Friday, May 26, 2006

Tick, Tick, Boom!: Finally Championship Explodes

Like a rusty Morris Minor on an icy January morning, the GAA championship just can't seem to get properly started. Low-wattage opening fixtures in the Ulster Championship, the washout of the intriguing Connacht fixture between Galway and Sligo and a wretched last Sunday afternoon in Portlaoise which was presumably intended as an effort to have hurling included in the next Olympic regatta. An incendiary display from Eoin Kelly for Tipperary apart, there was little to light up the sodden opening weekends of the 2006 championship.

Despair not, ye GAA enthusiasts, for, like a crate of ice-cold beer to a dusty, parched chain-gang, this weekend's fixtures should bring sweet relief and the true lighting of this year's championship touchpaper.

Wham! The rescheduled Galway v Sligo match on Saturday.

Splat! A Leinster football double header at Croker with Meath aiming to continue their quest to reenter the winners enclosure against Wexford, followed by the derby fascination of Offaly v Kildare.

Pow! All-Ireland football champions Tyrone begin their attempt to enter sporting Valhalla against the dark horses of Derry, no doubt bristling with the particular jealousy of subjugated local rivals.

Kazaam! The most nourishing feast that the kitchen of Irish sport can offer: a Munster hurling championship match from Semple Stadium. Cork, Clare, passion, colour, the immortality-seeking Rebels and the never-say-die Banner.

That enough for you?!

Inevitably, as reflected in the choices of RTE for their live broadcasts, the main attention will focus on the form of the reigning champions in both codes. Tyrone could not have asked for a tougher baptism, for the reasons outlined above, and the holders of the Sam Maguire cannot be relishing the fixture. Already deprived of Peter Canavan through retirement and Brian McGuigan through injury from last year's panel, Tyrone must also begin their campaign without the sublime talents of Stephen O'Neill, amongst others.

The loss of that jaw-dropping trio would, of course, be terminal for most other counties, however the champions can still name a robust looking team, a testament to their strength in depth. Still, in the absence of O'Neill's regular cache of points, there is enormous responsibility to deliver on the shoulders of Owen Mulligan, against a team in Derry whose lethal looking full-forward line contains both Bradley brothers (Paddy and Eoin) and Enda Muldoon. This one should explode.

Cork, following the announcement of Ben O'Connor's health, can name the same 15 that started last year's All-Ireland final. Whether this a frightening statement of consistency and a testament to the fitness and professionalism of the county's hurlers or a reflection of the lack of competition below that storied first 15, or most likely a little from column A, a little from column B, the Rebels settled side is an unusual phenomenon in the modern game where injuries are a regular factor.

At some stage, however, Cork will surely be struck with an injury crisis of some sort, and if not, one wonders at the sort of complacency almost guaranteed selection could engender in players who already have 2 All-Irelands on the mantelpiece. No better side than Clare, that whirling dervish of a hurling team, to test their mentality.

Plenty to enjoy this weekend, and by Sunday evening that championship feelin' will be alive and well.


Post a Comment

<< Home