When I arrived in Pearse Stadium for work with RTÉ yesterday, I’d only had a cup of coffee in my system. I had to be on-site by 10.30am but I was hungry by the time the Tipp-Limerick match started at 2pm.
So when two boxes of pizzas landed in the makeshift studio, I attacked them with the zeal of a ravenous lion ripping through a hunk of fresh meat.
As I was wolfing down the large slices of pepperoni and cheese, Tomás Ó Se took out his phone and — unknown to me — filmed the act, my mouth as wide as a canyon. A few minutes later when I looked at my Twitter account, I nearly collapsed. The bould fella from Kerry had posted a nine-second video of the rawest food-tasting connoisseur you ever saw.
“This is magic,” he tweeted. “Always a great man for the diets!!!”
I’m not a man for big breakfasts but part of the reason for only having a coffee was I wanted to try and look somewhat slim beside the new-look slimline Derek McGrath.
I didn’t want the shirt or fancy sports jacket stretched around the midriff with a bellyful of rashers and sausages. But there is no doubt Páidí will never truly die with nephews like his around.
I was so thick with Tomás that when I vacated my seat for him after the hurling match, I slipped in behind him and poured half a bottle of water over his head. Tomás always has his mane nicely gelled and groomed so he was horrified that he’d only three minutes to get out the blow-drier that he probably had in his bag to get styled up again.
High jinks, but it was a weekend of high jinks. When the new system was designed last year, there was always the chance that teams would go out on head-to-heads or on scoring difference. But the fact that two sides — Galway and Clare — had their summers defined by events elsewhere over the weekend added even more layers of drama, suspense and devastation to that reality.
I was in Parnell Park on Saturday evening and the best paid scriptwriters in Hollywood wouldn’t have made it up.
After the final whistle, I sprinted for the car to get out before the traffic but nearly killed myself in the process as I was trying to follow the dying moments in Wexford Park on Twitter.
The instant feed of information had me enthralled. Point. Wide. Miss. Ball off post. Sending-off. Scuffle. Final whistle. Draw. Kilkenny and Wexford in Leinster final. Dublin through. Galway gone.
Holy Mother of Divine Lord.
Yesterday had a similar situation with three teams finishing on four points but the drama wasn’t as intense afterwards because the permutations were much more straightforward with the point-differential beforehand. Clare had a great win but it was an anti-climactic in the end.
It’s very disappointing for the players but they would have accepted the inevitable too. Difficult and all as it is to take, you don’t deserve to go through when you’re beaten by an aggregate score of 31 points in two matches by your arch rivals within the space of seven days.
This week will be difficult for the Clare and Galway players, given how much they have invested in this season, but I’m sure the Limerick and Cork players will do some soul-searching too.
Everything looks rosy for Limerick — they lost and still made a Munster final, which will be at home, while they’ll also have the motivation to beat Tipperary next time around.
Yet, I’m not sure if that is how John Kiely would wish for it to have worked out either. It’s only my opinion, but I reckon Limerick would have preferred to have gone through as the third team.
As well as having to play Tipp again, they could have to face them a third time yet before the year is out. Of course, Limerick will want to win a Munster title but it’s hard to know if Limerick want all those big battles either if they are to retain the All-Ireland?
The evidence from yesterday suggests that they may not.
The pressure was off but they didn’t pick their best team. John may have wanted to give other fellas a chance but Limerick were still poor by their standards. Nobody summed that up more than Aaron Gillane. Brilliant against Clare, he spilled balls yesterday that he’d have scooped up in his sleep seven days earlier.
Nobody goes out to play poorly at this level but Limerick had the look of a team that had their minds elsewhere.
On the other hand, it underlined how Limerick are just a different team when Declan Hannon, Cian Lynch and Gearóid Hegarty are not on the field.
It’s surprising given how much Limerick pride themselves on work-rate and high quality, but once Tipperary started well and got ahead, Limerick never looked like catching them.
I could have been accused of sour grapes with my comments on RTÉ yesterday but it’s harder again for Clare to take when they know that Limerick could have done more. At least Galway have that comfort — and it’s not much solace — that they were outdone by an outcome where two teams were bursting themselves to win.
But this championship is so brutal and unforgiving that you need to try and keep control of your own destiny. Clare didn’t have that control, but Galway did.
They had a brilliant result against Kilkenny but they still needed to get some kind of a result against Dublin to ensure their safety.
Cork also gambled with the dice yesterday but that wasn’t a surprise given the track record Cork have in these situations. Whatever about maybe expecting to beat Clare, Cork still — by all accounts — played like a team that had a get-out-of-jail card in their back pockets. And Limerick allowed them to play it.
Clare reportedly worked harder than Cork but it’s nearly too simple to put a lot of this stuff down to work. The biggest part of work is mental concentration. You’ll naturally block and hook like you’ve been shown since you were a young boy but if you mentally switch off, you won’t work as hard.
When you trace your finger back over the modern history of this Cork team, that mental glitch has been a key factor in them not winning an All-Ireland.
Despite all the warnings, especially after what happened Galway on Saturday night, Cork still came into Ennis and didn’t work hard enough to get up over the walls, and across the drawbridge, to sack that fortress.
It was like old times for me on Saturday evening because Dublin turned Parnell Park into the fortress it has long been for the Dubs.
They were ravenous from the first ball but having that two-week break from the Carlow game was a massive factor in the energy and intensity Dublin were able to bring to the fight.
If Conal Keaney had played a tough game six days earlier like the Galway boys had, there’s no way Dublin would have got that kind of a shift out of him. You could say the same with a few of the older Dublin lads.
Mattie Kenny has done a fantastic job but you can’t forget the brilliant groundwork Pat Gilroy did in his one season in charge last year either. Pat established a strong framework and base and Mattie has certainly built on it.
You saw the importance of goals in Ennis and Thurles yesterday but goals were absolutely decisive to Dublin on Saturday. At this level, if you concede three goals and fail to register a green flag at the other end, you won’t win too many games.
Chris Crummey was my man-of-the-match and his late goal cemented his performance. Yet, Dublin had heroes everywhere; Keaney, Danny Sutcliffe, Sean Moran, Paddy Smyth, Eamonn Dillon.
I may sound a little biased when I’m training Kilmacud Crokes but the Crokes boys — Oisin O’Rourke, Fergal Whitely and Ronan Hayes — also made massive contributions.
In fairness to Mattie, he made some big calls, getting fresh players in at the right time. His inside knowledge on Galway was critical too because he knew where to attack Galway and who to run at.
The achievement in taking down such a superpower is even more noteworthy considering some of the players Dublin were missing — Cian O’Callaghan, Mark Schutte, David Treacy and Paul Ryan.
It’s tough on Galway to see them gone with five points, especially when Cork and Limerick are through on four, but that’s the system.
Galway won’t need to be told by me that they blew it by not nailing Carlow at home in their first game. We all saw what Kilkenny did to them a week later; they had the match done and dusted inside 10 minutes.
Kilkenny have that ruthless streak that Galway still lack and they’re back in a Leinster final now. Wexford are deservedly there too but you’d just wonder are Dublin and Cork as happy as anyone else this morning?
That third place starting point certainly didn’t do Limerick any harm last year.