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Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

The Tony Considine column: It was a great weekend in Páirc Uí Chaoimh even if the matches weren't

I MET a lot of people in Cork early on Saturday morning.

Chatting with the former giant of hurling, Ollie Baker, it brought back great memories of the times we enjoyed in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Ollie as a player and I as a mentor. 

We both agreed that it was one of the best stadia for atmosphere, especially with the Clare and Tipperary supporters up on top of you. You could feel their breath from the stands you were so near them - and you also could hear some of the language, not repeatable here!

We were wondering would the new Páirc create that kind of excitement again. 

Leaving Ollie, and making my way down that lovely walk by the marina, being a Clare man, I was thinking wouldn't it be great to have a player with the physical presence and that 'never give up' attitude that Ollie brought to his game every time he took to the field. How ever time moves on...

Reaching the Stadium, I could see how impressive it looked, and places in the past where I ate my sandwiches, with the Tipp crowd, is now a new brilliant all-weather pitch, with the Clare and Galway minor teams warming up on it. I thought how lucky these young lads are!

Meeting a few Cork people I could see the pride they had in their new stadium. 

It is a tribute to Cork GAA, and especially Frank Murphy and his committee for creating all this. Frank always wanted the best for Cork, and he has got it here. Like him, or loathe him, you can never underestimate his wonderful ability and commitment to Cork GAA.

Now it was time to enter and follow the games.

Tipp and Clare going into action, I was wondering would this game produce what the occasion deserved - a great game of hurling. Tipp started very well with Noel McGrath, John McGrath, Seamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer all causing problems for the Clare defence, flashing over points from all angles. 

If Tipp had got a goal during this stage, I think this game would have been over early. But, to Clare's credit, they started running at the Tipp defence, especially Shane O'Donnell and Conor McGrath, and created two goals for Aaron Cunningham. The Tipp backs looked very vulnerable, only for Donnagh Maher playing so well they looked in real trouble. 

Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahy. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Clare goalkeeper Andrew Fahy. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

But just before half time, Clare goalkeeper, Andrew Fahy, whether under instruction of not, or a rush of blood to the head, started pucking the ball short, and even worse pucking it to Tipp forwards, who gladly pointed five times in a row. This was a game-changer especially with the Tipp backs in trouble at the other end with lack of pace against the Clare forwards.

In the second half Tipp began to pull away again, but I wonder is there a lack of 'killer instinct' in this team which is something you really need when you have a team on the rack, as Tipp had a tight grip for most of this game. That's the time you really have to put your foot on their throat. 

But they still allowed Clare back into the game for the second time, with sub Peter Duggan being the main man for that comeback. 

Clare bringing it back to a single point with not much time left - but this is where Clare have their problems with lack of leadership on the field - they had no player to take the game by the scruff of the neck when it was there for the winning. But Tipp finished the stronger with the McGraths really showing their class.

I still think Michael Ryan and his management have a lot to do before the semi-final. One thing they can't do is put pace into their defence as these guys come up short in that department, albeit good stickmen. 

But you need pace in Croke Park. Overall it was not a classic. 

 Tipperary defender James Barry chases Shane O'Donnell. Picture: Larry Cummins
Tipperary defender James Barry chases Shane O'Donnell. Picture: Larry Cummins

Clare hasn't really delivered in the Championship since winning the All-Ireland four years ago. Maybe it's something for management to look at with this panel of players. Are they good enough? 

Obviously not for the last four years.

Sunday's game was Waterford and Wexford with a bigger crowd and a better atmosphere. Maybe people are in better form on a Sunday for hurling - despite the objections from both counties to have to travel to Cork. 

Wexford and Waterford supporters in the stand on Sunday. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Wexford and Waterford supporters in the stand on Sunday. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

They should be happy to play anywhere for an All-Ireland quarter-final. 

As a proud Corkman said to me: "if they don't want to travel can't they stay at home.. we'll survive."

Anyway to the game, and to Waterford. I said early on in the year that they needed to change their system of playing and that they needed new leaders to stand up - they have changed their style very little, if at all, and they are still very dependent on their two warriors Brick Walsh and Kevin Moran, especially Moran in this game, scoring 1-3 from midfield and his work rate was outstanding. 

I notice he is pacing himself very well - not running himself to a standstill. Of course Brick playing so long for Waterford was outstanding in the first half, when he was needed, but of course he is not a 70 minute player anymore and he was replaced. While he was on he gave great leadership.

The Waterford subs, Maurice Shanahan and Brian O'Halloran made a massive impact when they came on. My man of the match for Waterford, who has gone through a lot of injury in the last few years, was Darragh Fives - a big plus for his team, if he remains injury free, as he can play any position.

Pauric Mahony's free taking was immense - he is the most consistent free taker in the Country, and has been for a few years now.

Mind you Waterford paid a big price for this victory, with the red card for Tadhg de Burca. It brings back memories of John Mullane getting a similar card a few years back, and missing an All-Ireland semi-final - and it cost Waterford big time.

Referee Fergal Horgan red cards Tadhg de Burca of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Referee Fergal Horgan red cards Tadhg de Burca of Waterford. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

One thing I noticed, Stephen O'Keeffe the Waterford goalie, got more back passes than Packie Bonner, the Irish soccer goalkeeper, when he was playing for Ireland. And he used to get a lot of them! 

It's not a part of hurling I like, and I never will.

Wexford wasn't expected to win this game and in truth they never looked like winning it, and especially when some of their top players, Lee Chin and Conor McDonald, were completely off form. 

They very much depended on Jack Guiney from frees and Jack O'Connor when he came on. Also Shaun Murphy, playing as a sweeper, but is that going to be an on-going problem for Wexford, needing an extra defender all the time?

In my opinion I think they need to change that style. Their hurling also has to improve as their first touch at times was not good. They seem to panic a bit when in possession, rushing their shots. 

With the big physical guys they have, they need to make it more of a contest for every ball. But on the round, they have had a good year, getting promoted and getting to the Leinster final and it's good to see Wexford back with their colour and great supporters. 

Next year expectations will rise, but they have a long way to go.

All in all, a great weekend in Cork.

An aerial view of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
An aerial view of Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Picture: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile