Savouring the action and the lively debates on the long road home

Savouring the action and the lively debates on the long road home

Emotion was the standout feeling for me after the weekend. For a variety of reasons.

The widespread eulogising over the breathtaking fare in Croke Park was justified, the fathomless ability of four panels of players leading us all to swell with pride. The importance to these players of what they represent cannot be overstated.

Perversely, the two semi-finals almost left you drained, energy sucked from your body. Imagine how the men putting their bodies on the line felt?

Witness the emotion of Noel McGrath’s interview after the game. A quivering lip, a pure representation of everything our game stands for…. authenticity, honesty, and the pursuit of excellence.

Kudos, too, for the perspective shown afterwards — in the face of emotional turmoil — by Sheedy, Cody, Kiely, and Fitzgerald, all showing class, pride, and humility.

Davy’s declaration that “we’ll dust ourselves down” and that “we have our health” was a measured and timely lens through which we should occasionally look.

His words provided me with great optimism that he will remain with Wexford to continue this project he has ploughed heart and soul into. Looking from afar, I hope his final year with Clare doesn’t influence any decision to step away.

With a visionary county board, the ideal scenario would be to extend his deal for a further three years, showing both trust and loyalty as well as the type of growth mindset that would ensure that when negativity seeps in, the county board, supporters, players, and management are as one.

With the successful Willie Cleary-led ‘Wexford 365’ programme beginning to bear fruits, the Model County are beginning to prosper in the Model county.

Following on from the pathway to success template that many teams have been pursuing the last number of years, from schools to colleges, a recent examination of the amount of Wexford players being exposed to Fitzgibbon Cup hurling was particularly telling.

The statistics focused on the amount of knockout Fitzgibbon minutes Wexford panelists had accumulated between 2013 and 2018. The growth from 535 minutes in 2013 to 1,150 minutes in 2018 is very interesting. Their effort and impact this year has been no accident.

On a personal level, Saturday was a particularly emotional day.

On March 23 last, we lost our dear aunt Alice O’Shea. A lady of courage, intelligence, and integrity, she fought the crippling effects of rheumatoid arthritis for virtually her entire life.

Nobody could equal her resolve and fortitude.

Throughout all our lives my Mam (Kathleen) and our family shared every childhood memory in the company of Alice, her devoted husband James, and her son Brendan.

An avid GAA man and De la Salle fanatic, James travelled with myself and my Dad to the Kilkenny-Limerick match on Saturday.

Going to the matches are special for him; he finds solace, peace, and forges long-lasting memories.

He’ll remember the few pints of stout, will have shared all our emotions when we stood and applauded Shane Lowry’s entry, and, more pertinently, got lost physically and mentally in what unfolded between both teams.

I was proud of the fact that he enjoyed the day and the journey home was that of a typical GAA family: The debate about whether TJ Reid could win hurler of the year having been held scoreless from play in three championship matches this year, the counter-argument that it’s his overall contribution that provides the X factor; the Cody factor; the religious ties to hurling in the Marble City; and of course, lamenting the fact that even though only a bridge divides us, 1959 just seems like too long ago.

The debates made the journey home short as we dropped James back. Reality dawned, however, as he turned the key to an empty house. It had been a great but highly emotional day. Life isn’t easy.

Limerick’s first-half performance dominated my own thoughts en route to Dublin Sunday morning.

In 2017 when we left Fota Island having spent five days preparing for our Munster Championship game against Cork, I made the criminal error of thinking if we just bring the intensity witnessed on the training ground we would not be beaten. Furthermore I repeated this message for the next 10 days to our players.

The problem lay in the fact I was living in the past. There was an if, a question.

Lots of debate has been generated around Limerick’s lethargy in the first quarter and I know it’s easy to be wise after the event, but I felt their field entry and 7v7 games were nowhere near the intensity they were normally at.

Even Kiely, notable for the fact he spends most of these games with the subs for their game, took longer than ever with the first 15, perhaps innately sensing a flatness.

They still showed admirable courage and class to eke their way back into things but when you are chasing a game, especially against Kilkenny, it presents different types of challenges.

The conundrum to stick or twist at half-time with the Kyle Hayes tracking of TJ was just that — with, I would imagine, very reasoned and well-founded reasons for reverting to type.

Kilkenny refused to take the bait and the learnings from their last two games have been significant. Watching Paddy Deegan, Joey Holden, and Padraig Walsh constantly communicate regarding who would stay, who would go, was fascinating.

John Donnelly set the tone in terms of the physicality and his constant sojourns, in conjunction with four other forwards, almost had a rugby look to their dogs of war approach.

It’s hard not to love that and the subsequent spilling of emotion from Kilkenny was not seen since the night they beat Waterford in Thurles in 2016.

The final pairing should come as no major surprise. Granted, I felt Limerick and Cork would beatKilkenny, but theearly-season musings in Kilkenny of being in transition and Tipperary of being out of the top six were plainly untrue.

I have been consistent in presenting the facts around both teams’ underage and colleges development and it is very impressive. Kilkenny and Tipperary will always be thereabouts so there should be no real shock there.

Away from Croke Park, the social and cultural diversity on which the GAA’s foundations sit is on show this week with the Renault World Games. With 84 participating teams, the breakdown of 26 Irish born and 58 native-born is particularly striking.

There will be social and cultural evenings in the twinned clubs in Waterford and a hurling/lacrosse exhibition planned in Croke Park after next Friday’s finals in Croke Park. With an estimated value of €1.5m to €2m to the local economy, Waterford will be buzzing for the week.

For that, massive credit is due to Fiona Crotty and the visionary approach of Tallow native Pat Daly.

Among the native teams attending for the first time are the Italian men, the Russian ladies, the men from San Isidro, Argentina, and the ladies from South Korea. The links with our own are no less interesting.

Paul Carpenter, a Yorkshire man, first discovered Gaelic Games in Singapore but more recently established the South African Gaels, which are twinned with Ballyduff Lower and draw their members from the townships of Johannesburg.

He certainly won’t attract as much attention as Sean Cleere or Alan Kelly did over the weekend but the fact that Diarmuid O Loing, a Dublin native who has refereed in Australia for the last six years, is a grandson of Harry Boland tells its own story.

The Waterford connections will see John Heneghan, a Lismore native, hurl with Australia before getting married, while former Roanmore player Oliver Cunningham, who now works with the UN in South Korea, has played a hugely influential role in promoting Gaelic Games all across Asia.

The most stimulating narrative, however, is the story concerning Finland.

Their national sport is pesapallo (Finnish baseball) and their association will be attending the games with a view to cultivating cultural and sporting links with the GAA.

This outside-the-box thinking ensuring societal changes is constantly being sought, nurtured, and embraced. Well done to all.

Dalo's Hurling Podcast: Tipperary's defiance. Will Davy Fitz stay on? Kilkenny tactics. Cody's greatest semi-final victory?

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