullabaloo over a struggling Kilkenny side, they still have a core of Eoin Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, Reid and Walter Walsh, along with a couple of perennial All-Star nominees. A fruitful Leinster championship and Kilkenny won’t be long becoming a worry for the rest of the nation again.
Three games, conceding 3-73 and looking absolutely out of their depth on a dreary Saturday night in Limerick, and Dublin are in big trouble. Pat Gilroy’s men can’t hide behind the excuse of not having the Cuala contingent with them, because Limerick are without a handful of Na Piarsaigh players and made this look like a training game.
Brendan Cummins was spot on calling Gilroy out on turning to retired ex-players too, rather than doing what Limerick are doing and relying on youth. Any 20 and 21 year old hurlers in Dublin will be disheartened by seeing 35-year-old Conal Keaney getting rolled out in February when they could be blooded.
I’m sure fans would rather see Dublin lose with debutants and kids getting the chance to shine, rather than with retired players making up the numbers.
Another loss, their most meagre yet against Kilkenny. John Mullane has lambasted the Déise and right now they do look miles off the pack, although if there’s method to Derek McGrath’s madness and a few wins in the Munster championship will quickly squash any memories of a bad league campaign.
But in the present moment, things aren’t going well in the south east – they’re destined for the relegation play-off and unless they can stem the flow of losses, this taste of defeat could become all too familiar in the summer months.
The league, Fitzgibbon/Sigerson and All-Ireland club competitions are still ongoing, overlapping themselves to the detriment of player welfare and fairness. Kieran Molloy of Corofin may have somehow made it work on Saturday when he lined out for both his club and his college, NUIG, on the same day, and fair play to him for not letting either set of teammates down, but was he really effective enough as a second half sub for NUIG that another member of the panel, fresh and hungry, wouldn’t have made.
Now next weekend, Limerick will be without a plethora of players thanks to UL’s involvement in the Fitzgibbon Cup final, in addition to those who are preparing for a club final with Na Piarsaigh. Tipperary will be without a handful too, so will Clare. Dublin will be affected by DCU’s involvement and not to mention Cuala.
It’s absolutely ridiculous that the GAA – with all the data and knowledge they have – can’t develop a sophisticated fixture calendar that doesn’t have multiple prestigious competitions sitting on top of each other.