25 May 2006 Edition
The Matt Treact Column - Bog snorkelling conditions should have seen hurling matches called off
Congratulations to Westmeath on defeating Dublin in the Leinster hurling championship. If they can persuade Kilkenny to play the next game in a particularly soggy rice paddy field they might advance further.
Seriously though, in a contest that more resembled bog-snorkelling than hurling, Westmeath adapted better to the conditions and to the idiosyncratic refereeing of John Ryan who appeared to be under the impression that wrestling a player to the ground as he foolishly attempted to play the ball had been one of the new rules approved by Congress.
As Pete Finnerty, and every other knowledgeable commentator, including John McIntyre the manager of the Offaly team that beat Laois in the second match held in the quagmire that was Portlaoise said, no match should have been given the go ahead in those conditions. The officials at Pearse Stadium in Galway made that call with regards to the Connacht football tie between Galway and Sligo. So how their equivalents in Portlaoise, in conditions that were at least as poor, decided that it was alright to play hurling there, beggars the imagination.
Frustrating above all for the players who have spent months training for the 'Summer' only to confront conditions that would dissuade even a dysfunctional mother of young water buffalo from sending them out to forage. My advice to Tommy Naughton is to forget about the all-weather pitches during Winter. There are plenty of building sites that might let the lads in to puck around before the cement dries.
Elsewhere, Armagh again thumbed their noses at those who might have penned a premature obituary. For about ten minutes last Saturday in Clones it looked as though those of us tempted by the 7/2 against Monaghan (tempted but not hooked I am pleased to say) might have been right.
The Farney men (not the Farley men - as in "We are the Farley men, strong and sturdy Farley men," and so on - as one unkind South Armagh person suggested to me) began with intent. Thomas Freeman was proving elusive and Francie must have been chewing the roof of the dug out as the Magheracloone man led his would-be markers a merry dance.
Monaghan had a number of excellent goal chances, with Freeman at the centre of things, but they were spurned and even at that early stage you might have thought that the old cliché about living to regret those missed chances would come to pass. As it transpired it was Armagh who scored the goal after a perfect pass from Kieran McGeeny was gratefully gathered by Brian Mallon who gave Duffy in the Monaghan goal no chance. After that, Monaghan did put up a good fight but never really looked like they were going to win.
Joe Kernan's men go on to meet Fermanagh on 11 June after the latter struggled somewhat to overcome a game Antrim side in Enniskillen. Again, that was by all accounts a match that was heavily influenced by the weather and Fermanagh will be pleased enough to have come through.
Their meeting with Armagh is potentially fascinating. Armagh destroyed them last year in revenge for the All Ireland quarter final defeat of 2004 but, again at the risk of provoking the dour gods of Ulster football, things may be different this time. Not that Fermanagh are a good thing to win, but it may be that learning curves (Fermanagh's) and bio rhythms (Armagh's) are converging like the astrological constellations to tilt the odds slightly more in the favour of the new boys.
The other notable event of the weekend was the victory of New York over Derry in the Ulster hurling championship. This means that New York are through to the Ulster final to play Antrim but bizarrely that game may not take place as New York claim that some of their players are afraid that if they come to Ireland they may not be allowed to return to the United States. Antrim, for their part, have said that they cannot afford to travel. Hopefully, something will be done to ensure that this unique fixture does go ahead.
Speaking of betting odds, I have been challenged to put up some predictions for the championship with a view to making vast amounts of money from gambling. Betting like a mad man. Actually a sinister figure from South Derry who is in the employ of a major bookmaker asked me to do so. "But that could cost you a lot of money", I said. "Yes", he said. "That could cost us a lot of money Matt".
Anyway here goes. There's not much value in the hurling. Cork look hard to beat in Munster and anyone prepared to take 8/11 may only have to endure a few uneasy moments before collecting. Overall, however, Kilkenny at 13/8 to win the All Ireland is possibly the most attractive bet. They will have little opposition in Leinster and possibly not be tested until the final. Again, likely to be against Cork.
The football is more difficult. I am going to go out on a limb and say Dublin at 6/5 to win Leinster! I know, that came out of left field didn't it. My potential dark horse in Leinster is Meath. 9/2 to win it is value if you support them as they must be favourites to reach the final and should be backed at every stage until they meet the boys in blue. And even then you know ....
In Ulster there is not much value to be had. I fancy Tyrone but 13/8 with three hard matches to win is not good value. If the final turns out, as it is likely to, to be Tyrone and Armagh, supporters of either would be better advised to wait as the betting on it will be close enough. Kerry should win Munster but at 1/4 are not the most attractive investment.
In Connacht Mayo are possibly the better value if only for the fact that they appear to have the easier path to the final. However, backing them at 10/11 when they could be longer than that if they meet Galway in the final makes no sense. Likewise Galway at 11/10 before a ball is kicked does not appeal. Wait until the final and them lump on the Tribesmen!
So who will win the All Ireland? I don't really mind as long as it's entertaining. Yeah right, as Ciara would say. Seriously though while I do think Dublin will be there or thereabouts (as in last eight at least), I don't think they are value at 7/1. They were at 10/1. Better again to back them to win Leinster and to beat whoever they meet later on.
My value bet is Galway at 14/1. This is based on the theory that they will win Connacht and progress through to the semi-finals. By which stage they will be much less than 14/1 and you can bet against them to cover yourself. You know it makes sense.