independent

Saturday 21 October 2017

One loss doesn't mean champs are about to lose grip

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

The modern-day narrative that dominates analysis of sports results in a lot of quarters never ceases to amaze me.

Teams may be labelled as the best-ever in the lead-up to a game, but if they lose you can rest assured that somebody will be rushing in to decry them as also-rans, and past their best.

The Dublin footballers are a case in point, with a lot of people conveniently forgetting how close they came to forcing extra-time with Kerry in the recent Allianz League final.

They were only denied by the width of a post, and they're still the team to beat in the race for the All-Ireland title as far as I'm concerned.

Some of the same lazy verdicts have been pinned on the Kilkenny hurlers, but again that's a premature declaration in my opinion.

Everything that happens on a national scale eventually peters down to local level, so I can't say I was surprised to hear similar views being expressed about Oulart-The Ballagh just because they lost Friday's Pettitt's Senior hurling championship opener to St. Martin's under the Bellefield floodlights.

The competition certainly got off to a refreshing start from a neutral's point of view, with both of last year's finalists beaten. All of the ten remaining teams will have taken heart from that state of affairs, not just the Piercestown/Murrintown crew and Rathnure who pipped Cloughbawn in the curtain-raiser.

And there was another major fillip on Sunday when Intermediate title-holders Oylegate-Glenbrien marked their return to the top flight with a very impressive win over Shelmaliers, and by a wide margin too.

Those results will have shaken things up, but do people seriously believe that a defeat in early May means that Oulart-The Ballagh are past it?

I wasn't at the game, but from everything I've heard it seems clear that they had every opportunity to win, particularly as they enjoyed a numerical advantage for a long time.

They will be smarting from this defeat, especially as it was inflicted by the team that many observers feel stand the best chance of relieving them of their title.

However, a lot of water is going to pass under the bridge between now and the second round of games, and more's the pity.

It was wonderful to be basking in the Sunday sunshine and watching club hurling at all levels, but your guess is as good as mine as to when the next championship action will take place.

I know notional dates have been set out, but they could change in an instant depending on the progress or otherwise of our inter-county teams.

It's a shame really, and the situation is even worse this year as it was only possible to play one round of club hurling, rather than two, before the big shut-down.

Oulart-The Ballagh, and the rest of the first round losers, will all have four more opportunities to gain the points needed to qualify for the knockout stages.

And with four clubs emerging from the six-team groups, it will be time enough making a judgement on their merits or otherwise after the bottom four are eliminated and we know the quarter-final pairings.

It may well come to pass that St. Martin's will dethrone the worthy champions, but if that happens it will most likely be on a cold day in October rather than a Friday night in May.

As an aside, I mentioned above how happenings at inter-county level filter down to the local scene, and that holds true for team tactics also.

That point struck me at the hurling games I attended over the weekend, as there seems to be a big emphasis from some teams on utilising a short passing option out of defence which is fraught with danger.

It's one thing for the best players in the country to play in that manner, but certain club managers forget that it's mere mortals they're dealing with and the best-laid plans on the training field don't necessarily bear fruit.

Sometimes the cry from supporters to 'drive it in' may in fact be the best option, even if it goes against the grain in terms of the modern emphasis on retaining possession at all costs.

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