A summer of comebacks: What constitutes a safe lead in hurling?

A summer of comebacks: What constitutes a safe lead in hurling?

Galway hanging on by the skin of their teeth at Semple Stadium on Sunday went against a summer where eight, nine and even 11-point leads have been routinely wiped out.

It is somewhat fitting that the Tribesmen and Limerick should meet in the All-Ireland decider on August 19 given it was these two teams who began the trend earlier this year of seemingly unassailable advantages being eroded with almost frightening consistency.

As has been mentioned on more than one occasion in recent weeks, a nine-point lead no longer constitutes a safe one and this was first highlighted when Limerick visited Salthill on March 11 to decide who would gain promotion to Division 1A.

Approaching the half-hour mark, Galway, after outscoring their opponents by 0-10 to 0-2 over an 18-minute period, led John Kiely’s young troops by 1-13 to 1-4. At-half-time, it was 1-15 to 1-7. Game over, or so we foolishly presumed.

The comeback which materialised thereafter - the Treaty won the second-half by 1-11 to 0-4 to take the verdict by two - has since become commonplace, hurling enthusiasts are now immune to the sort of revival which led to a pitch invasion and copious amounts of back-slapping on the second weekend of March.

“Coming from eight behind at half-time, here in Galway, is a nice one,” said Limerick boss John Kiely, at the time. “We can always look back on this as a major tight-game test. You need to come through those. And, maybe, we can look back on this game later in the year when we are in a similar situation.”

That they did when faced with a six-point deficit with six minutes remaining in their All-Ireland semi-final against Cork the weekend before last. Seven-in-a-row from Gillane (0-5, four frees), Shane Dowling and Kyle Hayes meant it was Cork who had to locate a levelling score to carry matters into extra-time.

Of course, we are not even sure if that was the most impressive resurgence of that particular weekend given Clare found themselves 1-7 to 0-1 adrift 17 minutes into their semi-final. The Banner forced a replay and while they fell just shy in repeating these heroics on Sunday, they still whittled a nine-point deficit down to the minimum.

"An eight or nine-point lead isn't that big these days," said Clare joint-manager Donal Moloney after their drawn encounter with Galway.

Such an utterance was hardly from left field given what we witnessed throughout the provincial round-robin series and, indeed, the respective provincial finals.

We had Kilkenny coming from five behind, with five minutes remaining, to sink Dublin on the opening weekend of the championship.

Tipperary held Cork to a draw in Munster despite trailing 1-15 to 1-6 at the break. The Premier displayed a penchant for the dramatics before making their exit, rescuing a second draw against Waterford from the seemingly perilous position of being 2-20 to 0-15 in arrears after 54 minutes.

Brian Cody’s crowd went one better when pulling back a nine-point second-half deficit and then edging Wexford by the minimum to secure their place in the Leinster final.

In the replay against Galway, the Cats stood 12 points - 1-15 to 0-6 - off their opponents 33 minutes in and although Kilkenny did finish the afternoon as bridesmaids, the difference was back to one with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Across in the Munster decider, Clare were eight clear come the 33-minute mark. No use. They lost by two.

That’s eight championship games in the one season turned on their head by a more than ordinary recovery.

Answers on a postcard to what now represents a safe lead in hurling. Best to start in double-digit territory.

Has the game that keeps on giving got one last comeback left in its locker before the silverware is handed out?

Over to you, Galway and Limerick.

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