Our writers reflect on the weekend's GAA action.
Brian Cody was for so long, like his teams, the epitome of consistency when it came to Leinster hurling and its merits.
Year after year he would stand somewhere under the Hogan Stand after another captain had claimed the Bob O’Keeffe Cup and speak earnestly about the “savage” nature of the challenge his boys had faced in the province.
Nobody was fooled. As with the Dublin footballers now, the province’s competition was being undone by the yawning disparity between one team for the ages and a bunch of others punching well below their weight.
Cody won 15 Leinster titles in his first 17 seasons in charge. Nine of those final victories were claimed by double-digit margins. Only twice, in 2003 and again two years ago, did the big game go ahead without their imprint.
Now? Things have changed. Utterly. Galway’s reluctant embrace by the province has served its purpose and the resurrections in Wexford and Dublin have offset Offaly’s disappearance down the plughole to the third tier.
Saturday evening was the best advertisement yet for the brand, with two superbly entertaining and tight games deciding the new order of affairs and one headlined by the loss of Galway — All-Ireland champions in 2017 — for the remainder of the summer.
“It might put an end to the talk that the Leinster Championship is an easy place to be,” Cody said. “Galway are an outstanding team and they’re out of the championship.”
Yesterday’s Roscommon team contained just six starters from last year’s Connacht final reverse. Among those who have since worked their way into the side and nailed down a starting berth is Conor Cox, who joined the set-up during the off-season.
Unable to get a championship game with Kerry during the three seasons he played league for the Kingdom, Cox has established himself as the focal point of the Roscommon attack in the seven months he’s been involved with his father’s native county.
Would Roscommon have won this Connacht title without him? You’d have to think not, even allowing for how poor Galway were in the second half.
Having kicked five points against both Leitrim and Mayo, the 25-year-old added another five yesterday. Absolutely crucial were his points on 42 minutes, which tied proceedings, and 76 minutes, which shoved the winners three back in front.
“I can’t really put it into words yet, to be honest. It is unbelievable,” said the Listowel native.
“Five points down at half-time, it was an uphill battle. But we believed. Anthony Cunningham, a great manager, he was always positive with us.
We were more efficient in the second-half. In the first half, we hit a few balls we probably should have held onto.
Galway have a good defensive arch when they are set up, but we were more patient in the second half. And it paid off.”
There seems little appetite within the hurling fraternity for a black card to be introduced but the case for an extra sanction for cynical play is growing.
Faced with the prospect of conceding a goal, defending players are typically opting for a cynical foul in the knowledge that they will only concede a yellow card.
In football, they’d be sent off on a black card and replaced by a substitute. We saw another example of this on Saturday evening when Galway’s Daithí Burke took one for the team and cynically stopped Chris Crummey with a shoulder charge late in the first half.
He conceded a penalty which Dublin converted but Burke obviously felt it was worth the gamble.
Galway’s Aidan Harte deliberately tripped Ger Aylward during their narrow win over Kilkenny but only received a yellow card. As for Aylward, he retaliated and picked up a second booking which ended his afternoon.
John Hanbury was sent off in that game and the same player memorably hauled down Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan in the most cynical of ways in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final, conceding a penalty that Tipp only got a point from. It was another of those fouls which he may have thought twice about if a black card had been in place
“I hope they have the right boots on,” remarked Tipp FM analyst and former Tipperary goalkeeper Ken Hogan in the Kinane Stand press gantry as the rain teemed down shortly into yesterday’s game.
The change in conditions didn’t help the quality of the game and it may have been a contributory factor in both Cathal Barrett (hamstring) and Hogan’s Lorrha- Dorrha club-mate Patrick Maher (knee) picking up injuries.
The slippery conditions looked to have made Barrett’s slide for a ball worse than it might have been and had it remained as dry as it was at throw-in Maher might not have been so exposed to sustain his injury.
It might sound silly now and their footwear mightn’t have helped avoid their setbacks, but in the interest of player welfare might there be an opportunity given to players to change boots when the weather deteriorates as wickedly as it did in Thurles yesterday?
It was a weekend of small towns — for our purposes Donnycarney is a small town — but big occasions.
For decades, the fallback position was Thurles as the ultimate game-taking-over-the-town venue, the championship encounter as full sensory experience from breakfast to teatime and beyond. That spread this summer. Wexford and Waterford and Ennis had the big show roll into town and were all the better for it, results notwithstanding.
The best comparison would be a series of hyper-caffeinated, steroidal county finals, each contested by a pairing of townies versus out-of-towners.
The championship format is always subject to revision and change, which is right, but this element — the big crowd in a small town — is just right at the moment and shouldn’t be changed.
There’s no doubt that the experience in Wexford and Ennis would have been compromised if they’d been part of double-bills in bigger venues. Here’s one vote for preserving the status quo.
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Ken Hogan, Ger Cunningham and Michael Moynihan review the weekend's hurling drama with Anthony Daly