by Lar na Pairce
THE big question on everyone’s lips this weekend is whether Kilkenny can win their 34th title or can Galway repeat their Leinster final heroics and capture their fifth All Ireland crown.
Since their defeat in the Leinster final, Kilkenny have recorded victories over Limerick and Tipperary and are now unbackable favourites to collect their ninth title under Brian Cody.
Most pundits are of the belief that Cody will have worked out a master plan to thwart the Tribesmen who gave them a hurling lesson just two short months ago.
Having unveiled the template as to how to discommode the Cats, Galway may be at a slight disadvantage as Cody and co are unlikely to fall into the same trap twice.
In the Leinster decider, Galway managed to isolate the likes of Joe Canning and Cyril Donnellan on Jackie Tyrell and Paul Murphy and they punished them severely.
Will Kilkenny allow this to happen on Sunday? Doubtful. They will attempt to hold their positions and have their forwards drop back to close down the space and then hit Galway on the break.
Back in the 1986 final, Cork adopted a similar approach when Galway played a two man full forward line, a system that had destroyed Kilkenny in the semi-final, and kept Johnny Crowley at corner back, on his own and he went on to win the man of the match award.
That day Galway had no Plan B but surely on Sunday they will have otherwise they will succumb.
Lar na Pairce is not at one with the conventional wisdom that suggests that Kilkenny will exact revenge for July, notwithstanding well-founded doubts about Galway’s ability to self-destruct on hurling biggest day.
With a plethora of under-age titles to their credit, the majority of the Galway players will have played in Croke Park on All Ireland day and this should help.
The knowledge that they can compete and beat Kilkenny will also stand to them but they must take the game to the Cats from the first whistle, stand up to the physical stuff that will undoubtedly ensue and maximise their scoring, especially goal, chances.
No room for errors
Galway will also have to play their own game, secure in the knowledge that it was more than good enough last time out and get the ball into Canning and Donnellan as quickly as possible.
Kilkenny must be hounded all over the field and not let settle.
Mistakes must be kept to a minimum, look how the Cats eviscerated both Limerick and Tipp from basic errors.
Keep Kilkenny from scoring goals, easier said than done I know, but the Cats seldom win without a goal.
Cast your minds back to ’99 and ’04 when Cork limited them to 12 and 9 points respectively, on the way to both titles, and the point is well made.
Should Galway fail to front up and start lethargically as both Limerick and Waterford did in ’07 and ’08 then the game will be over very early on and the Cats will stroll to victory.
However this scribe believes that Galway have what it takes this time and believes that an insatiable hunger to end 24 years of frustration will propel the Tribesmen to a famous victory.
Donegal v Mayo, who would have thought so when the championship started back in May?
No one I imagine. Still both sides are there on merit and an intriguing final lies in store.
Mayo survived a 20-minute scoring drought to dethrone the Dubs last Sunday but a repeat of that scoring hiatus will result in defeat against Donegal.
Mayo showed great composure, craft and hunger in the opening 50-minutes to out play the champions and deservedly led by 10 points.
However the final 25-minutes, saw a completely different game as Dublin aided by some good substitutions completely dominated and but for a fine save by David Clarke from Bernard Brogan then the champs might have prevailed.
Mayo again exhibited a self-destruct characteristic and will have to eradicate it from their set up if Sam is to return after a 61 years exile.
In fairness to them though their first half performance was superb and their point taking was exemplary.
This long range shooting will have to be repeated in the decider to overcome the suffocating Donegal defence but it is a moot point whether or not they will get as much time and space next time out.
Mayo missed three goal-scoring chances and almost paid the price but survived and deservedly so.
Dublin never once showed the hunger and desire that hallmarked their play last season and without that intensity they were a very average team.
The loss of form of Bernard Brogan and through injury of his brother Alan further militated against their chances and in truth they never looked good enough except in the last 25 minutes when they trailed by 10 points.
Locally Castlehaven overcame fellow West Cork side Newcestown by two points following a low scoring encounter in Dunmanway.
A blistering start that saw them open up a six points lead was critical in the ‘Haven’s win. They now face St Finbarrs in the quarter- final.
The county senior hurling championship saw big wins for CIT and Sarsfields over the ’Barrs and Rockies respectively and with the exit of the latter two and the famed Glen Rovers a week earlier, the decline of the city strongholds continues.
Between them the aforementioned trio hold in excess of 80 county senior titles but 23 years have elapsed since the Glen last triumphed, 19 since the ‘Barrs were successful and a decade since Blackrock reigned supreme.
Something has to be done to restore these strongholds to their former glories as their decline also afflicts the county team.
In our column a few weeks back we opined that Declan Ryan and his management team’s tenure was untenable following the debacle against Kilkenny in the semi-final.
Our comments proved spot on as last weekend Ryan brought an unhappy two-year reign to an end by resigning along with his selectors.
Éamon O’Shea, Liam Sheedy and Nicky English are the early front runners for the position