With The Sunday Game 40 years old this year, I was asked to pick my highlight for a short clip which was aired during yesterday’s live show from Cork.
And I selected Ger Loughnane putting manners on Eamonn Cregan during the All-Ireland winning banquet in 1997.
I haven’t always agreed with Ger but I couldn’t have agreed with him more that night. We were after winning our second All-Ireland in three years, which made our win in 1995 even sweeter.
It was a brilliant game which went to the wire. It was subsequently regarded as one of the greatest All-Ireland finals in history but Cregan didn’t think so in his post-match analysis. He felt the match lacked intensity and quality.
Ger was right that night but there were plenty of times when he got it wrong too. When I was Clare manager between 2004-2006, Ger kept telling me in print and on TV that I was holding the team back by playing some of the older guys, particularly Brian Lohan and Seanie McMahon.
Yet, apart from being two of the greatest men who ever hurled for Clare, they were still the best two players in their positions in the county at that time.
Liam Sheedy took a lot of heat beforehand for selecting many of the same faces which have served Tipp so well this decade but, as a manager, you spend enough time with players — and looking at other players — to know the lie of the land.
I met a lot of Tipperary people earlier in the year who said to me that if John O’Dwyer was on the team, they were going nowhere. And then you look at his performance yesterday? Bubbles has had his critics in the past but the poise he showed in his post-match interview almost reflected the maturity and class in his play.
I was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a preview night on Thursday and the word was that the three Mahers were going to be in the half-back line.
Nobody will ever doubt those three players’ class and brilliance but the general feeling amongst many of the Cork people in attendance was that Cork’s pace and overlapping runs would tear down that wall. Yet Cork repeatedly ran into that stack of bricks yesterday, and felt the full force of the pain.
Cathal Barrett was back to his best. James Barry did a good job at full-back. Tipp were solid but Cork never carried the same attacking menace of last summer.
I was surprised by how sloppy and poor Cork were. Tipp’s touch and handling was far superior. Their attack was on fire but Cork coughed up a raft of scores from unforced errors.
Cork’s puckout was destroyed. They couldn’t live with Tipperary in the air but Cork were just bullied by Tipperary throughout.
I thought Cork would kick on from last year but they clearly haven’t.
It looked like boys against men for most of the match. Tipp were so ready that it was no wonder Liam didn’t have to play his young guns when he has the older crew jumping out of their skins.
I knew that Sheedy didn’t go back for no reason. Look at the management team he has. Tommy Dunne and Eamon O’Shea are two of the best hurling coaches out there. Darragh Egan is a good fella.
From having worked with Cairbre Ó Caireallan with the Limerick minors, I knew he would have Tipp in super shape as a fitness coach. They look a well-oiled machine now, and a serious threat to Limerick.
I had to watch the match on a screen in Cork but I was absolutely thrilled with Clare’s performance in Walsh Park. They got off to a great start with the early goal.
Shane O’Donnell engineered the score for John Conlon but Shane’s role in the score further underlined the great imponderables you often see in elite sport. After spending the autumn and winter in Harvard, Shane comes back and, apart from Tony Kelly, was the sharpest forward Clare had yesterday.
Six months away from the game will contaminate your first touch and striking but, if you’re gutsy and ballsy, like Shane always is, that bravery will always compensate for any rustiness in your hurling. And it will cover up for any other flaws that a winter away might otherwise reveal.
Losing was a big blow for Waterford. Having the match in Walsh Park made the occasion into an event but I thought Waterford carried that pressure on their shoulders more so than Clare might have felt going into the lions’ den.
I never felt that Walsh Park suited these Waterford players but there looked to be no space for decent hurling.
Clare brought a huge work ethic from the word go but they also had the majority of the standout performers; Kelly, O’Donnell, Jack Browne was rock solid, Patrick O’Connor did well on Stephen Bennett for long periods, David McInerney had his best game at full-back for about four years.
The only worry for Clare was that they still have these lulls, and were very nearly caught late on. That last ball was a Waterford line ball, which could have meant Austin Gleeson cutting it over the bar for the equaliser. Instead, Davy Mac launched it up the field in the opposite direction.
Gerry O’Connor came out with a statement beforehand that Clare had butterflies but they were confident that they had them flying in correct formation. And they had.
I didn’t see Carlow-Galway yesterday but I was a little taken aback when I heard the scoreline. I don’t know if Galway were complacent or what. If they were, it’s not a great sign for them going forward but you have to take your hat off to Carlow.
The great pity is Carlow will more than likely finish winless in this campaign and end up back in the Joe McDonagh Cup but you cannot deny the huge achievement yesterday’s performance is for a county with just four senior hurling clubs.
From personal experience, I know full well the perils of stoking the Nowlan Park beast and then being completely exposed to its wrath.
When Greg Kennedy stuck the stick into its chest on Saturday evening, by intercepting TJ Reid’s close-in free while on the field as Maor Foirne, the great shriek that rose up from the belly of the beast was — to me — the first warning signs that Dublin could get swallowed up.
I don’t want to make the result all about Greg Kennedy — especially when Kilkenny were a completely different animal in the second half — but Greg’s actions certainly contributed to Kilkenny turning into that different animal. And the crowd always play a part in that metamorphosis.
When they feel an injustice has been done, the Kilkenny crowd multiply those feelings threefold in their voice and emotions. Greg riled them into a rage but then they interpreted the second penalty as another slap in the face. All that fuel just ignites the bonfire of bad blood even more and Kilkenny just burned Dublin alive in the second half.
Dublin couldn’t live with Kilkenny’s intensity but Dublin didn’t help themselves either. Maybe it was down to fatigue, or Kilkenny just gradually wearing them down, but Dublin were a little casual and slack in some of their hurling and thinking.
They were really sharp in the first half on their reset on the Kilkenny puckout. They gave Darren Brennan very little short options in that period, which forced the goalkeeper to go long, but they seemed to back off far more around their half-forward line in the second half.
Shane Barrett and Chris Crummy were doing really well under the aerial bombardment. Barrett was very impressive on TJ Reid for 46 minutes but, while you can keep class down for so long, it can only stay down for so long. Once TJ sensed that goal was on, he nailed it. And you just felt that the result was inevitable afterwards.
Kilkenny restructured their team smartly after the break.
Pádraig Walsh is far more comfortable in the half-back line and he thundered into the game. Dublin couldn’t win any clean possession but they’ll be even more disappointed with how they didn’t cash in more on their dominance in the first half.
They should have been at least seven points up at half-time but four points was very manageable for Kilkenny, especially when they hadn’t played well, and particularly when Kennedy had just given them reason to apply more war-paint on their faces at half-time.
For Dublin now, it’s all about regrouping for next Sunday with Wexford coming to Parnell Park. The extra night from a Saturday game will help with their recovery, especially Liam Rushe, who picked up an ankle injury in an impressive performance.
This was a huge result for Kilkenny. They will beat Carlow next weekend, which will leave them sitting on four points with a three-week break.
Richie Hogan got game-time under his belt. Richie Leahy was impressive off the bench while it also buys Kilkenny more time to get their injured players back.
From talk of potentially missing out on the top three in Leinster, Kilkenny suddenly seem a threat again. Yet has anything much changed under Cody? The Kilkenny beast is still alive and well. And dangerous.