The hype will get ramped up now over the next few days but will any of those matches really replicate the drama, passion, excitement and controversy we got in Cork and Limerick over the weekend? Call me a hurling snob but I bet my bottom dollar it won’t.
This hurling championship just has me pumped. Energised. Constantly excited. Constantly looking forward to more. Saturday evening in Cork was just one of those magical, eternal summer evenings. Yesterday in Limerick was another one of those breathless Munster championship afternoons. Both games were an absolute test of man and mind, a test of everything guys have inside them. And they all passed the challenge; 102 scores, and the four teams still couldn’t be separated. Epic stuff. Heroism in its purest form.
I just can’t get enough of it. When I landed home from Cork on Saturday evening, I sat down and watched some of the recording. I flicked on the rest of it yesterday morning when I got up. I had also somehow managed to record part of the Ireland US soccer match. Before I go any further, I want to get this straight; I have great admiration for John O’Shea, who retired from international soccer duty on Saturday evening. He has given his life to the game, his heart and soul to the sport. But what have O’Shea’s fellow Waterford men given to their sport over the last few years? Call me a hurling snob again but I don’t see any related comparisons.
These Waterford players have had their hearts broken in recent years but they have kept coming back. Their obituary was almost written after last weekend’s result against Clare, primarily because of the injuries they sustained, but they fronted up again yesterday. They got a huge slap in the face from the officials but they just shrugged their shoulders because they were already preparing for the next battle. Dan Shanahan was clearly livid but Derek McGrath’s TV interview afterwards was an illustration of class and dignity.
I don’t expect referees to get it right all of the time but I don’t understand either why people decide they are going to play God. In a split-second that umpire just decided that he was giving a goal. There was no way that that ball crossed the line. And nobody had a better view of it than that umpire.
I know there is a monetary element to all of this but, whatever about goal-line technology, surely HawkEye should be in place for all of these games? We have it in Croke Park and in Thurles but we didn’t have it in Cork on Saturday evening, and in Limerick yesterday. The goal was the obvious talking point afterwards but what about Ronan Maher’s late point, which was signalled wide by the umpire – the same guy who gave the goal — but over-ruled by Alan Kelly? Tommy Ryan got a point in the second half which looked wide. And Aussie Gleeson had a ball waved wide which definitely looked over from my position from the top of the stand. It’s not good enough that some mobile form of Hawk-Eye can’t be made available for these huge matches. Because there is too much at stake.
It was an epic contest. Waterford will be disappointed not to have closed the match out. They did lose their way but you have to give it to Tipp too. They were manful and defiant but they are still floundering. They remind me of an old champion boxer, still relying on their class and guile to stay alive, but still just one big punch from hitting the canvas and not getting up. Will Clare be able to deliver that knockout blow next week? After being fresh from a week off, it is certainly possible now. Everything is in Clare’s favour to drive Tipp out through the ropes and out of this championship.
Tipp still won’t go down easily because their courage and spirit has been incredible. Their bench also made a huge difference. But so did Waterford’s. That game-time too that ‘Bonner’ Maher and Cathal Barrett got under their belts yesterday should stand to them next week.
One of the few disappointments of the day was the small crowd there to witness such drama. I met Shane ‘Shiner’ Ahearne afterwards. We started reminiscing about the old days. Clare and Waterford played out a draw in Thurles in 1992 and there were only 8,000 at the match. I reminded ‘Shiner’ there was only 13,000 in Limerick when ourselves and Cork met in 1995. And we went on to win the All-Ireland.
Supporters are gas. Of course there is an economic aspect to all of this, especially on a Bank Holiday weekend, but I still struggle to understand why more supporters can’t go to these matches and back their counties. Are they waiting for August? Do they realise that these teams’ season could be over by next weekend?
The Cork and Limerick supporters turned out in huge numbers and they were served up a treat. Limerick have been the coming team for so long but they arrived on Saturday evening. And nobody underlined that more than Seamus Flanagan.
I had Seamie as a minor in 2015. He had been one of the main men on the 2014 minor team but he was doing the Leaving Cert in 2015 and exams were a priority. His progress seemed to stall afterwards but Seamie is certainly capable of being the class player he was always capable of becoming.
He also showed up how Cork still haven’t sorted their full-back line issues. I saw the ‘Rock’ O’Sullivan say during the week that Damien’s Cahalane’s timing and hurling had improved but he was in massive bother all evening. That was mostly down to Flanagan but Graeme Mulcahy beside him summed up Limerick’s effort. Graeme showed the defiance we wouldn’t have associated with him over the years. He was nearly the type of fella defenders fancied to put off his game but he’s playing with a different attitude now. And so are Limerick.
Cian Lynch was brilliant. He never put a foot wrong all evening. Diarmuid Byrnes was class and cool. So was Tom Morrissey. And Sean Finn’s late block on Seamus Harnedy was a perfect metaphor for how much Limerick were willing to fight for those precious inches.
When I watched Colm Spillane’s interview with Jamesie O’Connor on Sky Sports yesterday morning, I was impressed by how well Colm spoke, but slightly taken aback by some of the things he said. He spoke about going swimming and doing yoga sessions, team analysis meetings and then going hurling training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The sessions were only 45 minutes long, which was much more appealing than a two-hour session and a four-week hiatus between matches. But it sounded like a lot being crammed in between such intense matches. Cork were always going to be under pressure playing on a third successive weekend – which was evident in their fadeouts in the second half – but maybe John Meyler needs to reassess the whole approach in between games.
The two draws have really altered the landscape now, and there is still so much to play for in Munster. If Waterford perform like that again next weekend, they will put it up to Limerick. Can Limerick come out now again and reproduce that level of quality? How physically wrecked are Limerick this morning. How wiped out are Tipp, Waterford and Cork? What will they have left in the tank come July and August? And all the while, Micheál Donoghue and his Galway boys are cruising.
The more this championship goes on, the more of a machine they are becoming. I was critical of Joe Canning after the Offaly game but Joe was only timing his run. And he was immense on Saturday.
So were Galway all over the field. Their firepower is awesome but their defence is getting more parsimonious with every game. Wexford have big men all over the field but Galway savaged them in the tackle and in the tight. I expected Wexford to be hugely pumped but Galway just blew them apart. Some of Wexford’s big men have to question themselves on the big days. There was a no-show from Lee Chin, Diarmuid O’Keeffe, and a limited showing from Conor McDonald.
Yesterday’s performance in Parnell Park offered more confirmation of how good Dublin have been in this championship, and how much of a force they can be in the coming seasons. It was a sad day though, for Offaly. I have consistently called for the system to be reviewed and to allow the Joe McDonagh Cup winners to come up, and for Offaly to remain in the province. But their cause hasn’t been helped by the last two weeks. And it’s unknown now if they will survive.
On my way out of the Gaelic Grounds yesterday, numerous people asked me about what that result now meant, and the possible permutations heading into Rounds 4 and 5. I hadn’t a clue. I was hardly able to catch my breath coming down from the commentary box, still disorientated and almost concussed from the breathless action we had all witnessed. Because that’s what this Munster championship has been to date – breathless.
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