Charlie Carter, former Kilkenny Hurling captain, writes his first column for Sportsnewsireland.com. He talks about the start of the NHL, the eagerly anticipated All Ireland Club championship and of course floodlights.
Last weekend for the second league match in a row Kilkenny took their foot off the gas and allowed Wexford back into a game they should never have been in. Ahead 2-9 to 6 points at half time, Kilkenny lost the second half 11-7. There seems to be an element of complacency creeping into play at the moment and it’s something that the management really need to look at especially with more important games to come later in the year. When this team was at their peak in 2007/2008 they would never have taken their foot off the pedal in such fashion.
I’m not sure what it is, maybe the players are struggling to find the hunger at the moment; a lot of these guys have been on the panel for over 10 years and have won everything there is to offer. It’s not an age thing but these guys have a lot of miles on the clock and are not robots. For them to come back this year and win the All Ireland will take a huge effort.
That said there have been some positives in the league so far, the team is still unbeaten, while Michael Fennelly has grown in confidence and has been colossus in midfield while his brother Colin Fennelly has also stepped up to the mark.
This weekend they face a Galway side that were brought crashing down to earth last weekend when they lost to Cork. Galway would have fancied the points from this clash especially as they had opened the campaign with two straight wins. However those four points were achieved against Wexford and Offaly and when they found themselves up against one of the bigger side they were found wanting.
There is once again little room for error in the league this year, with only two teams qualifying for the final, with all the teams looking strong. Dublin has emerged this year as a real contender and they are flying at the moment. They had high expectations last year but fell short against Antrim, which would have hugely disappointed them.
Conal Keaney is part of the reason why Dublin is on the up again, the Ballyboden forward has averaged 11 points a game on his return to hurling this year. I don’t think many would have expected him to make that kind of impact but he is a great player and born to play at Croke it seems, it certainly holds no fear for him. The confidence he has seems to be flowing through the team at the moment.
The spring series was a great success for the Dublin Hurlers and I am sure that they earned a few more followers on the back of their win one point win over Tipperary. Not too many teams get a standing ovation in February.
Speaking of Croke Park, the GAA this week announced that they would review the decision to play games under floodlights at the end of the year amid falling attendances at weekend evening games. Being honest I don’t think that the floodlights are the problem. Two of the biggest games this year were both played under floodlights. Attendances have been falling for the last couple of years and I think there are a number of other factors that are contributing to this.
The most obvious one is the economic down turn; people don’t have the money to go to every game and are picking and choosing the games they are going to. I know the GAA reduced the prices from 15 euro to 13 euro but I think they should have gone the extra yard and reduced the price to 10 euro and see if that made a difference.
At this time of year GAA is competing with Rugby and Premiership football and they need to give value for money. Perhaps they should reduce prices even further and experiment with a “spring sale” type weekend offer which would see tickets on sale for 5 euro. At the very least it would give the GAA an idea if it’s the costs of entry which is leading to the falling attendances.
Of course Television has a large part to play in the increase in empty seats, of the four big games last weekend three were on TV between TG4 and Setanta. Televised games are a handy option for fans and if there were less games on TV the chances are more would make the effort to go to the games.
I think though what hurling badly needs is for someone outside of Kilkenny, Tipperary or Cork to win the All-Ireland final. The sport has become too predictable at the moment and needs a boost, I mean there was a great buzz in the 1990’s when 6 teams were strong enough to lift the Liam McCarthy.
Next Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day and it’s also the final of the All Ireland Club Hurling championship. The final see’s Clarinbridge of Galway come up against O’Loughlin Gaels from Kilkenny with neither team having ever won the competition. This is the 5th time that a Galway team has met a Kilkenny team since 2001 and such is their dominance of the competition that since the competition started in 1971 both counties can claim to have won 10 titles each.
Clarinbridge played in one of the games of the year in their semi final win over Waterford’s De La Salle, the game had everything, high scores and drama. They have been battling it out all year and the luck has falling with them at times. They are a small, fast skilful team and Croke Park will suit them. The Kerins’s Brothers, Alan and Mark, had a great semi final and again they will be key.
That said I would have a slight concern over their back line, I know the semi final went to extra time but the fact remains that they conceded 1-27 in that game and will need to be tighter if they are to bring the trophy back to Galway.
O’Loughlin Gael’s meanwhile wouldn’t be considered a flash team, they’re a hard working and competitive team and it will take a big team to take them down. Their 9 point semi final win over Loughgiel Shamrocks was not as exciting as the Clarinbridge match but Parnell Park is not a place for fancy hurling and they did what they had to do to beat the Antrim side.
Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford will be the key men for O’Loughlin Gael, Hogan ran the show when he moved to centre back in the semi final and the other player’s will look to the these guys to lead them. The team has been improving with each game and I think that they will beat Clarinbridge to the title.
Before that game next week there is still some hurling to be played and I have tipped the following teams to win this weekend. The prelude to the club championship will see Kilkenny up against Galway at Pearse stadium and I fancy Kilkenny for this. Galway are carrying a few injuries for this game and on top of that I think Brian Coady would have had said a few choice words to the Kilkenny lad’s after last weekend’s second half performance against Wexford.
While I was impressed with Waterford in their match with Tipperary, I still think Cork will be a step ahead of them and should win this match, while Tipperary, who are up and running now, should have little trouble disposing of Offaly. I am also expecting Dublin to beat Wexford, although they have a tendency to falter when they are favourites so hopefully I am right here. We will see how I did next time.