Championship conversations by Michael Moynihan
You couldn’t have scripted it any better last weekend than the closing stages of the round-robin stage of the Leinster hurling championship, with qualification on the line for the four participants in the final round of games, but only three places available for the next round.
Galway, of course, lost out, but the drama of Davy Fitzgerald asking Matthew O’Hanlon if Wexford were into the Leinster final, or the pounding excitement of the Dublin fans spilling onto the field at the final whistle to embrace their heroes . . . the danger is always that of the dead rubber, and there was maybe a whiff of that around Limerick-Tipperary, but the last couple of seasons have already validated the round robin format and then some.
In this week’s Examiner Sport podcast your writer asks Anthony Daly if he was really accusing Limerick of performing one or both roles in the infamous ‘anschluss’ game of the 1982 World Cup finals between West Germany and Austria.
This was based on the perception that Limerick had omitted several key players for the final game against Tipperary, duly losing and eliminating Clare even though the Banner beat Cork.
Attractive a proposition as it is, team managers are (obviously) entitled to serve their own purposes in selection, and Clare were collateral damage to some extent in Limerick’s determination to chart their own course. But Clare’s problems didn’t begin last Sunday around 3.40pm, as the two Munster Championship games wound down.
Clare began the championship by grinding out an away win over Waterford, though the latter’s subsequent performances devalued that achievement somewhat. Beaten well by Tipperary and Limerick, they were a different proposition against Cork, aggressive and enterprising.
The question, therefore, is where the aggression and enterprise were in their previous outings, because if anything there was a surplus of the former on Sunday. Clare may have lifted their performance when joint-manager Gerry O’Connor was sent to the stands after getting entangled with Cork’s Daniel Kearney, but it was a complete loss of discipline which is likely to earn O'Connor a lengthy suspension. All managers are keen to see their teams perform aggressively, but someone can't have a positive impact sitting in the stands.
Your writer promises to stop bleating about this at some point, but the thunderstorm in Ennis last Sunday deserves to be remembered, if only for the duelling managers ― Cork’s John Meyler and Clare’s Donal Moloney ― standing out in the downpour as though unwilling to back down and come in from the rain.
On a slightly more serious note, should the players have been taken off the field, even temporarily, during the storm? As noted by Cork’s Patrick Horgan elsewhere in the paper, a ‘flicker’ of lightning and golfers are hustled off the course. How dangerous was it for the hurlers of Cork and Clare to be in a wide open field last Sunday afternoon?
Every time the GAA commonwealth starts to incline towards whatever Xanax-flavoured championship restructuring format everyone wants, the fates strike back.
Last weekend it was Roscommon who encapsulated the eternal appeal of the provincial championship, pitch invasion and all. Just as you think everyone is ready to stroke their chins and talk groups and cross-province matches and elimination, something like the Connacht final happens right on cue.
The exultation of the Rossies fans was infectious and refreshing, but is it enough to save us all from a champions-league style football championship?
Is it enough to save us from something far worse, months of debate about a champions-league style football championship?