Never has a good start been more crucial to a team
Published 08/09/2015 | 00:00
I had an interesting conversation with a friend from Limerick in the stand in Semple Stadium before last month's Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland Under-21 hurling championship semi-final double-header.
The games were held just six days after Galway's Seniors and Minors had qualified for their respective deciders, so I wondered how the Shannonsiders would deal with the momentum generated by their opponents as a result.
My friend had no fears though about Limerick because, as he correctly pointed out, they had to play at the peak of their powers twice already to even get that far.
Thanks to TG4 I watched both games in question. I felt they were fortunate enough to escape from the Gaelic Grounds with a 3-16 to 3-14 win over Tipperary in the Munster semi-final.
It wasn't a case of the breaks going their way, it was more the fact that their opponents played into their hands at key stages with some very poor decision-making. Certainly if I was from Tipperary it would have taken me a long time to get over that result.
In fairness to Limerick, their right to be crowned Munster champions couldn't be questioned in any way after travelling to the notorious lion's den of Cusack Park, Ennis and beating the All-Ireland four-in-a-row seeking Clare by 0-22 to 0-19.
That was a serious performance and, as my friend reminded me, it left them ideally primed for that joust with Galway. And if you recall that semi-final, the best possible marker was laid down within seconds of the throw-in when team captain Diarmaid Byrnes horsed no less an opponent than Senior star Jason Flynn out of his way and drove over a superb point from right half-back.
The new stand rocked to the roars of approval from Limerick supporters, and they went balistic altogether when he repeated the dose a few minutes later. The young men in green did have a significant blip coming up to half-time, but they didn't panic and Tom Morrissey's goal put them back on course for a fine 1-20 to 0-17 victory.
I have seen every minute of all four Wexford games to date and it's no great revelation to state that they haven't been involved in a game of similar intensity to any of Limerick's three engagements.
In fairness to them, that didn't happen in the Leinster final against Kilkenny because they played so well after a slow start that the title was wrapped up long before the end. We don't get to experience such a pleasant feeling too often against our arch-rivals, so credit to the Wexford lads for showcasing their superiority.
The other three matches were pedestrian, dull affairs, and again that was no fault of the victors because, as the old saying goes, you can only play what's in front of you. And with the best will in the world, it's hard to get motivated and remain in that mindset for the full duration of a game against weak teams.
On a rare occasion, such as against Antrim in 2013, that will catch the favourites out, but it never looked like occurring in the current campaign.
Under-21 can be a most unpredictable grade though. For example, when I watched Kildare against Wexford in late May I felt that the Lilywhites were quite a capable side for the level they were aiming to reach. I fully expected them to be in Thurles also on Saturday competing in the All-Ireland 'B' final curtain-raiser, but our neighbours from Wicklow shocked them in their first outing of that competition.
Some common views are expressed by the players interviewed by Brendan Furlong as part of our big match preview. One is the need to make a good start.
That may be true of every game, but in this instance it's an absolute necessity given the vastly different paths to the final. Limerick have hit the ground running three times out of three and, just as significantly, maintained that pace to the bitter end albeit with a few glitches along the way.
Wexford, in contrast, were on high alert for one of their four games and in truth didn't need to be for the other three. Therein lies the biggest test in my view. If we are ahead, or even level, by the end of the first quarter we have a great chance of going all the way. The last thing we want is to be chasing the game at an early stage though.