Michael Moynihan picks out five notable observations as Tipperary, Clare, Kilkenny, and Galway started their All-Ireland Hurling Championship campaigns with wins.
1 The Eleven
If you enjoy Killing Eve then you’re familiar with The Twelve, the mysterious group which run assassinations around the world.
Subtract one and you have The Eleven, the significant discovery of last weekend. Seamus Callanan wore that jersey for Tipperary but flitted to full-forward, leaving John O’Dwyer out at centre-forward, where he caused havoc. O’Dwyer hit 0-7 from play and created the second Tipperary goal which effectively ended Cork’s chances of a revival.
In Walsh Park Tony Kelly wore the number 11 and drifted hither and yon, the epitome of the free-floating centre-forward who asks his marker(s) all sorts of questions. Kelly’s contribution of 0-5 was central to Clare’s victory, as was his ability to get on the ball generally.
(Even in Leinster the significance of the 11 continued, with the ageless TJ Reid central to Kilkenny reeling in Dublin, though Reid is a different type of centre-forward to O'Dwyer and Kelly).
2 The Road
Tipperary and Clare were the away teams against Cork and Waterford respectively, and visitors won both games. The significance of winning on the road is considerable, as it puts both sides in pole position when it comes to qualifying for the All-Ireland series.
Tipperary will welcome Waterford to Semple Stadium next weekend in good heart, while Clare can take a break for a couple of weeks to get over knocks and niggles before their next outing. Momentum versus a rest period? Both teams will be happy in their different ways.
In the other corner, Cork must get their campaign back on track away at the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday when they visit the All-Ireland champions while the other defeated team last weekend, Waterford, face an equally challenging road trip to Thurles.
Defeat will make progress to the All-Ireland series very difficult indeed.
3 The Champs
Everything that happened last weekend lives in Limerick’s shadow. Clare-Waterford? Waterford have a visit from the Shannonsiders in their future, while Clare must visit the Gaelic Grounds. Which is the tougher proposition?
After a disappointing first game Cork face a trip to the Gaelic Grounds for Limerick’s first home championship game as All-Ireland holders. This is likely to put a few thousand extra green and white supporters on the terraces and in the stands, and to ramp up the pressure on the visitors.
By the time Tipp take on Limerick - in the last round of games - the identity of qualifiers and Munster finalists may already be known, so how will the stakes affect the preparations? Tune in again in a couple of weeks to find out.
4 The Venues
In one stadium, in particular, there’ll be relief this morning that the story was the scoreline and not the surface. Páirc Uí Chaoimh looked terrific yesterday in the early-summer sunshine and the playing area stood up to the two games well. The surface will still be replaced this summer but a championship with no games in the stadium would have been disastrous.
Walsh Park also hosted a championship event which went off smoothly, apart from the result for home supporters. The fact that the venue looks tight - particularly, as some observers pointed out, in comparison with Páirc Uí Chaoimh - has no relevance; it was past time championship hurling returned to Waterford. Next weekend the Gaelic Grounds and Semple Stadium are the destinations, with the latter surface undergoing intense work in recent weeks to get it up to standard.
5 The Crowds
In Páirc Uí Chaoimh there were just over 30,000 spectators, and Walsh Park was reportedly almost at full capacity. It’ll be interesting to see if Cork’s defeat has an impact on the crowd heading to Limerick next weekend, or whether Waterford’s loss eats into their support for the visit to Semple Stadium.
All things considered the GAA will be happy with Sunday’s turn-out in the Munster championship, but Saturday evening in Nowlan Park raised a few eyebrows, with large swathes of the stadium empty for Kilkenny-Dublin.
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