ANTHONY DALY: Brilliant, sublime, heroic: God’s game delivers again

These boys don’t think like past Limerick teams, writes Anthony Daly.

Poor oul‘ Tomás Ó Sé. A couple of weeks back, he was lamenting how fed up he was of how God’s game, as he termed it, was overshadowing his beloved football. Ah sure look, Tomás, you only have to put up with this glorious stuff for another few weekends. And in the meantime, Tomás can keep watching, as he stated himself on Twitter at half-time of yesterday’s Kerry-Galway match, that ‘horrible’ other stuff.

Yesterday in Thurles was more epic stuff from an epic championship. Before I go any further, I’ll have to contain myself from using that word another 50 times in this column. Fantastic. Brilliant. Sublime. Heroic. Herculean. Mesmeric. Call me a hurling snob if you want but don’t get me started about any comparisons with ‘God’s game’, and what can often be loosely termed the ‘Devil’s game’.

The quality was even more impressive considering the wet weather, how tricky the conditions were, and what was at stake for both teams. Limerick hit 24 scores from play. They could have had four goals only for another outstanding display by Eoin Murphy.

And yet, they still only scraped over the line.

Limerick still have to win an All-Ireland to separate themselves from all the teams that went before them over the last four decades but this is still a different Limerick side from those generations which perished on the rocks of pressure and expectation.

This team are under pressure but they expect to deliver.

When Richie Hogan got his goal to edge Kilkenny in front, the natural impulse of us all was to think ‘Here we go again’. Limerick didn’t. They steadied the ship and hit three unanswered points. When Kilkenny levelled it up again and extra-time was beckoning, Limerick hit the closing two points.

Kilkenny were heroic. Their spirit, resilience, and attitude was as you’d expect. They refused to give in but Limerick were still full value for the win. Eoin Murphy was a contender for man of the match, while Hogan’s goal was the only real shot at Nickie Quaid’s goal.

Kilkenny got a grip on the Limerick puckout in the third quarter, which turned the momentum in Kilkenny’s favour, but John Kiely’s men continued to back themselves. They kept playing that crossfield ball into their attack. Even though it didn’t always work out on the greasy surface, with numerous balls going out over the sideline, Limerick stuck to their guns and trusted their gameplan. Peter Casey came on and rifled two brilliant points with his first two touches.

The old questions will remain until Limerick close out the deal.

The Clare supporters are still able to throw that old classic at them about heading to Croke Park — that Limerick fall apart once they change trains and board the Cork train at Limerick Junction. But listening to Tom Morrissey afterwards, this group clearly don’t have any of those old hang-ups. These boys don’t think like past Limerick teams.

These boys have certainly travelled a different route. They’ve won All-Ireland U21s, All-Ireland clubs, Fitzgibbons, Harty Cups, they’ve reached All-Ireland minor finals. These boys think differently. They act differently. They showed that below in Cork in June when they dug out a draw with 14 men.

Limerick will carry that confidence into that rematch for the All-Ireland semi-final. We had a fantastic Munster championship and it’s fitting that the three teams which emerged from that epic battlezone now make up three of the last four sides still standing. Some of us were afraid that the attrition from that campaign would deplete their energy resources and leave two of the sides vulnerable in All-Ireland quarter-finals but the quality on show from Limerick and Clare at the weekend blew those fears out of the water.

At least the wider GAA public got to see both games on TV but it was a shame that more didn’t get to see the two games live. Traditionally, the All-Ireland quarter-finals had always been a double-header but the GAA have moved away from that schedule over the last two years. Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and the desire to give Cork and their shiny new stadium more matches, along with TV scheduling, has largely contributed to that move. The calendar is so crammed now that the GAA probably feel they need two standalone fixtures on separate days. That does guarantee more hurling TV exposure but the GAA are still shooting themselves in the foot.

There was only 18,000 in Thurles. Only 10,000 went to Cork on Saturday. If both were staged in Thurles yesterday, you’d probably have had around 35,000. OK one of those games wouldn’t have been on TV but I still feel that the wider hurling public deserved that double-header.

Fixing Clare and Wexford for 3pm on a busy Saturday in Cork was never going to work, and the crowd voted with their feet. You could have added another 8,000-10,000 people if that match had been staged in Portlaoise. It may have been a squeeze but at least you’d have had an atmosphere. Sadly, it was non-existent in Cork.

For all the hype about Wexford, the Clare support outnumbered them. Yet that was understandable considering how far west Cork is from Wexford.

You can throw out the line that, if you’re a true supporter, you’ll follow your county, but this was the sixth championship match for both counties, which is a lot of expense for young families.

The Páirc is a lovely stadium but it’s not the easiest place to get to. It just wasn’t a good call.

Clare were the better team. They showed the composure that was lacking in the Munster final. The opposition wasn’t the same quality as Cork but there was still a lot to like about Clare; they hit 27 points; they showed good mental fortitude when Wexford came at them late on; they won a huge amount of puckouts, especially Wexford puckouts; the guys who didn’t perform in the Munster final really stood up.

Wexford didn’t seem to have a Plan B until they put Lee Chin in on the edge of the square late on and pushed up two corner forwards beside him. Wexford did go for it when the game was going away from them. It could have been a different outcome if Wexford had got that second goal, when Donal Tuohy made a brilliant save, but that is the crux with Wexford; you’ll always feel that you’re better off being three or four points ahead than trying to chase the game. And despite that late Wexford surge, Clare were always ahead. And always in control.

Clare are certainly on the march now. It’s been a long time since Clare have won four championship matches in one season against top-rated sides. The minimum requirement at the outset of the year would have been to get to an All-Ireland semi-final, and finally get Clare back to Croke Park for the first time since 2013. The management delivered on that goal and the team will head into that semi-final against Galway now in a great position.

So will Limerick. We’re going to have two brilliant games to look forward to in two weeks.

Galway may still be the favourites but all four teams will believe they can win this All-Ireland. Hopefully Tomás will be able to put up with the two matches over the one weekend. Because they’re likely to be — nah, I’m not even going to stop myself any more — another couple of epics.

Because at this stage, we don’t expect anything less.

 

PaperTalk GAA Podcast: Dalo on a different Limerick, Divo on Galway's plan and Kerry's collapse

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