Sports – LOI, MLS Defending And SHC Upsets

The LOI is back, and Limerick came up with a big performance late on to secure their fifth win of the season at home to Dundalk. It’s too good to see that the team are capable of both putting up a fight and finishing a game with 11 players. Craig Curran, now a Limerick player proper, was on hand to get the winner, and I really hope that he can go on and become a more prolific goalscorer. Barry Ryan is really staking a claim for Kepper of the Season at this stage, and perhaps Gaffney’s leveller will be a portent for a  return to the form that made him such an incredible asset last season.

It’s important not to understate how important as result this was. At too many points this season, we’ve seen Limerick surrender promising leads and fail to really impact a game, but here they not only managed to fight back from two goals down, but actually ending up winning the game, and looked good in the final stages doing it. That break seems to have helped a good bit, and with more changes presumably to be made in the next little while to the squad, things will get better. Add in returns from injury and the ending os suspensions, and I remain quietly confident that Limerick can finish in the position they now hold, at the head of the lower pack of the Premier Division. St Pats, Derry and Sligo seem very obviously to be the title-chasing crowd, with Dundalk and Shams trailing behind. Sligo Rovers in the League Cup tonight, with the visitors missing a lot of crucial players, so it is certainly the kind of tie that Limerick could steal.

I happened to catch a good bit of the “California Classico” this weekend, a derby game in the MLS between LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes. My opinion of MLS has always been fairly negative, and that consistently comes back to the incredibly shoddiness of defensive work that the league shows off. And that was plain to see in this game.

Five goals. The first, Robbie Keane hooks a pass into the box for Sarvas whose run was never picked up and was unmarked, to slot home. The second, Donavan just muscles past a terrible attempted tackle, lays it off left to an unmarked Keane, who passes across the face of goal to an unmarked Jimenez to slot home an empty-netter. The third, for San Jose, with Alan Gordon heading home after an incoming cross that the marking defender didn’t even try and jump for. The fourth, two defenders can’t stop a cross from being flicked on, with the LAG keeper failing to collect the ball, resulting in a tap-in. And the fifth, an open San Jose player inside the LAG penalty area, crosses to two unmarked teammates at the back post for an uncontested header.

Did I mention that, for that last goal, LAG were a man up after a sending off? They had 11 on 10, and left three oppositions players unmarked in their penalty area. That’s the standard of defending in MLS, a league where Robbie Keane is a superstar.

In the hurling world, a glorious day in Portlaoise as Dublin did their bit to make this the most interesting SHC in yonks. Limerick had already upset the apple-cart by beating Tipperary, Clare a little less so by beating Waterford, and Laois had pushed Galway very hard. Step-up Anthony Daly’s men, who I didn’t a give a chance of succeeding in a replay. But something is off about Kilkenny, missing a few key players and unused to playing two weeks in a row, and Dublin took full advantage. I’m already seeing less amounts of “blow-outs” this season and the traditionally dominant powers of the last few years – Kilkenny, Tipp, Waterford – are being defeated all around.

Combined with Kilkenny’s brief moments of ill-form last year and their struggle to put Offaly away, I can only dream that we are entering a period, finally, where the Cats are not the all-dominant force strolling to Leinster and All-Ireland finals while RTE desperately tries to make-out that this is somehow still exciting. One of Tipperary or Kilkenny is exiting this SHC next week, while Dublin could be Leinster champions for the first time since 1961, and how the hurler would love to steal any bit of the spotlight that the likes of RTE give wholesale to the county football team, also in the Leinster final.

I want you to imagine the possibility of a Limerick/Dublin SHC final. How good would that be for the sport, for two young, new teams to be contesting the showpiece? Rather than another meek surrender to Brian Cody’s side, with Kilkenny fans heading for the exits before the trophy is even lifted?

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